How I Became Stupid
by Martin Page
It’s a philosophical book, a “stinging satire,” a “modern Candide.”
Yeah, it’s okay.
I like the concept: Antoine, a 25-year-old Aramaic scholar living in Paris, realizes that the reason why he isn’t happy is because he is too smart. His intelligence prevents him from ignoring the problems and flaws in society today, keeps him from doing the things that bring pleasure because he thinks too much about the costs and implications and consequences, and of course ostracizes him from the general run of society, who can’t deal with him and can’t relate to him, just as he can’t connect to them. So he decides an unhappy life isn’t worth living, and so he will find a way to fix it.
His first plan is to become an alcoholic. There’s a great scene when Antoine goes to a bar and discusses the possibility with a drunkard he finds there, who eventually agrees to become his guru of alcoholism. But it doesn’t work. (I’ll avoid the spoiler and just let you read the book to find out why.)
Next, he decides to commit suicide. He joins a society that helps people to do it – it has a new instructor, as the last guy just recently succeeded in putting his theories into practice; he gets a warm round of applause from the newbie and all of the membership – but after sitting through a session on the reasons for and the best means of offing one’s self, he decides he can’t go through with it.
So Antoine decides to become stupid. He quits his job as a translator of and sometime lecturer on obscure ancient texts; gives away all of his books; alienates his intelligent friends; and becomes – a stockbroker. He starts taking antidepressants, makes a ton of money, buys himself a sports car he can’t drive, the whole bit.
That’s where the real satire comes in, though there are certainly elements of it before then. The indictment of the “normal” life and goals of the average man is pretty devastating, leaving none of the common accepted goals unskewered. Page mocks dating, employment, wealth, housing, fashion, fame – all of it.
But I guess my problem with the book was, none of those things are me. I don’t want oodles of money and a sports car; I don’t want to take anti-depressants or drink a whole lot of liquor; I don’t want to date hot women who are after my wallet. (I have a hot wife who likes my eyes and my smile and my sense of humor.) I thought Antoine’s original life sounded pretty dang good, other than the fact that he just won’t quit worrying about it. And since that does apply to me, I got that moral right away. But I kind of already knew that, so I suppose the book wasn’t really a revelation for me. I think it probably could be for some people, and since for me it was certainly a quick and easy read, with some truly interesting pieces – his friends, for instance, were great, and there was one that I took as a genuine warning that I should give up one of my worse habits, that of questioning and criticizing everything around me, including my friends; I also really enjoyed the ending, though I thought it was a little abrupt – I think it’s worth checking out. At worst, it will be fun; at best it really might be inspiring.