One of the greatest character archetypes in the history of literature has to be the holy (or sometimes unholy) fool. What is so absolutely strange about the holy fool is that they are said not to exist. Typically they appear in stories that have to do with some Christ figure who is so perfect among the other characters that he is blinded by that perfection in a way. His beautiful, and often romantic vision of virtue, love, and peace among people so central to his character causes the other, more realistic characters to despise him and either seek to manipulate the holy fool or kill the holy fool because of his convictions.
The differentiating factor of these characters is their sense of not belonging in the universe because of they were born into. That the act of killing them off is all at once diabolical but cosmically necessary. They are after all, as the word holy suggests, set apart; little Christ figures dotted throughout literature like a constellation. Some who consider the Bible to be a text of purely literary value happen to view Christ himself as a holy fool like Don Quixote of Don Quixote, Prince Myshkin of The Idiot, or Valentine Michael Smith of Stranger in a Strange Land.
As a fan of good old Clive Staples though, I find the similarities to be interesting. CS Lewis came to Christianity in part because of his study of myth believing that myths held elements of basic wisdom and that the factor that made Christ special was that he is the true myth.
Rene Girard took it a step further in that he, either intentionally or unintentionally, gave a formula to CS Lewis’ provocative assertion. Hipsters, Egyptians, Trinitarians, and followers of celebrity deaths, I give you the mimetic triangle. Don’t get too excited.
Here is probably the simplest way to describe it the triangle of mimetic desire without burning every sprocket in my brain:
The subject is the protagonist or average person. The object is the abstract desire of what they wish to become. Life imitating art if you will. More simplistic stories, particularly those of the romantics (a people Girard despises) operate on that bottom line.
Girard maintains though that people tend to take a detour as do the greatest of great stories. There is usually a model for action that works as a standard for these characters. They are, if you will, seen as the means to that object. Enter mimetic desire in which one desires to become like the other which then produces violence, conflict.
The model, at times, becomes the scapegoat in which a people, shamed by the perfection of the model, shed their guilt by slaying him.
The holy fool tends to get lost in this triangle. They desire to become the model others seek after and, unlike most, succeed in becoming it. As such, they are greeted either with cynicism or disdain. Their purity becomes a liability and, indeed, a fatal characteristic.
Yet, they are often considered purely fictional; some not entirely realistic character an author creates to make a point. Dostoevsky’s writing is often criticized for that reason. It just seems as though a universe with characters like Prince Myshkin couldn’t exist. I have heard them compared to not only symbols, but paintings; living in an idealized world.
What I want to contend and, I suppose, communicate through this piece if nothing else is that the holy fool does exist. And no, I am not talking about some sort of messianic archetype propped up by Christ.
Holy fools walk among us every day. They should not be confused with the extremely pious, mystical, charismatic, etc. No indeed, the aforementioned are subjects who boldly pursue the object directly or the model.
The holy fool is simply a person who lives by their beliefs in the realm of action. They do not necessarily attend a church or come even half educated. What is uncommon about them though is their willingness to let real love and passion influence all of their actions. They see things under different shades than (presumably) you and I do and they draw us in because of that. We go on their crusades. We find ourselves inspired by them.
On the same token though, we feel threatened. Many of us find the success of the holy fool a hard thing to handle. They move forward without completely checking their innocence at the door like the majority of others, because that majority bought into a lie the holy fool does not even choose acknowledge in the daily course of their existence. That is when the daggers of all shapes and sizes come out.
We who admire them find ourselves perplexed, angered, and confused. The world is not supposed to purge itself of its best or so we think.
Alas it does. Often the realities of life are too much for their vision to bear. We watch helplessly and at a loss as to why the most beautiful doesn’t appear to belong.
This crucible of reality then either destroys them or they learn to overcome and transcend it. The holy fools that do tend to be the most special among us in my estimation anyway.
I am not a holy fool, but I walk among them. I find them or rather they appear to find me. Their eyes are windows not only to a soul, but an uncommonly large and complex consciousness; tortured by visions of what could or should be in a world full of is nots. When they zero in on an individual, many of them discard their delightful allusions and attempt to see truly see and understand the other person. In that understanding, they find yet more love and in that love they know precisely how to speak to that person.
This post is a hard one to write and finish. I suppose I would just like to thank all the holy fools I have ever met or admired. I understand your struggle as much as a very average man can, but appreciate the reason behind it. I appreciate your writing, your art, your conversation, your championing of causes, your love for the least among us, and your assurance that everything will indeed be okay with a conviction that invites others to believe.