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Book Title: Stupidity|
The author of the book: Avital Ronell
Date of issue: December 17th 2002
ISBN 13: 9780252071270
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 672 KB
Edition: University of Illinois Press
Read full description of the books Stupidity:Near the opening of the book, Ronell claims, “stupidity is … linked to the most dangerous failures of human endeavors” (3). Or at least one form of stupidity does—Ronell hesitates to offer a totalizing definition of the word throughout the book, her reasons for which I’ll return to in a moment. For Ronell, “stupidity does not allow itself to be opposed to knowledge in any simple way, nor is it the other of thought. It does not stand in the way of wisdom, for the disguise of the wise is to avow unknowing” (5). It is not the opposite of knowledge, wisdom, or intelligence, but is closely linked to them. Where dogmatic, unreflective claims to knowledge are made, stupidity is never far behind. And were professed stupidity appears, there’s a good chance wisdom is hiding around the corner. She looks at various forms of stupidity: Rousseau’s self-aware stupidity, the true stupidity behind the Age of Enlightenment’s truth-claims, and the violent and proud stupidity of American capitalism. At the end of “The Question of Stupidity,” however, rather than simply writing off various others as stupid, Ronell points the finger at herself: “the question of stupidity … is connected to a fundamental commitment to justice…. I am stupid before the other” (60). Reading Robert Musil, she considers how labeling others as “stupid” can be a way of figuring and demeaning others—particularly women in the Musil chapter (78). But then it may also be the ground for love and, once again, justice (93).
This is followed by “The Rhetoric of Testing,” which is of particular interest to me. Ronell starts the chapter with Paul de Man, arguing that his “work is essentially engaged with … the question of technology”—specifically “the unstoppable technology of a grammar” (97). For de Man, grammar—separated from rhetoric and rhetorical reflection—takes on a machine-like quality given its radical formalism. Resisting “the blind technopower of a grammar disengaged from rhetoric” requires “a modality of testing or a contestatory exercise” (99, my emphasis). The writer or reader doesn’t overpower or break out of language and grammar’s hold, but testing its boundaries allows for a sort of “permanent parabasis” within the “experience of failure.” Testing boundaries herself, Ronell moves toward de Man’s “Concept of Irony” (118), examining the “proximate determinations of irony and allegory” (123) and putting de Man’s concept in conversation with Kierkegaard’s, Wayne Booth’s, and Schlegel’s. Linked to anacoluthon, “irony disrupts the very singularity, the extreme idiosyncracy, of the allegory of tropes” (141, singularity is another key concept at hand). De Man writing on irony doesn’t directly address stupidity, though, so Ronell finishes by reading Schlegel on unintelligibility—something of which many have certainly accused de Man. Schlegel, like Ronell, supports unintelligibility importance (significance?). Schlegel on unintelligibility reminds readers, “If there must be an imperative to understand, this is because understanding does not come but remains lost to us” (161). The failed attempt at understanding, at reading, is the test, perhaps?
In subsequent chapters, Ronell examines the figure of the idiot (or the “almost” idiot, see 217) in Dostoevsky and Wordsworth. She finishes with Kant, examining how that most dry and anti-stylish of philosophers lets stupidity and anti-Semitism creep in. She examines Kant in proximity to Kafka’s Abraham, who was caught in a catch-22 when he heard the call: A “cheated cheater,” both “you” and Abraham (and Kant and Ronell, I suspect) are “[t]oo stupid to know whether your name was called,” “ridiculous,” unable to decide “whether this call that expelle you from your house was a blessing or a curse” (310).
Read information about the authorAvital Ronell is Professor of German, comparative literature, and English at New York University, where she directs the Research in Trauma and Violence project, and has also written as a literary critic, a feminist, and philosopher.
Ronell to Israeli diplomats and was a performance artist before entering academia.
She gained a B.A. from Middlebury College and studied with Jacob Taubes at the Hermeneutic Institute at the Free University of Berlin. She received her Ph.D. under the advisement of Stanley Corngold at Princeton University in 1979, and then continued her studies with Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous in Paris.
She joined the comparative literature faculty at the University of California, Berkeley before moving to NYU. She is also a core faculty member at the European Graduate School.
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