Every writer knows that there's no way to avoid failure. Even with the best intentions and the greatest vigilance, grammar will slip, plots will contradict themselves, and some sentences just won't work. Yet twentieth-century writers and critics have taught us that failure can also be the essence of great art. Virginia Woolf happily envisioned a literary age of 'the spasmodic, the obscure, the fragmentary, the failure,' and Samuel Beckett's artistic motto was 'fail better.' In this course, we will examine different ways of conceptualizing failure in writing: as a simple lapse, a triumphant gesture, a mode of formal complexity, an inevitability of language, and even a way of constructing identity. Readings will include theories of failure in art as well as a diverse selection of literary works from antiquity to modernism, including Jane Austen's "Emma," Gustave Flaubert's "The Temptation of Saint Anthony," Herman Melville's "Pierre," William Faulkner's "Sanctuary," and Samuel Beckett's "Ill Seen Ill Said."