“Trust me, I’m like a smart person.” – Donald Trump, 01/21/17

“[unintelligible]” – Donald Trump, AP Interview, 04/21/17

If, as Marx remarks somewhere, historical events and individuals always appear twice, first as tragedy and then as farce, the past year has shown the precise reversal: farce first, tragedy later. Such a reversal clears a space for further reconsideration. In a time of “post-truth” and “alternative facts,” both the Left and the Right are beginning (or continuing) to rethink longheld assumptions about truth, politics, morality, and decency. What then to do about the politics of post-truth? Thinkers like as Hegel, Nietzsche, and William James have already recognized that truth is not a ready-made value. Perhaps then it is time to reconsider the value of truth in general. Indeed, what good is more “truth” in the face of a political system that responds with two falsehoods for every one fact? Or where everyone can choose the facts they like and dismiss those that are challenging or ugly? Or where the pliable nature of truth becomes an assault on politics itself? Perhaps it is time, to borrow phrasing from Jim Livingston’s recent book, to say “No more truth!”[1] Not that truth is no more — there are plenty of rocks we can kick to prove this point, argumentum ad lapidem— but rather that we don’t want anything more to do with it.  

Of course, post-structuralists have been mining (or fracking, depending on your intellectual heritage) this territory for decades now. French theorists like Foucault, Lacan, and Derrida, despite their sometimes stark disagreements, all seem to acknowledge the complicated and fraught relationship of truth, knowledge, and power. The deconstruction of truth initially seemed to be a politically radical, even liberatory project: part of the “liberal conspiracy” taking place in college humanities departments across the country. But as Bruno Latour has insightfully pointed out, Leftist critics have lost the desired object of critique, fighting “wars that are no longer possible, fighting enemies long gone, conquering territories that no longer exist.”[2] The project of questioning authority and transcendental truths has collapsed in on itself; already before the 2016 election, there was a sense of mourning pervading the university, whether over the death of critique, over the humanities, or maybe even over the University as such. In response, scholars like Toril Moi, Eric Hayot, and Heather Love are actively working in a “post-critique” condition, and admittedly producing groundbreaking and interesting work. But are we really ready to give up on the project of critique? Have we really arrived at “No more critique?” As Beckett presciently predicted, is there really “Nothing to be done”? 

In an early version of this paper, delivered at the Popular Culture Association Conference in Seattle in Spring 2016, I argued that the best response to “post-truth” and “post-critique” was a form of “active compliance,” which could be found in the legacy of French Theory. Furthermore, I suggested that the Left should take up such an actively compliant stance as a way of opposing post-truth, as epitomized by Donald Trump. It is a rare privilege for history to show you how spectacularly wrong you have been. To put it succinctly: compliance, of any form, just ain’t gonna cut it. But that doesn’t mean we need to get smarter; if Livingston has gotten rid of the capitalist demand to “Work hard,” then we might as well throw out the “Work smart” idea too. Perhaps we just haven’t been stupid enough. As Lacan writes, les non-dupes errent: a pun in French that means “the non-duped are mistaken,” but also sounds like “the-name-of-the-father.” While such a concept helps to understand the spectacular mistakes made by the left during the 2016 election — from overconfidence in polling numbers to a belief that “it just couldn’t happen here” — it also shows begins to shed light on those “duped” by Trump. Rather than once again lumping them all together under the umbrella of false consciousness, stupidity might show them not as mistaken, but as a powerful force coalesced around a new name-of-the-father. Rather than continue with the potentially failing project of marshalling facts to combat the lies and incoherences of the Right, I suggest we dwell with stupidity as a newly privileged political mode, characterized by absurdity, farce, humor, and clowning. Drawing on my own stupidity, I thus propose a thought experiment: to attempt to trace a sort of genealogy of stupidity and resistance, from some thinkers of the 1960s and 1970s — Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, and Ishmael Reed — to the tricksters and resistors of today — Slavoj Žižek, Bernie Sanders, or Melissa McCarthy, to name only a few. Just before the 2016 election, Professor of Clowning at Yale (yes, really!) Christopher Bayes praised Bernie Sanders for his “clownlike integrity,” while dismissing Hillary as too professional (apart from her “little shimmy”) and Trump as one of the “creepy clown[s]” that were popping up all over the country: “It’s all illness and artifice [….] Trump is the guy standing out in the woods trying to get the kids to freak out. That’s the same guy! And, if we’re lucky, he’ll be standing out in the woods again soon.”[3] Unfortunately, we weren’t that lucky, but perhaps with some more “clownlike integrity” and some more stupidity, we can get ourselves out of that woods of post-truth soon enough.


One of the main issues with the late 20th century model of critique is its limitation to conceiving of power as prohibition or proliferation.[4] One of Lacan’s major insights was to recognize this type of power relation at work not just in the discourse about sex or politics, as in Foucault, but in academic, knowledge-based discourse in general. Lacan describes such relations in his Discourse of the University, updating the Hegelian Master/Slave dialectic to one of Master/Student and demonstrating how resistance often merely creates new force fields of power. In his seminar following the 1968 protests in Paris, Lacan admonishes the student protesters, many of whom were likely in the audience: “As hysterics, you demand a new master. You will get it!”[5] The hysteric provides an apt starting point for a critique of political protest as a direct confrontation between protester and power, and uncoincidentally, is the epithet often hurled at the Left from the Right.[6] On one hand, the hysteric is an unreadable and resistant figure, repulsed by power (sexual, or otherwise) and fighting hard against it. But simultaneously, the hysteric desires that the repressive power desires him/her back. Thus, in the very act of resistance, this subversive desire still desires “a new master,” as Lacan articulately points out. Isn’t this the precise critique made by Angela Peoples in her now infamous sign at the 2017 Women’s March: “Don’t forget: White Women voted for Trump”?[7]

On her sign, Peoples invokes a return of the repressed that combines the legacy of psychoanalysis with the activism of intersectional feminism. And, she provides a more nuanced reading of the situation than Lacan on his own would be capable. Lacan, or at least Žižek’s reading of him, anticipates and critiques a Foucauldian reading of power: “What one should avoid here is the Foucauldian misreading: the produced subject is not simply the subjectivity which arises as the result of the disciplinary application of knowledge-power, but its remainder, that which eludes the grasp of knowledge-power.”[8] These two opposed subjectivities map onto the disagreements over feminism embodied in Peoples’ sign: on one hand, subjects produced as a result of power, and on the other, those produced yet excluded as its powerless outside. Subjectivity as remainder, that which is left over after the productions of power, is a crucial turn in understanding resistance to power. It provides a potential model for resistance that doesn’t fall into the trap of conceiving of power as either purely repressive or productive. Peoples’ resistance, in turn, avoids a complicit form of feminism while simultaneously avoiding the apocalyptic thinking of a knowledge-based masculine perspective.[9] While this leftover part of subjectivity aligns nicely with what Lacan calls objet petit a, I want to highlight the farcical aspect of being out of place, which isn’t totally absent from Peoples’ posture in the photo.  The dark humor of not fitting in and being unreadable can be described by what Patricia Gherovici and Manya Steinkole have called “the new LOL” ( Lacan on Laughter).[10]

For Lacan, stupidity can create a movement from discourses of mastery, like the University, to a state that lacks a lack and is characterized by enjoyment. He says in Seminar XX, “Knowledge is worth just as much as it costs [coute], a pretty penny [beau-coute], in that it takes elbow-grease, and that it’s difficult. Difficult to what? Less to acquire it than to enjoy it.”[11] In a capitalist knowledge discourse based on acquisition, knowledge is easy enough to have; you can just buy it, or if worst comes to worst, simply make it up. In the “post-truth” economy, consumers will just acquire whatever knowledge fits their worldview, whether it is made up or not. However, Lacan’s economy is strictly a non-capitalist one, since knowledge is reduced to exchange value without surplus-value or profit.[12] But what does it mean that it’s difficult to enjoy? Lacan doesn’t mean that knowledge, whether real or alternative facts, can lead to happiness; surely the opposite is often true, despite how many derive a sort of vulgar enjoyment from the absurdly made-up tweets and alternative facts coming from the Right. But to enjoy (jouir) is not about acquisition, and not about not acquiring, but something “difficult” indeed: to relate to knowledge and the Other in a way that frustrates such a lack-based economy as such. Stupidity then is not about having or lacking knowledge (as in ignorance), but rather learning how to enjoy.  Such a difficult enjoyment leads us through Lacan back to Freud; as Leo Bersani has shown, enjoyment in Freud is both about having and not having pleasure.[13] And since “jouir” also means “to orgasm” in French, Bersani likewise helps to show how Freud’s notion of drive is both pleasure and unpleasure: as pleasure, it is something to be acquired, but as unpleasure, it is something to be dispelled, through orgasm. What a politics of stupidity forces us to attempt to think is a “knowledge” that, to make a bad pun on Lacan’s jouissance and Derrida’s notion of politics, is “to come”: never final, never enjoyed too much, and always in tension.[14] Such a tension aligns stupidity not with the lack of ignorance, but rather with the almost unbearable presence of the Real.

But now it seems, like the movements of jouissance or the logic of a bad joke, that we’ve just gone in a circle. Wasn’t stupidity the problem that led to Trump? Isn’t such a politics of stupidity the very opposite of resistance? Doesn’t it run the risk of supporting and propping up the workings of power, just like Foucault’s “repressive hypothesis?” Is it possible to critique knowledge based discourses while simultaneously acknowledging those that historically have been marginalized from them? Instead of mistakenly thinking of speaking out as subversion, perhaps this thought experiment mistakenly thinks of humor, joking, and stupidity as subversion. In order to address these concerns, we now turn to a different trickster, and a non-French one at that: Ishmael Reed.

Ishmael Reed isn’t afraid of stupidity, either as an aesthetic or as subject matter. In fact, he often turns specifically to joking, clowning, circuses, and stupidity, with his work ranging from detective stories to westerns, jazz recordings to postmodernist verbal collages. Using language similar to Lacan, he states in a recent interview, “What we ended up doing in the sixties was to revolt against the colonial masters.”[15]  But rather than seeking a new form of mastery, his stupidity is a specific and often razor-sharp critique of easy answers and political orthodoxies. His first novel, The Free-lance Pallbearers, explores the country of HARRY SAM, ruled by a man of the same name: a former used-car salesman who governs from a toilet, since “he has not been seen since the day thirty years ago when he disappeared into the John with a weird ravaging illness.”[16] (Reed anticipates Alec Baldwin’s Trump toilet tweeting joke by nearly 50 years.) The main character Bukka works as an orderly cleaning up bedpans (“Make-um-shit Doopeyduk”), and when he is eventually recruited to participate in political activist art, he protests “I’m not an actor. I’m more of a clown” (4, 107). The artist’s response? “Good [….] So are we, tweet, tweet. See you soon” (107). (Again, more tweeting.) In his second novel, Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down, a western about a voodoo cowboy named The Loop Garoo Kid, Reed satirizes orthodox “political” art in the form of Bo Shmo and the neo-socialist realist gang. The Kid sneers at their idea that “All art must be for the end of liberating the masses,” and instead asks, “What’s your beef with me Bo Shmo, what if I write circuses? No one says a novel has to be one thing. It can be anything it wants to be, a vaudeville show, the six o’clock news, the mumblings of wild men saddled by demons.”[17] (Again, Reed is ahead of his time, with fiction subsuming the nightly news.) Reed’s most well known novel, Mumbo Jumbo, follows the “anti-plague” Jes Grew as it “ravages” the U.S. in the 1920s, causing energy, feelings of good health, an interest in Haitian culture, and uncontrollable dancing in the streets. The secrets of Jes Grew are bound in an ancient secret text called The Work; but as the title of the novel suggests, the Work isn’t a book that contains practical knowledge. In fact, Papa LaBas, the novel’s main character and VooDoo detective, is never able to read the Work. But that’s fine with him; he concludes, “We will make our own future text.”[18] Reed’s stupidity, then, is never content with a final answer, even when that answer comes from one of Reed’s own books. Instead, his clowning, like Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s theory of “signifying” derived from readings of Reed, is always premised on revision and on future action and future texts.[19]

But how does such stupidity actually work? Isn’t this just yet another instance of vulgar postmodernist critique? While Reed’s complex work escapes such an easy criticism, stupidity does seems to work best by pointing out a lack in ideological arguments that appeal to some ultimate truth. But politics and criticism aren’t so simple anymore, if they ever were. As Latour reminds us, “the danger [of the present] would no longer be coming from an excessive confidence in ideological arguments posturing as matters of fact—as we have learned to combat so efficiently in the past—but from an excessive distrust of good matters of fact disguised as bad ideological biases!”[20] In other words, isn’t stupidity now precisely the problem instead of a critical solution?

At best, the stupidity of a figure like Trump doesn’t seem to be a major issue for many of his supporters; as I write this, polls show his approval rating among Republicans is still in the 80s. At worst, some of the most prominent praises of Trump take on precisely these postmodern terms: Trump as the one who “tells it like it is” and reveals “facts” as “bad ideology”; as a “blockage” to the “corrupt” system of Washington; as the big Other or subject-supposed-to-know with no desire and no stable content, who creates desire in the (conservative, middle class, white) subject. As such, he is a figure who is stupid, not just in the traditional sense, but also in Lacan’s: by lacking any lack whatsoever, and thriving politically not through policy or reason, but through desire and revealing the lack in others (Josh Marshall calls this a “domination by denigration” strategy.[21]) Furthermore, much of the direct moments of critique to Trump – criticisms of his “policies,” debates, media interviews – have proved unsuccessful, at least in preventing his rise to power. During the election, such resistance seemed to only galvanize him as a figure fighting against the “liberal elite,” i.e. those with knowledge. And even though his approval ratings have fallen drastically, there are still millions who persist in an enjoyment of his lack of knowledge: not only an enjoyment of ignorance, but also a sadistic enjoyment at the suffering of those harmed by Trump’s policies.[22]  Again, as Latour has pointed out, direct resistance runs the risk of becoming caught up in the system of dominance. For an example, we need look no further than how “Black Lives Matter” has been co-opted in a precise Foucaultian reformulation of the biopolitical “Make Live and Let Die” – that is to say, “All Lives Matter.” (A declaration of sovereignty so important that Trump repeated it during his acceptance of the Republican Presidential nomination.) 

But perhaps, like fire-fighting fire, stupidity can combat stupidity. This is the point I wish to turn to in the following section. But first, it should be declared emphatically that this line of argument should in no way minimize the forms of direct resistance that many have already undertaken. Black Lives Matter and other activist groups are doing extremely important work in leveling grass-roots public critiques. Indeed, in the past year, we have seen how these direct resistances have begun to affect the Trump White House. Rather, this thought experiment is an attempt, to borrow more of Latour’s militaristic rhetoric, to open up an additional front in this battle; I wonder how tactics of stupidity might translate into the knowledge based discourses of Academia or the journalist media, which have seemed somewhat powerless to speak truth to power against the Right.[23]


By way of beginning such translation, I want to highlight a moment of unreadability that created a direct and effective critique of Trump, and one that importantly doesn’t pit knowledge against stupidity, or truth against falsity. I’m referring here to Johari Osayi Idusuyi’s protest at a Trump rally in Nov. 2015, where she simply sat behind Trump while reading a copy of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. Idusuyi functions as both Lacanian blockage and as unreadable presence: a bit of the  Lacanian Real.[24] She is present at least seemingly as a compliant supporter. Furthermore, she is often literally unreadable on camera precisely because she is reading with a book obscuring her face. And unlike the other protesters at the rally, who attempted to directly confront Trump and his supporters and were violently ejected, Idusuyi instead merely exists (or “persists,” to borrow McConnell’s “critique” of Elizabeth Warren) within the space of the rally. But through such existence, she makes all the Trump supporters around her visibly uncomfortable and distracted, yet unsure precisely how to respond to this woman calmly reading. Indeed, Rachel Maddow referred to Idusuyi as an “unbowable presence,” and this is precisely what the type of political subjectivity I am trying to theorize: an unreadable yet unbowable presence, one that functions by both blocking the discursive system and refusing to be made a part of it. This “stupidity” is a far cry from ignorance; in Lacan’s terms, it is instead a lack of a lack.[25] 

Inside the book that Idusuyi was reading, Claudia Rankine tackles many of these same issues: presence, lack, black bodies, and alternative forms of knowing. Her poetry, like Idusuyi’s presence, is also often filtered through screens; the book contains reproductions of images from YouTube videos and sports matches. Reflecting on Hennessy Youngman’s YouTube performance pieces, which “[suggest] black people’s anger is marketable,” she writes,

You begin to think, maybe erroneously, that this other kind of anger is really a type of knowledge: the type that both clarifies and disappoints. It responds to insult and attempted erasure simply by asserting presence, and the energy required to present, to react, to assert is accompanied by visceral disappointment: a disappointment in the sense that no amount of visibility will alter the ways in which one is perceived.[26]

While not specifically theorizing stupidity or clowning like Reed, Rankine negotiates a complex and dialectical form of knowledge: one that combines thinking with error and transforms nouns and feelings into verbs and actions, and vice versa. In so doing, she sublates “this other kind of anger” into a new form of knowledge, one that both “clarifies” and further muddies the waters. But that is precisely the point. This anger/knowledge is not valuable because of its clarification, correspondence, or truth-value — it’s not a form of “alternative facts” — but rather because of its simply being there. The knowledge-as-presence that Rankine creates inside the book perfectly complements the presence-as-knowledge created by Idusuyi at the Trump rally. Of course, this knowledge isn’t simply utopian; it might not make a difference in “the ways in which one is perceived.” Rankine continues in the next paragraph: “Recognition of this lack might break you apart. Or recognition might illuminate the erasure the attempted erasure triggers. Whether such discerning creates a healthier, if more isolated, self, you can’t know” (24). The poetic recognition of lack as breakage in Rankine is a very real concern for protesters, who risk the literal breaking of their bodies in the fight to be recognized. But what Rankine holds out is a hope that such erasure might lead to more erasure: that lack might create its own lack in return. Indeed, “recognition” and “illumination” and “erasure” all become so mixed up that ultimately, “you can’t know.” But in that space of not-knowing — of attentiveness to the Other’s desires and our own lacks of the perfect answers — perhaps a politics of stupidity can begin.[27]   

Reflecting on the melancholia of critique, and the deadlock of the Left and the Right more generally, this new type of struggle -–  characterized by stupidity, humor, and “unbowable presence” —  is an urgent political and ethical necessity. The resistor must realize that, along with Foucault, “We must not think that by saying yes to sex [and other prohibitions], one says no to power.”[28] But I would like to add here that we can’t just shout “No!” any longer either (though we should definitely keep doing that too). In addition, the political subject with unknowable “clownlike integrity” must resist through her very unreadable presence  ̶  and perhaps through the very act of reading too. We can thus draw a direct line from the “unsuccessful” protests of Occupy Wall Street in 2011-2012, through the demands of Bernie Sanders, all the way to the recent Women’s Marches in Washington, D.C. Ishmael Reed’s “Future Text” ends up written by the bodies of the protestors; isn’t the galvanization of the Left to take to the streets just like the “enlivening” anti-plague Jes Grew, “electric as life and […] characterized by ebullience and ecstasy” (6)? In shifting perspectives, many of the critiques against these protesters — that they are lazy and should get jobs, that they aren’t articulating coherent demands, that their bodies aren’t really oppressed — are reformulated into the precise form of their resistance. As Rankine writes about tennis judge Mariana Alves’ notoriously bad (and seemingly racist) calls against Serena Williams, “Though no one was saying anything explicitly about Serena’s black body, you are not the only viewer who thought it was getting in the way of Alves’s sight line” (27). Once again, she theorizes a form of literally unspoken knowledge that is found in the presence of a body as an obstruction to the dominant, white “sight line.” Lacan might even call such an obstruction the gaze. And as both Rankine’s book and Idusuyi’s presence make clear, such a form of knowledge is present through reading.

In response to a President who tweets and doesn’t read, the unreadable presences of these readerly bodies in the streets is the perfect political response. For Lacan, in the final stage of his dialectic of desire, the subject confronts the lack in the big Other; when asked “What do you want of me?”, the big Other responds with “Nothing.” The protests against Trump reverse the terms. We might imagine a new slogan chanted at the next march:

“What do we want?”


“When do we want it?”


Of course, there are numerous literal demands that the protesters are fighting for. But such a demand for nothing is not without precedent. Radical abortion rights activists in the 1960s presented the New York legislature with a blank piece of paper as their proposed bill, the implication being that their bodies should not be regulated by laws in any way.[29] This posture of negativity, then, locates power not in the figure of a new master, but in the bodies of the protestors themselves. Thus, demand takes the form of a lack of a lack, but more importantly, of a demand and a lack that isn’t going away: one that obstructs “sight lines” through its “unbowable presence.”

Slavoj Žižek has termed this type of resistance “passive violence,” in response to the debate about whether it was OK to punch neo-Nazi Richard Spencer. (Žižek says no.)[30] But notwithstanding the schadenfreude of such violence, I have tried to shift the locus of passive violence to stupidity, like the clowning of Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer. In so doing, I would also shift terms, both Žižek’s and my own from the early version of the paper: moving from active compliance to active, present stupidity.  Kate McKinnon’s Kellyanne Conway, from the March 4th, 2017 Saturday Night Live, perfectly represents such a shift: instead of jokes or sketches, her character merely appears at brief moments throughout the broadcast, sitting in a red dress and playing with her phone, a perfect parody of the infamous “couchgate” photo of the real life Conway.[31] This isn’t a joke per se: nothing is said, and McKinnon just repeats the same things that Conway did. But in so doing, she also enacts the same gesture of stupidity that ties these many disparate and complex forms of political resistance together as obstructive presence: from Reed’s Loop Garoo Kid to Claudia Rankine, or from  Johari Osayi Idusuyi to Melissa McCarthy. These disparate forms of stupidity return us, full circle, to Marx’s notion of history: first as tragedy, then as farce. Of course, we can’t overlook the complex histories and differences that inform these different acts of resistance.[32] But, taken together in a moment of contingency and solidarity, perhaps the different histories might lead to a politics not only of stupidity, but ultimately togetherness: a togetherness that recognizes difference and the unreadability of the Other, but also how that presence can still belong. In fact, Lacan’s primary example for silliness, stupidity, and nonsense is love.[33] Or as Rankine says towards the close of her book, “You smile dumbly at the world because you are still feeling if only the feeling could be known and this brings on the moment you recognize as desire” (153).

In February 2012, I characterized the Occupy Wall St. movement as the winter of our discontent.[34] Now, we have another Marxist historical repetition. And these repetitions of stupidity will undoubtedly continue: who knows what further farce and tragedy will have confronted us by the time you are reading this. So, as we look back through the literal winter of our discontent, again, the best advice is that of Dany Nobus and Malcolm Quinn, from their book on Lacanian epistemology: “Stay stupid!”[35] Stupidity, after all, may be the only thing that Trump understands.



[1] James Livingston, No More Work: Why Full Employment is a Bad Idea (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

[2] Bruno Latour, “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern” Critical Inquiry 30 (Winter 2004): 225.

[3]Lizzie Widdicombe, “The Creepy-Clown Hysteria,” New Yorker, Oct. 24, 2016, accessed 14 March 2016, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/24/the-creepy-clown-hysteria

[4] Foucault begins The History of Sexuality  by examining what he calls “the repressive hypothesis,” the notion that power and society operate through prohibition. This way of conceiving of power then demands resistance, a refusal of prohibitions, in order to subvert it. But Foucault isn’t just critical of a gesture to criticize power from the outside, like Hegel’s “beautiful soul,” or what is now commonly called slacktivism. Instead, Foucault makes the radical argument that resistance is part of power; instead of repression and prohibition, power operates through the “discursive fact,” an incitement to speak and to speak endlessly about what is supposed to be prohibited.  To put it in the parlance of our times, all the tweets and phone calls and rally signs in the world might not be enough to oppose Trump (though they are certainly beginning to put some cracks in his administration). Foucault’s project with regard to power is to reframe it as positive instead of purely negative. Thus, pure resistance — a form of subversion that responds to power’s “No!” — is responding to an injunction or prohibition that might not even exist, as Latour points out. See The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990). 

[5] L’envers de la psychanalyse, Seminar XVII (1969-1970). Qtd. in Slavoj Žižek, “Homo Sacer as the Object of the Discourse of the University.” Lacan Dot Com. 09 Sept. 2003, accessed 14 March 2017. www.lacan.com/hsacer.htm.

[6] A Google search for “liberal hysteria” reveals nearly 600,000 hits. Even with the “News” filter on, there are still nearly 50,000 articles.

[7] Brooke Obie, “Woman in Viral Photo From Women’s March to White Female Allies: ‘Listen to a Black Woman,’” The Root, 23 Jan. 2017, accessed 14 March 2017. http://www.theroot.com/woman-in-viral-photo-from-women-s-march-to-white-female-1791524613. Indeed, Peoples’ remarks are very reminiscent of Lacan’s, as she critiques white feminism for “wanting to just show up in a very superficial way and not wanting to do the hard work of making change, of challenging their own privilege.”

[8] Žižek, “Homo Sacer.” www.lacan.com/hsacer.htm.

[9] “Drop Apocalyptic Thinking and Get in the Streets: On White/Male Voices Stifling Resistance,” Medium, 3 Feb. 2017, accessed 14 March 2017, https://medium.com/@WocandAlliesRealTalk/drop-apocalyptic-thinking-and-get-in-the-streets-on-white-male-voices-stifling-resistance-d9658f3f43a0#.2gdenm1jx.

[10] See Lacan, Psychoanalysis, and Comedy, ed. Patricia Gherovici and Manya Steinkole (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2016).

[11] Jacques Lacan, Seminar XX: Encore -On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: Norton, 1999), 96.  

[12] Marx charts this as the exchange of commodities, C-M-C, rather than the capitalist exchange where money is exchanged for profit, M-C-M¹. See Capital, Vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin, 1990), 188-246. As Lacan says elsewhere, it was Marx who invented the symptom, not Freud.

[13] Leo Bersani, Is the Rectum a Grave? and Other Essays (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010). See also Thoughts and Things (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), particularly 37-57, and Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, trans. James Strachey (New York: Basic Books,  2000). 

[14] See Jacques Derrida, Rogues: Two Essays On Reason, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2005). Of course, this shouldn’t be confused with Sarah Palin’s book Going Rogue, though they both do share an interest in stupidity. In a somewhat different intellectual tradition, William James uses similarly desirous language when he speaks of truth:  “Day follows day, and its contents are simply added. The new contents themselves are not true, they simply come and are. Truth is what we say about them, and when we say that they have come, truth is satisfied by the plain additive formula” (my emphases). I am very sympathetic to James’ project and his more or less untheorized sympathies with Lacan. However, it should be noted that James’ theory is different than Lacan’s, since it still relies on acquisition and addition, rather than lack. See “What Pragmatism Means,” https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/james.htm

[15] “Ishmael Reed, The Art of Poetry No. 100” The Paris Review 218 (Fall 2016), accessed 14 March 2017, https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6806/ishmael-reed-the-art-of-poetry-no-100-ishmael-reed

[16] Ishmael Reed, The Free-Lance Pallbearers (Normal, IL: Dalkey, 1999), 1. Additional citations in parentheses.

[17] Ishmael Reed, Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down (Normal, IL: Dalkey, 2000), 36, 34.

[18] Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 204.

[19] See Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988).

[20] Latour, “Critique,” 227.

[21]Josh Marshall, “The Triumph of the Will,” Talking Points Memo, 28 Jan. 2016, accessed 14 March 2017, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/the-trumph-of-the-will

[22] This enjoyment is best captured in the concept of “liberal tears,” a figurative source of enjoyment for many Trump supporters. The concept has even given rise to mugs for “enjoying my liberal tears” and to a bacon scented gun cleaner. Seriously.

[23] Paul Mann is very skeptical of the militaristic language of critique, but also skeptical of stupidity as possibly critical. For example: “criticism is stupid, hence only stupidity can be critical. The illogic of this proposition cannot entirely eliminate its force.” See “Stupid Undergrounds,” Postmodern Culture 5.3 (May 1995), accessed 14 March 2017, http://pmc.iath.virginia.edu/text-only/issue.595/mann.595. See also his very interesting Masocriticism (Albany: SUNY Press, 1998). One of the future projects of a politics of stupidity would be to conceive of alternative languages for speaking about politics and critique, that don’t draw on violence or imperialism. Once again, Lacan provides a model, through his work on knots and topology; knotting and tangles already serve as metaphors for “stupid” thinking.

[24] In a recent interview, Sianne Ngai recognizes the “unreadable” figure of Bartleby as a mascot for the post-critical way of thinking. However, she characterizes her own  project and interest in “ politically ambiguous, non-cathartic emotions” as “anti-post-critical.” In turning to unreadableness and stupidity, I would partially align my project with hers, though a politics of stupidity can draw from critique and post-critique alike. See Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen and Devika Sharma, “ Critique’s Persistence: An Interview with Sianne Ngai,” Politics/Letters 7 (2017), accessed 14 March 2017, http://politicsslashletters.org/2017/02/critiques-persistence/

[25] Interestingly, autocorrect attempts to change “unbowable” to “unknowable.”

[26] Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Minneapolis: Greywolf, 2014), 24, my emphases. Additional citations in parentheses. 

[27]  In responding to his now infamous “support” of Trump before the election, Žižek argues for a form of politics opposed to multicultural knowledge and understanding. For him, “true multicultural tolerance” is where “I don’t understand you, you don’t understand me” — that is, we don’t ignore or cover up our differences — but we are kind nonetheless. However, Žižek specifically disavows the possibility of this work being accomplished through humor or clowning, such as the “post-factual” work of Jon Stewart or John Oliver. See “Slavoj Žižek on Trump and Brexit – BBC News,” accessed 14 March 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZUCemb2plE

[28] Foucault, The History of Sexuality, 157.

[29] See Laura Kaplan, The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995). Thank you to Courtney Borack for informing me of this history.

[30]Taylor Wafford, “Philosopher Slavoj Žižek settles the “Is it OK to punch a Nazi?” question once and for all,” Quartz, 27 Jan. 2017, accessed 14 March 2017, https://qz.com/896463/is-it-ok-to-punch-a-nazi-philosopher-slavoj-Žižek-talks-richard-spencer-nazis-and-donald-trump/.

[31]Joanna Robinson, “Why S.N.L.’s Latest Kellyanne Conway Joke Is Such an Incredible Departure, “ Vanity Fair, 5 March 2017, accessed 14 March 2017, http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/03/saturday-night-live-kellyanne-conway-couch-kate-mckinnon-photo-couchgate

[32] I regret that I don’t have the space to go more in depth into these histories here. For a recent study of race, performance, and resistance, see Michelle Stephens, Skin Acts: Race, Psychoanalysis, and the Black Male Performer (Durham: Duke UP, 2014). For gender, performance, and political action, see Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 2007). 

[33] Lacan, Seminar XX, 12.

[34]William G. Welty, “How To Succeed in Revolution Without Really Trying,” Machete (Feb. 2012), accessed 14 March 2017,  http://www.marginalutility.org/publications/zines/2012/machete-zine-february-2012/

[35] Dany Nobus and Malcolm Quinn, Knowing Nothing, Staying Stupid: Elements for a Psychoanalytic Epistemology (London: Routledge, 2013).