Wholeness is the Fool’s Business
The Way of the Fool: Part III
A Series On the Inwardness of Becoming
“Some souls learn nothing except from human masters; others have learned everything from invisible guides known only to themselves.”
– Shihaboddin Yahya Sohravardi
That is how the Fool is to the Boy: a central character in his inner life, constantly evolving, shaped by his encounters with the works of creatives, especially writers but also composers, painters, sculptors, architects, and certain philosophers, psychologists and mystics as well: misfits and rebels of a particular kind who open up an ineffable and timeless inner world outside of space and time.
Though the work of those through whom the Fool makes himself known to the Boy is broad and varied, it has a common characteristic in the concern for what is unique and individual in every human. At the same time, and because of the concern for the individual, such works are, paradoxically, also concerned with unity and the oneness of the universe and all things. What transcends the paradox of individuality and unity is the experience of wholeness, and, as the Boy came to understand: wholeness is the Fool’s business.
The particular kind of creative works of the Fool which stand out are those which are essentially observations of and reflections on what it means to be human and what our relationship with Nature and the Universe might be and which thereby increases consciousness, often at the most subtle, the most fragile edges of humanity. They are examples of Nature, of Life, of the Universe working through someone quite so as if the individual was no longer separate from the rest of the Universe but an intimate part of it whilst at the same time rising up to look back on it and therefore also himself or herself creating what is also referred to as the reflexive universe.
Hermann Hesse traces the connection between the act of reading, the experiences of individuality, of unity and of wholeness thus:
The great and mysterious thing about this reading experience is this: the more discriminatingly, the more sensitively, and the more associatively we learn to read, the more clearly we see every thought and every poem in its uniqueness, its individuality, in its precise limitations and see that all beauty, all charm depend on this individuality and uniqueness — at the same time we come to realize ever more clearly how all these hundred thousand voices of nations strive toward the same goals, call upon the same gods by different names, dream the same wishes, suffer the same sorrows. Out of the thousand-fold fabric of countless languages and books of several thousand years, in ecstatic instances there stares at the reader a marvellously noble and transcendent chimera: the countenance of humanity, charmed into unity from a thousand contradictory features.
Works of this quality are usually milestones in the existence of such cultural creatives, edge-dwellers, changelings, third-culture-kids; people who find themselves on the outside looking in, rebels of a type whose concern is generative and life-giving.
They are the souls Boris Pasternak refers to in his poem After the Storm when he says:
It is not revolutions and upheavals
That clear the road to new and better days,
But revelations, lavishness and torments
Of someone’s soul, inspired and ablaze.
They are of those people who have made their way out of Plato’s cave and carry in them a torch of knowledge which is recognised by their Society of Others who have all left the cave; it is a spark which can only give light to someone else’s fire when the student is ready. As Plato says in Letter VII to the Friends and Followers of Dion:
For this knowledge is not something that can be put into words like other sciences; but after long-continued intercourse between teacher and pupil, in joint pursuit of the subject, suddenly, like light flashing forth when a fire is kindled, it is born in the soul and straightway nourishes itself.
In his essay Visions of the Fool, the British painter Cecil Collins notes about these rebels and torchbearers:
But there always exist in society some men and women whom the Fool touches, who respond to the Fool. For the Fool awakens the Fool in others, but in many the Fool is stifled, or sleeps. There are human beings living in isolation and loneliness in the society of men who realise suddenly that they belong to the Fool, that they exist in the Fool, that in the Fool they have found their race, and their kind, to whom they belong; […]. The Fool is not a philosophy, but a quality of consciousness of life, an endless regard for human identity; […]. The Fool is the essential poetic integrity of life itself, clear and naked, […] A culture of the genius of life. I believe that there is in life, and in the human psyche, a certain quality, an inviolate eternal innocence, and this quality I call the Fool. It is a continuous wisdom and compassion that heals with fun and magic. It is the joy of the original Adam in men.
The Boy felt he recognised a fellowship, a society within society, or better: a Society of Others, which exists through space and time which does not share a common home in any particular part of the external world other than maybe in books. As Hesse notes:
…writing and books have a function that is eternal. It will become evident that formulation in words and the handing on of these formulations through writing are not only important aids but actually the only means by which humanity can have a history and a continuing consciousness of itself.
The Boy feels that the fellows of the Society of Others are at home in a simultaneously age-old and timeless experience of humanity which is alive in the here and now even if unrecognised, unheard, not looked for. What they have in common is a rich inner life and a perspective which is not moved by common laws and whatever happens to be fashionable, en vogue, a la mode. They recognise each other and feel drawn to each other’s company whether in the external life or in their sense of fellowship. It is not only a communion with each other but also a communion with all life past, present and future, a sense which might be elicited by a single sentence or a glimpse of a painting or a simple sound.
C.S. Lewis puts it like this:
Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. […]
We demand windows. Literature as Logos is a series of windows, even doors. One of the things we feel after reading a great work is ‘I have got out’. Or from another point of view, ‘I have got in’; pierced the shell of some other monad and discovered what it is like inside.
Many times, when the Fool reached out to the Boy from the pages, sounds or shapes of creative works, the Boy shuddered as the Logos entered as though through his skin.
He might have suppressed answering the call and delayed it for a time, but he was never able to un-see, un-hear, undo the experience of the Fool: a chain reaction, a process was irrevocably started early on in the Boy’s life and what at first may have appeared undesired folly worth less than its weight in fool’s gold, transformed first into an unwanted detour and errand and then into the only real journey there ever was in the Boy’s life. It is a journey told over and over again for that is how it is kept alive; to tell it as a story so long until someone recognises that the story is not just a story.
Once set in motion, once it had entered the Boy’s consciousness, the Fool’s calling continued to reach out, sound, haunt and hound from beyond the fabric of his daily routines, from beyond common morality and highfalutin philosophies.
Such words are transmissions which have a purpose beyond remembering or sharing an experience. Their creation is often actually the means by way of which such consciousness which they contain comes about in the first place, and through this infoldedness of the creative process they also spark it in others. They are paths and processes, ways of arranging, ordering, grappling with.
It was one of C.G. Jung’s basic beliefs, and arguably his most important message, that the purpose of human life is in becoming conscious:
As far as we can discern the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.
Bringing together the role of books as described by Hesse above with the striving for consciousness, C.S. Lewis provides a remarkable answer to the question of what is the good of reading what anyone writes? In his view some of us read because “we seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves”.
In accord with Jung, Lewis held that:
The primary impulse of each is to maintain and aggrandise himself. The secondary impulse is to go out of the self, to correct its provincialism and heal its loneliness. In love, in virtue, in the pursuit of knowledge, and in the reception of the arts, we are doing this.
[Not content to be] Leibnitzian monads […] we strive to escape the illusion of perspective and our own psychology.
We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own. … My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. […]
[The specific value or good of literature considered as Logos] admits us to experiences other than our own. They are not, any more than our personal experiences, all equally worth having… [but] literature gives the entree to them all.
It is not a question of knowing (in that sense) at all [rather it is to have experienced it oneself – it is about the first-hand, subjective experience, consciousness, the is-likeness of something]. It is ‘connaître’ not ‘savoir’; it is ’erleben’; we become these other selves. Not only nor chiefly in order to see what they are like but in order to see what they see, to occupy, for a while, their seat in the great theatre, to use their spectacles and be made free of whatever insights, joys, terrors, wonders or merriment those spectacles reveal. […]
Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. […]
In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.
This theme of healing loneliness without destroying the privilege of individuality, amongst other things, is so heartbreakingly pursued by the Danish author, Peter Hoeg, in his remarkable book Borderliners. The book tells the somewhat autobiographical story of three children who attend a private school in Copenhagen in the mid-1970s where they realise that they are part of an experiment initiated by the school. The objective of the experiment is to show how damaged children can be saved and converted into fine citizens. Although allowed no social interaction, the children conspire to turn the experiment around on their educators and conduct their own inquiry to discover what plan is being carried out with them at their school. What they engage in becomes an existential inquiry for which they articulate their own understanding of science:
Maybe there are only two kinds of questions in the world.
The kind they ask in school, where the answer is known in advance; not asked so that anyone will be any the wiser, but for other reasons.
And then the others, those in the laboratory. Where one does not know the answers, and often not even the question, before one has asked it. […]
Questions that are quite painful. And that are not asked until one is driven to it.[…]
That is what we meant by science. That both question and answer are tied up with uncertainty, and that they are painful. But that there is no way round them. And that one hides nothing; instead, everything is brought out into the open.
The three friends explore questions of social control, the nature of time, technology, science, family, and education, and in the process begin to speak of a laboratory in which they are conducting their enquiry:
You have to have a place where you can gather your thoughts. Like people who pray. That is what is difficult here at the school. Peter says it’s like glass tunnels. There is no chance to think for yourself. A laboratory is a place that is shut off, so you have piece and can think and carry out your experiment.
The Boy recognised his own Nature in the three friends and their enquiry and their talk of the laboratory. There was a certain kind of assessment and enquiry going on inside of him in his inner space where he stored and developed the inside of the outer moments captured in his glass jars. There he began to experience himself both as instrument and laboratory, photographic film and dark room, and what he was processing was the quest, answers to those questions, answers which were bound up with the question not concerned with certainty, with definitive and exact pictures of his outer environment. Rather, he was developing the most subtle impressions of hidden symbols which he could barely perceive himself, but which called him with a faint glow which increased as he attended to his quest.
To the Boy, this kind of work, so delicately described by Peter Hoeg, is begun not because he knows WHAT he wants to write or create but because he knows THAT he needs to write or create in order to see – the vision, the seeing and the creative act are infolded. The Boy knows he wants to follow the Fool. The Boy wants to see what the Fool is shining his light upon; although he often must first think that he has already seen it: it is in those moments that he learns that knowing something is not the same as experiencing it. He discovers that the reason some things catch his interest and others don’t is because they are numinous to him and that their numinosity creates a collective shape which they reflect back and which is uniquely his and no one else’s. His writing about these things is an externalisation-and-reflection process, a conversation and dialogue with the Fool.
In this way, the cave inside the Boy became the Fool’s Laboratory which is not a laboratory in the normal sense. It is the metaphorical laboratory of the alchemist. Behind the door into which was carved the age-old inscription Know Thyself, the Fool had assumed a special kind of role which supported the Boy in the pursuit of his quests. In his very particular kind of way, the Fool would help the Boy take his experiences and reflect them in the creative works which illuminated the Boy’s quest, and they would sew them together into a magical garment: a kaleidoscopic patchwork quilt landscape in the transrational Borderlands between two worlds, also known as the mytho-poetic matrix. It was the infolding work of outer and inner within the Boy’s psyche which would eventually give rise to the Self.
Such a birth, such a process of becoming, is a gradual process, in fits and starts, in small pieces of the larger garment, and it may often take much more than one lifetime to achieve. Sometimes, the Boy writes in his laboratory for hours, rearranges, edits, deletes until, quite suddenly, the shape of what he is trying to say gazes back all the way from inside and out via the page and back into him, but now conscious, quite like a corner of Nietzsche’s abyss; maybe only a smaller corner, but a corner no less:
And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.
With the help of the Fool, the Boy was thus finding his own words. As Lew Welch described it in his poem Wobbly Rock:
(like everything else I have
somebody showed it to me and I found it by myself)
End of Part III.
The Way of the Fool – Part IV
A Medley of Fools Heralds the Journey Within the Journey
To continue to part IV click here:
A Medley of Fools Heralds the Journey Within the Journey