žižek on kafka & the typology of stupidity

There are two contrasting figures of idiocy in our lives. The first is the (occasionally) hyper-intelligent subject who “doesn’t get it,” who understands a situation “logically,” missing its hidden contextual rules. For example, when I visited New York for the first time, a café waiter asked me: “How was your day?” Misunderstanding the remark as a real question, I answered him truthfully (“I’m dead tired, I’ve got jetlag ..”), and of course he looked at me as if I were a complete idiot. One exemplary case of such idiocy was Alan Turing, a man of extraordinary intelligence, but also a proto-psychotic unable to follow implicit contextual rules. In literature, it is hard to ignore Jaroslav Hasek’s good soldier Schwejk, who, when he saw his comrades shooting from their trenches at the enemy soldiers, ran into no man’s land shouting: “Stop shooting, there are people on the other side!” The archetype of such idiocy is, however, the naive child from Andersen’s tale who points out that the emperor is naked —thereby missing the fact that, as Alphonse Allais put it, we are all naked underneath our clothes.

The second and inverse form of idiocy is that of those who fully identify with commonsense, who are wholly in favor of the “big Other” of appearance. In a long series of figures —beginning with the Greek Chorus in the role of canned laughter or canned crying, always ready to comment on the action with some commonplace wisdom — one at least should mention the classic “stupid” partners of the great detectives: Holmes’s Watson, Poirot’s Hastings. These figures do not only serve as a foil for the detective’s greatness; indeed, in one of the novels, Poirot tells Hastings that he is indispensable to the detective work: immersed in common sense, Hastings reacts to the scene of a crime the way the murderer who wanted to erase the traces of his act expected the public to react; it is then only by including in his analysis this expected reaction of the “big Other” that the great detective can solve the crime. The greatness of Kafka resides (among other things) in his unique ability to present the first figure of idiocy in the guise of the second figure, as something entirely normal and conventional (recall the extravagantly “idiotic” reasoning in the long debate between the priest and Josef K. which follows the parable on the Door of the Law*). 

 —from Slavoj Žižek, Living In The End Times (Verso, 2010)

the ur-text of all happiness studies

To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.

Gustave Flaubert

Those wishing to learn more are encouraged to consult the authoritative reference work in this field, Flaubert’s The Dictionary of Received Ideas.

prologemena to all future happiness studies

Is writing marketing copy the most boring job in the world?

Not necessarily, I suppose, and in some ways it is better than lawyering. But, once again, I feel compelled to commit the glaringly obvious to print: I cannot believe how fucking depressing work is…


In fact, I don’t think my mood could be any lower than it is now. I cannot understand why the people working all around me are not jumping out of windows as I type this post. These people should be slitting their wrists in the bathrooms, hanging themselves from the coat hooks in the toilet stalls, begging the janitor for the keys to the roof so they can bid adieu to this vale of tears with a sprightly leap from the top of the building…


Certainly having no capacity for imagination or powers of observation or faculty of empathy must help most of my colleagues get through the day. But why do they even bother?

I mean, my life is often a quiet and desperate hell. I really cannot take much more of this constant current of mental pain that runs through nearly every waking moment.  So what keeps the walking failures all around me going? More specifically, how does one get through the day without the ordering powers of art? 

These cretins seem to think if they work now they’ll have a better time of it in some distant future. Like squirrels with nuts, except squirrels definitely go about their work in a more orderly fashion that most of my colleagues… and now one has to remind them of their deadlines.


Perhaps I should try to take part in a psychology study and skew the results so badly this nonsense field of “happiness studies” is snuffed out before it gets much more of a toehold in Canada.