Down to earth

For philosopher Costica Bradatan, failure delivers self-knowledge in a way that success cannot.

In reviewing this book, it is hard to resist quoting Bob Dylan’s 1965 hit “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”: “She knows there’s no success like failure / And that failure’s no success at all.” Applying Dylan’s ironic lyric as a hermeneutical prompt produces this summary of the book: there’s no success like failure, because failure alone reveals the broken truth about ourselves and our world.

A philosopher who teaches at Texas Tech University, Costica Bradatan examines failure from four vantage points: metaphysical, political, personal histories, and our ultimate and inevitable demise, namely, death. With special attention to the Gnostics, Bradatan opens the curtain on a chorus of thinkers who, rather than marvel at the glory of creation, shake their heads in disgust. Quoting historian Jacques Lacarrière, Bradatan writes, “Every single thing in the world . . . carries the ‘materially traceable trace of an original imperfection.’”

Since our lives are bound together, the author pays homage to the “ruins of political failure,” with reference to the harrowing machines of the Nazis and the Soviets. Born and raised in Romania, Bradatan possesses an intimate knowledge of the world in which executions, torture, and the gulag were only a whisper away. Like Hitler, when Stalin had someone arrested, just for terror and fun’s sake, he would also have a close personal relative of that doomed individual sent into slave labor. Stalin made frequent jokes about the millions of lives he destroyed. Bradatan signs off on this section with a sigh: “One wonders whether the caveman was capable of such refined savagery.”