Advice from Beckett... or not


The Irish writer Samuel Beckett is one of the towering geniuses of 20th-century literature. His absurdist/existentialist/nihilist take on life has practically defined our Weltanschauung for better or for worse.

It's odd, then, that the author who wrote, "We give birth astride a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more" has been claimed as an inspirational — Lichtenbergian even — quote-meister.  Part of the opening of his short story "Worstward Ho" goes like this:

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

If that isn't our ABORTIVE ATTEMPT — GESTALT — SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION cycle in a nutshell, I don't know what it.

Of course, you might suspect that Beckett might be having us on, and you would be correct.  The very next paragraph continues:

First the body. No. First the place. No. First both. Now either. Now the other. Sick of the either try the other. Sick of it back sick of the either. So on. Somehow on. Till sick of both. Throw up and go. Where neither. Till sick of there. Throw up and back. The body again. Where none. The place again. Where none. Try again. Fail again. Better again. Or better worse. Fail worse again. Still worse again. Till sick for good. Throw up for good. Go for good. Where neither for good. Good and all.

That's more like it.  Throw up for good.  That's the Sam Beckett we all know and love.

However, none of that stops us from claiming the meaning we find in the out-of-context mantra of Try again — fail again — fail better, because the truth therein shines out no matter how bleak a vision its author intended.

Do it.  Do it wrong.  Make it righter.

I have recently encountered several people online, on Facebook and Twitter, who were publicly wondering if everyone about to start a project is petrified of failing at it and therefore hesitant to even begin. It made me feel like a wise old man to be able to say, "Of course — that's why you should read my book."

I barely even feel like a fraud any more when I say that.