In a world in which success-oriented propositions and formulas are the staple fodder, writing an essay entitled “Consciousness of Failure” puts the writer in diametrical opposition to the pressing demands of the collective consciousness. The theme I want to reflect on, however, is the product of a psychic movement that puts pressure on us from within, so that we become aware of what I call here the Consciousness of Failure. For the fact is that failure as a subject for discussion is excluded from the anxieties of our time. Failure and its attendant circumstances are severely repressed; it is as if it were the last thing we want to hear about.
Consciousness of failure has been haunting me for years. Undoubtedly the subject is connected with my practice as a psychotherapist, which has made it a little easier for me to realize that if people come to see and talk to me – in other words, to undertake psychotherapy – it is because something in their life has failed. The way in which they have been living no longer functions. The person sitting opposite me during psychotherapy is experiencing a failure that usually hides unsuspected complications, in spite of the superficial levels at which it sometimes appears. There is a big difference, however, between calling this failure by name and moving towards an awareness of it. What we euphemistically call crisis or something similar, secure in the reductive knowledge that a crisis can be easily resolved, can, in reality, be altering a whole life, whether we perceive it or not. On the other hand, failure or crisis does not always give life a new meaning or direction. For about fourteen or fifteen years, during my studies and in my discussions about cases with other psychotherapists, I have used such phrases as “Yes, so-and-so’s psychotherapy is under way, but there is a long way to go yet; above all, he lacks a consciousness of failure.” The fact that someone comes into psychotherapy having failed in life does not necessarily mean that he is really aware of that failure. It is even less likely that he is reconciled to it as the propitiatory vehicle propelling him towards what we are calling Consciousness of Failure. Often a patient expects, and even demands, that psychotherapy support and reinforce his fantasies of success. But sometimes (which is even worse) much of present-day psychotherapy is reduced to bolstering up the one-sided devotion to success in which the patient has lived, cleaning him reductively of everything that opposes success as a personal and collective goal.