Look it Up, Stupid!

Though it used to be the vitriol vernacular used only in the most significant of debates, the word, “stupid,” has a childish connotation, most likely due to the lunchbox scuffles it congregates around.  Oddly enough, Joanna Russ seems perfectly fine using the word to describe a statue of God on Rabbit Island.  Well, I would suppose more specifically it is likely Joanna the character who is narrating the selection, but is there really much of a difference?

She describes the statue as Zeus-like and majestic before paying closer attention to the details of the statue’s construction: badly matched planes, inhuman contradictions, etc.  Others don’t seem to know what to think: “Persons who look at the statue longer than I did have reported that one cannot pin it down at all, that She is a constantly changing contradiction, that She becomes in turn gentle, terrifying, hateful, loving, “stupid” (or “dead”) and finally indescribable.”

“Stupid,” kind of comes out of nowhere not only because an esoteric author like Russ is using it when it carries such a connotation, but also because the word is compared in likeness to death.  It gives a dullness not only to the statue but to the death it is paired with.  This is not a glorious or terrifying death, but a vapid and empty one.

The Oxford English Dictionary, however, has quite a selection of meanings for our childish word, and many eerily match the tone Russ was likely trying to articulate.  Before becoming a word meaning dim witted, stupid began as meaning stunned or a loss of sensation, even paralyzed.  It could even mean indifferent.  It became a characterization of inanimate things, things that could not think or feel.  Finally it meant dull.  I find the word to be most interesting and not dull at all, thank you very much.

I can see now why Russ likely chose this word in such a context.  An author’s perception of God can be intimately significant in understanding their work.  As she describes this statue she ends the paragraph with stupid and dead.  Dead is her final statement on the subject, but saying stupid brings a certain sorrow to it.  When it means desensitized, indifferent you almost seem to glimpse the author feeling abandoned, alone.  You can almost picture her as an orphaned child crying at the realization that her father and mother left her, and picturing their faces she utters at them most vitriolic obscenity she knows: stupid.


3 responses to “Look it Up, Stupid!

  1. Zack, can you add a page number and/or chapter reference to your quote so that others can find the excerpt if they want? Thanks!


  2. Part V Ch. XVI pg. 103 in the more common edition.


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