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Nietzsche, Einstein and Deleuze agree: the question of stupidity, its unremitting sway, needs to be dealt with.

This book explores the urgency of stupidity, its hiding places as well as its everyday public appearances. It maps areas of thought in which stupidity has been traditionally concealed or repressed and tunes into stupidity's static in the realms of literature, philosophy and politics. Neither a moral default nor a pathology, stupidity has no duty to truth yet nonetheless bears ethical consequences. At the same time there is something about stupidity--what Musil and Deleuze locate as "transcendental stupidity"--that is untrackable; it evades our cognitive scanners and turns up as the uncanny double of mastery or intelligence. A major phobia in the lexicon of learning, stupidity opens up new unintelligibilities, as Schlegel might have said--an unexpected range of explosive stammers--marking at times a new beginning, the philosophical primal scene of stupor.

Stupidity points to what has been historically inappropriable--the banality and stupidity of evil, as Hannah Arendt says of Eichmann.

On some level stupidity is a "feminine" problem, or has been evicted from philosophical premises to occupy what is marked as feminine incertitude. Still, poets such as Hölderlin and Rilke claimed the predicament of stupidity (or sheer idiocy) as reflecting the true nature of poetic origination. The work studies the modulation of stupidity into idiocy, puerility, and the figure of the ridiculous philosopher, instituted by Kant. Investigating ignorance, dumb-foundedness, and the limits of reason, it probes the pervasive practice of theory-bashing in supposedly intelligent social sectors. A section on prolonged and debilitating illness pushes the text to an edge of corporeal understanding, "at the limits of what the body knows and tells."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780252071270
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Publication date: 12/20/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 376
  • Sales rank: 652,985
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: Slow Learner 1
1 The Question of Stupidity: Why We Remain in the Provinces 35
2 The Politics of Stupidity: Musil, Dasein, the Attack on Women, and My Fatigue 61
3 The Rhetoric of Testing 95
Kierkegaard Satellite 164
4 The Disappearance and Returns of the Idiot 169
Wordsworth Satellite: "The Idiot Boy" 246
Notes 311
Index 353
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2002


    Avital Ronell is one of the most provocative, street-savvy, and theoretically sophisticated thinkers of this age. If you've not yet encountered her explosive work (her other books: Dictations, The Telephone Book, Crack Wars, Finitude's Score), Stupidity will most definitely blow you away. And if you are already a die-hard Ronell fan, Stupidity will ... blow you away. (No amount of prep will brace you sufficiently.) Like Ronell's other works, Stupidity offers a kind of post-critical or nonrepresentational analysis, going after a seemingly recognizable and knowable signifier (stupidity) but tracking it so closely that it quickly becomes unrecognizable, exceeding its object-status, overflowing itself as a concept. Explicitly breaking with scholarly tradition, a tradition that over-values mastery and certitude, Ronell engages her 'object' of study at the level of its radical singularity, tracking it through poets, novelists, philosophers, literary/critical theorists, and preschoolers. But the closer she brings us to it, each time, the less knowable it appears--and (so) the less representable. With her trademark wit and style, Ronell prepares us for this post-critical critique right up front: 'Stupidity exceeds and undercuts materiality, runs loose, wins a few rounds, recedes, gets carried home in a clutch of denial-and returns. Essentially linked to the inexhaustible, stupidity is also that which fatigues knowledge and wears down history.' And more, still from the very first page: 'I hesitate to say here what stupidity is because, eluding descriptive analysis, it switches and regroups, turns around and even fascinates.... While stupidity is 'what is there,' it cannot be simply located or evenly scored.' Right at the beginning stupidity is both linked to 'the most dangerous failures of human endeavor' and also associated (via Nietzsche) with the promotion of 'life and growth'--it's linked both to error (where philosophy would like to keep it) and to sheer thought (the near stupor and extreme surrender involved in the poetic act). There are sections in the work that are explicitly political, where Ronell zeros in on the 'secret beneficiaries of stupidity's hegemony,' examining, for example, the invention of the word moron, a label meaning 'a little below average,' which routinely has been slapped on immigrant children to justify holding them back. But Stupidity makes a larger (less explicitly and more astonishingly) political gesture: it exposes a kind of 'transcendental stupidity' that appears to operate structurally, at and as the very ground of our being and of our being-with. Though stupidity is usually something that is loaded up and pointed at others, in the name of truth or morals or whatever, Ronell brings it home, redescribing it--to switch metaphors--as a kind of over-arching dome within which all claims to knowledge and intelligence take place. The ethical implications of this observation are profound. Though an imperative to understand does and must remain operative, one is not capable finally of *having understood* (fully). Indeed, Ronell suggests that the only possible ethical position may be: 'I am stupid before the other.'

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