by Julia Buckley
this clip of J.K. Rowling's 2008 Harvard commencement address. She called it "The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination." I thought it was a stunning address, and that the seemingly shy Rowling was actually quite a forceful speaker when she warmed to her theme.
In addition to that inspirational speech, I am often inspired by my senior students' college essays, which they bring to me for editorial help. One young woman, in a recent essay, suggested (with sincerity, I think) that failure was more important to her than was success; her assertion was that she learned more from failure, and that ultimately it was a more valuable experience.
This wise interpretation of life's setbacks, both by Rowling and my student, had me thinking of the various setbacks I've suffered in life. For a writer, every setback, every perceived "failure," is a slap to the ego, or so I have always seen it--and I assume that other writers might be tempted to view it in the same way.
But if I apply Jacques Derrida's notion of Deconstruction, then I can look at success and failure as binary oppositions, with success being the privileged term. However, my students' interpretation of the two make failure the privileged term, and suggests that through failure, one learns, grows, and ultimately finds benefit, so that failure itself guarantees a level of success.
However, deconstruction also asserts that language is ambiguous, uncertain, ever-changing, and that existence has no center. Derrida would suggest, I believe, that the undecidability of any text, including the one I just created above, implies a multiplicity of meanings, and therefore ultimately has no meaning, or at least not one ultimate meaning.
Writing (and the complex universe of publishing) can render anyone existential, and ultimately we all have to make our own decisions about the notions of success or failure, but these two works--a great writer's speech and a young woman's tentative paper--have me feeling optimistic about my own perceived defeats.
A philosophical challenge for the day. :)
(photo: my son at Lake Michigan, 2011).