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    Review of:
    Ronell, Avital. Stupidity. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2001.

  1. It takes a lot of courage to write a book about stupidity. And to call that book simply Stupidity, not even bothering to frame the term in a way that signals your own quite intelligent mastery of it--this really takes guts. But Avital Ronell's remarkable oeuvre is nothing if not gutsy, and Stupidity makes a strong addition to her formidable corpus.

  2. It's a timely addition, too, given that the events of the last few years have testified, yet again, to history's "brutal regressions" (44), shattering the serene delusion that "progress" and "understanding" have been attained along the way. Those who before 9/11 still held out hope for Enlightenment values, who still, despite everything, insisted that equivalences might be drawn "between education and decency, humanism and justice" (24), may today be more ready to leave the so-called "unfinished project of modernity" unfinished. As if in anticipation of the violent tragedy that hit while Stupidity was in press, as well as of the terrifying "war on terrorism" that has since ensued, Ronell suggests that it is time to admit it's not possible to "train thought to detach from stupidity" (23). Indeed, she proposes that the violence to which the world routinely succumbs "is of understanding: understanding itself is at issue" (24). History's "brutal regressions," according to Ronell, are to some degree the effect of an understanding that no longer doubts or questions itself. The "dominant form of stupidity," she says, which is also the most dangerous form, shows up as an unflinching certitude that "doesn't allow for questions about the world," or language, or the relations between the two (43).

  3. Stupidity remains always open to such questions, acknowledging that being able to point to various manifestations of stupidity in no way indicates that one has a handle on it as such, as if it were simply knowable, as if it could be pinned (or penned) down and definitively understood. Stupidity is an issue precisely because it evades our grasp, and with her signature style and wit, Ronell affirms its elusive nature right up front: "I hesitate to say here what stupidity is because, eluding descriptive analysis, it switches and regroups, turns around and even fascinates [...]. While stupidity is 'what is there,' it cannot be simply located or evenly scored" (3). Right away, stupidity is associated both with error, where philosophy scrambles to keep it, and with sheer thought, the near stupor and extreme surrender involved in the poetic act. It is linked both to "the most dangerous failures of human endeavor" and also (via Nietzsche) to the promotion of "life and growth" (3). Stupidity is the ur-curse: "nothing keeps you down like the mark of stupidity" (27). Yet, Baudelaire figures it as a kind of wrinkle cream that preserves youth and beauty (88-89). And Ronell, being Ronell, won't ignore the fact that sometimes, "in some areas of life, it is [also] what lets you get by" (27), that "sometimes ducking into stupidity offers the most expedient strategy for survival" (43).

  4. Among other things, stupidity's refusal to come clean, to submit to the movement of comprehension, Ronell observes, also throws into question "the knowledge we think we have about knowledge." Because, she remarks, "as long as I don't know what stupidity is, what I know about knowing remains uncertain, even forbidding" (4-5). Given that Ronell names certitude as a basis for horrific acts of violence and terror, this statement may offer an ethical access code to reading Stupidity, which takes the form of a post-critical critique or a nonrepresentational analysis--a Ronell trademark. Rather than closing in on stupidity, attempting to fix and represent its meaning, she traces and amplifies its proliferations in meaning, struggling to hold the work itself in meaning's open-ing. Rigorously interrogating the conceptual "object" that goes by the name stupidity, she moves you in so close to it that it overflows its object-status, it dis-figures, leaving a radical and inassimilable singularity in its tracks. Ronell engages it in all its singularity, tailing it through its engagements with poets, novelists, philosophers, literary/critical theorists, and preschoolers, but the closer she brings you to it, each time, the less knowable it appears--and so the less representable. Therefore, this approach butts heads with scholarly tradition, which posits and propagates a causal link between rigor and certitude (the former leading to the latter). For reasons that can only be interpreted as ethical, Stupidity breaks this link, offering instead an exceptionally rigorous interruption of certitude.

  5. But let me interrupt myself here, my own futile attempt accurately to represent Ronell's text, at least long enough to admit the extreme anxiety weighing on me as I write--for, among other things, Ronell points up the limits of Darstellung, which, when it trusts itself too much, "magnetizes stupidity" (71). Still, she reminds us that no one who presumes to write--not even if you're a Flaubert or a Barthes or a Pynchon--is safe from stupidity's approach: there is no prophylactic effective against the experience of abjection that writing inevitably sparks. And I can't think of anyone who has traced out (in writing) the indissociable connections between writing and stupidity more elegantly, more thoroughly, or more humbly, than Ronell herself. There's really nothing else to do, then, but to take a deep, expropriating breath, and to just get on with it.

  6. So: right up front I want to note Stupidity's radically unconventional layout and design--another Ronell trademark, this one thanks to her longtime collaboration with award-winning page designer Richard Eckersley. A powerful nocturnal theme and threat runs through this work, and it is visually depicted via altering typefaces, pitch black pages, and various illustrations of the sun, the moon, satellites, etc. Star constellations, for example, precede the surprisingly revealing autobiographical segments throughout the book, acknowledging that the author herself remains mostly in the dark, even when telling her "own" story: "no matter how strongly rooted in reference a text may be, it still carries the trait of incomprehensibility from which it emerged" (102-3). Ronell's autobiographical performance in this text is both arresting in its honesty ("I avoided working in close proximity to de Man for fear that he would crush my already nonexistent balls" [120]) and touching in its humility ("I would have liked to tell you more about the experience of stupidity, for I have done a great deal of field work in this area, and have felt stupid most of my life" [93])--but it is far from naïve. Autobiography does not depend on reference, says de Man, but it is productive of a reference that never finally comes clean. We might say, then, that a non-totalizing autobiography, as allegorical performance par excellence, defies "the sham of reappropriation" and shares with "true mourning" the tendency to "accept incomprehension, to leave a place for it" (108). The nocturnal images opening onto Ronell's non-totalizing autobiographical segments mark precisely this acceptance of nonknowledge, of the inability to totalize even self-understanding.

  7. The book opens with the dramatic image of a full solar eclipse, and most of the four chapters and three satellites are separated by images of the progressively emerging sun. The Introduction, "Slow Learner," and Chapter 1, "The Question of Stupidity: Why We Remain in the Provinces," thus proceed under the sign of completely obscured light, which forecasts what Ronell describes in this section as the "sheer stupefaction," the collapse into opacity, to which "the poet's courage" testifies. Chapter 2, "The Politics of Stupidity: Musil, Dasein, The Attack on Women, and My Fatigue," is preceded by an image of the sun barely emerging from behind the moon, thus anticipating the presumption of light, however dim, necessary to sustain the apotropeic rituals designed to ward off an ever-encroaching stupidity. In the case of Robert Musil's "On Stupidity" ("Über die Dummheit"), these rituals include unreflectively nailing the other (woman) as stupid and selecting a title that covertly serves as a conceptual prophylactic: "Über die Dummheit" already implies that Musil is on top of it, over or beyond it; his title, in other words, offers a semblance of mastery over this topic, which Ronell feels compelled philosophically and ethically to decline.

  8. Roughly half of the sun shines on Chapter 3, "The Rhetoric of Testing," an explosive chapter on Paul de Man, Friedrich Schlegel, Georges Bataille, and the ways in which language's improvised positings out us all as stupid. The unexpected administration of witty and impossible Test Questions closes this chapter, illustrating the fact that the light can play tricks on you, can lead you to believe you have safely detached from a stupidity that quietly grounds your experience of knowing. To fully grasp the ethical, political, and intellectual stakes of Chapter 3, one would first (among other things) need a firm grip on the material covered by these Test Questions, each of which would demand a near book-length response--and even then, really answering them would require the examinee to "play stupid," to "instrumentalize the moment of the question" so as to "escape the anguish of indecision, complication, or hypothetical redoubling that would characterize intelligence" (43). Truly, who could cling to a cocky sense of certitude in the face of this Pop Quiz from hell?

    Test Questions
    1. If Paul de Man undermined the possibility of true autobiography, why does the author include autobiographical material about herself?
    2. What is the relationship between stupidity and unintelligibility?
    3. Does the author establish a link between singularity and unintelligibility? If so, how would this link affect Gasché's argument?
    4. Can Schlegel's kick in the ass be read allegorically?
    5. What is the author's point of view concerning de Man's disciples?
    6. What is the relationship between allegory and history?
    7. How can the author imply that de Man both refused to offer a reading of stupidity and was responsible for inscribing its implications and performance?
    8. What is at stake in the works of Schlegel, Bataille and de Man in terms of the figure of testing?
    9. Why does the author make claims for the democratic underpinnings of scholarly and philosophical journals? Are these principles upheld today? Give an example.
    10. A) Discuss the relationship of friendship and nonunderstanding, using the instance of Schlegel and Schleiermacher as your starting point;
      B) show how Friedrich Schlegel's anti-hermeneutics of friendship illuminates what Blanchot and Derrida have to say about the politics of friendship. (162)

  9. The "Kierkegaard Satellite" also falls under this half-shining sun, which then emerges three-fourths of the way to introduce Chapter 4, "The Disappearance and Returns of the Idiot." This three-part chapter offers a sustained and very moving reading of Dostoevsky's The Idiot across a Levinasian-inspired ethics, which is situated at the very edge of consciousness, preceding and exceeding all intentionality. Here the ever-expanding light of the sun is aligned with the "solar systems of cognition," which, no matter how bright, are (over-)exposed in this chapter as inadequate grounds for responsible responsiveness. The "Wordsworth Satellite" falls under this image of three-quarters of the sun, as well, tracing with rigor and tenderness the inarticulable adventures of Wordsworth's beloved Idiot Boy. Though the "story" takes place, in this sense, in broad daylight, it remains a "story" that cannot be told: where Johnny's gone, what he's seen and experienced, is not available for articulation. The poem itself remains a "perplexingly sustained thought where utterance is reduced to repetitive hoots and stammers" (6). Yet, "part of the poem recognizes itself in Johnny's nonsignifying language," Ronell suggests, "and holds with him vigilance over the silent experience of poetry." What "The Idiot Boy" does as a poem, Ronell observes, "is to relate to [Johnny's] flight without relating; it cannot tell what has happened--it cannot become a story--but can only tell of an ungraspable event, a missing present, the enigma of its source" (275). The poem tries "to articulate singularity, the absolute singularity for which the idiot stands and stutters [...]. What could the idiot have experienced or lived? it asks us." The poem cannot say; it can't go there. And yet, says Ronell, it "must go there, indeed, has already been there. [...] poetry is the idiot boy" (276). What poetry lights up, in other words, is precisely the eclipse in cognition that is at its source--its light sets out to expose the utter deprivation of light.

  10. And finally, the Kant Satellite, "The Figure of the Ridiculous Philosopher; or, Why I am so Popular," which closes the book, begins with a double-page spread featuring the full (smug) face of the sun, the moon fading out of sight. In this satellite, Ronell bounces Kant's dry, laborious, and "manly" writing requirement off French theory's rigorous and poetic style, which "carries thinking elegantly, with rhetorical finesse" (283), in order to suggest that the "entity" called French theory "is a way of avoiding having to decide between literature and philosophy" (282), a way of embracing the linguistic (that is: stupid) ground of (even philosophical) thought. Stupidity thus moves the reader steadily from darkness to light, from the nocturnal communications of Hölderlin and other courageous poets, who affirm and share the "secret experience of stupidity" (9), toward the "solar systems of cognition" (248) that found Kant's obsession with "clarity," his struggle to protect philosophy from literature, knowledge from style. What becomes apparent as one is moved through the text, however, is that the light of "clarity" cannot be opposed to the night of stupidity; the latter is the former's very condition of (im)possibility. This is what Stupidity exposes and embraces from beginning to end, in content and in layout.

  11. All we really can claim to "know at this juncture," Ronell tells us in the opening pages, "is that stupidity does not allow itself to be opposed to knowledge in any simple way, nor is it the other of thought" (5). "Stupidity is not so stupid as to oppose thought" (23), she observes, but instead consists "in the absence of a relation to knowing" (5). It is therefore discovered right at thinking's origin: it names the wonder or stupefaction (thaumazein) that inspires thought. On the other hand, stupidity also names the limit of all knowing and comes very close, Ronell observes, to "Blanchot's sense of nullity--the crushingly useless, that which comes to nothing." Still, the "bright side of nullity" (29) is that all possibility originates in it: indeed, it is the "secret experience" of the poets, who "know from stupidity, the essential dulling or weakening that forms the precondition of utterance" (5).

  12. The poet, "holding back the values associated with the intelligence of doing, the bright grasp of what is there" (6), rides the work of language (figuration) all the way (back) through to its un-working (de-figuration), where it drops him/her into the abyssal impossibility or nullity that precedes and exceeds all possibility. "Poetic courage consists in embracing the terrible lassitude of mind's enfeeblement," Ronell writes, "the ability to endure the near facticity of feeblemindedness" (6). It involves an utter surrender to "the dispossession that entitles as it enfeebles the writer, disengaging and defaulting the knowing subject who enters into contact with the poetic word" (7). Reading Hölderlin's "Dichtermut" and "Blödigkeit," Ronell suggests with Benjamin that the poetic act involves a "self-emptying" in which the poet "yields entirely, giving in to sheer relatedness" (8). The poet's courage appears to consist in letting go of all tropological security systems, in dropping even the figural shield of the "I": it consists, Ronell says, in "taking the step toward [...] pure exposure" (9), toward the "pure indifference" that is "the untouchable center of all relations" (8). From here, "the poet is not a figure," she writes, "but the principle of figuration." Thus, the poet/poem begins in "nonlife" (9), in an essential nullity that names a sort of transcendental stupidity: stupidity, then, is located at the very origin of "life," of "world."

  13. Ronell suggests that the poet testifies to a fundamental stupidity that operates structurally, at and as the very ground of our being and being-with, to an existential structure of exposedness that precedes and exceeds the bounds of the subject--which indicates that the relation to stupidity is pre-originary: "we" are with it even before "we" are with our Selves. Stupidity is what "throws us," Ronell says, "marking an original humiliation [...] that resolves into the everyday life trauma with which we live" (11). So whereas Robert Musil acknowledges that we are occasionally given over to stupidity, Ronell's formulations indicate that we are never not given over to it--even our moments of path-breaking brilliance are grounded in it. Heidegger taught us that language is the house of Being, but what Ronell demonstrates in this work is that a transcendental stupidity is the house of language.

  14. And if there is "a moment when the thing of stupidity sparkles with life," when "the prohibitions on stupidity are lifted" so that you can finally be stupid, Ronell suggests that it may be when you're in love. Jean-Luc Nancy is an important interlocutor for Ronell throughout this text, and his essay "Shattered Love" may have been one inspiration for this thought. Love, according to him, is an exposition of exposedness in which "the singular being is traversed by the alterity of the other." Blowing the notion of immanence right out of the water, love, he writes, "re-presents I to itself broken," irremediably open to and broken into by an inappropriable exteriority. Testifying to a structure of exposure that marks the failure of immanence, love signifies a kind of finite transcendence in which an outside announces itself inside--indeed, love "is this outside itself," Nancy writes, "the other, each time singular, a blade thrust in me, and that I do not rejoin, because it disjoins me" (97). Inasmuch as love kicks off an "upsurge of the other in me" (98), introducing (me to) an internal alterity, it also assures me that "my" heart, the very heart of "my" singular being, cannot be totally my own. The philosophical subject comes into being by appropriating its own becoming through the dialectical process; however, it is not completed by this process, he reminds us, because, for one thing, its very heart remains exposed and so radically inappropriable. Love is always "the beating of an exposed heart," says Nancy, and it is this heart that "exposes the subject," exposes it "to everything that is not its dialectic and its mastery as a subject" (89-90). In "Shattered Love," Nancy redescribes love as what exposes me, time and again, to my radical exposedness.

  15. And Ronell takes off from there, situating love within a jaw-dropping string of non-synonymous substitutions, including finitude, irony, and a kind of transcendental stupidity, each of which, in and on its own terms, names the endless disruption of the appropriation of meaning and being. Ronell reminds us that irony, after Schlegel and de Man, is no mere trope but the permanent interruption of the meaning that tropes are charged with transporting; irony, then, she proposes, is "another way of saying finitude," another way to mark "the experience of sheer exposition" (144). Inasmuch as both are non-stoppable interrupters, perpetual resisters to closure, to totality, to the work of appropriation, irony and finitude are semi-substitutable para-concepts that confound understanding; or, as Ronell also writes, both irony and nonunderstanding are ways of saying finitude (144). And love--so long as it is not conceived "on the basis of the politico-subjective model of communion in one," (Nancy, Inoperative 38), inasmuch as it is instead based, as Ronell suggests, "on the unrepenting recognition of difference, separateness, and [...] nonunderstanding"--takes its place within this disruptive (non)synonymy as precisely what "preempts the exchange of self-identical rings." Tweaking Schlegel, Ronell suggests that love "is itself ironic," or that "irony, truly, is love" (150), signaling the permanent interruption of (self-)appropriation and so the humbling predicament of finitude, which is also the predicament of nonunderstanding, of a transcendental stupidity.

  16. Indeed, Ronell tags love as stupidity's secret agent, love being "one of the few sites where it is permitted publicly to be stupid," where you are free to call one another by "stupid pet names" and to engage without apology in the various "imbecilic effusions of being-with" (89-90). When it comes to love, in fact, even the Law backs off, granting the lovers a pass: "Laws legislating social intelligence and sense-making operations are suspended for the duration of language-making scenes of love" (90). What this means, Ronell suggests, is either that "you have to get real down and prodigiously stupid to fall for love, or that stupidity is a repressed ground for human affectivity that only love has the power to license and unleash" (90). With a nod to Schlegel but against the grain of philosophical hermeneutics, Ronell situates a transcendental stupidity at and as the very ground of love and of friendship--in fact, of all experiences of community. After all, falling in love is not something that a self-enclosed, autarkic subject could experience. The subject's very propensity to fall indicates its structural non-self-sufficiency, its irreparable exposure to an inappropriable alterity, which operates both as its condition of possibility (its abyssal ground) and as its inevitable impossibility, its inevitable (and perpetual) undoing. According to Ronell, then, love's subject is always already the exposed subject, the subject (subject) of stupidity.

  17. Of course, philosophy cringes in the face of such formulations and has, for the most part, assimilated any thinking of stupidity "to error and derivative epistemological concerns" (20). Ronell suggests that this delimitation and reduction of the question of stupidity is a futile attempt by philosophy to protect "the domain of pure thought" from the stupidity that is both its guarantor and its original inhabitant. According to Deleuze--whom Ronell says in part inspired her project, posthumously putting her on assignment--what prevents philosophy from acknowledging stupidity as a "transcendental problem is the continued belief in the cogitatio" (20). If the motivation is no longer simply a belief in the thinking subject, then it may at least be the continued scramble to shield the subject from further contamination, to rescue it. A similar but more narcissistic scramble may be behind the link between stupidity and cruelty, the fact that the "really stupid" can inspire bloodlust (83). Given that you are an exposed being, ex-centric (an outside-inside), your desire to "make dead meat of the stupid" may indicate a panicked denial of the stupidity-in-you. That "the stupid make you want to kill them" (84), in other words, may be a symptom of stupephobia, a terrific struggle against the stirrings of attunement, against an extimacy that would out you, too, as stupid. Ronell exposes a "taste for straightforward cruelty" in Musil's musings on stupidity, if not in his "lady"-smashing anecdotes (Ch. 2)--though her meticulous reading of his work is considerably more nuanced and psychoanalytically complex than I'm suggesting here. Still, throughout Stupidity, Ronell catalogues various atrocities committed against the feminized and minoritized other in the name of erecting stupidity-shields--in the name, that is, of maintaining the phantasmatic border/boundary between the cogitating self and the stupid other.

  18. However, as Ronell repeatedly demonstrates, these evasive and protective maneuvers are always already too late. "Stupidity, which cannot be examined apart from the subject accredited by the Enlightenment," Ronell writes, "poses a challenge to my sovereignty and autonomy" (19); it therefore poses a challenge to any notion of ethics based on this sovereign and autonomous subject. And Stupidity offers nothing less than a post-humanist rethinking of ethics, a sustained interrogation of the potential for responsible responsiveness in an age that, despite everything, is still given to "brutal regressions." It's important to remember that when Ronell embraces the irony of understanding, the impossibility of understanding fully, she simultaneously affirms the never-ending struggle to understand. "There is a hermeneutic imperative," she says, echoing Schlegel (161). "This imperative is bequeathed to us as gift and burden, it names a task" (161). But inasmuch as understanding endlessly eludes us, it must be affirmed as an infinite responsibility, an imperative to attend to the demand of a relentless uncertainty, a measureless inability to have understood. "Assuming understanding were to be resurrected without an imperative lording over its provenance," Ronell observes alongside Werner Hamacher, "this could happen only by turning away from what is incomprehensible" (161).

  19. There is no ethical or logical past tense to understanding, in other words; it is a process (which does not necessarily imply progress) that is never finished. One abdicates the responsibility to alterity implied in this imperative at the instant one presumes to have accomplished it. The moment one presumes to have understood, one has already turned away from the incomprehensible, from what sparks the struggle to understand in the first place. And to turn away from the incomprehensible--that is, from the other--is to turn back toward the Same. Certitude is purchased by shooting a U in the face of a fundamental aporia: faced with the unassimilable other, understanding swerves back around, toward itself, toward what it already knows or what it is already programmed to assimilate. When Ronell, on the other hand, affirms the perpetual struggle to understand, the inability finally to know, she is embracing an ethical disposition dedicated to the other and to the responsibility for the other.

  20. Contra the exhausting argument that postfoundational thought ditches responsibility, Ronell demonstrates that responsibility grows unfathomably e-n-o-r-m-o-u-s when it exceeds the tiny bounds of the subject's intentions. In a sense, what she's suggesting is that to act with presumed certitude is to be irresponsible because to be certain is already to have turned away from the other for whom one is responsible. Both understanding and responsibility are infinite, endless, and this leads Ronell to suggest that the only possible ethical position would have to be: "I am stupid before the other" (60). Putting a kind of Levinasian ethic into play, Ronell makes noncomprehension the (non)ground of ethical attunement, of responsible responsiveness. It is in order to "explore the extreme limit of such responsibility" and to determine "what can be assumed by the limited subject," that Ronell, in Stupidity, appeals to "the debilitated subject--the stupid, idiotic, puerile, slow-burn destruction of ethical being that, to [her] mind, can never be grounded in certitude or education or lucidity or prescriptive obeisance" (19).

  21. The debilitated subject of choice in this case is Dostoevsky's epileptic Idiot, Prince Myshkin. There is no way to gloss this rich chapter, but I do want to note that it foregrounds the stupefying conditions of embodiment, continuing a devotion evident in much of Ronell's work to a kind of corporeal hermeneutics. Elsewhere she has mapped out, for example, the mysteries of the addicted body, the wild circuitry of the technologized body, and the corporeal predicament thematized by the punk hairdo; she has offered meticulous symptomatological readings of the Wolfman's constipation, Freud's cancer of the jaw, and George Bush's inability to age (to grow, to mourn). And in Stupidity, Ronell turns her attention, via Prince Myshkin, to the finite body abandoned to the "mute chronicity of illness." Zooming in on the "sheer facticity of bodily existence" (179), she exposes the ways o the body operates as a "massive disruption of inherited meaning": "The body is in the world and pins down the vague locality of world," she writes, "but when brought into view, it threatens the solidity of the world. As with television, when things get very local, there is something uncanny and incomprehensible about materiality: it gets delocalized" (180). There is no way to know the body, not even your body: "there is no epistemological stronghold, no scientific comfort or medical absolute by which to grasp your body once and for all, as if it were ever merely itself, once and for all." The body, Ronell observes, "never stays put long enough to form self-identity." All we can really hope to learn about body is "maybe how to feed it, when to fast, how to soothe, moisturize, let go, heal." Still, incomprehensible as it is, body has enormous "claims upon us" (180); there is no losing it. It is both your absolute limit and what makes "you" possible at all. You are stuck with it. And Ronell sticks with it, taking us into "the meeting grounds where psyche runs into soma" (26).

  22. Prince Myshkin's body, she says, "points to the generality of the human predicament: idiocy has something to do with the nearly existential fact of being stuck with a body" (180-81). It hardly announces itself in times of health, when body is "on your side," but illness, when it hits, "exhorts the body to reveal something of itself," to produce "resistant signs of itself," signs that remain "unremittingly opaque" (181, 186). Body does not hide, it presents itself, but it presents itself obscurely, offering us a sense of it that does not lead to knowledge--body is "elsewhere when it comes to cognitive scanners," Ronell writes (187). Still, "somewhat surprisingly," Ronell suggests with Nancy that "the site of nonknowledge that the body traverses, and of which it is a part," is related to thought, to acts of thinking. Indeed, inasmuch as Heidegger's distinction between knowing and thinking holds, it's possible to say, as Nancy and Ronell do, that the body thinks and that thought itself is a body, a body, then, that "throws itself against the prevailing winds of philosophical tradition" (187). There is no writing the body--body is uninscribable; it's that which "exscribes everything," including itself. And yet, as it turns out, the thinking body writes: "the sweat, the nausea, sudden highs, certain crashes, headache, stomach weirdness" and other somaticizations are the writings of an "inappropriable text" that body leaves "in its tracks." And this text, Ronell insists, "cannot simply be ignored" (26). The writing/thinking body demands a perpetual reading, even if it discloses nothing but "the exposition itself," nothing but its own exposedness (188-89)--which, of course, is not nothing. It may be everything: a constant reminder of your non-self-sufficiency, of your irredeemable stupidity, and so of your inappropriable finitude.

  23. In his cover blurb for Stupidity, Christopher Fynsk writes:

    Avital Ronell has dared to approach a topic that effectively undoes any "knowing" or analytic posture, even any questioning stance. Advancing in full awareness of her vulnerability (and demonstrating constantly how this vulnerability exceeds awareness), she confronts the philosophical, psychosomatic, and ethico-political effects of her non-object through brilliant readings of a host of writers for whom stupidity (or idiocy) has become a haunting obsession or a kind of ambiguous promise.

    What I want to note here is that while Ronell's latest work demonstrates stupidity's all-pervasiveness, it simultaneously acquires and requires the descriptor "brilliant." Not because Ronell, finally, is the subject who knows, but because this work evokes with such intensity the impossibility and nonknowledge--the stupidity--that grounds all knowing, including her own. It is brilliant inasmuch as it exposes the impossibility of detaching brilliance from a kind of transcendental stupidity. Granting the reader the chance (or the permission) to affirm his/her own "grounding" in stupidity without freaking and without violently projecting, Ronell offers the sujet ne supposé pas savoir (the subject not supposed to know and who doesn't suppose it knows) as a figure of ethical attunement. Stupidity's most important contribution to thinking and to ethics may be that it embraces, and therefore makes it possible to embrace, a post-humanist ethics and activism that begins with the impossible utterance: "I am stupid before the other."

    Division of Rhetoric and Department of English
    University of Texas at Austin

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    Works Cited

    Hamacher, Werner. Premises: Essays on Philosophy and Literature from Kant to Celan. Trans. Peter Fenves. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1999.

    Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Inoperative Community. Trans. Peter Connor. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1991.

    ---. "Shattered Love." Trans. Lisa Garbus and Simona Sawhney. Nancy 82-109.

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