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This is a passage from Samuel Beckett’s play Worstword Ho, 1983: “...All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better ...” Since I first read this passage, I’d always interpreted “fail better” to mean “to fail in way that is less of a failure.” But recently I read that by “fail better,” Beckett meant “to fail in a way that is even more of a failure,” and that this was Beckett’s true literary goal. Is there a verb that conveys the second interpretation?

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    Those would be the result, but how to get the goal of failure in there...
    – Zan700
    Jul 8, 2015 at 0:25
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    I think if there were a synonym that conveyed the meaning it would ruin the poetic and rhetorical effect. But this is the realms of literary criticism. So, lest I post a comment that is entirely off-topic, I will suggest that no there isn't a synonym, because the whole of the passage is needed in order for the meaning of that final verb and adverb to be fully understandable.
    – Karasinsky
    Jul 8, 2015 at 0:45
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    Please consider that good writers use the best of their language. Looking for "better" ways to say something like this is not "better". Unless this whole question is an attempt to "fail better"...? Jul 8, 2015 at 1:23
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    @Karasinsky - Although I disagree that whole passage is needed, I would be happy to hear a comment that is entirely off-topic. This is a wonderful site but half bullshit. Why should we be afraid?
    – Zan700
    Jul 8, 2015 at 2:46
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    Tut, tut, my good @Zan700. No one who thinks Ophelia is a character in King Lear gets to tell this site on this site that this site is half bullshit.
    – deadrat
    Jul 8, 2015 at 2:53

2 Answers 2

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... Beckett meant “to fail in a way that is even more of a failure,” and that this was Beckett’s true literary goal. Is there a verb that conveys the second interpretation?



WELTSCHMERZ :

... a world weariness felt from a perceived mismatch between the ideal image of how the world should be with how it really is.

part of the pain is that the sufferer really wants the world to be otherwise

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Beckett, who was close to James Joyce and greatly admired him, could have been looking at the example of Finnegan's Wake, Joyce's final work, which was, in most people's and most critic's eyes, a gigantic failure. Many great writers thought he'd gone crazy or was just having a joke at everyone's expense. Which didn't make sense since he spent nineteen years writing it. And when it was finally 'cracked,' begun to be deciphered, Joseph Campbell's Skeleton Key being the first book to break it down, it became apparent it was a work of genius, again. So Beckett could have been talking about something like that - you can't fail better unless you try for something harder to achieve than before.

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  • From what I've read, Beckett thought Joyce had taken writing as far as it could go in terms of complexity, metaphor and allusion. Beckett set off in a different direction.
    – Zan700
    Feb 16 at 3:12

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