A Radical Anatomy of Phantoms

Keston Sutherland


4.25 x 7 inches, 262pp November 2011

ISBN : 9781906497972

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From Shakespeare to Beckett, the contradictory figure of the fool who possesses unexpected wisdom has been a popular and effective literary trope and rhetorical figure for centuries. Philosophy needs idiots too, argues Keston Sutherland in Stupefaction. This is a book about how idiots are created, how they are used and the types of truth that depend on them.


Sutherland examines how speculative and satirical descriptions of stupidity function in art and in critical argument. His examples include Alexander Pope’s dunce, Adorno’s ‘cultivated philistine’, Wordsworth’s mechanical adopter of poetic diction and phenomenologist Michel Henry’s drunkard who rides an escalator to nothingness. Sutherland also provides an important new account of the figure of the bourgeois in Marx and a powerfully original interpretation of commodity fetishism as a satire against bourgeois objectivity. Sutherland explores in detail Marx’s ‘détournement’, or satirical recycling, of the 1760 text from which Marx took the word ‘fetishism’, Charles de Brosses’s Du Culte des Dieux Fétiches, and argues that the complex transmission and comical distortion of the idea of fetish worship in Das Kapital makes any strictly ‘conceptual’ or ‘pure theoretical’ reading of Marx tendentiously incomplete. Marx is, Sutherland suggests, a more living, comical, challenging and unexamined thinker than many of his elegist theoreticians now wish to believe. Stupefaction is the radical anatomy of some of European culture’s most influential phantoms. This unusual analysis of the trope of the idiot will appeal to scholars of literature and philosophy alike. 

Keston Sutherland is a reader in Poetics at the University of Sussex in the UK. He is the editor of the poetics and critical theory journal QUID and co-editor (with Andrea Brady) at Barque Press. His other books include Neocosis (2005), Hot White Andy (2007) and Stress Position (2009) and, most recently, The Stats on Infinity (2010), all of which are collections of poems. Stupefaction is his first book of critical and literary theory.


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