History of Art Dissertation on 'Failure'


In order to question the values and beliefs that drive our actions, my dissertation explores ‘failure’ as a valid position to take. In my introduction, I unpack the notion of failure using Bruce Nauman’s Failing to Levitate in the Studio (1966) as an analogical device. In Chapter 1, I discuss Samuel Beckett’s Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit, the source of the famous saying: “To be an artist is to fail, as no other dare fail,” to arrive at Maurice Blanchot’s idea of ‘désoeuvrement’ –  a mode of understanding failure through a renewed understanding of work as worklessness. Chapter 2 looks at Giorgio Agamben’s analysis of potentiality through Herman Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener, and connects Bartleby to the work of architect Frederick Kiesler. Chapter 3 investigates Georges Bataille’s anti-humanist position to reflect on how humans are incorporated into farcical systems of value. Architect Cedric Price’s Fun Palace is examined to see if flexible systems based on user choice can offer the possibility of heterogeneity. In conclusion, the unworking of failure negates the virtuosity of our accomplishment centric view of work, and necessitates a simultaneous voluntary and involuntary blindness to purpose and understanding as achievement.

Read the full essay here 

Bruce Nauman,  Failing to levitate in the studio , 1966

Bruce Nauman, Failing to levitate in the studio, 1966

Vasundhara Sellamuthu