The art of failing

by Lorenzo Piccoli


Today’s event in Florence is not Netherlands v Spain: it is the June Ball and the Conferring ceremony. This year, in addition to the Ph.D. and LL.M. degrees, Honoris Causa degrees will be conferred on two distinguished academics: the sociologist Saskia Sassen and the historian Carlo Ginzburg.

I am now listening to Saskia Sassen’s laudatio – streaming it online because it’s too warm in there. It is now time to remember that Sassen’s PhD dissertation got initially rejected. Her first book has been rejected 13 times before being accepted by a publishing house. It is now one of the most important books in political sociology; and she is now one of the most established academics worldwide.

This makes me think of a recent article I read on the Telegraph: the rejection letter. This is a colourful collection of letters  rejecting most bestselling novels of famous writers to be. Some of the letters are brutal (“Overwhelmingly nauseating … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.”). Other letters are funny (“First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale?  “While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?“). These authors did not give up and eventually published their books. There is an art in failing and its importance is very rarely appreciated.

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