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Irving Goh, "The Problem of Failure"

"The Problem of Failure"


In this presentation, I propose a thinking of failure that might potentially be truer to failure itself. Common understandings of failure and even current "failure studies" tend to give failure a positive spin or an optimistic horizon, such as claiming failure to be a necessary step for success, or else a collective reparative life pedagogy. This has only led to the glossing over of failure or its transformation into something other than itself. In contrast, I suggest dwelling or tarrying with failure, inhabiting the impasse that constitutes failure and not get out of it. No doubt, one would thus be exposed to all the negative affects that accompany failure, and thought here risks fumbling, collapsing. Yet, in staying in or with the impasse, one will begin to recognize failure as an existential structure or affective structure of existence, that is, an irreducible (dis)organizing force or principle that underlies existence, if not an unassailable feeling affecting the personal in irresistible ways. Such a thinking of failure, I argue, is critical for according a discursive and affective space to those who feel particularly attached to failure, or those who resist the ideologies of success or progress narratives. It legitimizes their sense of existence, rather than silence them to the margins of what it means to exist.


Irving Goh is Associate Professor of Literature at the National University of Singapore. He is also currently a 2022-23 National Humanities Center fellow. His first book, The Reject: Community, Politics, and Religion after the Subject, won the MLA 23rd Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for French and Francophone Studies, and his second, L'existence prépositionnelle, was published by Galilée. With Jean-Luc Nancy, he also published The Deconstruction of Sex. He is also the editor of Jean-Luc Nancy Among the Philosophers, French Thought and Literary Theory in the UK, and coeditor with Verena Andermatt Conley of Nancy Now. In 2018, he was also named Franke Visiting Faculty Fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University.

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