Cover image for Stupidity
Ronell, Avital.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Urbana : University of Illinois Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
366 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN56.S737 R66 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



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 Holderlin 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 socialsectors. 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."

Reviews 1

Choice Review

With this new book Ronell (German, New York Univ.) proves herself yet again to be one of the most original and exciting of contemporary critics. One never knows what to expect from Ronell--which is all the more remarkable at a time when criticism seems locked into the dreary and unthinking application of pre-established methodological principles. As Ronell argues, it is harder than one would think to write intelligently about stupidity. Yet she manages to do so with astonishing and inspiring brio. Ronell covers a remarkable range of figures--Heidegger, de Man, Wordsworth, Dostoevsky, Musil, Schlegel, and, last but not least, herself. These figures are all woven into a sustained meditation on the unthinkable role stupidity plays in thinking. Ronell convincingly demonstrates that stupidity is not merely a literary topic but a subtext within philosophy, a domain of the unthought that philosophy may, in fact, require to remain unthought. It is in the spirit of this study to say: if you at all suspect that you might be intelligent, do not avoid Stupidity--embrace it. General readers; upper-division undergraduates and above. S. Barnett Central Connecticut State University