For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Book of Fools
An Intelligent Person's Guide to Fops, Jackasses, Morons, Dolts, Dunces, Halfwits and Blockheads
  • Terry Reed
Reviews Table of Contents Introduction «Back
Book of Fools. An Intelligent Person's Guide to Fops, Jackasses, Morons, Dolts, Dunces, Halfwits and Blockheads
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This book presents a provocatively, outrageously assertive exposure of fools in their not infrequently bizarre manifestations, the object being to leave no halfwits behind. Abundantly documented, endlessly subtle, hopelessly eccentric, deadly funny.

About the Author

Terry Reed (Ph.D., University of Kentucky) spent his college summers sailing Lake Michigan and cycling Europe. Since then, he's been writing, while perfecting the art of bachelordom and occasionally taking time out to keep the world safe for the dry Martini. 

Over the years Terry has contributed over 330 invited articles to magazines and literary journals and has published several books, on topics ranging from Truman Capote to the Indy 500, plus the books Of Herds and Hermits: America’s Lone Wolves and Submissive Sheep (Algora Publishing, 2009), Book of Fools (Algora Publishing, 2013) and Bachelors Abounding (Algora 2016). He claims never to have worked a day in his life. 

About the Book
Ambrose Bierce defined 'educational', in his Devil’s Dictionary (1911), as “that which discloses to the wise and disguises from the fools their lack of understanding.” Here, the author graciously excuses readers from the latter category...
Ambrose Bierce defined 'educational', in his Devil’s Dictionary (1911), as “that which discloses to the wise and disguises from the fools their lack of understanding.” Here, the author graciously excuses readers from the latter category and makes sure to provide those in the former with something they haven’t thought of before.

In this excursion through literature, sociological history, and real life, with digressions into etymology, theology and other areas, we “touch base” (to borrow a foolish cliché) with the thoughts of men from Rabelais and Mark Twain to Henri IV and his Edict of Nantes, not to forget the writings of Shakespeare and adages from the Bible, and other greats who just might be new to some of us.

Indeed, those who elect to come along for the ride are likely to get a thrill from this tour de farce led by a writer who knows a thing or two about fast cars and who can sail rings around the Sunday boater who doesn't really know which way the wind is blowing. In fact, readers can hardly escape finding themselves enriched as well as entertained as Mr. Reed dashes along, shedding anecdotal references to culture, history, the human condition, and the hysterical hypocrisy of modern America.


Introduction
Foolishness can be deceptive. Let us begin by cautioning that whereas certain specimens of the world’s great literature that over the centuries are read, nay, scrutinized, with the straightest of faces, and in the pristine light of utmost seriousness, are not always recognized for the madcap material that they assuredly are. An amusing instance...
Foolishness can be deceptive. Let us begin by cautioning that whereas certain specimens of the world’s great literature that over the centuries are read, nay, scrutinized, with the straightest of faces, and in the pristine light of utmost seriousness, are not always recognized for the madcap material that they assuredly are. An amusing instance of this literary misunderstanding turns up in the work of unpredictable cleric and littérateur Thomas More (1478–1535), universally toasted these days as a Roman Catholic martyr who was not so amusingly imprisoned and beheaded, which is one of those things that happen to people purveying decidedly not foolish opinions. His celebrated narrative Utopia (composed in Latin 1515–1516) has by some been rightly called a fool’s paradise. The word utopia, as any schoolboy knows, derives from the Greek outopia that means nowhere, which it usually is. It purports to be an ideal, if authentically communistic (yes, communistic) template of an impeccably ordered society, except that it’s rendered as a social catastrophe of the highest (or shall we say lowest) order. In the first of its two parts, More coyly directs our attention to a certain “hanger on…who played the fool so well that he seemed to be one.” He may indirectly have been pointing an umbrella tip at himself. After all, as the old saw goes, “it’s a cunning part to play the fool well.” Utopia evades a goodly proportion of our more (excuse the pun) or less literate fools of greater than ordinary naiveté who have taken Utopia seriously as a revolutionary blueprint for visionary societies, except the whole thing is manifestly a joke.

The meaning of fool and its approximate synonyms, if such exist in any language, cries out for definition such as might be uncovered in The Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, popularly and henceforth referred to as the OED, that cites its linguistic mutations as folle, fole, foyl, foule, foolle and fule, all of which denote an insane person, a madman. In its feminine form it appears as folle. Its Latin derivation is follem or follies, meaning bellows, or to put it another way, windbag, or chatterbox. Languages and their meanings evolve constantly, however; and fool comes eventually to denote “one deficient in judgment or sense, one who acts or behaves stupidly, a silly person, a simpleton.” The Bible, as we shall amply discover, uses the terms fool and its derivations with cloying frequency, often (but not always) to expose stupidly impious persons. The OED further notes that “the word has [in modern English] a much stronger sense than it had in any earlier period,” continuing, “it now has an implication of insulting contempt which does not in the same degree belong to any of its synonyms, or to the derivative foolish.”

Fools have been mercilessly derided in celebrated remarks attributed to people who deemed themselves graced with superior wisdom. As a phrase, to be a fool to, for instance, we take to mean to be in every way inferior to, but not always. The German theologian Martin Luther said that a fool “remains a fool his whole life long,” with apparently no prospect of escaping from the shackles of intellectual vacuity. Francis Beaumont, the English dramatist, identified by bookish types with his collaborator John Fletcher, felt the same way, referring to a certain fool who “had resolved to live a fool for the rest/ Of his dull life.” The poet Edward Young, today identified with the so-called Graveyard School of British versifiers, said (and we’ve heard this before), “at thirty man suspects himself a fool,” and later, “a fool at forty is a fool indeed.” Everyone is familiar with the Lincolnesque-attributed remark that “you can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Less known are the lines of English poet laureate John Dryden (1631–1700) that read, “For I am young, a Novice in the Trade, / The Fool of Love, unpractic’d to persuade.”

The ostensible object in all these cerebral observations is to eschew commonplace stupidity. In its place we are encouraged to live intelligently and stay well clear of the flawed mental, procedural, philosophic, moral and theological habits that some fools embrace. Even so, some of the more intelligent of our number dread coming to terms with the fool who dwells within. The Scotch-born actor Alastair Sim commented candidly and bravely in the year of his death that, “it was revealed to me many years ago with conclusive certainty that I was a fool and that I had always been a fool,” adding ironically that “since then I have been as happy as any man has a right to be.” This surprising disclosure is more common than one might first imagine. It was Theodore Rubin, the celebrated and well-published New York psychiatrist who wrote, “I must learn to love the fool in me—the one who feels too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often.” His conciliatory comments put us in mind of Lewis Mumford, another New Yorker, who established his international reputation as a social philosopher and brilliant student of urban social structural and architectural modalities, as recorded for example in The Sticks and Stones: A Study of American Architecture and Civilization (1924), American Taste (1929), The Culture of Cities (1938), The Story of Utopias (1941), The Condition of Man (1944) and The City in History (1961). Mumford, with characteristic self-effacement, bravely conceded that, “I wanted to die happily if I knew that on my tombstone could there be written the words, ‘This man was an absolute fool. None of the disasters that he reluctantly predicted ever came to pass!’” Such ingratiating outbursts of public modesty invite knowing amusement, an endearing aspect of character that genuine fools, whether born into foolishness or having acquired it on their own, have traditionally overlooked.

Aristotle, who had a great deal to say and infer (allege, adduce) about tragedy, had damnably little to pronounce on comedy, but what he does say moves directly to the essence of what constitutes humor. He calls it (in the Wheelwright translation) “a representation of men who are morally inferior, but only in the sense of being ludicrous. For the ludicrous is a subdivision of the morally ugly, consisting of some defect or ugliness which does not produce actual harm, and hence causes no pain to the beholder as a comic mask is ugly and distorted without causing pain….” In other words, humor derives from our willingness to recognize our superiority (in any sense of it we can justify) over someone else, such as a fool who, in appearance, is as foolish as his behavior—so long as the object of our humor does not produce injury to its subject. The objects of Aristotle’s tragic theory are elevated specimens, persons of high or even highest station possibly best illustrated by royalty. His remarks on humor apply to people of lower station. So it is that Aristotle’s distinction between what’s been called superior action (in tragedy) and inferior action (in comedy) among our lessers, is all too clear. Should some high-toned old Christian woman expertly execute a pratfall (such as a humiliating tumble on her fanny) by slipping on a wet banana, it may be construed as low comedy. If she breaks her back in the process, all comedy vanishes. It’s not funny anymore.

People find children and dogs amusing because they feel superior to them. So-called base characters (if one regards dogs and children as base) behave in a predictably ridiculous manner and may, on occasion, seem to execute it surprisingly well...


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Year: 2013
BISAC: SOC002000
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ISBN: 978-1-62894-033-6
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