This book traces the concept of idiocy as it has developed in fiction and film in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It focuses particularly on visual images of idiocy and argues that writers as diverse as Gustave Flaubert, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Joseph Conrad, John Steinbeck, Flannery O'Connor and Rohinton Mistry, and filmmakers such as Jean Renoir, Akira Kurosawa, Alfred Hitchcock, Werner Herzog and John Huston have all been attracted to idiot figures as a way of thinking through issues of language acquisition, intelligence, creativity, disability, religion and social identity. Martin Halliwell provides a lively and detailed discussion of the most significant literary and cinematic uses of idiocy, arguing that scientific conceptions of the term as a classifiable medical condition are much too narrow. With the explosion of interest in idiocy among American and European filmmakers in the 1990s and the growing interest in its often overlooked history, this book offers a timely reassessment of idiocy and its distinctive place at the intersection of science and culture.
'… an important work theoretically and in terms of cultural self-reflection. Halliwell’s impressive and interesting treatment of idiocy in fiction and film draws connections among different authors and directors to evaluate the often paradoxical representations of the idiot in various cultures, artistic genres, and time periods.' Sheila Kunkle, Professor of Social Sciences, Vermont College of the Union Institute and University 'Evicted, marginalized and forgotten by mainstream considerations and classifications, the figure of idiocy introduces subtle subversions in our relation to knowledge. The dilemma posed by the debilitated subject involves national identity, masochism, and sexual politics, as well as the relation of poetic utterance to the stammer in which it originates. Dr. Halliwell's work offers a distinguished lexicon of the visual text by which to probe the crucial limits of cognition, the areas of our shared being where language fails and falters.' Avital Ronell, Chair, Department of German, and Professor of German, English, and Comparative Literature, New York University 'Martin Halliwell's engaging study of the idiot in literature and film moves with great assurance from the enlightenment "wild child" and the innocent romantic idiot to the ambiguous postmodern "spazzing" of Lars von Trier; from Conrad and Hitchcock to Dostoevsky and Kurosawa. Attentive to the varying historical and discursive contexts inhabited by the figure of the idiot, the book offers in particular, a suggestive account of the role of the linguistic outsider in twentieth-century cinema and culture.' Timothy Armstrong, Reader in Modern English and American Literature, Royal Holloway, University of London 'Halliwell's attention context is exemplary, showing how the 'cultural representation of idiocy' has reflected intellectual fashions and medical developments from the Enlightenment to Romanticism, and from R.D. Laing to Oliver Sacks.' TLS 'Martin Halliwell's new book is a note
Contents: Introduction: idiocy and cultural representation; Idiocy in the 19th Century: Romantic and Victorian idiots; Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert and Jean Renoir); The Idiot (Fyodor Dostoevsky and Akira Kurosawa); Idiocy and Modernism: The Secret Agent (Joseph Conrad and Alfred Hitchcock); Kaspar Hauser (Jakob Wassermann and Werner Herzog); Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck and Lewis Milestone); Idiocy after World War II: Wise Blood (Flannery O'Connor and John Huston); Waterland (Graham Swift and Stephen Gyllenhaal); Such a Long Journey (Rohinton Mistry and Sturla Gunnarsson); Conclusion: idiocy in contemporary film; Filmography; Bibliography; Index.