A Jester, a Jab, and a Blessing
by The Jester
The Jester (the Fool) is free to play with words, ideas, and the world precisely because he is a fool. Not being burdened by great claims to education, writing experience, or intellect, I am what fits me most nearly, and in such liberty I write. This loose-hinged creativity is liable to a great deal of critique, and of course the Jester is always in danger of the king’s wrath. When I have written in the past–usually assignments I dragged forth from the recesses of the mind for my professors–I found that the grueling process of accepting criticism from others, editing, and rewriting took a good bit of humility. One professor marked up an essay with the casual statement, “I know you can do much better than this.” I was unprepared for the resentment that leapt into me, but propriety bore my flushed face back to my desk. And while I wrestled over her casual dismissal, I also knew that I desperately needed someone to tell me that being merely clever wouldn’t produce great writing.
Ironically, it seems that when a writer is personally attached to an idea or attempting a sense of cleverness or writing from an especially painful or thrilling experience, they are more likely than not to produce generic and cliché writing. In another time and place wrote Oscar Wilde: “All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling. To be natural is to be obvious and to be obvious is to be inartistic.” Having stumbled across Wilde’s cryptic objection to sincerely bad writing I muddled over this idea. The quote grants a certain complaint about writing that reminds me of why I rarely feel inclined to write anything but journal entries. They are the last word in natural, obvious, and inartistic, and they always spring from genuine feeling. Possibly the strength of whatever emotion I am under appraises me to the belief that the right feeling is present within the words set down on the page, for many of our best ideas walk in without knocking and overstay their welcome. This dilemma has the highest profile with the kind of experiences common to many people and the kind that lend themselves to flashes of intense emotion. Nature, death, birth, love, the inability to write (why is that such a popular subject anyhow), worship, psalmish poems. I get it. Not being overburdened with the writer’s call myself, I mostly desire to like writing when on a walk in a wild fall or when moved by my own inadequacies as a human or when confronted with an age old wisdom.
I looked for the context of this quote with a good deal of doubt. Oscar Wilde is richly endowed with stinging one liners and mouthfuls of sardonic observation, but it is difficult to tie him down with context since most of his remarks live unto themselves. Notorious for irony, Wilde ought to be evaluated in light of what we ourselves know. His point is not going to be a face value understanding of what he has written or even the exact opposite i.e. the best poetry springs from deep and genuine feeling allowing the writer to be excessively artistic through avenues both natural and obvious. This idea requires consideration. For one thing, it is not unnatural or defenseless to have thought that genuine feeling would produce good writing. We prefer that our reading material come from writers who were invested in their ideas. “Writers with a burden would be more useful than writers with talent,” said a sibling of mine in exasperation over a talented burdenless bit of writing. Does not enthusiasm for a subject or for writing give the length of ardency needed to connect an audience to the idea? But ardent feeling is not literary skill and can blind us to our unadmitted strengths and true weaknesses. Perhaps it is useful to think of enthusiasm as the thing that moves the scribbler to become the writer and the skill as the hard work to make that thing attractive to the audience.
Good writing requires something out of the reader, writing is not passive entertainment, but a good writer must lead the reader into the written. A common difficulty with poetry arises when a writer writes on a subject that is a common experience and therefore tends to rely on the experience of the reader to fill in. This happens easily enough, often the writer unconsciously calculates what they expect the reader will “get.” On the other hand, it is also problematic to explain the idea of a poem in the poem itself. There is no intrigue in reading a poem that explains to you what it is. Somehow, the writer wrestles to create a mental landscape that the reader can explore and delight themselves in without either informing the reader what it is they are exploring or frustrating them past the point of all enjoyment. How then shall we write?
“Good writing shocks its audience” pontificated a professor of mine once. Settling his feet on the library table and his complacency back on his nose with a shove at his cloudy glasses, Classmate X detailed his idea for a particularly shocking movie script that he felt touched the palate at the right place. “You see there’s this girl who’s being led to her eternal destiny by the devil and she’s defending why she murdered this guy and committed suicide because of her traumatic childhood.” Shock also has limits to its charm and its originality. In fact, sometimes in search of originality writers become pedantic to a sorry level. Editors and friends and writing counselors stress this bit about originality. Originality is the shibboleth to prosperity and popularity in the writing world. In a desperate attempt at originality it is easy to sound both ludicrous and exactly like all the other current writers scrambling to sound original in the new and particular way…you know…like the ones on Instagram with beautiful photography. “Find your own voice,” admonish others. “People may connect to your exposition of the truth better than to the exposition of other people.” says the Lynn. “You may be able to say it better for your own era or community, or maybe you can be the first to evaluate your era according to a particular truth.” There are all these crisp unmarred apples out there. Originality is difficult. It is far easier to copy someone else’s originality than to stumble into your own lesser heritage.
It was in finding my own heritage that I adopted the psychological exercise of representing myself to myself as a Fool. Taking cues across the span of the literal presence of Shakespeare’s Fools to the abstract archetypal Fool in histories and story and allowing myself the freedom to try things and accept failure or not failure as it comes is a bold task. “The willingness to be a fool is the precursor to transformation,” articulates Dr. Jordan Peterson. The fool motif precedes that of the savior, indeed, it may even be necessary for growth.
Therefore I say, blessed are you who have bravely sent manuscripts to the Curator and blessed are you who are about to send them. Blessed are you who run a blog, and you who contribute to other publications. Blessed are you who have shown your writing to anyone, even a few friends for then you shall receive criticism. And blessed are those who receive criticism for they shall grow and transform and become better fools.
Artwork: Evaristo Baschenis (1617-1677), StillLife with Musical Instruments
6 thoughts on “The Jester: A Jester, a Jab, And a Blessing”
Some great writing advice here, Jester! I’ll be referring writers to this post whenever I read something that the author clearly felt but which doesn’t translate into meaning for the reader. And thank you for not misrepresenting me. 🙂
This is a very ripe differentiation between the skilled and the ardent. Could you prod, jab, bless, that young sibling of yours into writing something of the Fool’s Fool? What would the fool’s fool, be like anyway? How would you foil the infinite variation of a jester? “Mark it, nuncle. Have more than thou showest, Speak less than thou knowest.” W.S.
Love the Oscar Wilde quotation. I’ve just been teaching some of his work. The truth lies within the paradox, he says. And THANK YOU for the blessings at the end! I’m about to send my first piece out for publication. I hope I’m doing it because I’m blessed by God, as you say, and it’s what is right. I’m grateful you reached out.
So you are the fool in the writing and the king in the crafting. I like it. It’s fun to imagine. The brainstorming fool and the editor king.
Inhabit the fool and its liberty to express first thoughts when driven by emotion. That’s where the gems of originality lie. When you are at your highest frequency and most vulnerable and have your best chance to channel your literary angels. Let your pen fly in search of the blazing truth and risk being silly and incorrect and cliche and be impervious to the imagined splattering of rotten flung fruit and with an exhausted bow present this to the king.
As king, first you will raise your arms and temper down the uproar. And know that often the first reaction of the king will be to look upon the work of the jester with great disdain for there will be much foolishness therein clear even for the mob to see. And looking at your work from this perspective you can dismiss your fool and it becomes easier to “kill your darlings” and polish your diamonds and reorganize and clarify your meanings and really sometimes even see a new better place you really want to go. In the end as King you can tailor the presentation to your audience.
“Perhaps it is useful to think of enthusiasm as the thing that moves the scribbler to become the writer and the skill as the hard work to make that thing attractive to the audience.” Yes. I like that. Inspiration and then craft.
It’s compelling to see you invoke Oscar Wilde in a post about The Jester. He was the epitome of a jester disobeying his own rules/roles. He spoke as a jester but had none of the humility. He was incisive and blunt and spoke at power but was convicted relentlessly because of his pride. It’s not just that you must be humble to be a fool. You must accept thorough humiliation at the whim of power. Complete and utter embarrassment. You must NOT be respected in the public’s eye. Wilde was given many chances to show a small modicum of humility but he wouldn’t consent and was jailed. As a person you can admire Wilde for his stubbornness but as a fool he was a failure.
I really enjoyed your writing. So many surprising words. As you know I love the subject of the fool as well and it’s fun to meditate on it. Away from the idea of the fool as a writing tool, I was thinking about how a fool craves power. The history of the court jester and more thoughts on the archetype will be fun to dive into (or read in your subsequent posts). And I had thoughts on Obi’s fool’s fool. But running out of time.
Also wanted to address your comments on poetry later and an idea on overediting and ruining flow.
Thanks for commenting! Great insight on Wilde’s arrogance. He has a Samson-like life story, although this is a parallel that just struck me and probably doesn’t hold out. I wonder if Samson’s life could be considered a manifestation of the Fool.
One of the things that still has me confused, is the difference between acting out a role, say being a novice at your job is a type of the fool, or seeing the over all type in someone’s life. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to be entirely in the role. I’d just like to understand how accepting the role is a part of growing and acting in the world. But what if that is the total trend of our life? In a way Wilde is that. He inhabits his role of antagonizer/jester so completely that his humiliation is total. Or maybe I’m missing something. Just trying out some ideas here.
Hah interesting. Wilde taking it to that extreme. One way i think of the jester is it having contempt for the king. In this manifestation the jester subordinates itself fully to the king but gains protection from anyone else so the jester at least respects the King and his power. Wilde was pitted against people he didn’t respect and wouldn’t bow to. Wilde was like a jester in a world without a king but a bureaucracy.
Hmm a novice at a new job gives you some humiliation. You’re lowest on the totem pole and even the least capable can laugh at you. You can suck up to your boss though and gain financial protection. But the role has faded in a world with say relative upper mobility and middle class and government aid and everyone having the illusion of being the king of their own castle. But at the highest levels of success there are still the leaches that play the role.
So i always enjoyed identifying with the jester: Caring more about people’s feelings than the apparent facts (making them laugh); ignoring apparent hard truths in the world or taking them lightly; pursuing a life more satisfying than the one the mob gravitates to and having inner satisfaction at what you’re getting out of life despite it not being apparent to others (traditional job, house, relationship); cleverness short term and long term; semi secret knowledge – in some senses education, in another that inner belief that you are getting a better deal than most and they don’t know it which opens you up to being better at accepting humiliation (rising above it).
But that can backfire. The most negative aspect is if you’re not appreciated. If you don’t have protection of a king the mob can sense you have a superior sense of inner life and they will pull you down. So working in groups is difficult unless you have individually proven your worth to each of them over time by using the strengths of the fool and treating them like kings. Then they may promote you to trusted advisor over lol.