Friday, January 9, 2015


Updated 1/10
The Vagabond (1916).
Shorter David Brooks, "I am not Charlie Hebdo", New York Times, January 9 2015:
I am not Charlie Hebdo in the sense that I would never say anything vulgar in public or denigrate somebody's religion, that's so sophomoric, but, speaking of being sophomoric, I do think we should do away with college speech codes and allow the William F. Buckley, Jr., Program to invite Ayaan Hirsi Ali to insult Muslims freely on the Yale campus, because that's what freedom of speech is all about.
I haven't been able to amplify this in a way I like, but everything I would have wanted to say is pretty much perfectly done by Steve M. Driftglass, as usual, thought of a bunch of other things.

Except I alone got the Erick Erickson connection—Erickson, the kind of person Brooks is calling "Holy Fools", like Bill Maher and Ann Coulter, says out what Brooks only hints at, that "politically correct" action (dismissing a flagrantly anti-gay police chief who requires subordinates to read his self-published diatribe, withdrawing the offer of an honorary degree to someone who turns out not to deserve one) is identical to the murder of cartoonists and their protectors.

Brooks only hints at it because he's such a refined and decorous person, but that's what he wants us to be thinking.

As usual there's some semiliteracy to address, here the concept of the Holy Fool, which is properly a Christian concept of a way of living very far from the luxurious and applauded lives of Coulter and Maher, equivalent to the Hindu sadhu, of giving up the social decencies out of religious ardor and living as a countryside or village idiot, a "Fool for Christ", and especially in Russian Orthodoxy, the yurodivy, a homeless madman beggar with a sacred aura, a figure well known to fans of Musorgsky and/or Pushkin in the form of the Fool in Boris Godunov, a tenor part: his sacred character gives him a license to speak truth in an authoritarian climate where others dare not.

The Shakespearean fool—my favorites are the ones in As You Like it and Lear—is also licensed to speak truth to power, but as power's employee: the official court fool living on the generosity of the lord whose freedom of speech is a job perk. Maher and Coulter, as professional comedians, partake of this character as fools for the public (though Coulter might not enjoy being called a comedian, unlike Glenn Beck who willingly refers to himself as a "rodeo clown").

Both certainly have a religious aspect, too, Maher as a Fool for Atheism and Coulter as a spokesperson for evangelical narrowmindedness (I think Maher is the more sincere of the two), and I think it must be this concept that Brooks has in mind. I suppose Maher actually does tell the truth to power pretty frequently, though I don't care that much for his anti-foolish, knowing and supercilious act. Coulter, of course, is more properly regarded as a Liar for Christ (a Politifact study found ten percent of Coulter statements they examined to be true—Maher's rating was not really great either, by the way, but Coulter's is just extreme).

Brooks's reference to "Holy Fools" is just his ritual throwaway nod to bothsiderism, of course, a nervous style trick, not meant to be engaged with, but it's the Shakespeare fool he has, ridiculously, in mind, I think. He's a true court fool himself, but not the Shakespeare type; he's the opposite kind, more Malvolio, who lies to ingratiate himself with whomever he's working for, and also an utter fool just like Erickson, in point of fact, only cowardly, a fool chiefly anxious not to look like an Erickson, and to retain his social acceptance among the upper classes. He's really a worm.

From the 1954 Soviet film of the Bolshoy production of Boris Godunov, with the now mostly abandoned Rimsky-Korsakov orchestration, the cheesy-looking, crappy-sounding, utterly wonderful film I saw as a teenager, especially memorable for the performance of Ivan Kozlosky as the Fool.

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