Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Filed Under Duh

Really? Really?

But a century and a half earlier, Mr. Chwe argues, Austen was very deliberately trying to lay philosophical groundwork for a new theory of strategic action, sometimes charting territory that today’s theoreticians have themselves failed to reach.
First among her as yet unequaled concepts is “cluelessness,” which in Mr. Chwe’s analysis isn’t just tween-friendly slang but an analytic concept worthy of consideration alongside game-theoretic chestnuts like “zero-sum,” “risk dominance” and “prisoner’s dilemma.”Most game theory, he noted, treats players as equally “rational” parties sitting across a chessboard. But many situations, Mr. Chwe points out, involve parties with unequal levels of strategic thinking. Sometimes a party may simply lack ability. But sometimes a powerful party faced with a weaker one may not realize it even needs to think strategically.
Take the scene in “Pride and Prejudice” where Lady Catherine de Bourgh demands that Elizabeth Bennet promise not to marry Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth refuses to promise, and Lady Catherine repeats this to Mr. Darcy as an example of her insolence — not realizing that she is helping Elizabeth indirectly signal to Mr. Darcy that she is still interested.
It’s a classic case of cluelessness, which is distinct from garden-variety stupidity, Mr. Chwe argues. “Lady Catherine doesn’t even think that Elizabeth” — her social inferior — “could be manipulating her,” he said. (Ditto for Mr. Darcy: gender differences can also “cause cluelessness,” he noted, though Austen was generally more tolerant of the male variety.)

My god, what happens when he discovers Proust, LGBTQ Theory, and Racism? Alternate Title: This Book Took Him Substantially Longer Than A Good English Lit Class or Sleeping With A Feminist.


  1. All Joking aside I recently read a fascinating book "The Woman Who Changed Her Brain" By Barbara Arrowsmith http://www.amazon.com/Woman-Who-Changed-Brain-Transformation/dp/1451607938 And she describes teaching her mentally challenged students Fables and Myths in order to help them grasp that there is a meaning behind the ostensible plot, that there are other ways of understanding something than the merely literal. I wonder what Professor Chwe would have to say about Br'er Rabbit?

  2. I suppose it might introduce some new readers to Austen. But yes, how remarkable that great artists over the millennia have captured facets of the human condition! (Perhaps the arts are of some use after all!)