DC’s blog remix 04.26.2022 Avital Ronell, Stupidity David Hammons James Coleman David Hammons
Avital Ronell, Stupidity
If stupidity were that simple — if stupidity were that stupid — it would not have traded depths for the pits and acted as such a terror for Roland Barthes or Robert Musil or preschoolers. (The little ones receive their first interdictory instruction when told that they musn’t call anyone “stupid” — the ur-curse, the renunciation of which primes socialization in this culture.) It is not always at odds with intelligence but can operate a purposeful exchange with its traits, as in the.case of Gilbert Long or of any number of high scorers on the standardized tests of social communion. Intelligence itself depends on a withholding pattern that in some cases matches the irremediable reluctance of the stupid. For its part, stupidity can body-snatch intelligence, disguise itself, or, indeed, participate in the formation of certain types of intelligence with which it tends to be confused. For the writer, the problem of stupidity occupies a place of deliberate latency; ever on the prowl for your moment of greatest vulnerability, it prepares another sneak attack. Unless you really know what you’re doing — and then it’s in your face, all over you, in fact, showing no pity. It seizes your autobiographical effort taking the place of your “I,” henceforth enfeebled, dominated by shame. Thus Barthes, delicate and watchful, writes of himself when he’s on himself inthe third person: “It is curious that an author, having to speak about himself, is so obsessed by Stupidity, as though it were the inner thing he most feared: threatening, ever ready to burst out, to assert its right to speak (why shouldn’t I have the right to be stupid?); in short, The Thing.” Attempting to exorcise it, Barthes, in his Lacanian phase of dreading the Thing, plays the fool: “He puts himself inside it.
… In a sense this whole little book, in a devious and naive way, plays with stupidity — not the stupidity of others (that would be too easy), but that of the subject who is about to write. What first comes to mind is stupid.”” If Barthes puts himself inthe third person, then stupidity is the first person, what happens first, what has happened agelessly, at the time, which is all the time, when the subject is about to write, endeavoring symbolically to repair the lesion induced by the Thing.
Stupidity is so radically, pervasively inside (“threatening to burst out,” Barthes “puts himself inside it”), that it is prior to the formation of the subject. Flaubert, the other subject ever about to write, recognized writing as “I’acte pur de bêtise,” arguing that writing was always an immersion in stupidity. So what’s new? We suffer from only one thing, Flaubert has decisively asserted, la bétise-— an insight and experience that Barthes repeats and repeats.” Stupidity, the indelible tag of modernity, is our symptom. Marking an original humiliation of the subject, stupidity resolves into the low-energy, everyday life trauma with which we live. It throws us. Following Barthes, it functions as the
Thing to the extent that it wards off the symbolization that it also demands. Like life itself, stupidity, according to Flaubert, cannot be summed up or properly understood but resembles a natural object— a stone or a Mountain. One cannot understand a stone or a mountain, or offer a critique or a twelve-step program to change their descriptions.”