Performing Stupidity Sara Baranzoni TESTING SITES Philosophy and performance, declares Avital Ronell, take off in the same place—the street—and in the same act—with Socrates putting his fellow citizens to the test through dialogue.1 In this street theater of urban philosophy,2 the “friend of knowledge” hunts down the truth, interrogating people and demanding they come to agreement about concepts, all while complicating the pathways towards such certitudes. Yet, the Platonic portrait of this scene presents us with a model of knowledge built on invariable truth, with Socrates, the Inspector, as the inventor of the method of anamnesis. This “image of thought,” based on truth as univocity and exactitude, will then be perfected by Descartes, through the concept of mathesis universalis.3 See Avital Ronell, “Ach! The History of a Complaint,” in Anna Street, Julien Alliot, and Magnolia Pauker, Eds. Inter Views in Performance Philosophy: Crossings and Conversations (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 229. 1 2 Avital Ronell, The Test Drive (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005), 104. 3 Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time 1. The Fault of Epimetheus, trans. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 4. S. Baranzoni (*) Universidad de las Artes, Guayaquil, Ecuador e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org © The Author(s) 2017 A. Street et al. (eds.), Inter Views in Performance Philosophy, Performance Philosophy, DOI 10.1057/978-1-349-95192-5_21 255 256 S. BARANZONI According to Nietzsche, with this method, “through immense periods of time, the intellect produced nothing but errors,” and such errors then became ﬁxed in propositions functioning as norms, according to which “true” and “untrue” were determined. Truth has emerged only very late as the weakest form of knowledge, Nietzsche afﬁrms, and throughout time this kind of “science” has made people colder, causing them to lose the joy and pleasure that can unfold with experimentation.4 The test, Ronell reminds us, is the device created to respond to this compulsive desire to be sure of everything, distinguishing what is true from what remains unproven. But, at the same time, it can allow another level of thought, “a structure of incessant research—perhaps even a modality of being,”5 which provokes amazement, transforming life in pleasure and prompting the feeling of power. Unwavering faith in science as a superior form of knowledge has often limited the movement of self-afﬁrmation of philosophers and performers to a form of compliance where they dive headlong into attempts to give scientiﬁc value to their hypotheses, exposing feelings of vulnerability and anxiety about the risk of failing. As Gilles Deleuze states, philosophers and scholars often tend to apply the “test of truth and falsity” in their desire to solve problems, which is, for him, the aim of dialectics as calculus.6 This is similar to what happens when Performance Studies looks for a “less shallow epistemological grounding”7 in the cognitive sciences. Without diminishing the innovative possibilities linked to these intersections, we want to explore another sense of the philosopheme of the test here, one that, according to Ronell, is reminiscent of “a time when philosophy and science were into each other, about and on each other.”8 Or, with Nietzsche, reminiscent of life as an “experiment for the seeker of knowledge,” where “the test” is linked to an experience of 4 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Joseﬁne Nauckhoff, ed. Bernard Williams (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 38. 5 Ronell, The Test Drive, 5. 6 Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 159. 7 Bruce McConachie and Elizabeth F. Hart, introduction to Performance and Cognition: Theatre Studies and the Cognitive Turn, ed. Bruce McConachie and Elizabeth F. Hart (London and New York: Routledge, 2006), xii. 8 Ronell, The Test Drive, 16. PERFORMING STUPIDITY 257 (and on) the body itself.9 This conception implies, we will see, a kind of knowledge that doesn’t attempt to force all (life)forms to become recognizable according to its own models, but bears instead more afﬁnities with the “unthought” as a force that hurts and that, through the subsequent questions engendered, enables acts of creation. We will show how, alongside a test that “offers results—certitudes—on which to calculate and count,”10 a different “politics of risk” is possible, which, as Nietzsche showed, rather leads to the collapse of certitudes, and to living through failures and between boundaries. We will ﬁnally enter where “stupefaction and astonishment open the scene of any possible knowing, even where knowledge emerges from an avowed epistemological deﬁciency.”11 Opening to thoughts that refuse a dogmatic image of truth, we will privilege complex relations and the emergence of singularities. For the thinkers we will gather here, art can never be reduced to a scientiﬁc function, nor inferred from a particular type of pre-existent proposition. Rather, we will see how the genitality of “a thought which is born in thought,”12 with all its birthing pains, is able to make the difference. SYMPTOMATOLOGY OF A CRY Linking pain and joy to knowledge leads us to a test that monitors itself through a (self-)diagnosis, where “the work of the gay scientist draws upon a history of suffering, exile, and pain, which necessarily becomes a measure of the ﬁeld of discovery.”13 It is Nietzsche, once again, who calls for such a symptomatology,14 which, for Deleuze, is the speciﬁc attitude linked to the astonishing practice of great writers and artists. Symptomatology doesn’t necessarily introduce a psychoanalytical outlook 9 Nietzsche, § 324, The Gay Science, 181. 10 Ronell, The Test Drive, 18. 11 Ibid., 14. 12 Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 167. 13 Ibid., 208. 14 This perspective, a philosophical movement toward the analysis of social, individual, and technical suffering, has evident Nietzschean–Deleuzian roots, and is deﬁned by Paolo Vignola, L’attenzione altrove. Sintomatologie di quel che ci accade (Orthotes: Napoli, 2013). 258 S. BARANZONI (nor an opposition to it) to be applied to the work of artists—for, as Deleuze points out, “authors, if they are great, are more like doctors than patients.”15 In fact, it is by diagnosing their own particular illness that writers become capable of analyzing the conditions of their society in its greatest generality, thereby becoming such great symptomatologists.16 According to Deleuze, what philosophers should learn from the arts is, thus, to consider, in a Nietzschean attitude, phenomena—things, institutions, societies, and states of mind—as symptoms that reﬂect underlying forces so that “any given concept, feeling or belief will be treated as symptoms of a will that wills something.”17 Taken in this sense, a symptom is an “eventuality,” or a “fortuitous event,” in which things “befall, happen, coincide, fall together”18—an extra-ordinary expression of an organ or organism, which is the sign of an event that happens within or at the surface of bodies and organs. The pure event, as Deleuze shows, is not what occurs (the accident), it is rather inside what occurs19 and its symptoms not only cause illness, but also are those by which the promise of “new health”20 unfurls in the form of new critical weapons springing out of the very wounds it provokes. Or, in Nietzsche’s words, they are what is necessary to reach the “enormous, overﬂowing certainty and health which cannot do without even illness itself, as an instrument and ﬁsh-hook of knowledge.”21 This is what he calls the “great health,”—stronger than before precisely because generated through its 15 Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 237. “There is always a great deal of art involved in the grouping of symptoms . . . Clinicians who are able to renew a symptomatological table produce a work of art; conversely, artists are clinicians, not with respect to their own case, nor even with respect to a case in general; rather, they are clinicians of civilization.” Ibid. 16 17 Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson (London: Continuum, 2002), 78. Etymologically, “symptom” comes from the Greek syn- “together”, and piptein “to fall”, meaning the reciprocal correspondence of more than one event. 18 19 Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 148. 20 Nietzsche, § 382, The Gay Science, 246. 21 Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human. A Book for Free Spirits, trans. Reginald J. Hollingdale (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 8. PERFORMING STUPIDITY 259 game with illness—which permits paths to many opposing ways of thought. In other words, the event, whose ethic is “not to be unworthy of what happens to us,”22 is the dimension that the suffering subject should understand and desire in what occurs, and attain through what Ronell would name a call sent by the symptoms of his or her body, mind, organs—and then, by counter-effecting it. This movement is not to be achieved through resignation, but through response in the form of an answer embodying the apotheosis of the will—to will and release the event, becoming its offspring and transforming it into an expression. By this counter-effectuation, the subject is shifted onto the plane of consistence, that is, of knowledge. Ronell brilliantly describes the symptoms of the destructive pain of the body contained in the gesture of philosophy.23 For her, “responding to the call”24 involves recognizing the pressure of a haunting that always comes from elsewhere, and expressing something in return that is capable of actualizing its power. This is the meaning of counter-effectuation: as Deleuze puts it, considering misfortunes, wounds, and failures as unjust and unwarranted is the repugnant sign of resentment, while the response to them should engage a war waged against war, where the wound becomes the living trace of all wounds.25 And, for Ronell, this philosophical war begins in recording the denunciation of those signs. “I would say that each work, according to scales of very unique deliberation and consequence, with distinct backdrop and sound system, registers a complaint”26—not a lament, but the ex-clamation of pain that pushes philosophy forward. Situating Ronell’s complaint in the perspective outlined here, the cry of the body, or more broadly, the cry of the world and hence the symptom, 22 Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 149. 23 Diane Davis, introduction to Avital Ronell, The Uberreader: Selected Works of Avital Ronell, ed. Diane Davis (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008), xxvii. 24 See Avital Ronell, The Telephone Book. Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989). 25 Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 149. Ronell, “Ach! The History of a Complaint,” in Anna Street, Julien Alliot, and Magnolia Pauker, Eds. Inter Views in Performance Philosophy: Crossings and Conversations (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 237–238. 26 260 S. BARANZONI can be read as something very different than the upsurge of a disease from within. Rather, the clarion call to which we are invited to respond, or perhaps to offer a non-negotiable surrender after enduring a period of extreme suffering, comes from the outside. In this sense, we can also grasp thinking not as an expression of interiority but as an exposition of (and to) exteriority, where there is no longer any place for the thinker’s “good will” or “premeditated decision.” The act of thinking appears as “an involuntary adventure, the movement of learning which links a sensibility, a memory and then a thought, with all the cruelties and violence necessary”27: the violence of the sign felt on our skin, the inscription—or registration—of the complaint, and its expression—to become worthy of it. THE CALL OF STUPIDITY Thus far, we have sketched the game of truth with the battle between illness and health as motor of thought. We are now ready to hear one of the calls that has always haunted philosophy and that, according to Deleuze, philosophy has refused to answer: that of stupidity. For him, it is always the blind faith in the “Cogito”—which considers stupidity and madness as forces subverting the honest character of thought, and hence to be fought and avoided—that has prevented us from responding.28 But what happens if we begin instead to think of these unknown forces coming at us from the outside as symptoms, affecting the surface of the body and calling it to thought? The subject of stupidity has historically been neglected, condemned to remain on the dark side of knowledge, reduced and assimilated to error. For Deleuze, stupidity refers back to the “structures of thought as such,”29 and should therefore become a subject for philosophy not only as its object, but as the condition of knowledge, starting from the properly transcendental question about its possibility. Yet, even while philosophers have always had some kind of awareness of this theme (from the Stoic stultitia to Hegelian alienation or Schopenhauer’s notions of vulgarity and stupidity), philosophy has kept its door shut, neglecting what it might 27 Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 165–166. 28 Ibid., 149. 29 Ibid., 151. PERFORMING STUPIDITY 261 have gained from taking stupidity both as an object of study and a conceptual framework. Error has derailed the thought of stupidity, transforming it into a mere limit, a threat, and a danger. In Deleuze’s diagnosis, we are thus forced to look to literature and the arts to understand how to behave in the face of stupidity: The worst literature produces sottisiers, while the best . . . was haunted by the problem of stupidity. By giving this problem all its cosmic, encyclopedic and gnoseological dimensions, such literature was able to carry it as far as the entrance of philosophy itself. Philosophy could have taken up the problem with its own means and with the necessary modesty, by considering the fact that stupidity is never that of others but the object of a properly transcendental question: how is stupidity (not error) possible?30 Philosophy must take up this theme, gesturing towards stupidity as at once preventing thought from posing and constraining it to pose itself a question—the transcendental question. For if “thought thinks only when constrained or forced to do so, if it remains stupid so long as nothing forces it to think,”31 the force that obliges its movement is precisely stupidity itself. Hence, as Ronell argues, “stupidity, the indelible tag of modernity, is our symptom”32: it is the wrinkle or the blemish on the skin of a body and a society, the scar left by the violence of the different, the sign that allows thought to begin thinking, but to whom no semiosis is referable. It is what embodies the sound of the “shocking appeal” as it attracts and rejects. It is an attack on certitudes, on quiet living, the “shock of difference”33 that leaves us literally without words. Stupidity is, thus, to be contemplated in the abandonment of oneself, awaiting “the ﬁrst leap of . . . difference” to come.34 There is something monstrous, cruel, and intolerable in the struggle against this elusive adversary: when stupidity appears, we allow the inseparable pre-individual 30 Ibid. 31 Ibid., 275. 32 Avital Ronell, Stupidity (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 11. 33 Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 238. 34 Michel Foucault, “Theatrum Philosophicum,” Critique 282 (November 1970): 885–908. 262 S. BARANZONI ground of individuation to rise, emerging from the play of difference, yet without taking form or ﬁgure. Thought must confront this indeterminate. And the philosopher has to be of sufﬁcient “ill will” to persist, motionless, awaiting the point of stupefaction, to let it slowly grow, to reach the point of shock, observing the conversation between stupidity and thought as it plunges into catatonic theater—the “candleless skull” —of the confrontation.35 Indeterminacy or groundlessness is what Deleuze understands as the animality peculiar to thought: “not this or that animal form, but stupidity [bêtise].”36 To stir this ground, says Deleuze, is the most dangerous but also the most tempting of the occupations37: a limit-experience, and an experience of limits, that can either send us back into the abyss (thereby blocking the process of individuation so that we regress to the baseness of weak souls38), or allow thought to take a step, starting from the initiatory experience of refused sense. The philosopher’s experience with stupidity is, thus, one of the greatest weaknesses of thought, but also its highest power, the one that forces her to think and which leads Ronell to afﬁrm: “as long as I don’t know what stupidity is, what I know about knowing remains uncertain, even forbidding.”39 As “any good Nietzschean would comprehend,”40 the point is not to reason by oppositions or dichotomies. Stupidity is inside the process of knowledge, even perhaps its most powerful motor. At the same time, it is something we can never really know, given that not knowing stupidity is the process of stupidity itself. This is why, while reading Ronell, we ﬁnd that the closer we are brought to a notion of stupidity, the more we feel stupid about it.41 The position of stupidity inside the noetic circuit is also what allows Bernard Stiegler to push clinical analysis further, afﬁrming that stupidity is 35 Ibid. 36 Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 275. 37 Ibid., 152. 38 Here, weakness is to be understood in a Nietzschean sense, or, at least, in the Deleuzian reading of Nietzsche, when he interprets the “weak” as expression of reactive forces. See Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, 105. 39 Ronell, Stupidity, 4–5. Ronell, “Ach! The History of a Complaint,” in Anna Street, Julien Alliot, and Magnolia Pauker, Eds. Inter Views in Performance Philosophy: Crossings and Conversations (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 243. 40 41 Cf. Davis, in The Uberreader, xxiv. PERFORMING STUPIDITY 263 the logic of the pharmakon (poison and remedy, in itself and at the same time), thanks to which it is possible to ﬁnd, within one and the same element, the resources with which to struggle against its negative aspect.42 Stiegler shows that this pharmaco-logic is the very law of knowledge, which is thus possible only thanks to, and as the struggle against, stupidity. To invert stupidity’s negative aspect, we should therefore practice it, immersing ourselves in stupidity as the necessary condition of engendering thought, and of thinking as such. ACTING OUT STUPIDITY But what is left of the Socratic trauma, that feeling of being without any solution to the question, without any idea—that sense of being stupid? We have now arrived at the ﬁnal point: the possibility of responding to this rupture with another kind of shock, not as violent, transgressive, or sensational as the one provoked by stupidity, but capable of exploring its own displacement, its own stupefaction. If philosophizing requires the experience of a disturbing confusion in order to be induced into a movement of thought, a recoiling in relation to the here and now that demands a response, we should now see how and under what circumstances such a reply could “pass to the act,”43 that is, in Stieglerian terminology, to understand what kind of “doing” is necessary in face of stupidity, without which philosophy would be “nothing but chatter.”44 Indeed, for Stiegler the question of philosophy is, ﬁrst, that of action (“philosophical saying is necessarily also a doing”45), an “acting out” that develops the potential inscribed in Ronell’s call. It is the same cry heard by the philosopher in his/her solitude, his/her name shouted out, which asks, in Deleuzian terms, to be counter-effectuated—that is, to “test” the event of the symptom, and to turn, as Nietzsche did, philosophy 42 Bernard Stiegler, States of Shock. Stupidity and Knowledge in the 21st Century, trans. Daniel Ross (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2015), 33. 43 Bernard Stiegler, Acting Out, trans. David Barison, Daniel Ross, and Patrick Crogan (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), 2. 44 Ibid., 6–7. 45 Ibid. 264 S. BARANZONI into an art.46 It is what makes Ronell afﬁrm “I want to raise myself to the dignity of the complaint.”47 In what does this passage to the act—the performative articulation of the experience of stupidity—consist? How can creation occur after an “interruption of knowledge”? If, for Ronell, writing is an act that derives from staring at the symptoms of stupidity and screaming, then its product should resemble Nietzsche’s “smart missiles” as “a relentless series of complaints launched to our metaphysical tradition.”48 For Stiegler, too, the suspension of the world provoked by stupidity must lead to an expression that creatively reinvents its fault. The possibility of “pressing outside” the limit-experience of stupidity is, thus, for both thinkers, what should initiate the expressive series through which “you’re saying yes, almost automatically, suddenly, sometimes irreversibly”49 to the call. In this tragic writing, ex-pressed from stupidity, language ﬁnds itself destructured, submitted to a treatment that makes it, in its turn, stupid. Or, idiot, which in Greek links the singularity of an idiom to both the idiotes— the idiot who can speak only his own language; and the privilege of the idiom, that may engender invention and the unique event of a poetic language—but also, to idiocy, implying a contamination with what can be reactive, reactionary.50 Finally, idiot (idios) means “individual” as such, as an individuated being, by virtue of being enclosed within a persistent idiolect—the very singular language that indicates a state of radical autopossession. In this case, “the idiocy of the idiom . . . produces idios, that is, singularity, individuation.”51 The initial default to which stupidity gives rise is reinvented by language, so that the coming of stupidity ﬁnally becomes “what is necessary,” that is, in French, le défaut qu’il faut.52 46 See Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, 197. Ronell, “Ach! The History of a Complaint,” in Anna Street, Julien Alliot, and Magnolia Pauker, Eds. Inter Views in Performance Philosophy: Crossings and Conversations (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 237. 47 48 Ibid. 49 Ronell, The Telephone Book, 2. 50 This argument links together three fundamental works on the theme: Ronell’s Stupidity, Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign, where he engages in a dialogue with Ronell, and Stiegler’s States of Shock, which responds to both. 51 Stiegler, States of Shock, 33. 52 Stiegler, Acting Out, 23. PERFORMING STUPIDITY 265 But we shouldn’t forget the “weak side” of stupidity, that is, the risk of failing back into base thought. The process of individuation, Stiegler afﬁrms, can occur only intermittently,53 and the fault that originates thought can always fail in becoming creator, falling back into a dumbness closed off from any possibility of individuation. This is why, as Stiegler says, even while knowing that stupidity can never be avoided and that it is a necessary structure of thought, we should always struggle against it.54 As it is not possible to be constantly in an “active” state, stupidity will always come back, and the struggle against it, that is the pharmacological inversion of the experience of stupidity itself, is what can reactivate the process of individuation. This intermittent activity is the logic of thought, whereas the pretense to be able to win the war against stupidity, to declare its defeat by one truth, is its negative face, that is, stupidity as such. Far from seeking to obtain a predetermined result, then, it is repetition intercalated by acts of stupidity, and the default of any probing structure, that makes writing and the arts “become worthy” of the call that the philosopher, as the artist, receives. And yet, to face this call, “there’s good complaining and bad complaining, a noble and a decadent complaint.”55 That is why producing a worthy answer depends on mastery of “an obscure, chaotic space, the site where intelligence fails, where it is neutralized and non-intelligence gives way to an analytic existential of stupidity,”56 of an unmapped territory, indispensable for real creation, for the abyssal grounding of an authentic language. And so stupidity—this friend necessary to writing—threatens us to the point that “if it weren’t for this threat . . . who would bother to write?”57 Creating weapons of style(t)58 as it aids and abets acts of writing, this unexpected friend inﬂicts the wounds from which philosophy will never recover. 53 Stiegler, States of Shock, 45. 54 Ibid., 3. Ronell, “Ach! The History of a Complaint,” in Anna Street, Julien Alliot, and Magnolia Pauker, Eds. Inter Views in Performance Philosophy: Crossings and Conversations (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 243. 55 56 Ronell, Stupidity, 145. Ronell, “Ach! The History of a Complaint,” in Anna Street, Julien Alliot, and Magnolia Pauker, Eds. Inter Views in Performance Philosophy: Crossings and Conversations (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 234. 57 58 See Derrida’s Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles, trans. Barbara Harlow (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), where he plays on Nietzsche’s style as a “stylet” used to injure Plato, among others. 266 S. BARANZONI Sara Baranzoni (Italy), PhD in Performance Studies with a dissertation on Gilles Deleuze, has been Research Fellow at the University of Bologna and is currently Prometeo Researcher at Universidad de las Artes (Ecuador), where she teaches “Filosofía y acontecimiento teatral.” Her research interests concern contemporary French philosophy (Deleuze, Foucault, Stiegler), performance theory, and philosophy of technology. She is co-founder of the philosophical journal La Deleuziana (www.ladeleuziana.org) and collaborates with many journals and networks. Sara Baranzoni has published several essays in Italian, English, and French, and edited three collective books.