The Idiot as Hero

Winter 2018-2019


Lawrence Rothfield

What strains are put on the apparatus of representation and storytelling when the protagonist is assumed to be cognitively challenged, foolish, stupid, or even idiotic? How do we make sense of idiocy? How do we interpret and evaluate what an idiot's idiocy means? What other codes -- ethical, political, ideological, sexual, etc. -- come into play when we respond aesthetically to a story about an idiot? How, and to what degree, is it possible for us to identify with the experience of being stupid? What means do writers and filmmakers do to exploit the aesthetic possibilities of idiocy (that is, the pleasures that can be derived by representing or evoking idiocy in particular ways)? Readings may include Sterne, Tristram Shandy; Wordsworth, "The Idiot Boy"; Flaubert, Madame Bovary. Films may include Forrest Gump; Born Yesterday; Nights of Cabiria. (Fiction)