Tijdschrift voor Filosofie vol:76 issue:1 pages:31-57
Stupidity is often described as a lack. People who do not have the capacity to learn are stupid, just like people who do not have the knowledge they are expected to have. But stupidity is also a surplus, an excess. Nabokov and Sartre both understand stupidity as a surplus of matter. This article is, first, an introduction to Nabokov’s views on stupidity. Nabokov defines the stupid, ‘the philistine’, as “a full-grown person whose interests are of a material and commonplace nature, and whose mentality is formed of the stock ideas and conventional ideals of his or her group or time.” Literature and art are places where philistinism thrives. Second, the article shows striking similarities between Nabokov’s descriptions of philistinism and Sartre’s characterization of stupidity in The Family Idiot. Third, the article highlights the main difference between Nabokov’s and Sartre’s views on stupidity. Whereas Sartre understands stupidity as an inherent quality of every individual, and therefore considers himself stupid up to a certain degree, Nabokov believes that the true genius can escape from stupidity.