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‘Actual Idiocy’ and the Sublime Object of Susan Boyle

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Abstract

This chapter is provoked and inspired by Žižek in equal measure. The provocation comes from a fleeting reference to ‘actual idiots’, a term used in the background of Žižek’s analysis of the protagonists in the film Idioterne.1 The consideration of this term prompts a reflection on what might constitute ‘actual idiocy’ as a topic for analysis in its own right.

Keywords

  • Downs Syndrome
  • Learning Disability
  • Disable People
  • Learn Disability
  • Symbolic Order

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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  • DOI: 10.1057/9781137403193_13
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Notes

  1. Slavoj Žižek, For They Know Not What They Do (London: Verso, 1991), lxvi. Žižek maintains the original terminology of the film. Traditionally, the word ‘idiot’ refers broadly to anyone whose intellectual functioning is considered to be substantially impaired. With the advent of the IQ test in the early twentieth century, precise classifications appeared, with ‘idiot’ equating to a profound level of disability, ‘imbecile’ identifying moderate levels, and ‘moron’ mild learning disability. In von Trier’s film, the learning disabled characters that appear are predominantly people with Downs syndrome, more likely to have mild-moderate disabilities.

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  2. Slavoj Žižek, Enjoy Your Symptom! (New York: Routledge, 1992), x.

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  3. Slavoj Žižek, The Parallax View (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), 44.

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  4. Susan Boyle, The Woman I Was Born To Be (London: Bantam Press, 2010), 14.

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  5. See Dave Calvert, ‘“A Person with Some Sort of Learning Disability”: The Aetiological Narrative and Public Construction of Susan Boyle’, Disability and Society, vol. 29, no. 1 (2014), 102.

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  6. Mark Duffett, ‘Elvis Presley and Susan Boyle: Bodies of Controversy’, Journal of Popular Music Studies, vol. 23, no. 2 (2011), 179.

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  7. Sarah Futcher ‘Attitudes to Sexuality of Patients with Learning Disabilities: A Review’, British Journal of Nursing, vol. 20, no. 1 (2011), 9.

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  8. Su Holmes, ‘Dreaming a Dream: Susan Boyle and Celebrity Culture’, The Velvet Light Trap, vol. 65 (2010), 75, accessed 27 March 2012, doi: 10.1353/vlt.0.0079 (emphasis added). http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/the_velvet_light_trap/v065/65.holmes.html.

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  9. W.D. Howarth, Sublime and Grotesque: A Study of French Romantic Drama (London: Harrap, 1975), 233.

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  10. Victor Hugo, ‘Preface to Cromwell’, in Collected Works (Delphi Classics, 2011 [1827]), Kindle edition.

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  11. Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 1989), 221.

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  12. Slavoj Žižek, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (London: Verso, 2009), 65.

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© 2014 Dave Calvert

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Calvert, D. (2014). ‘Actual Idiocy’ and the Sublime Object of Susan Boyle. In: Chow, B., Mangold, A. (eds) Žižek and Performance. Performance Philosophy. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137403193_13

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