Nothing Succeeds Like Failure

Book review by Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn: “Whether in cataclysmic losses, trials and tribulations, or just everyday disappointments, life offers opportunities for it to fall short and for us to fall short. Isn’t it bad enough that we fail so often, and fall so hard, with such devastating consequences? When it comes to failure of whatever stripe, can’t we just follow in the footsteps of the stoic Captain Call and “ride off from it”?

The philosopher Costică Brădățan, who is also Los Angeles Review of Books religion and comparative studies editor, answers with an unequivocal no. Instead, he asks us to hold our horses and embrace failures of all kinds, from mere shortcomings to death. And in In Praise of Failure: Four Lessons in Humility, he devotes his considerable powers of observation to the distinct potential of the acceptance of failure to liberate.

The book begins with a moment of panic in an imagined scenario in which a plane engine has caught fire and passengers face the possibility of their imminent demise. In this case, all are fine after a safe landing, but such scares, according to Brădățan, make us realize that our life is just a brief moment between “two instantiations of nothingness”: “Nothing first—dense, impenetrable nothingness. Then a flickering. Then nothing again, endlessly.” His premise is that the reality of death and the individual human’s smallness in relation to space and time—“We are next to nothing, in fact”—lies behind most of our endeavors, from religion to art, which “seek to make this unbearable fact a little more bearable.” Yet many such endeavors only obscure the fundamental reality of things. Instead, Brădățan calls for an “eyes-wide-open approach” that can remove us from our immediate surroundings and allow for the contemplation needed to transform this reality. Far from being an occasional exception, failure is an inherent part of human life. He suggests that direct confrontation with failures large and small can provide a “failure-based therapy” to help us handle this fact…(More)”.