Cover image for The encyclopaedia of stupidity
The encyclopaedia of stupidity
Boxsel, Matthijs van, 1957-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
London : Reaktion Books, 2004.

Physical Description:
205 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Originally published: 2003.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BF431 .B643 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Matthijs van Boxsel believes that no one is intelligent enough to understand their own stupidity. In The Encyclop#65533;dia 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.

Author Notes

Matthijs van Boxsel has been researching, writing and lecturing on stupidity for over 20 years. He lives in Amsterdam

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 11
I The Black Flag
The Academy of Stupidityp. 13
The Discoveryp. 17
The Profile of Stupidityp. 19
The Terrariump. 24
The Premisep. 25
The Designp. 25
Shagreenp. 26
The Peepshowp. 26
The Vanishing Handkerchiefp. 27
Well-trodden Pathsp. 28
II The Blunderers' Club
The Knight in the Bogp. 29
The Topology of Stupidityp. 29
Road Signsp. 30
The Fatal Combinationp. 30
The Principle of the Woodcutter out on a Limbp. 31
The Not Terribly Good Clubp. 32
The Amsterdammerp. 32
Eggshells of Ignorancep. 33
No Pleasure without Painp. 35
The Flukep. 35
Adversity and Wisdomp. 36
The Retroactive Effectp. 36
Esprit d'escalierp. 37
Epimetheusp. 37
Productive Delusionp. 38
Stupidity as the Mystical Foundation of our Existencep. 39
The Automatonp. 39
The Credo of Stupidityp. 40
The Reversalp. 41
The Invisible Treasurep. 41
The Judge Judgedp. 41
'Kannitverstan'p. 42
Blessed are the Poor in Spiritp. 43
La Boetie and Boeotianap. 43
Gothamite Wisdomp. 45
The Logic of Dual Stupidityp. 46
The Comic Hiatusp. 47
The Seventh Heavenp. 47
The Secret of Suspended Lifep. 48
The Stupidity of Intelligencep. 49
The Riches of Spijkp. 50
Sowing Saltp. 51
Lodged in Stupidityp. 52
Methodical Stupidityp. 52
III Fallor, the Aerobat
Credop. 54
Who is Fallor?p. 54
A Feast for Pessimistsp. 55
The Earlobep. 55
Personal Columnp. 55
Towards an Aesthetics of Stupidityp. 55
Further Contributions to the Aesthetics of Stupidityp. 56
Homeopathic Stupidityp. 56
From the Sublime to the Ridiculousp. 57
The Unheard-of Studyp. 57
Morologyp. 58
Fallor on Holidayp. 58
IV The Ha-ha
Three Stupid Mapsp. 59
The Foolishness of the French Gardenp. 60
The Ah-ah!p. 61
The Foolishness of the English Gardenp. 63
The Ha-hap. 64
Second Naturep. 66
Nature's Orchestra Pitp. 67
Erotic Empiricismp. 68
The Metaphysics of the Zigzagp. 70
The Moralp. 71
Epiloguep. 72
V Simpletons in Hell
The Hell of Foolsp. 74
Ataraxiap. 75
Boeotian Hellp. 75
The Gate of Hellp. 77
The Final Anamorphosisp. 79
The Haunted Housep. 80
The Gift of Discernmentp. 81
Limbop. 82
The Blotp. 83
The Paradise of Foolsp. 84
The Ceiling of Stupidityp. 85
The Will to be Stupidp. 88
Appendix The Apotheosis of a Gnatp. 90
VI The Genealogy of Dullards
On the Origin of Dullardsp. 91
The Power of Palliativesp. 92
The Word made Fleshp. 93
The Triumph of Poor Excusesp. 94
The Hour of Allp. 95
Zero Hourp. 97
The Jovial Gesturep. 98
The Unity of Oppositesp. 99
VII On the Inherent Stupidity of Constitutional Monarchies
Prologue: The Frogs who Wanted a Kingp. 101
1 Stupidity as the Basis of Civilization
The First Stupid Act (A Fable)p. 103
Savageness and Rudenessp. 104
The Scorpion and the Tortoisep. 105
The Reversalp. 105
2 Man is a Grape
Ecstacyp. 107
Self-Love and Self-Likingp. 107
The Trickp. 108
Dumbing Downp. 109
Hypocrisyp. 109
The Good in Evilp. 110
The Fable of the Beesp. 112
The Fable of the Social Contractp. 113
The Punch-bowlp. 115
3 The Trifling Difference
The Truth of the Truthp. 117
Man is Good but not Stupidp. 118
The Legislatorp. 118
The Fourth Kind of Lawp. 119
The Rod and the Serpentp. 120
The Aesthetic of the Empty Gesturep. 122
The Holy Democratp. 122
The Wolf in Sheep's Clothingp. 123
The Strength of Democracyp. 124
4 Election Fever
The Paradox of Democracyp. 126
Electionsp. 126
The Election Machinep. 128
Election Madnessp. 131
The Centre of Powerp. 132
The Terrorp. 132
Stuporp. 134
5 Frogs, Logs, Snakes and Masks (Twelve Uneasy Pieces)
I The Log in the Lakep. 136
II The Sanctified Spacep. 137
III Elbow Roomp. 138
IV The Subject of Democracyp. 138
V The Body Politicp. 139
VI 'A Mirror for Princes'p. 139
VII Pinocchiop. 141
VIII Failure as a ratio cognoscendip. 142
IX I Willp. 143
X The Point of Follyp. 143
XI L'etat c'est moip. 144
XII Stupor mundip. 144
6 The Emperor's New Clothes
Esse est non percipip. 146
How Till Eulenspiegel Painted the Landgrave of Hessep. 146
The Monarch's Two Bodiesp. 148
Voluntary Slaveryp. 149
The Justificationp. 150
The Emperor's New Clothesp. 151
The Hypothetical Foolp. 153
Who did not Know?p. 154
Stupidity in Three Periodsp. 157
The Fame Machine (With No State Guarantee)p. 159
Modern Ritualp. 161
A Final Note: Canned Laughterp. 161
VIII The Darwin Awards
1 Ecstasy
Nominationsp. 164
Stupidity as the Basis of Civilizationp. 166
An Explosive Mixturep. 166
Cunning Stupidityp. 168
2 The Missing Link
The Lapsep. 171
Forbidden Fruitp. 172
Buridan's Assp. 172
The Castle in the Airp. 173
Gatekeepersp. 174
Who am I?p. 176
The Boeotian Sphinxp. 176
Man's Beingp. 177
Errare humanum estp. 177
Bloomersp. 178
Second Naturep. 180
Hypothetical Stupidity and Toilet Paperp. 180
The Crux of the Matterp. 181
The Stone of Contentionp. 182
Paradise Damnedp. 182
3 Holy Madness
Nasreddinp. 183
I The Encyclopaediap. 184
II The Biggest Foolp. 184
III Happiness Favours the Foolishp. 185
IV The Eighteenth Camelp. 185
V The Holy Assp. 186
VI Keeping your Headp. 187
VII Fifty Lashesp. 187
The Enlightened Foolp. 188
Morosophyp. 188
4 Clinamen
The Catastrophep. 189
The Mythp. 189
Dumb Luckp. 191
Idiocyp. 191
Duplicationp. 192
Nature, Chance and Artificep. 193
Kairosp. 194
5 'Pataphysics
The Science of Imaginary Solutionsp. 195
6 The Stupidity of Encyclopaedias
The Two Sides of the Applep. 200
The Courage of Despairp. 200
The Spectre of Encyclopaediasp. 203
The Spectre of Satirep. 204
The Encyclopaedia of the Stupidity of Encyclopaediasp. 204
The Syrupp. 205
The Choreography of Knowledge and Moralityp. 205
Acknowledgementsp. 208