The Encyclopedia of Stupidity

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Matthijs van Boxsel believes that no one is intelligent enough to understand their own stupidity. In The Encyclopædia of Stupidity he shows how stupidity manifests itself in all areas, in everyone, at all times, proposing that stupidity is the foundation of our civilization.

In short sections with such titles as ‘The Blunderers’ Club’, ‘Fools in Hell’, ‘Genealogy of Idiots’, and ‘The Aesthetics of the Empty Gesture’, stupidity is analysed on the basis of fairy tales, cartoons, triumphal arches, garden architecture, Baroque ceilings, jokes, flimsy excuses and science fiction. But Van Boxsel wants to do more than just assemble a ‘shadow cabinet’ of wisdom; he tries to fathom the logic of this opposite world. Where do understanding and intelligence begin and end? He examines mythic fools such as Cyclops and King Midas, cities such as Gotham, archetypes including the dumb blonde, and traditionally stupid animals such as the goose, the donkey and the headless chicken.

Van Boxsel posits that stupidity is a condition for intelligence, that blunders stimulate progress, that failure is the basis for success. In this erudite and witty book he maintains that our culture is the product of a series of failed attempts to comprehend stupidity.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781861892317
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 4/1/2005
  • Series: BL - Treasures from the Bodleian Library
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.75 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Matthijs van Boxsel is a literary historian who lives in Amsterdam.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 11
I The Black Flag
The Academy of Stupidity 13
The Discovery 17
The Profile of Stupidity 19
The Terrarium 24
The Premise 25
The Design 25
Shagreen 26
The Peepshow 26
The Vanishing Handkerchief 27
Well-trodden Paths 28
II The Blunderers' Club
The Knight in the Bog 29
The Topology of Stupidity 29
Road Signs 30
The Fatal Combination 30
The Principle of the Woodcutter out on a Limb 31
The Not Terribly Good Club 32
The Amsterdammer 32
Eggshells of Ignorance 33
No Pleasure without Pain 35
The Fluke 35
Adversity and Wisdom 36
The Retroactive Effect 36
Esprit d'escalier 37
Epimetheus 37
Productive Delusion 38
Stupidity as the Mystical Foundation of our Existence 39
The Automaton 39
The Credo of Stupidity 40
The Reversal 41
The Invisible Treasure 41
The Judge Judged 41
'Kannitverstan' 42
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit 43
La Boetie and Boeotiana 43
Gothamite Wisdom 45
The Logic of Dual Stupidity 46
The Comic Hiatus 47
The Seventh Heaven 47
The Secret of Suspended Life 48
The Stupidity of Intelligence 49
The Riches of Spijk 50
Sowing Salt 51
Lodged in Stupidity 52
Methodical Stupidity 52
III Fallor, the Aerobat
Credo 54
Who is Fallor? 54
A Feast for Pessimists 55
The Earlobe 55
Personal Column 55
Towards an Aesthetics of Stupidity 55
Further Contributions to the Aesthetics of Stupidity 56
Homeopathic Stupidity 56
From the Sublime to the Ridiculous 57
The Unheard-of Study 57
Morology 58
Fallor on Holiday 58
IV The Ha-ha
Three Stupid Maps 59
The Foolishness of the French Garden 60
The Ah-ah! 61
The Foolishness of the English Garden 63
The Ha-ha 64
Second Nature 66
Nature's Orchestra Pit 67
Erotic Empiricism 68
The Metaphysics of the Zigzag 70
The Moral 71
Epilogue 72
V Simpletons in Hell
The Hell of Fools 74
Ataraxia 75
Boeotian Hell 75
The Gate of Hell 77
The Final Anamorphosis 79
The Haunted House 80
The Gift of Discernment 81
Limbo 82
The Blot 83
The Paradise of Fools 84
The Ceiling of Stupidity 85
The Will to be Stupid 88
Appendix The Apotheosis of a Gnat 90
VI The Genealogy of Dullards
On the Origin of Dullards 91
The Power of Palliatives 92
The Word made Flesh 93
The Triumph of Poor Excuses 94
The Hour of All 95
Zero Hour 97
The Jovial Gesture 98
The Unity of Opposites 99
VII On the Inherent Stupidity of Constitutional Monarchies
Prologue: The Frogs who Wanted a King 101
1 Stupidity as the Basis of Civilization
The First Stupid Act (A Fable) 103
Savageness and Rudeness 104
The Scorpion and the Tortoise 105
The Reversal 105
2 Man is a Grape
Ecstacy 107
Self-Love and Self-Liking 107
The Trick 108
Dumbing Down 109
Hypocrisy 109
The Good in Evil 110
The Fable of the Bees 112
The Fable of the Social Contract 113
The Punch-bowl 115
3 The Trifling Difference
The Truth of the Truth 117
Man is Good but not Stupid 118
The Legislator 118
The Fourth Kind of Law 119
The Rod and the Serpent 120
The Aesthetic of the Empty Gesture 122
The Holy Democrat 122
The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing 123
The Strength of Democracy 124
4 Election Fever
The Paradox of Democracy 126
Elections 126
The Election Machine 128
Election Madness 131
The Centre of Power 132
The Terror 132
Stupor 134
5 Frogs, Logs, Snakes and Masks (Twelve Uneasy Pieces)
I The Log in the Lake 136
II The Sanctified Space 137
III Elbow Room 138
IV The Subject of Democracy 138
V The Body Politic 139
VI 'A Mirror for Princes' 139
VII Pinocchio 141
VIII Failure as a ratio cognoscendi 142
IX I Will 143
X The Point of Folly 143
XI L'etat c'est moi 144
XII Stupor mundi 144
6 The Emperor's New Clothes
Esse est non percipi 146
How Till Eulenspiegel Painted the Landgrave of Hesse 146
The Monarch's Two Bodies 148
Voluntary Slavery 149
The Justification 150
The Emperor's New Clothes 151
The Hypothetical Fool 153
Who did not Know? 154
Stupidity in Three Periods 157
The Fame Machine (With No State Guarantee) 159
Modern Ritual 161
A Final Note: Canned Laughter 161
VIII The Darwin Awards
1 Ecstasy
Nominations 164
Stupidity as the Basis of Civilization 166
An Explosive Mixture 166
Cunning Stupidity 168
2 The Missing Link
The Lapse 171
Forbidden Fruit 172
Buridan's Ass 172
The Castle in the Air 173
Gatekeepers 174
Who am I? 176
The Boeotian Sphinx 176
Man's Being 177
Errare humanum est 177
Bloomers 178
Second Nature 180
Hypothetical Stupidity and Toilet Paper 180
The Crux of the Matter 181
The Stone of Contention 182
Paradise Damned 182
3 Holy Madness
Nasreddin 183
I The Encyclopaedia 184
II The Biggest Fool 184
III Happiness Favours the Foolish 185
IV The Eighteenth Camel 185
V The Holy Ass 186
VI Keeping your Head 187
VII Fifty Lashes 187
The Enlightened Fool 188
Morosophy 188
4 Clinamen
The Catastrophe 189
The Myth 189
Dumb Luck 191
Idiocy 191
Duplication 192
Nature, Chance and Artifice 193
Kairos 194
5 'Pataphysics
The Science of Imaginary Solutions 195
6 The Stupidity of Encyclopaedias
The Two Sides of the Apple 200
The Courage of Despair 200
The Spectre of Encyclopaedias 203
The Spectre of Satire 204
The Encyclopaedia of the Stupidity of Encyclopaedias 204
The Syrup 205
The Choreography of Knowledge and Morality 205
Acknowledgements 208
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2004

    One of the best books I ever read

    This book reminds us of the fallacies and illogical events with their reasons happening all over the world, the ridiculous rules, regulations and 'laws' we are subjected to. It is a refreshing exposé of everyday events looking from a different side - a sort of a Rubik-cube which, with a twist of the fingers, changes the appearance of the same thing. Highly recommend it to people who enjoy intellectual challenges.

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