As the Oscar after-party hangovers subside, today’s post draws inspiration from a classic film by a classic film maker. Costica Bradatan’s New York Times post “In Praise of Failure” (which many readers forwarded to me) is inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film “The Seventh Seal”…

  • “A better model may be Ingmar Bergman’s Antonius Block, from the film ‘The Seventh Seal.’ A knight returning from the Crusades and plunged into crisis of faith, Block is faced with the grand failure in the form of a man. He does not hesitate to engage Death head-on. He doesn’t flee, doesn’t beg for mercy — he just challenges him to a game of chess. Needless to say, he cannot succeed in such a game — no one can — but victory is not the point. You play against the grand, final failure not to win, but to learn how to fail. Bergman the philosopher teaches us a great lesson here. We will all end in failure, but that’s not the most important thing. What really matters is how we fail and what we gain in the process. During the brief time of his game with Death, Antonius Block must have experienced more than he did all his life; without that game he would have lived for nothing. In the end, of course, he loses, but accomplishes something rare. He not only turns failure into an art, but manages to make the art of failing an intimate part of the art of living.”

Bradatan claims that Block’s embrace of failure symbolised by Death is more essential to life than ever in reasoning not too dissimilar from my reflections on the Age of Black Boxes

  • If there was ever a time to think seriously about failure, it is now. We are firmly in an era of accelerated progress…Certainly the promise of continual human progress and improvement is alluring. But there is a danger there, too — that in this more perfect future, failure will become obsolete. Why should we care? And more specifically, why should philosophy care about failure? Doesn’t it have better things to do? The answer is simple: Philosophy is in the best position to address failure because it knows it intimately. The history of Western philosophy at least is nothing but a long succession of failures, if productive and fascinating ones. Any major philosopher typically asserts herself by addressing the ‘failures,’ ‘errors,’ ‘fallacies” or ‘naiveties’ of other philosophers, only to be, in turn, dismissed by others as yet another failure…Every new philosophical generation takes it as its duty to point out the failures of the previous one; it is as though, no matter what it does, philosophy is doomed to fail. Yet from failure to failure, it has thrived over the centuries. As Emmanuel Levinas memorably put it (in an interview with Richard Kearney), ‘the best thing about philosophy is that it fails.’ Failure, it seems, is what philosophy feeds on, what keeps it alive. As it were, philosophy succeeds only in so far as it fails.”
    • Failure allows us to see our existence in its naked condition.
    • Our capacity to fail is essential to what we are.
    • We are designed to fail.
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