Alexander Stern in The Hedgehog Review:
“I am sick to death of cleverness,” wrote the very clever Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Earnest. “Everybody is so clever nowadays…. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance.” The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was tormented by the thought that he was “merely clever” and criticized himself and others for valuing cleverness over genuine wisdom. Søren Kierkegaard, who placed a genuinely religious life before a merely aesthetic one, wrote that “the law for the religious is to act in opposition to cleverness.”
Is there really something wrong with being clever? Even if it can get on our nerves sometimes, its associations remain overwhelmingly positive: Cleverness is seen as a source of not just amusement but insight. Nonetheless, many will identify with Wilde’s complaint; the cleverness that proliferates in public life today is a nuisance. Our popular media are drenched in contrived knowingness and irony. And cleverness has become something like a currency online, where hordes of commenters and commentators compete for likes and subscribers with world-weary analyses and smug jokes. What should we make of this apparent degradation?