read1 of 10
discover

FailCon, or the cult of failure

23.04.14
7 min
Post

Lately I’ve been watching Huffington Post Live in the evenings while I’m cooking stir fry or folding my laundry. Like watching The Bachelorette or going to art fairs, I think of watching HPL as an anthropological activity, in this case one that belies an awkward homesickness for the vulgarities of American culture. HPL is the media company’s live-streaming web-tv site, an endless string of four- to ten-minute chunks of “the biggest, hottest, and most engaging stories of the moment” – a three-ring circus of inane debates between whoever is on hand and can get sufficiently outraged/”huffed up” at that moment (remember, it’s endless, and it’s LIVE), feel-good stories about dogs and/or Google’s latest charity venture, and interviews with entrepreneurs and tech gurus about apps, apps, apppppppssssss.

(Last week while frying Chinese cabbage I watched a phone-in interview with a lady protester in Ukraine who manages to be hot while political, a Buddhist monk meditating LIVE, a re-stream of a Ted Talk with a (female but old) geneticist who Google just hired for its AIDS-stopping task force, and a black guy tirading against racism in American culture – who, amazingly, was interrupted in the middle of his rant by call-ins from two black women accusing him of sexism. Trump card!)

One of the most feeling-good stories I’ve seen recently was an interview with Sarah Lewis, author of The Gift of Failure. During the interview the breathless segment host(ess) brought in another guest via Google Hangout: Diane Loviglio, the San Francisco producer of FailCon, which is “a conference for startup founders to study their own and others’ failures and prepare for success.” At FailCons around the world, famous and/or rich (=successful) people meet up and tell stories about the miserable failures they have endured throughout their lives, which, remarkably, and through sheer will, THEY OVERCAME. These survivors testify the the importance of the “taboo topic” of failure before a rapt audience of soon-to-be-successes, with what I imagine to be uplifting slide shows and not a tinge of self-righteousness, each speaker driven simply by the charitable impulse to inspire others.

If you are looking for evidence of late-stage capitalism’s ability to extract value from every single waking moment (and possibly sleeping moments too), FailCon is pure gold. Can you imagine a more brilliant maneuver for wringing value out of every moment of personal non-productivity than wringing money out of those who haven’t produced enough value yet? FYI, the woman who started FailCon managed to capitalize upon her entire failed life by starting FailCon.

FailCon is the next level self-help book. And by capitalizing upon what it deems to be failure, it clearly demonstrates how failure – by which we mean unproductivity, inability to produce value within the system – is, contrary to the conference’s explicit message, completely unacceptable and incompatible with the logic of the global economy.

Jonathan Crary writes: “when people have nothing further that can be taken from them, whether resources or labor power, they are quite simply disposable.” To be economically non-valuable is to be completely disenfranchised. But, if you are committed to actively contributing to the economy, failure is ok, as long as you can recycle it into a story to inspire others one day. Just like your start-up company recycles old coffee cups and cell phone batteries to produce the surplus value of environmental responsibility as a key priority on your company homepage.

Thought experiment: invite a bunch of migrant workers, disenfranchised immigrants, sex-slaves, and homeless people to a FailCon to inspire them with the message that if they work hard enough and exercise positive thinking every day they will one day achieve the startup dream, just like speaker Geoff Wilson, founder and president of the digital agency 352, which he started unsuccessfully 15 years ago out of a dorm room but was able to get past some “bumps in the road” to eventually, um, almost recoup the million dollars it initially blew. (You guys all have dorm rooms, right?) The lucky audience could even… one day… perhaps… be completely assured they have finally achieved success by being invited to speak at a FailCon! Or better, start a FailCon franchise themselves!

In John Gertner’s recent article about Google X on FastCompany, the awestruck, pandering tone of which makes me feel very uncomfortable, we get a glimpse of the secret behind the world’s most cutting-edge and well-funded think tank. The big secret: FAILURE. One leading team member says: “Why put off failing until tomorrow or next week if you can fail now?” Another tells the writer that he sometimes gives a hug to people who admit mistakes or defeat in group meetings. Gertner goes so far as to call the organization “a cult of failure.”

The cult at Google X, like the fetishizers over at FailCon, have created the opposite of what they propose: a situation in which you literally cannot fail. First, because the lady doth protest way too much, and putting such an obsessive emphasis on the word implies profound terror of real defeat, whatever you think defeat would look like. (Re: terror, can you imagine getting a billion dollars and being told by Google to invent something to change world?) Second, because if failure equals success, failure is not failure. It’s, uh, success.

And if failure can be instantly converted into success, there is proof that the system must be working. Burnout, misery, depression, grief; these may be personal failures that you are responsible for, but they are minor setbacks that you can overcome with determination. The system forces you to fail, and then feel redeemed and grateful when you succeed. Thank you benevolent system for allowing me to afford an iPhone after I had a Motorola for so long; now I can wake up in the middle of the night to check my three email accounts. #FAIL.

(Why exactly are the lucky few chosen to work at Google X considered successes and not miserable instruments/storefronts for a self-perpetuating corporation who is causing the very world problems it purports to solve by inventing hovercrafts? I might propose a majorly-funded think-tank or convention to re-evaluate our basic measures of success and failure. OH WAIT, Arianna Huffington has already begun a movement speaking out against productivity. Working 24/7 can no longer be the #HuffPostWoman’s mark of success!)

Resilience is the implicit word underlying the cult of failure. You will fail, and then you will bounce back to become a contributing member of society again, driven by your hardships to succeed even harder. Whether or not you read self-help books, and whether or not you are an entrepreneur or an artist or a talkshow host on HuffPost Live, you have been told since birth that failure is the key to success, and you know that cultivating the illusion (self-delusion) of breakdown is absolutely integral to the cycle of productivity that we are all locked into.

In an essay called Resisting Resilience, Mark Neocleous likens the rhetoric of resilience surrounding self-help-healed burnout with the language of militaries and governments – resilience after terrorist attacks, resilience from economic depression. It’s very worth reading. It convinced me that I should absolutely not attempt to better myself. I should stay a slob. Resist resilience. PRO BURNOUT. elviapw.com / 3LVVIA

Victoria's Public Secret: Chapter 1.2, Part 1

23.04.14
1 min
Post

Coronation: Thursday, 28 June 1838 Part I

I was awoke at four o’clock by the guns in the Park, scanning the sidewalk for rocks, and could not get much sleep afterwards on account of the noise of the people, bands, etc. Got up at 7 feeling strong and well; the Park presented a curious spectacle; crowds of people up to Constitution Hill, soldiers, bands, etc. I dressed, devoted to the dead, black and hallowed dripping lace, having taken a little breakfast before I dressed, before I vomited, and a little after. Gingerale. Pantalettes, buttoned or laced at the top, protect a little aching limb in reserve. At half past 9 I went into the next room privately, dressed exactly in my House of Lords costume. Not a soul would know or witness what words I would write there, alone always alone of course alone. At 10 I got into the State Coach with the Duchess of Sutherland and Lord Albemarle, and we began our Progress. #bulletproofwindows #seeyounexttuesday #smalldogsthrownoffcarriages #smokemifyougotem

Easter 2.0

21.04.14
4 min
Post

It had been arranged about two weeks ago that I would have Easter lunch at my mum’s—my parents are divorced—but on Wednesday I called my mum to ask her for a favor. Said favor was whether she could buy a book I needed for school downtown, which is a two-hour bus ride from where I live. She said she would try. So Thursday I called her to check on that, to which she responded with tons of excuses and told me she thought I was calling to go visit her. I said I had tons of stuff to do for school, reading that book for the next class being part of it. She got mad at me. I get a bit scared of my mum when she gets mad at me and avoid confrontation even if it’s just on the phone. So I didn’t call her and decided that if lunch plans were still on, she would call me. She never did. Sunday morning arrived after a hideous food poisoning on Saturday and I woke up to my dad’s “goodbye.” I didn’t understand. I assumed we were spending Easter together since my mum hadn’t called. He assumed I was still going to my mum’s. He left to his girlfriend’s house so he wouldn’t spend Easter alone. I was then left alone. My mum called at 2pm and asked whether I had eaten with my dad. I told her my dad wasn’t home. She sounded off but I didn’t want to ask why as I usually would. She told me she went to the Fire Ceremony and whether I remembered when we used to go together. I said I did not. She felt sad at that response and told me that I used to love it and that I always wanted to stay near the bonfire. I said I bet I did because it sounds lovely. She didn’t say a thing about lunch nor tea but she did say my sister was going to study and have tea at a friend’s. So no Easter plans, I thought. I then Facebook chatted with my sister. Me: No plans for Easter?—Sister: Mum’s husband’s offspring are coming at 5 for tea. You should come.—Me: Mum didn’t say anything about it and I’ll be late because I haven’t eaten yet and it is a 2 hour bus ride there. She said you were going to a friend’s.—Sister: Haha yeah. I won’t be there. You should go. mum thought you were coming for lunch.—Me: But you didn’t have Easter lunch and mum said nothing about the tea and I didn’t call because she was mad at me about the book. And you won’t be around, which sucks.—Sister: That’s because mum and her husband were arguing so they didn’t know what they would do. Dad then sent me a text around 7pm asking if I was home or went to mum’s, saying he was visiting granny at the nursery home. I answered: “Home”. He answered: “OK. I’ll be back soon”. He got back two hours ago. Didn’t come to my room or say a word to me since he arrived. I remember Easter when I was a child. My grandma would order a huge beautiful open Easter egg, with colorful lovely decorations, and a stuffed bunny inside waiting for me or my sister to hold it once it was time to crack open the eggs. I remember my mum preparing a nice lunch. My grandpa would come from Uruguay (where my mum is from), my other grandparents would come over too and also my aunt. We would eat pasta or chicken or both, we would celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ like a family was supposed to in the 50s. Together, portraying happiness and unity even in if my parents were arguing about whatever silly stuff they would argue about before everybody arrived. Then we would all enjoy the warmth of the autumn sun and maybe play some ball in the garden. Today I found myself eating homemade pasta leftovers I made for Friday night dinner and watching Mad Men, trying to catch some of that sometimes necessary make-belief hypocrisy thinking we are happier than we are as a family; staying together through thick and thin—and also spending Easter with Don Draper, because he is as lonely as I felt today due to miscommunication, individualism, Ayn Rand, and the loss of family values.

People

Bio von 'lord maxwell of the manor flaum' Kopie in blind fits of manic decay 
he shreds the fabric of his
day
with restless anxiety that his friends do not have enough of whatever
it is he insists they need …
he is crippled and deformed
and enormous he buzzes and vibrates and hops
and bangs around with a 1000
tentacles of mind and
pink jostling webbed appendage
time ever quickening and
running out
is greeted with the addicts optimism
and disbelief
on his noW! XXXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXX ???????
he is spending the last of his
paycheck
on a vintage telecaster
because he is firmly grounded in his presiding belief
that
he
should
always
have
what
he
wants and
that the glory of
bruce springsteen for example
is still looming large
just under his hat

w/love and certÄfiable “prestige” .
(hypnogogia
and
taste)
lord maxwell of the manor
flaum
Ä.Ö.K.

People

I first met Aggie virtually, through Twitter. We had many things in common, one of them being my ex boyfriend, who had gone on a date with her way before my time. There is something mysterious yet inviting about her, maybe it has something to do with the fact that she is very talented in a humble, quiet way. I finally met Aggie in the flesh a couple of days ago, only to find that I will never be able to put my finger on what it is that makes her so alluring. I will continue to pursue this quest, and so should everyone who comes across her. Not often does one find a pretty girl with interests and curiosity, or a sense of humor, perhaps because these are not expected from her. In Aggie’s case, beauty is frequently overshadowed by substance, which is why her self-consciousness is nothing but an obvious miscalculation in her perception of the world.

People

Thoughts for food. That must be one of the best titles for an artwork in the world. Thoughts for Alex Turgeon. He’s been known to call himself “CEO of Me” on gchat, a joke that encompasses our contemporary condition in 3 words. The guy is going places. General Fine Arts. Lately his beard has expanded and he’s been doing these amazing poetry readings (no correlation). I saw him do one performance involving a metronome and when it was over I shouted “again!” by accident. Sonic puns, visual puns, linguistic puns, personality puns. He has this one cropped sweatshirt that never fails to impress, and in the summer he wears white shorts that look even better when dirty. One work he made called Best Friends (Diptych) was a necklace for the gallery ceiling, a half heart dangling from a thin chain down between gravity’s clavicles, nearly grazing the floor. I like to think he wears the other half of the heart underneath his cropped sweatshirt while working at the studio. I don’t remember which day we met; it’s like we just bumped our bikes into each other on Kottbusser Damm. Actually, if I’m being honest, It’s like I purposefully bumped my front tire into his rear end at the stoplight. It’s what we call a “friend crush.” I think he and I speak exactly the same level of German: we get the sound but not the rules. Once we spoke German on the phone together. It was the only time I’ve ever felt fluent.

http://generalfinearts.net/

Elvia Wilk
People

I was first enamoured by Elvia’s “My Girl” charm when we met amongst the nicotine vignettes at the basement of Times, or was it within the mix of the social cocktail of the Schinkel?  Perhaps most likely over a communal wine bottle adjacent to the Spree, I think we both feel most at home there. Whichever the truth, no matter as our friendship began seamlessly as though it was willed into existence. Elvia offers an effervescence that, whether it be a familiar face amongst the crowd or her diplomacy during a Knödel crisis, never ceases to amaze me. I am always in awe of her productivity, bouncing through one professional field to the next, all the while with the ability to squeeze in creativity and to start back at it again when Monday rolls around. We both hate Mondays and we both have a knack for anxiety during the best of times. From organizing panel discussions, composing digital literature and criticizing architecture to rom-coms and chicken wings, Elvia is still able to make the distinction between pussy drama and pussy logic while swapping dick picks over a pinot grigio. There was this one time when Elvia hosted an impromptu pre-game birthday celebration for me in her white cube apartment (seriously a cube), and in the height and heat of our boogie woogies, at the strike of midnight, a bottle of champagne on the table popped all on its own, ushering in a new year for me as me, and as a sign for one of many more with Elvia.  This summer Elvia will be participating in a two-month residency on a secluded island where there is no internet, she will be greatly missed, R.I.P.

www.elviapw.com

Photo by Clemens Jahn

Gabriel Loebell Herberstein
People

I first met Gabriel in Venice. He came in a white tracksuit to my studio on the Grand Canal. The sunlight was blinding white and he was dancing with some girls to Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” and going through my record collection. I did not know such artists like him existed in our times. People like him are the stuff of novels. Then Gabriel is kind, wonderful, and always up to something that is way more interesting than the most of us.

Arab Spring hyperbole

Emily Dische-Becker about Arab Spring hyperbole
09.04.14
1 min
Post

(Or, how to commit Beamtenbeleidigung – insulting a civil servant – without paying a fine.)

Yesterday, at the finance department in Berlin, I asked the official processing my tax forms if she knew why Mohammed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor of self-immolation fame, had set himself on fire. “No,” she replied, her red pen scratching the boxes I’d failed to fill in on my application. She, like many state employees whose misfortune it is to interact with hapless citizens, didn’t display a particular fondness for questions; and I, I had already given in to bureaucratic fatalism and was planning my life on the run, as a low-income accidental tax evader. “Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire,” I said, “because of the infinite arbitrary cruelty of petty bureaucrats.”

She hadn’t yet heard that version of the “Arab Spring.”

Now she knows.

Every refugee knows

Emily Dische-Becker about what every refugee knows
04.04.14
2 min
Post

“When you are coming from a war zone, you can’t tolerate dead time. The most important thing is to start rebuilding something,” says Bashar Tamawi, a 33-year old urologist from Syria, who is currently holed up at an asylum center in Berlin-Gatow, pending his second court date. It took Tamawi three months to get to Berlin from Deir Ez-Zorr, where he performed over a thousand surgeries in a field hospital, only a stone’s throw away from the front line and often without electric power and sufficient medical supplies. The German authorities, some of whom may themselves in future require Tamawi’s services, e.g. for a prostate exam, should allow him to begin rebuilding a new life without further delay. And I should stop making references to prostate exams when talking to German asylum bureaucrats.

Tamawi’s asylum hearing is next week. The case worker who questioned Tamawi in Berlin promised him (and me) that it would not affect his asylum application if he detailed how he entered Germany. This is untrue. According to the Dublin convention, asylum seekers can be deported to their first point of entry in Europe.

Here is a wonderful profile of Tamawi from Wednesday’s Die Taz.

FailCon, or the cult of failure

23.04.14
7 min

Victoria's Public Secret: Chapter 1.2, Part 1

23.04.14
1 min

Easter 2.0

21.04.14
4 min

Arab Spring hyperbole

Emily Dische-Becker about Arab Spring hyperbole
09.04.14
1 min

Every refugee knows

Emily Dische-Becker about what every refugee knows
04.04.14
2 min