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On Failing

The fifth symposium in the University of East Anglia ‘literary activism’ series, 14th-15th February 2020, in partnership with Ashoka University, at the India International Centre, New Delhi.

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16 February, 2020 | 4 min read

What is it that draws us to failing?  We might not consciously want to fail, but, if we’re engaged in creative practice, might unconsciously develop, over time, measures to protect ourselves from what Pound called ‘SINGLE AND UNIQUE SUCCESS’. The free market, in the last twenty-five years, may have exhibited to us the importance of success – that success is not good fortune or a reward for accomplishment, but basic survival – and we might conspire to succeed only to a degree that’s necessary for us to fail: because we know that it’s only by failing that we can produce viable work, and only by succeeding to some extent that we can have the freedom to be non-viable. Failure has not only no dignity in the post-free market world we inhabit; it has no legitimacy, no vocabulary for self-appraisal. There are no actual ‘alternative spaces’ in the free market. Where do we locate ourselves, then, if we’re to speak about ‘failing’? For millennia we learnt from failure, and from failures: what do we make of that antithetical way of estimating significance? Various conceptions of form have, across cultures, embodied the liberations of failing: synecdoche; the image; metaphor – all these arise from a preferred inability to represent fully. Failure creates immediacy. This symposium asks us to account for the attractions specific to failing; for why, and how, it awakens our desire; why it is taboo today in a way quite different from the by-no-means unbroken era before the market; and to reassess this history.  – Amit Chaudhuri

Schedule of talks and readings for the 5th University of East Anglia symposium in the Literary Activism series, in partnership with Ashoka University and IIC, on 14th and 15th February 2019, 10.45 am – 6 pm, at the Seminar Rooms, Kamaladevi Complex, India International Centre

Friday 14th February

  • 11 am: Opening remarks by Professor Malabika Sarkar and Amit Chaudhuri
  • 11.15 am: Tiffany Atkinson (poet; Professor of Creative Writing, UEA): 

         “One door closes, another door shuts”: some reflections on failure’

           Chair: Sumana Roy 

  • 12 pm: Pratap Bhanu Mehta (writer; Professor of Political Science, Ashoka University): ‘Failure, Self-Worth and Agency in Modern Liberalism’ 

          Chair: Jon Cook

  • 2 pm: Anurag Kashyap (filmmaker): Some spontaneous reflections
  • 2.45 pm: Sumana Roy: (poet, essayist, novelist; Associate Professor in English and Creative Writing, Ashoka University): ‘Failing Light’ 

          Chair: Stuti Khanna

  • 3.45 pm: Ranajit Das (poet) ‘Description of a Poet’s Failure’ 

          Chair: Rosinka Chaudhuri

  • 4.30 pm: Michel Chaouli (critic; Director, Center for Theoretical Inquiry in the Humanities, Indiana University) ‘Failing and Falling’

          Chair: Sambudha Sen

Saturday 15th February

11.15 am: Clancy Martin (novelist and philosopher; Professor at the University of Missouri and Ashoka University) ‘Suicide as a sort of failure: notes on self-destruction in Edouard Leve and David Foster Wallace’

         Chair: Tiffany Atkinson

12 pm: Sunetra Gupta (novelist and scientist; Professor of Epidemiology, Oxford) ‘Failure: A User’s Manual’

          Chair: Saikat Majumdar

2 pm: Amit Chaudhuri (writer; Professor at UEA and Ashoka University) ‘The Intimacy of Failing’

         Chair: Vineet Gill

2.45 pm: Lydia Davis (short story writer, novelist, essayist, and translator) reads a new, unpublished story, ‘Learning to Sing’

3.30 pm: Dhritiman Chaterji (actor) reads Fernando Pessoa’s ‘Tobacco Shop’

3.50 pm. Jon Cook (critic and biographer; Professor of Literature, UEA) ‘Closing Remarks’

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