Friday, August 2, 2013

Slow Learner by Avital Ronell




The temptation is to wage war on stupidity as if it were a vanquishable object – as if we still knew how to wage war or circumscribe an object in a manner that would be productive of meaning or give rise to futurity.

One could not easily imagine circumstances in which an agency of state or government, even a U.S. government, would declare war on stupidity in the manner it has engaged a large-scale war on drugs. Though part of a politically suspect roundup, the presumed object of the drug wars offered a hint, at least of materiality. Stupidity exceeds and undercuts materiality, runs loose, wins a few rounds, recedes, gets carried home in the clutch of denial – and returns.  Essentially linked to the inexhaustible, stupidity is also that which fatigues knowledge and wears down history.

From Schiller’s exasperated concession that even the gods cannot combat stupidity, to Hannah Arendt’s frustrated effort, in a letter to Karl Jaspers, to determine the exact status and level of Adolf Eichmann’s Dummheit, to current psychoanalytical descriptions of the dumb interiors of the despotic mind (heir to the idiot-king of which Lacan has written), stupidity has evinced a mute resistance to political urgency, an instance of an unaccountable ethical hiatus.

In fact, stupidity, purveyor of self-assured assertiveness, mutes just about everything that would seek to disturb its impervious hierarchies.

Because it generates so many startling contradictions, stupidity, for philosophy or for the end of philosophy, acquires a status that needs to be claimed, if not entirely understood. What does stupidity have to do with thought or the affiliated branches of knowledge or scholarship? Where does it belong on the map of dogmatic philosophy, which continues to divide the territories of thought into empirical and transcendental sectors? 

Nietzsche does not say where to locate it, how to read it, or whether or not stupidity properly belongs where philosophy reigns.  Raising it, he more or less forgets stupidity, like an umbrella.  But then he remembers, it comes back to him when he affirms the protective values of deception and self-doubting: “One of the subtlest ways of  deceiving, for as long as possible, at any rate of successfully posing as more stupid than one is – which in everyday life is often as desirable as an umbrella – is called enthusiasm.”  Part of the grammar of shrewd behavior, connected to the everyday and self-protecting, stupidity opens up against the sky, receiving or bouncing off itself the intrusive rains of transcendence.  Implied by enthusiasm, it allows one to have a nice everyday day – on the surface of things.

In any case, stupidity now belongs to the famous repertoire of Nietzschean poses, to the domains of fiction and will to power.

I am going to defer the matter of situating stupidity since, anyway, everyone else at dome level of understanding has situated and filed a report on it, which is to say, for the most part, let it go. Whether abandoned or put to work, its fate was the same: the case was closed on stupidity, as if either way it had been adequately dealt with.  At this point in its career, hesitation and deferral seem to be the most dispassionate ways to approach stupidity.  The more we defer it, the more the knowledge we think we have about knowledge weakens ( as long as I don’t know what stupidity is, what I know about knowledge remains uncertain, even forbidding).

All we know at this juncture is that 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.  At this time I can say only that the question of stupidity is not satisfied with the discovery of the negative limits of knowledge; it consists, rather, in the absence of a relation to knowing .  .  .

1 comment:

  1. Part of the grammar of shrewd behavior, connected to the everyday and self-protecting, stupidity opens up against the sky, receiving or bouncing off itself the intrusive rains of transcendence. Implied by enthusiasm, it allows one to have a nice everyday day – on the surface of things.

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