Friday, June 01, 2007

The Holy Fool is a person who pretends that he is mad in order to save his own soul and the souls of others. They become spiritual symbols--strange and almost disgusting in appearance, but tragic and attractive from a spiritual point of view. The holy fools' disgraceful behavior carried the message of judgment. Those who understood the message started to cry; those who did not laughed at the fools and threw stones at them. - Byzantium and Beyond

Democritus (c. 460 - c. 370 B.C.) and Heraclitus (c. 540 - c. 475 B.C.) are known as the 'laughing and crying philosophers.'

Democritus, a Greek philosopher, born at Abdera in Thrace, was known as the laughing philosopher because he found amusement in the folly of mankind. (The citizens of Abdera were proverbially stupid.) His philosophic system was contrasted with that of the earlier Heraclitus of Ephesus, who was known as the 'Dark' or 'Obscure' and was reputed to be melancholic. They were linked as a contrasting pair by Seneca, by Juvenal and others. Florentine humanists, to whom such classical texts were well-known used the pair to support the view that a cheerful demeanour was proper to a philosopher.


Anonymous Yossarian said...

In The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test Tom Wolfe paints a rather detailed portrait of The Merry Pranksters, an interesting real-world take on foolery. While the Pranksters give every sense of being foolish, they themselves believe that they have access to the secret knowledge that holy fools et al. are conceived of as having; they also believe that all of their knowledge is in plain sight - e.g. once you trip out on acid, everything they do starts to make sense.

While in many ways a religious movement, it seems like the thing that puts the Pranksters into the status of fools is their intentional defying of expectations. For instance, they are invited to attend a Unitarian conference and present their take on things -which they do- but Mountain Girl (one of the Pranksters) continually provides offense by calling a black preacher "Watermelon" because she saw him eating a watermelon and apparently enjoying it immensely. It's an odd little apparently racist tic, possibly just done to see if people can take it.

Another example: their invitation to speak penultimately at an anti-war rally. Their presentation consisted of a long free-form semi-atonal jam of "Home On The Range" interspersed with statements about how trying to protest the war is completely moot and you've just got to say "fuck it" and walk away.

This brings up the idea of a fool always being true to his foolish nature, despite the circumstances - the Pranksters weren't simply trying to get the audience, they were also stating something they believed. This is possibly a real-world compromise, not applicable to the idealized fool.

Tangent: consider the Dandy in Oscar Wilde's writing, an archetype who seems extremely inscrutable and shallow, though with possibly something of more substance underneath. In "An Ideal Husband" the Dandy figure actually voices his philosophy explicitly, with a note in the stage directions to that effect. By putting it into words and letting us know exactly what this character stands for, he becomes not a secret or a mystery, but a boring fact.

Anyhow, a good real world counterpoint might be the rock band The Residents, who have successfully maintained their anonymity to the present day, and even managed to get their songs played on the radio in a most subversive fashion. I would outline it here but there is a quite nice bio at allmusic:

10:10 AM  

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