False Starts: The Rhetoric of Failure and the Making of American Modernism

Dec 4, 2014, 6:00 pm7:30 pm
Labyrinth Books, Nassau Street



Event Description

David Ball - False Starts: The Rhetoric of Failure and the Making of American Modernism

Thursday, December 4th, 2014 at 6:00 PM - Labyrinth Books Princeton


From Herman Melville’s claim that “failure is the true test of greatness” to Henry Adams’s self-identification with the “mortifying failure in [his] long education” and William Faulkner’s eagerness to be judged by his “splendid failure to do the impossible,” the rhetoric of failure has served as a master trope of modernist American literary expression. We invite you to a presentation and discussion with David Ball in honor of his new book

Ball’s magisterial study addresses the fundamental questions of language, meaning, and authority that run counter to well-rehearsed claims of American innocence and positivity, beginning with the American Renaissance and extending into modernist and contemporary literature. The rhetoric of failure was used at various times to engage artistic ambition, the arrival of advanced capitalism, and a rapidly changing culture. False Starts locates a lively narrative running through American literature that consequently queries assumptions about the development of modernism in the United States.


David M. Ball is a visiting associate professor of English at Princeton University and an associate professor of English at Dickinson College.