Archive for September, 2010

Faulkner on splendid failure

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

I always enjoy running across writing that is not about entrepreneurialism but which seems directly relevant. A couple of snippets that I’ve blogged before are The entrepreneurial spirit in literature (from Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness) and Orwell on T. S. Eliot and the path from existential angst to serial entrepreneur.

Here’s another. It’s Faulkner’s address upon receiving the National Book Award for fiction in 1955. Taken from William Faulkner Essays, Speeches & Public Letters. Random House 1965, pp 143-5.

It makes me think about what I consider Faulkner’s crowning masterpiece, Absalom, Absalom! and the effort that must have gone into its creation. It also puts me in mind of Tim O’Reilly’s exhortation to entrepreneurs to “work on stuff that matters”.

By artist I mean of course everyone who has tried to create something which was not here before him, with no other tools and material than the uncommerciable ones of the human spirit; who has tried to carve, no matter how crudely, on the wall of that final oblivion beyond which he will have to pass, in the tongue of the human spirit ‘Kilroy was here.’

That is primarily, and I think in its essence, all that we ever really tried to do. And I believe we will all agree that we failed. That what we made never quite matched and never will match the shape, the dream of perfection which we inherited and which drove us and will continue to drive us, even after each failure, until anguish frees us and the hand falls still at last.

Maybe it’s just as well that we are doomed to fail, since, as long as we do fail and the hand continues to hold blood, we will try again; where, if we ever did attain the dream, match the shape, scale that ultimate peak of perfection, nothing would remain but to jump off the other side of it into suicide. Which would not only deprive us of our American right to existence, not only inalienable but harmless too, since by our standards, in our culture, the pursuit of art is a peaceful hobby like breeding Dalmations, it would leave refuse in the form of, at best indigence and at worst downright crime resulting from unexhausted energy, to be scavenged and removed and disposed of. While this way, constantly and steadily occupied by, obsessed with, immersed in trying to do the impossible, faced always with the failure which we decline to recognize and accept, we stay out of trouble, keep out of the way of the practical and busy people who carry the burden of America.

So all are happy—the giants of industry and commerce, and the manipulators for profit or power of the mass emotions called government, who carry the tremendous load of geopolitical solvency, the two of which conjoined are America; and the harmless breeders of the spotted dogs (unharmed too, protected, immune in the inalienable right to exhibit our dogs to one another for acclaim, and even to the public too; defended in our right to collect from them at the rate of five or ten dollars for the special signed editions, and even at the rate of thousands to special fanciers named Picasso or Matisse).

Then something like this happens—like this, here, this afternoon; not just once and not even just once a year. Then that anguished breeder discovers that not only his fellow breeders, who must support their mutual vocation in a sort of mutual desperate defensive confederation, but other people, people whom he had considered outsiders, also hold that what he is doing is valid. And not only scattered individuals who hold his doings valid, but enough of them to confederate in their turn, for no mutual benefit of profit or defense but simply because they also believe it is not only valid but important that man should write on the wall ‘Man was here also A.D. 1953, or ’54 or ’55′, and so go on record like this this afternoon.

To tell not the individual artist but the world, the time itself, that what he did is valid. That even failure is worth while and admirable, provided only that the failure is splendid enough, the dream splendid enough, unattainable enough yet forever valuable enough, since it was of perfection.

So when this happens to him (or to one of his fellows; it doesn’t matter which one, since all share the validation of the mutual devotion) the thought occurs that perhaps one of the things wrong with our country is success. That there is too much success in it. Success is too easy. In our country a young man can gain it with no more than a little industry. He can gain it so quickly and easily that he has not had time to learn the humility to handle it with, or even to discover, realise, that he will need humility.

The first empirical evidence that confusion might be recursive

Monday, September 13th, 2010

I spent 4 wonderful years (92-96) at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico. During that time there was a very funny underground SFI newsletter “The New Can” (a play on the name of the NM newspaper The New Mexican) that poked merciless fun at various Institute activities and researchers. The author, a brilliant friend, must unfortunately remain anonymous. I still have half a dozen copies, and I imagine I must be one of the few people on earth who does. I ran across them tonight. Below is a graph that appeared in the September 14, 1992 edition entitled “Mutation Rocks Halls of SFI”. I’ve always loved it.

Vigilante

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

From terry Thu Jun 7 01:26:35 +0200 2001
To: dsmith@cs.unm.edu, high@hci.ucsd.edu

today i saw a bag snatching
happened about 20/30 yards in front of me
2 guys on a motorbike
the back guy leans sideways
smooth as can be
takes the handle of a bag from an old well dressed woman

they head off down the side of the church
right next to where i live

the people yell out to the people at the end of the street
looking away from me

i am in motion

sprinting.

i zoom past the robbed
going absolutely flat out
heading to the end of the street
thinking i had no chance at all

but, around the corner
not more than 5 yards
i see the guys on the motorbike
caught behind some walking other people
(there is construction there
which makes it narrower
harder to pass)

this is right on the corner of paseo del borne (our street)
and montcada

and…………………..

i fucking tackled them
yeah
over the top
arms spread to get them both at once
guys to the ground
motorbike to the ground
me falling stepping over the top
grazed shin, no more

i wasn’t thinking really
just knew i had to stop them
couldn’t do it as good as it could have been
and as it was the bike crashed down almost
into some people beside it
who had no clue what the fuck was going on

the guys jumped up
yelled
ripped off their helmets and flung them away
one smacking hard into the wall
and sprinted off
leaving one shoe behind

i was pretty surprised
didn’t occur to me that the bike was stolen too

the cops turned up in about a minute flat
there were 30 or 40 people gathered around
talking like crazy
no-one knew what had happened
the robbed people just came around the corner to find a mess
one guy saw it and one woman
the woman acted like my PR agent
telling the entire crowd
over and over that i was a hero

it was great
so funny
i smiled and bowed to them all
like an idiot
hamming it up

the robbed people thrust a 2000 ptas reward into my hands
absolutely insisted that i take it
(we ate it in pizza later)

the cops shrugged it off
called in the stolen bike

it was pretty cool
i could get into being a vigilante

i should have tried to have held one of the guys
but i thought hitting them hard sideways
and knocking their bike over would do it

but, it wasn’t their bike

i was smiling afterwards
the most exercise i’ve had
since beating derek to the office on skates a few weeks back