Stephen, thank you so much for the introduction and the thoughtful comments and question.
I want to start by saying I’m thrilled you’ve picked up on the connection to Station Eleven and this weekend’s holiday (it feels way too on-the-nose to call it an Easter egg, but…). It was challenging for me to keep my essay this week brief because there’s SO much that can be said about the Christian allegory in Mandel’s excellent novel: from the plague to the title’s reference to sacrifice (and life after death!), the text is brief but incredibly rich. I found myself thinking about it for months after reading it and before even knowing there was a TV show in production.
As for how we ourselves can be more Fool-ish, there’s so much to be said about bravery in art—Leigh Melander’s MythBlast kicking off our April theme two weeks ago really struck a chord with me. The invisible spine within my own essay is this concept that the courtly fool, the jester, is the only one in the room who can speak truth to power. The jester is seen by the court as simply the clown, but in reality they have to be absolutely surgical with their calculations in how to use truth to get laughs and not literally lose their head in the process. They have to be both carefree and calculated at the same time, all the time. They have to have the tension of a survivor. In this way, the fool in the castle, the actor on the stage, and the survivor on the post-apocalyptic road have to have the same mindset.
These people can’t have their guard down, and for some of us, things aren’t *quite* that dire right now, but for many others, they absolutely are. People around the world at all times are in the position to ask themselves every day: Is my art worth my safety? Is my expression worth my life? You have to make those decisions for yourself. And people who decide no, it’s not worth it, you know, we can’t possibly blame them. Those who decide yes, it is worth it, become legends. Or, of course, are remembered as fools. It depends on who’s telling the story.
(I’d also be remiss not to point to the book Art & Fear as the formative text for me while I was studying art history for my undergraduate degree. Anyone interested in this concept who hasn’t read it should pick it up ASAP.)
I’ve always admired the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Stoppard’s play, not only because it’s a very funny show but because he portrays them with such genuine curiosity and depth of wonder. That is something I try to remind myself to carry with me. It’s something I really love about talking to children. We should all strive to have the Fool’s sense of wonder.