Self-improvement with Sam

An Irishman’s Diary about the triumph of failure, Beckett-style

Thu, Feb 27, 2014, 01:00

Unfortunately, financial backing for the project has yet to emerge. Perhaps investors are worried that the museum itself might be a failure, which would be humorously apt, but would also be the sort of joke you’d need deep pockets to enjoy.

Anyway, pending such a development, I’m delighted to see that at least a temporary exhibition on the theme has opened at Trinity’s Science Gallery. It’s called – of course – “Fail Better”. And it limits itself to exhibits on a mere 20 “beautiful, heroic, and instructive” failures, not just from Ireland, but around the world (and, in one case, beyond it).

Thus there’s no room for e-voting machines, or the Millennium Clock, or Guinness Light or the Lumper Potato, all of which would be in the permanent museum. Instead, Ireland is represented by a couple of literary exhibits (including Beckett) and by Sonia O’Sullivan, who like Wawrinka, used earlier disappointments as a springboard to Australian glory.

In general, the Trinity exhibition tries to find positives in failure. Thus, the Mars Climate Orbiter – which probably disintegrated on its approach because of a mix-up whereby one of the launch teams used imperial measures while another used metric – is cited as a good (if expensive) lesson in the importance of attention to detail.

And even a 1965 invention by US couple George and Charlotte Blonsky, which aimed to ease childbirth by harnessing the power of centrifugal force, is found to have an upside. The invention involved strapping an expectant mother onto a table that, rotating at high speed, would launch her baby into earthly orbit (via a safety net), without the usual discomfort.

The Blonskys’ vision is no nearer reality today, 49 years on. But it was surely inevitable that, sooner or later, it would inspire a comic opera. And apparently, it just has.

The centrifugal birth-o-matic is reminiscent of those mad creations Myles na gCopaleen used invent in his Irish Times column. So I’m glad to see that he too features in the Trinity exhibition, albeit via his novel-writing persona, and for something he really did create. The Third Policeman was an unpublished failure in its lifetime, but its brilliance was recognised not long after he died on April Fool’s Day 1966. I hope he enjoyed the joke.

fmcnally@irishtimes.com

@FrankmcnallyIT

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