Reading the end of Mervyn Peake's Mr Pye, I came across this little gem; a little gem I kind of wish I'd come across three years back when I was writing my dissertation, because it touches upon something that was possibly, in some tangential way, at the core of what I was trying to explore (not that I really knew what I was trying to explore, but that was part of my point, too):
"After all, if one cannot fail with a smile one might as well
not fail at all. Failure is glory, you see. It is success that
looks so tarnished and jaded the next morning. It is failure
that keeps its freshness. Failure is the thing. Success is
finite, but failure is infinite. It is all rather wonderful, really."
so says Mr Pye in Mr Pye, Mervyn Peake. p.235
Think about it.
In a sense, I suppose my small brain-lump connects it to the importance of playing (particularly in terms of keeping the enjoyment in all that creative malarkey) in order to keep re-seeing all that's around you. And this act of re-seeing is vital - or so I believe - because it maintains a state of flux. It keeps us inquisitive and questioning, causing us to constantly reassess what we think we know and accept, which in turn results in unlearning and relearning and the evolution of knowledge, not to mention the growth of ourselves as living things relating to this world. So, in its own particular way, failure keeps things from getting stagnant. Failure is the freshwater flow.
Say, for example, you were building a house out of matchsticks (sans glue, because glue would be cheating) and that house keeps falling over as soon as you've nearly finished. If failure is infinite and fresh, then instead of getting disheartened you'd see the sudden collapse as a chance to build it again in an entirely new way. Each collapse is an opportunity to experiment with something different, to try a new approach. If you'd succeeded on the first attempt then that would be it: you'd have built your house the once, in the one style, and you'd be sat there in that same matchstick house, possibly getting a bit bored or succumbing to a serious case of cabin fever. You'd stop seeing the brilliance of your matchstick home, and that initial sense of amazed satisfaction at succeeding in building your little shack will dwindle to nothing. You might even forget why you decided to build it in the first place, and why you're still there. Inertia could seep in, spreading like a fever and contaminating every aspect of your vision of life.
But if you keep failing you get to keep playing and learning, and the possibilities of making something out of such small building blocks are endless. Failure allows you to draw from all that's been learnt from the previous attempts. Externally you may be building a house out of matchsticks, but internally you're plotting and filling in a library of knowledge gained through the acts of trial and error and play, and it's this inner library that influences each and every subsequent house you make. Every time you start anew, you begin - whether consciously or subconsciously - by tapping in to the unseen traces and indents of all that has been before, as if you're layering up an elaborate network of foundations mapped out on transparent paper until you find, shining through the mass of tracings, not only the lines that offer the best fit for your newest ambition, but also which lines to avoid. It's as if failure offers you a method of deciphering a tangle of potentials. Maybe you could build yourself a whole bloomin' mountain to live under - or on top of, followed by a dragon-shaped houseboat on an endless matchstick sea, and even a tree house in some subterranean jungle.
Failure can keep things alive and interesting, and it might not really be failure after all. I suppose it all depends on which end of the telescope you view it from, since each end offers an entirely different perspective. Or it might not be a telescope at all but more of a kaleidoscope impregnated with your own imagination. Maybe, in a way, failure can give us kaleidoscopic vision; a source of endless possibilities and rearrangements and all that. Maybe, just maybe, it makes things that little bit more metaphorically and literally colourful, and offers a certain immunity to inertia. I don't fully know, in all honesty. My brain-lump is but small, after all.
But I do know that I now have an urge to build a full-scale tree house out of tiny matchsticks. With windows made of kaleidoscopes. I'd live in a house like that, until it falls down, that is, and I get to rebuild it as a lighthouse with kaleidoscopic beams.
I bloomin' love Mervyn Peake. And with that I am retreating back to my hole to draw wolves. And tomatoes. Not together, mind, though not because I'm against wolves and tomatoes co-existing. They just happen to be two separate illustrations.