Sunday, April 01, 2007

Palm Sunday April Fools Day

How appropriate that the Divine Fool is celebrated today both because it is April Fools Day and Palm Sunday.

Radical Theologin Harvey Cox wrote a whole book on the divine fool.

The Feast of Fools: A Theological Essay on Festivity and Fantasy (1969),

One of the Protestants who has addressed festivals is Harvey Cox who argued that human beings are “essentially festive and ritual creatures” (1969, 8; cf. Browning 1980). As homo festivus and homo fantasia, human beings express festivity and fantasy through festival as a form of “theatre of the body.” Cox argues that with the march of secularization and the continued rejection of festivity “Christianity has often adjusted too quickly to the categories of modernity” (Ibid. 15), and with this, important facets of what it means to be human are neglected. As a result, Cox believes that there is a real need for Christianity in the West to develop a theology of festivity

An article from that book was published back in the early Seventies in Playboy, I read it for the articles back then, which included an illustration one rarely sees; Jesus Laughing.

And, what else, the symbol of Christ that best symbolizes this theology is "Christ the Harlequin" (as in The Parable, New York World's Fair 1966), who personifies festivity and fantasy in an age that has almost lost both.

Perhaps because as a divine fool he was high.

The Feast of Fools, known also as the festum fatuorum, festum stultorum, festum hypodiaconorum, or fête des fous , are the varying names given to popular medievalfestivals regularly celebrated by the clergy and laity from the fifth century until the sixteenth century in several countries of Europe, principally France, but also Spain, Germany, England, and Scotland. A similar celebration was the Feast of Asses.

The central idea seems always to have been a brief social revolution, in which power, dignity and impunity is briefly conferred on those in a subordinate position. In the view of some, this makes the medieval festival a successor to the Roman Saturnalia.

In the medieval version the young people, who played the chief parts, chose from among their own number a mock pope, archbishop, bishop, or abbot to reign as Lord of Misrule. Participants would then "consecrate" him with many ridiculous ceremonies in the chief church of the place, giving names such as Archbishop of Dolts, Abbot of Unreason, Boy Bishop, or Pope of Fools. The protagonist could be a boy bishop or subdeacon, while at the Abbey of St Gall in the tenth century, a student each December 13 enacted the part of the abbot. In any case the parody tipped dangerously towards the profane. The ceremonies often mocked the performance of the highest offices of the church, while other persons, dressed in different kinds of masks and disguises, engaged in songs and dances and practiced all manner of revelry within the church building.

I highly recommend Harvey Cox's work which in many ways compliments Bakhtin's work on the subversive nature of the Carnival and the role playing of the Fool.

"The carnival was not only liberating because for that short period the church and state had little or no control over the lives of the revellers—although Terry Eagleton points out this would probably be 'licensed' transgression at best—but its true liberating potential can be seen in the fact that set rules and beliefs were not immune to ridicule or reconception at carnival time; it 'cleared the ground' for new ideas to enter into public discourse. Bakhtin goes so far as to suggest that the European Renaissance itself was made possible by the spirit of free thinking and impiety that the carnivals engendered."

The Carnivale and Feast of Fools became recuperated in post Renaissance society as comedie della art, and play festivals like the Fringe, which exists world wide and is a popular summer festival here in Edmonton, reflect the same anarchic festivus that one would see at carnival or the earlier Fool's Feasts.

And we see the modern Carnival not only during Mardi Gras but with Feast of Fools that is the Burning Man festival. As pointed out in this article by John Morehead, whose blog is well worth perusing for it's writings on alternative religious movements..

"Burn, Baby, Burn, Christendom Inferno: Burning Man and the Festive Immolation of Christendom Culture and Modernity"

Second and related to the context of counter-modernity and counter-Christendom, Burning Man expresses itself within a cultural context that exhibits a decidedly post-modern and post-Christendom approach to spirituality. Christianity continues to play a significant role in American culture, and may have been the dominant religion in America and the Western world in the past, but in recent decades there has been a “declining influence of religion – particularly Christianity” (Heelas & Woodhead 2005, 1). This has come about through a secularization of the West which in turn has led to a spiritual re-enchantment[1] process. This re-enchantment involves the preference for spirituality rather than religion, and is characterized by an emphasis upon an individualized, subjective, and eclectic spiritual quest. In this environment of the post-modern spirituality seeker, Christianity is perceived negatively as a dogmatic institution rather than a vibrant spirituality whose adherents have often failed to live up to the moralizing they present to the culture. In reaction, many Burning Man participants have either rejected Christianity outright, or consider it of no consequence as a viable option in creating a spirituality suited for the challenges of the twenty-first century

[1] Christopher Partridge explores the ramifications of the re-enchantment thesis in The Re-Enchantment of the West, vol. 1 (London & New York: T & T Clark International, 2004).

Since the play is the thing, we can see that since the earliest days of Christendom the Easter pageant played a significant role in society, as we know by way of the York Guilds which in a gift economy share their surpluses by holding feasts and a two week series of plays, it comes full circle, with the sacrificed god being the fool king.

If the power of the King/Church/State lay in divine right, the power of the people lay in the fool king whom they crowned. It is why in the movie Andre Rublev, about the icon painter, the opening scene has a village fool crucified for making fun of the priests. It too was produced in 1969 when Cox published his book.
Only by learning to laugh at the hopelessness around us can we touch the hem of hope. Christ the clown signifies our playful appreciation of the past and our comic refusal to accept the spectre of inevitability in the future. He is the incarnation of festivity and fantasy. (Harvey Cox 1969, 142)

Jesus as Fool, is a subversion on the classic church iconography of the slain and resurrected lord. For as Harliquen, fool, clown, he is life giver, alive, part of the meme of a living humanity. Not an icon but a living force. For the truth of his sacrifice is that life goes on.

Thus the religious heresies originating in Gnosticism that arose during the transition from the Catholic and Orthodox Empires to Protest-ism were about this spirit.

What if it is possible to awaken to a profound state of oneness and love, which the Gnostic Christians symbolized by the enigmatic figure of the laughing Jesus?

What the sacrifice originally meant was ironically the end of sacrifice. Which is why the religion of Christianity began with Agape feasts hidden away in caves and grotos, where all could be equal. The slave religion was about the end of sacrifice, the end of all sacrifice, not only of animals, but of people and of freedom.

Godspell: A Musical Based on the Gospel According to St Matthew (1973)

The portrayal of Jesus as a clown may have been offensive to some, however this reviewer found it to be refreshing, the clown communicates joy while communicating the seriousness of the gospel message. He reminds us that the gospel is a message of great joy and humility, love and peace, of triumph and victory. However in saying that there are some aspects that don't fit with our understanding, for instance the betrayal scene, Jesus kisses Judas. Then it does finish with a question hanging over it, that being, why no resurrection scene? Or maybe there was, perhaps the grand finale represents the risen Jesus, carried lifted high into the crowded streets, it gives a sense of inclusiveness, that somehow Jesus lives on in each one of us.

Jesus the fool returns again and again as a radical revolutionary icon for popular spirituality and its heresies, in opposition to the institutions of Christianity.

The Flowers of St Francis 1950

Still, theologian Harvey Cox saw the Sixties' counterculture as a reclamation of facets of humanity eclipsed by the rise of technological society — essentially, Rossellini's jester side of man. In his book the Feast of Fools: A Theological Essay on Festivity & Fantasy, Cox idenfied certain aspects of the youth revolt - the recovery of celebration and imagination — not just with a hunger for for wholeness, but vital to both psychological health and, significantly, to being able to have compassion for the oppressed of the world. A capacity for being able to imaginatively "put themselves in other shoes" was prerequisite for the developed nations to be able to have understanding and compassion for those oppressed and different than themselves.

Here we see why Rossellini takes this "jester side" so seriously and so centrally: his offering of St. Francis as a model for conflict-weary Europe isn't a simple-minded Utopian vision, a rejection of private property and reduction to begging (that begs the question "begging from whom?"), but a recovery of that sense of play and imaginative identification with others that makes people more valuable than efficiency, and the "abnormality" of the Other less prone to threaten and result in conflict. The mere existence of the jester is a check on the hubris of power in both ruler and system. In his book, Cox cites an essay by Leszek Kolakowski titled, "The Priest and the Jester":
The philosophy of the jester is a philosophy which in every epoch denounces as doubtful what appears as unshakeable; it points out the contradictions in what seems evident and incontestable; it ridicules common sense into the absurd — in other words, it undertakes the daily toil of the jester's profession along with the inevitable risk of appearing ludicrous.
The jester is the quintessence of the carnival spirit, and just as the jester's cap is pants worn on the head, carnival turns upside-down the values by which the world is typically run. Carnival mocks the pretensions of permanence and power, defies the illusions of the masses. No wonder the faith of Francis has been described as a "carnivalized" Christianity: his topsy-turvy insistence that Perfect Joy is found in suffering, his irrational love for everything and everybody, his scandalous rejection of all the world holds dear — power, property, status, etc. Technically, of course, this is Christianity, for which the adjective "carnivalized" is required only when it forgets its own scandalous identity. Yet the upsidedowness of a faith whose God is born in a stable, the meek inherit the earth, and whose secrets are given to children and fools is all too easily domesticated, and even the court of Christ himself would seem to require its own jester.

was more than a juggler. He was also a poet, singer, all-around entertainer. The Indeed, Francis referred to himself as "the jester of God," and the Italian title of Rossellini's film is Francesco, giullare di Dio — "Francis, God's Jester". The Italian term refers to a French one, jongleur — whence comes "juggler" — but the jongleurjongleur was in fact more earthy than the troubadour: the Latin joculator means "joker", and Francis's joculatores Domini ("ministrels of God") were renowed for putting on a good show when they pulled into a town to preach. Francis's name and terms point to France, home to a Medieval love cult which, though eventually declared heretical and wiped out, left a deep and permanent mark on European culture. So much of what we know as "love in the Western world" finds its source in this flamboyantly romantic vision, including the veneration of an ideal lady — whether Dante and his Beatrice, or St. Francis and his "Lady Poverty."

Today there is the reinvention of the feast of fools, not only in the neo-pagan movement, or the Burning Man festival but in the far left as well. Paul Goodman and other Marxist Freudians talked about humans being playful, that the alienation of work under capitalism was that it meant that it was labour, as in slavery, drudgery rather than fun, playfulness. A Little Eros For Valentine's Day

Since Cox wrote his book in the sixties, the search for this human playful utopia continues.

I was involved with one utopia called Minnesota Experimental City. It was in an era when in the United States there was a lot of utopian thinking. Harvey Cox’s book, The Secular City, was an all time best seller that told us that as soon as we get rid of symbol and myth, get enough guitar players and good architects and civil rights workers, the Kingdom will have come.4 Three years later he was back with a better book called The Feast of Fools.5 These were written just before New York burned and Detroit burned and Watts burned, just before the U.S. committed troops to Vietnam, just before everything went bad. But we were building Minnesota Experimental City. Fifty-eight corporations put up four million dollars for our study. Buckminster Fuller – Mr. Twenty-First Century – was on the panel; Harrison Brown (Lyndon Baines Johnson’s doctor, head of the Mayo Clinic); and then they salted it with a few humanists who would ask the human questions.

We were to build a city – utopia – of two hundred and fifty thousand people. It had to be at least seventy-five miles from any other urban centre. It would be built around a branch of the University of Minnesota; 3M and all the other big firms would have a base there. We thought through everything. It’s cold up there, how are you going to play tennis all year, and how are you going to keep people from arthritis cramps? Well, Buckinster Fuller said, "nothing to it, we build a one mile square plastic dome." How do we get on with pollution? Well, we owe you a ride on an elevator in a building, so we owe you horizontal transportation in our Minnesota Experimental City. You get to the edge, and we’ll take care of you from there.

Situationism was a game of revolution and revolutionaries at play in the Sixties. So it makes sense that the recuperation of their radical politics should, like the surrealists before them, end on the stage. For once the world of 1968 was their stage today they are the play.

The meta-play is an example of Reflectionism through performance. Professor Steve Mann of the University of Toronto, who invented EyeTap to literally mediate monocultural reality, proposes: ナReflectionism as a new philosophical framework for questioning social values. The Reflectionist philosophy borrows from the Situationist movement in art and, in particular, an aspect of the Situationist movement called d←tournement, in which artists often appropriate tools of the "oppressor" and then resituate these tools in a disturbing and disorienting fashion. Reflectionism attempts to take this tradition one step further, not only by appropriating the tools of the oppressor, but by turning those same tools against the oppressor as well. I coined the term "Reflectionism" because of the "mirrorlike" symmetry that is its end goal and because the goal is also to induce deep thought ("reflection") through the construction of this mirror. Reflectionism allows society to confront itself or to see its own absurdity. The participants of the meta-play who do not wish to see themselves in the mirror (thus confronting themselves) quickly turn away, but are left with the lingering image of grotesque ugliness, which will haunt them until a profound internal resolution is reached. Drawing upon traditional folly, but appearing in a disenchanted post-modern society, the concept of The Fool is resurrected, challenging and satirizing oppressors in order to cause reflection on their positions, attitudes, and worldviews. Harvey Cox describes the Foolメs perennial message in his 1969 The Feast of Fools: A Theological Essay on Festivity and Fantasy: It is the eternal message of The Fool, who takes the stage whenever greed, arrogance, authority, pride and sycophancy lay claim to the public headspace. These are the acts of real fools, without which The Fool would be useless and mute. The Fool is a looking-glass. She is male and female, he is human and animal, they are one moment immersed in the workaday routine and the next overturning the norms of daily life. When we play The Fool, we are The Other, strangers who are in this world but not entirely of it. The ancient term Narrenfreiheit means "freedom of the fool." That freedom reminds us that in a moment of ecstasy we can sweep away the illusion of so much of what we endure. The Fool breaks the trail; the revolutionaries follow. Those who participate, reflect, and achieve the モmoment of ecstasy,ヤ will soon realise that playing the Fool is not only one of the most satisfying and liberating experiences they will ever encounter, but is also an urgent direct action to reclaim the public headspace. To counter the oppressive and ubiquitous corporate monoculture that is so prevalent in late capitalist society, culture jamming through performance may well be the only solution to cause reflection, hence shattering a dystopic corporate reality. The idea will, I sincerely hope, spread like a virus until such a time whereby all human beings are free to express and play without fear of reprisal, are free from oppression and exploitation of all sorts, and are truly equal to one another.





April Fools

Judas the Obscure

For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing

New Age Libertarian Manifesto

Another Prehistoric Woman

My Favorite Muslim

Antinominalist Anarchism

Marxism and Religion

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Dennis G. Jerz said...

I enjoyed reading your collection of artistic and cultural expressions of spirituality.

In York, actually, the plays were all performed on the same day, not in the course of a week. It took place as part of the celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi, and there are records of a start time at first light (between 4 and 5am) and the play continuing until well after dark.

eugene plawiuk said...

Thanks for that correction.