The Wise Fool
Written by Dakshraj Parmar
“Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky: The comedian president who is rising to the moment”, was the heading of an article published in BBC news. Yes, you read it right. The clown’s got a throne now and has earned it rightly. A sanctified political position in the hands of a person who was earlier nothing more than an amusement. This particular permutation of words chosen by the finest journalists and the uncanny political scenario in Ukraine, compels one to ask, “Why did Ukrainians elect a “comedian” as their president?”.
Well, a considerable reason is Zelensky’s innate ability to let culture, entertainment, and politics share a common space. His comical takedown of various politicians helped him to carve an image of himself as a non-traditional and anti-establishment guy. His chucklesome performances delivered the political ideas in a manner that was not just comprehensible but even engaging, and this worked in his favor during the 2019 elections. Well, he’s no more just a politician or an artist, but a prudent president and a courageous leader.
The case of Zelensky isn’t something one should consider thin on ground. It’s been out there throughout the course of human history, making us doubt the status quo of wisdom and reconsider our perception regarding foolishness. Evidently, there is some wisdom in foolishness, giving recognition to individuals aptly dubbed -The Wise Fool.
Imagine a jester, who is dressed in brightly colored clothes and wearing an eccentric hat. The man is seated on a chair in the corner of a dark room, alone, and in deep thought - unlike what you would expect from a jester. He is worried because he’s versed with the fact that the sovereignty of his nation is under threat and what worries him even more, is the royal family’s carelessness as to what’s happening to their empire as they are beguiled into festivities and celebrations. This is the setting of a painting by Jan Matejko wherein the art piece’s focal point is Stańczyk, the famous court jester during the Polish Renaissance under King Sigismund I the Old. It lucidly outlines a disconnection between the ongoing festivities and Stańczyk, somewhat on the lines of irony to the presumption that he is “obliged” to be in the limelight of the grand show; because after all, it was his job.
The essence of this “presumption” is ubiquitous and omnipotent, cloaking many unusual geniuses beneath the rags of prejudice. Their flamboyance and gaudiness exacerbate the perspective of the audience to a point where these fools are merely considered an amusement.
The “Wise Fool” is someone, who in their search for wisdom appears foolish in the eyes of the world. Their characters are often regarded as the possessors of reckless desires and the beholders of folk wisdom and are assumed to be simply guided by their instinct. Thus, many a time they are left to enjoy relative freedom, particularly freedom of speech.
The abstraction of “The Wise Fool” can be found across the pages of history as well as of literature. Socrates once famously said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”. Being a man of his word, he used to consider himself a “fool”, but a wise one as he wasn’t simply ignorant but also aware of his ignorance. This empowered him with a wit that helped him to dissuade the claimers of wisdom by merely toying with them and eventually proving that they were bigger fools than him.
Diogenes, also known as “Socrates with a screw loose” is admittedly one of the most bizarre philosophers of his time. A much-retold anecdote of him is when he loitered in the streets of Athens during broad daylight with a lamp in his hands. When questioned about his actions, he said, “I’m searching for an honest man.”
The Greek philosopher possessed sharp awareness and an outlandish disposition. His ways were loud and expressive and most importantly they made a splash. They caused waves of laughter and were engaging thus possessing the rare prowess of being “eye-catchers”. But the case in point is, what exactly were the eyes of the audience catching? Was it the underlying wisdom that honesty is as scarce as a hen’s teeth, or was it just for their peals of laughter?
The trope of the “fool and his lamp” subtly portrays the emptiness and the bounded nature of our discernments. If wisdom is looked upon as something inaccessible or something radically different from the usual ways, then it would look uncanny, perhaps even indistinguishable from madness. Idiosyncrasy is one of the sharpest arrows in the quiver of a wise fool, this not only helps them to deliver exclusively and engagingly but even leaves traces in the minds of their audience.
This “persona” is embodied to its truest essence only by rare and profoundly talented individuals. Be it from the words of a philosopher, the colors of a painter, or even the tales of a storyteller. Numerous people might have the ability to carve a wise fool, but only a handful possess the panache and wit it takes to be one.
The artist’s or the person’s ability to be honest, reckless, and free with language has greatly added to their skills of either manifesting a Wise Fool or being one. The deal with these character tropes is that they aren't looking or craving attention, but it's their inescapable ways that make turning a deaf ear near impossible. Is it due to their foolishness or due to the underlying message that they garner attention? The answer to this question is the wise fool’s least of concerns. They are far more involved in merrymaking or, as the noble king would admire, amusing the court. Lost in their own foolish, sweet yet profound ways they simply keep wandering among various thoughts, stories, and generations and letting the audience pick a side to their narrative. And in this perhaps, there is a wisdom of sort…