Magazine article The Spectator

The Foolish Things

Magazine article The Spectator

The Foolish Things

Article excerpt

THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF STUPIDITY

by Matthijs van Boxsel, translated by Arnold and Eric Pomerans

Reaktion Books, L19.95, pp. 205

ISBN 1861891598

Perhaps this strange volume is a bang on the nose for political correctness, but one cannot be sure. It could have been written in the 18th century by a deranged sage determined to scotch the more famous Encyclopaedia of the Enlightenment and its absurd faith in progress and human perfectibility. Published on April Fool's Day, it may have been a hoax of the dwarf variety, like the peas I have been stupidly planting in spring sunshine, observed by their ultimate beneficiaries circling in smug silence overhead. The author is said to be an Amsterdamer, a man of letters who has been researching stupidity for over 20 years, but he may be one of those crows.

In a bid to gain entry into van Boxsel's litany of human folly, I must tell the story of my new 'designer' wheelbarrow - compact, light to lift, and generally a darling at L19.99. Too late did I realise that its nifty single handle is placed so close to the barrow itself that you knock your shins every step; in short, the little fellow is a delight when empty. I claim that this example of stupidity is every bit as helpful as van Boxsel's lugubrious tales about woodcutters who saw off the branches on which they are sitting or builders who construct high towers without staircases. Real fools like myself are more interesting than the folkloric variety.

A section about the English garden and the French garden attaches the word `foolishness' to both, becomes playful about the difference between the English `ha ha' and the Versailles `ah ah', but disappointingly ignores my allotment in Bishop's Park and my attempts to frighten off the birds with shiny CDs dangling from string (Schubert mainly). …

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