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Fail, A Research and Creative Collaborative, 2011-2012

This collaborative is the result of conversations and debates about the “future of the humanities.” The stakes of the debate are quite real and affect everyday life on campus (students and faculty alike). However, because the national conversation on this topic often seems to reach a dead end, perhaps due to a différend about the very mission of the humanities, we have deemed relevant to question the failure of the conversation about the future of the humanities, or, perhaps, the failure inherent in the teaching of and scholarship in the humanities. This topic—failure of the humanities, failure of teaching the humanities, failure of the conversation about the mission of the humanities—might be as interesting a topic as any of the suggested avenues toward renewed productivity. In this collaborative, we will thus frame the question so as to consider not the future but the “failure of the humanities.”

We are proposing a reading group for this year, with an interest in beginning to theorize some concepts of failure. One dominant goal is to consider the concept of failure divorced from the normative position of “success,” while another is to round out the idea of failure by examining some related concepts: catastrophe, trauma, “désœuvrement,” the interminable. Here is the tentative list of authors we will read: Paul Virilio, Giorgio Agamben, Jean-Luc Nancy, S. Freud, Michel Foucault, Isabelle Stengers and Blaise Pascal.

Conveners: Juliette Cherbuliez (French and Italian, College of Liberal Arts) Bruno Chaouat (Director, Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, College of Liberal Arts), and Margaret Werry (Theatre Arts and Dance, College of Liberal Arts)

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2 Comments

  1. Bodong ChenAugust 27, 2014 at 3:33 pmReply

    It’s such an intriguing “project.” Any output from it? I’d love to know more about it.

    • Aaron Victorin-VangerudAugust 27, 2014 at 5:06 pmReply

      Well, it ran for one year, 2011-12. Their final report reads:

      “The Fail collaborative met 4 times over the course of the 2011-12 academic year. Meetings were attended by 6-8 people per session, with an occasional interested member of the public joining the discussion. Our goal was to construct collectively an intellectual history of failure. Although the concept may be said to be ubiquitous (e.g. undergirding the Judeo‐Christian view of agency, permeating our understanding of modernity, defining certain scientific experimental processes), there is no coherent account of failure as a concept, practice, or event. More specifically, in our readings of Agamben, Virilio, Freud, Butler and other critics, we endeavored to locate, within these accounts of the history of modernity and the modern self, the role of failure: as thematic, as intellectual “straw man,” or as a modus operandi for modern thought.

      If it is tempting to declare that the Fail collaborative failed, it would be a bit grandiose. On one hand, we did not reach our goals. The reasons were quite simple: as opposed to to assembling a group of scholars with diverse but convergent interests in the question of failure, we had created a collective of individuals whose research intersected with but did not consistently take up failure as an object. One person’s object was another’s obstacle; one kind of history was someone else’s methodological error. On the other hand, the original goals of the collaborative seem to have been reaffirmed by the group’s lack of cohesiveness and even fractured agenda: a genealogy of failure, alongside a deeper understanding of methodologies of failure in creative and research practices, is sorely needed.”

      You could contact the conveners; their info is listed here, here, and here. Also, you might be interested in this year’s “Brecht’s America: Rehearsing Failure” collaborative which is hosting a panel in November with Cherbuliez and Werry. It will likely be recorded and footage posted.

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