Dostoyevski once suggested that part of what’s wrong with our world is that fools take themselves seriously and we neglect to take the talk of fools seriously.
Moreover we have lost the wisdom of calling ourselves fools: “The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the person who calls himself or herself a fool at least once a month—nowadays an unheard-of talent. Formerly a fool recognized once a year at the very least that he or she was a fool, but not now” (Bobak).
In ancient times, kings and queens knew how important it was to have a fool around, a jester, a trickster, who could bring you down to earth by farting just as you seated yourself pompously to make an important speech.
Without a court fool, kings and queens knew that they would inflate with self-importance and grow heartless and dangerous. They were wise enough to keep fools around, even when the foolishness that resulted was cause for high irritation.
With this high anthropological and mythical hedge sheltering my words, let me quote some of the good lines that some of our contemporary court jesters have thrown around lately . . .
Here’s how the court fool assesses the last 70 years:
In the ’30s we lost it all
In the ’40s we tried to build it all
In the ’50s we dreamt it all
In the ’60s we did it all
In the ’70s we wanted it all
In the ’80s we had it all
In the ’90s . . . we are getting the bill
And, what does the trickster say about the liberal-conservative tension, both within theology and within ideology?
The true liberal temperament: “If something is moving, get on board; if it isn’t moving, get it moving; if you can’t get it moving—then paint it! But don’t leave things the same!”
The true conservative temperament: “Nothing should be done for the first time!”
Liberal theology in one line—”Mary wasn’t; Jesus didn’t; God can’t; and you can!”
The conservative lament: “Even nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.”
A fool’s pocket-wisdom . . .
Indecision is the key to flexibility.
There is always one more jerk than you counted on.
Someone who thinks logically provides a nice contrast to the real world.
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.
This is probably as bad as it gets, but don’t count on it.
If you smile when things go wrong, you probably have someone in mind to blame!
Remember—one-seventh of your life is spent on Mondays.
And then there is the court fool who tells his buddy: “Marriage is good for a man, it puts you in touch with your feelings—and with lawyers!”
And for when we are feeling pompous—remember . . .
Our tables and chairs and sofas know things about us that our lovers can’t. (W. Auden)
Reality might not be all its cracked up to be—but it is still the only place you can get a decent steak (Woody Allen).
Remember too . . .
When you have a new hammer, everything looks like a nail (Maria Harris).
Sometimes you can see a whole lot just by looking (Yogi Berra).
Bitterness and anger are like manure, they make great fertilizer, or you can burn them for fuel or light, but don’t try to eat them or you will die (Buffy Saint-Marie).
If you remember the ’60s—you weren’t there! (Timothy Leary).
Now, should this column irritate you, remember: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for an irritated man or woman to enter into the kingdom of heaven!” (Stanley Elkin).