“Californias of grotesquery”

“There comes a delicate moment: the moment of suspicion when one starts to consider encyclopedism, the thirst for knowledge, no longer as the ideal antidote to stupidity, but as the insidious and inevitable vehicle of stupidity. As we know, libraries all around the world paradoxically abound with expressions of this suspicion toward books and reading: St. Augustine’s suspicion, Lucian’s satire pillorying an ignorant bibliomane, Nicholas of Cusa’s reservations about the limits of our knowledge, all that returns anew with each successive generation like the critique of scholasticism reborn from its own ashes, and, of course, Gustave Flaubert’s Sottisier too.

“Formerly knowledge appeared as self-evident, an incontestable antidote, but soon it assumes a different kind of self-evidence, rather like the pomposity described by Pierre Damien, like the malady of the Sorbonnites, like the stupor characteristic of overfull heads—between the two self-evidences, while passing from the first to the next, there comes a moment of instability when uncertainty has an important role to play, when it seems as if it might be able to compete with stupidity—stupidity, standing perfectly on its own two legs, comfortable everywhere, in contact with all that’s a given: the stupidity of illiterate peasants and the stupidity of doctors both. We find this moment of uncertainty in the pages of Bouvard and Pécuchet, and also in Flaubert’s letters when he was writing Bouvard and Pécuchet: the emotion is the same; familiarly, we go on from page to page; and ask ourselves, how can we resist stupidity when projects of universal erudition such as Auguste Comte’s Essay of Positive Philosophy, the exact opposite of ignorance, in fact contain entire Californias of grotesquery?”

Pierre Senges, “Undertaking and Renunciation,” trans. Jacob Siefring, in Prodigal Lit Mag 

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