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ABELA JUNIOR COLLEGE THE FIRST WISE FOOL INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE AND THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL STORY TELLING FESTIVAL IN MALTA
University of Malta (founded 1592) THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON THE WISE FOOL DECEMBER 07-10, 2006 AND THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL STORY TELLING FESTIVAL IN MALTA DECEMBER 11-13, 2006 IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE ENZYKLOPÄDIE DES MÄRCHENS AT THE ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, GÖTTINGEN, THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION REPRESENTATION IN MALTA, THE AUSTRIAN EMBASSY IN MALTA, CASA ROCCA LTD, THE EMBASSY OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY IN MALTA, THE ITALIAN EMBASSY ISTITUTO ITALIANO DI CULTURA IN MALTA AND UNIVERSITY OF MALTA JUNIOR COLLEGE
The Wise Fool: The storyteller’s way of mastering and educating the interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence Stelios Pelasgos, Ph.D.
“The folk story is a Wise person who has reached the end of his road. The storyteller is the fool that does his best in order to serve this Wise person.” Katherine Zarkatei Dear friends, I prepared my talk having in mind the challenges a teacher faces in his work. I shall use the word teacher, referring to all levels of formal and informal education and to every age group. The Wise Fool is a folk hero, an archetype encountered in every culture, which is very useful to teachers. The Wise Fool is a great teacher and his lessons have been repeated innumerable times by mouths speaking different languages. I follow his teachings both as a professional storyteller and as a teacher- storyteller, yet it has took me years to appreciate the subtlety and the effectiveness of his “teaching method’’ and to interpret it according to the scientific language of developmental psychology. In ancient Greece “paidagogos”, the guardian and teacher of children, was occasionally depicted with the Wise Fool’s characteristic ugliness and deformity, reminding of “Paposilenos” (the guardian of child Dionysus) but also of the philosopher Socratesii. A strange kind of teacher Unfortunately the Wise Fool is a very elusive character due to his contradictory nature, gravitating sometimes towards the fool and sometimes towards the wise but always aspiring to form in our mind a unity, the desired “harmonia oppositorum”, the harmony reached through the meeting of the opposites. This elusiveness is quite entertaining and salutary for the audience of a storytelling gathering but poses certain problems to the scholars who would attempt to define him and his function. Therefore following his teachings we will try to meet him and acquaint ourselves with his behavior, ‘riding backwards on the donkey” as Nashrettin Hodja, taking the path that will distance us from him and not the obvious path that approaches him. We will try to reach the opposite direction and meet his opposite. His direct opposite in the Mediterranean and European folklore would be the Wise, the absolute teacher and judge, one of the rare figures accorded the title of “Wise”, the Wise Solomon. Solomon is able to intervene in all human
disputes and deliver a wise judgment accepted by every person concerned without raising any dispute or rancor. Nobody laughs at Solomon, nobody questions him and his wisdom seems supernatural. Every word he says is well thought, a wise teaching to comprehend and meditate upon. He inspires awe, as he is elevated beyond the human limits. His exact opposite is the Wise Fool, whatever name the local folklore of each people has attributed to him. He is only human, cannot realize the obvious and is always derided. Yet everybody adores him, he is approachable, a neighbor or a friend. He deals with small everyday problems, all kinds of bothersome details and trivia of human life. Nobody would imagine approaching Wise King Solomon casually; nobody would dare to bother him with our daily fight with our instincts, our passions, our family and our neighbors. Therefore we need the Wise Fool daily, much more often than we need the Wise King, the Wise Judge or the Wise Teacher. A strange way of teaching The Wise Fool doesn’t teach directly, yet he is a great teacher. He cannot say wise words nor give wise counsels yet the essence of his stories permeates the folk proverbs and sayings. The old Pomaks (an ethnic minority in Northern Greece) say "Za kirk déne akú ne spominésh Nasradíne sha se izlézi pak” (If you do not evoke Nasrettin’s name within forty days, he will rise again)iii. If we don’t evoke his name, if we do not use his tales in order to solve our daily problems and disputes, this means that we have learned nothing, we are more foolish than the fool; this means that we do not trust his foolish wisdom and we are doomed to repeat his mistakes and suffer the consequences. But he will not let us suffer he will rise again (as a menace or as a savior?) to make us laugh and be merry. The Wise Fool is wise therefore he employs the most effective method of teaching: laughter, the unique human trait that many believe is what differentiates us from the animals. Although this foolish teacher initiates the learning process from the basest kind of laugh (laugh at the misfortunes of others), he enters a reflective quality in certain stories thus transmuting it into a nobler kind of laugh (laugh at our own shortcomings, faults and sins) till it reaches a transcendental kind of laugh (laugh at our own misfortunes, our Fate, “God’s pleasantries” as the great storyteller Karen Blixen used to call themiv). The Wise Fool is humble therefore he employs the humblest way of teaching, suitable even for animals . He employs the method of trial and error therefore he usually learns after suffering the consequences of his mistakes. “The things I suffered, became a lesson”v as goes the Greek proverb still in use. Nashrettin Hodja falls and hurts himself in order to caution us not to saw the branch we’re standing on. Yet we our continuing to waste Nature’s resources, changing the planet’s climate and poisoning air, earth and sea.
Aesop examined the limits of Wisdom and Folly in his fables. The best teacher for the wisest animal, the Trickster par excellence, Ms. Fox, proved to be the Donkey, which died because of his aspirations to Wisdom. In this Aesop’ s fablevi the Donkey tries to be a fair judge and divides equally in three parts the game killed by the band that included himself, the Fox and the Lion. The Lion is displeased with the equal sharing and eats the fair judge, the Donkey. Then the Lion invites Ms. Fox to make a fairer (!) sharing. Consequently Wise Ms. Fox keeps a very small amount for herself and offers all the rest to the lion. “-Congratulations Ms Fox, who taught you to be so fair? the Lion compliments her. “- My teacher was the Donkey, replies Ms Fox.” Therefore as the fable implies the Wise Judge or Wise Teacher may be useless in real life situations, when one has to face the animal greed (concealed inside each human heart) or other destructive and antisocial instincts. The perfect teacher in this fable is the aspiring “Wise” who suffers because of his idealism and cautions us to take reality into account. Thus the wisest attitude is the foolish attitude of Ms. Mary, the Fox, when facing the absurdity of brutal force. Another educational method employed by Wise Fools of all ages is the acceptance of their ignorance, Socrates way. The Wise Fool asks the persons that consider themselves wise to enlighten and advise him thus exposing their folly and their ignorance. In two such instances preserved in Greek oral tradition he is an anonymous father or Nashrettin. He is willing to accept and follow any kind of advise concerning the appropriate way to travel with his son and a donkey or concerning the correct way to build an oven for baking bread. Thus after following all advises given, the father ends up carrying the donkey on his back and Nashrettin building the oven on a cart in order to be able to turn its opening in any direction the wise passers -by advise him. The storyteller and the teacher as Wise Fools So far we have considered the educational value of the content and the form of Wise Fool stories. Now we must consider the very act of storytelling as a Wise- Foolish act and the storyteller presenting himself as the Wise Fool. Any storyteller (or any teacher for that matter), who faces an audience has to answer the initial and greatest challenge, how to turn the individuals into a community. Traditionally most storytellers (apart the professional or the itinerant ones) formed part of a “storytelling community”vii. Storytelling played a vital functional role in such communities providing entertainment, education, social unity, spiritual and moral support. Thus it was easier for the narrator to overcome any barriers that separated him from each member of the audience, any differences of social and economic status, age, gender and even religion. This is not true about the modern professional storytellers, the “revivalists”, who usually perform for a disrupt
audience of individuals; people who are not used to attend such intimate art forms as storytelling and disregard any other function apart the entertaining. They do not know each other and they may even have a different ethnic and cultural background. Added to these difficulties, the contemporary storytellers occasionally choose the stories from “exotic” oral traditions. Under these circumstances the challenge of forming a storytelling community becomes an almost insurmountable problem. The Wise Fool stories offer each storyteller a way to bypass or overcome the barriers that separate and segregate a given audience, and to form a storytelling community. The wise fool questions and criticizes established ideas and social behaviors. He ignores and scorns social protocol. He is able to mock the emperor (Timur, Alexander the Great), generals, high priests and judges. In many stories he follows social or religious rules and observances literally, foolishly, thus rendering them absurd. These characteristics turn him into a favorite hero of all oppressed minoritiesviii. A teacher can use these stories to address adolescents who naturally question the established norms of society, and a storyteller to approach all kinds of oppressed or marginalized groups. The figure of the Wise Fool fights division and segregation and encourages the feeling of belonging to a community, because he confronts the foundation of every segregation, our (acknowledged, secret or repressed) feeling of individual superiority. He celebrates human folly and liberates us from the obligation to seem coherent, logical, efficient and strong. In such instances we can witness the storyteller’s interpersonal intelligence at work. This kind of intelligence characterizes people who are able to understand the feelings, intentions and moods of the others by their behavior and alter their own responses accordingly, in order to be able to influence them. This ability is commonly found in religious or political leaders, healers or teachers. An appropriate example of the use of this intelligence we find in the case of Helen Keller’s education by Ann Sullivanix. The traditional and the revivalist storyteller are able to respond to the expectations of his/her audience by lengthening or shortening a story, altering certain elements and improvising. The stories form an essential part of each storyteller’s existence thus they are modified as the storyteller modifies his attitude according to the peculiarities of his audience. Stories are constantly reshaped, as the storytellers are constantly reshaped by the response of their audience. Any successful storyteller’s intellectual profile comprises a heightened intrapersonal intelligence, also. A person with an acute intrapersonal intelligence can distinguish and differentiate his feelings. He is also able to express them through a given symbolic code. The life of Sigmund Froyd offers a vivid example of the use of intrapersonal intelligence x. For Howard
Gardner the interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences do not occur separately and they form a unionxi. The combination of the two personal intelligences offers the oral artist the ability to move his/her audience. He/she is not afraid to offer them an image of complete innocence, a childlike transparency of feelings and intentions, of inoffensive foolishness. He/she can assure them that he/she is not a potential menace to their feeling of superiority. The storyteller is so innocent and unrestraint that he/ she identifies completely with the fictional characters of the tales. “The heroes of the fairy tales are so alive for them as to express genuine feelings towards them; as if they were actual beings and not fictional characters and imaginary deeds”xii. In a typical traditional storytelling performance in a Greek village an old woman welcomes a collector of folk tales. She is invited to tell some fairy tales and begins spinning her yarn. Then as her imaginary story reaches a climax she can no longer restrain herself and weeps. – Why are you weeping? Asks the embarrassed collector. – I’m weeping for the poor lad who is put to jail although he is innocentxiii. Is she a fool? She has begun her story stating plainly that it is imaginary and may end it by the formula ‘I was not there and you shouldn’t believe me’ xiv, yet she allows herself to weep. Is she disgracing herself in frond of a stranger? How can the village moral code that discourages public expression of emotions allow this foolishness? This is a liberating foolish attitude. This is a supreme case of masterly use of the storyteller’s personal intelligences aiming at the integration of the stranger into the intimate atmosphere of the storytelling community. Of course she is not pretending. She genuinely identifies with the suffering hero but in the meantime she is intensely aware of the necessity to address any hindrances that restrain her audience and help them identify, as thoroughly as herself, with the fictional character. If she is allowed to weep then we are allowed to shed some tears without disgracing ourselves. She is not a simple Fool. She is a Wise Fool, because she has encouraged us to shed those long restraint tears. Such instances are part of an emotional and moral continuing education, an apprenticeship where the Master is not an inaccessible idealized wise person but a Wise Fool admired for the wise management of common human folly. In the oral traditions, the master is often considered the paragon of his/her art, an example that apprentices strive to imitate. The educational process comprises the stages of active observation, imitation and guided participation in the activitiesxv. Thus when the Master (storyteller) employs the Wise Fools strategies exposing himself as a sensitive, vulnerable person that identifies with his fictional character he encourages his apprentices (or the audience) to imitate him, to accept and take pride into their sensitivity and their vulnerability. Furthermore he celebrates the ultimate human social virtue, Empathy. Thus
the audience learns to dismiss their egocentric and narcissistic tendencies and care about the other members of the storytelling community. Thus the Wise Fool persona acquires an added value. This persona protects the Master/ Teacher from the “obscene tyrant”xvi, his own ego. Power corrupts as we all can testify and many Wise Fool stories demonstrate. The storyteller is always a charismatic person and he/she is conscious of his/her influencing power and his/her function in the community. This power is augmented when he/she takes over the role of the Master. The apprentices venerate their Master. He/she has reached the absolute mastery of his/her art or craft; his/her whole life is dedicated at its perfection. It is very dangerous to try to shake this veneration but it is far riskier to accept it or, God forbid but megalomaniacs are as a rule excellent storytellers, to encourage it. At this point, comes the Tradition in the rescue of the storyteller offering him the Wise Fool persona. Now he/she is free to act as a fool, to encourage critical thought, to stress the dangers of blind obedience, to uproot the addictive traits of his apprentices’ s relation to him/her. He can appear incompetent, ignorant, avid e.t.c. , without disrupting the apprenticeship process, without shaking the apprentices’ s trust in him. Thus the teacher, the Orthodox Christian monk, the Sufi dervish, the Zen master gives the ultimate lesson to his apprentices, and the storyteller to his audience. I may be fool, but listen to my stories. The ego is always a fool, but this foolishness is checked by tradition, by the members of the community who have preserved the Wise Fool’s tales. I may be a Fool but my stories are Wise.
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renouveau du conte [The revival of Storytelling] , C.N.R.S., 1991, p. 391
Yale University Press, 2003, p.249
Kokkas Nikolaos, Tradition vs. change in the orality of the Pomaks in Western Thrace- The role of folklore in
determining the Pomak identity, paper presented in the international conference “Minority-building among the Pomaks in the Greek-Bulgarian region” - Erlangen 15-16 July 2005
Arent Hanna, Men at dark times, Pelican, 1973 Μπαμπινιώτης Γεώργιος, Λεξικό της Νέας Ελληνικής Γλώσσας, [Babiniotis G., Dictionary of Modern Greek Aesop, Fables, No 209, Tolidi, Athens, 1984 . Linda Degh, Narratives in society: A performer –centered study in narration, Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 1995, p.34 Storytelling is naturally a double-edged sword. Such symbols occasionally were and are still put in the service of Gardner Howard, Multiple intelligences. The theory in practice, Basic Books, 1993, p.23 Gardner Howard, Creating minds: an anatomy of creativity, N.Y. Basic books 1993 Gardner Howard, Intelligence reframed. Multiple intelligences for the 21st century, Basic Books 1999 Οικονομίδης Δημήτριος, Το παραμύθι και ο παραμυθάς εν Ελλάδι, Oikonomidis D., [Storytelling in Greece], Κλιαφα Μαρούλα, Οι λαϊκοί παραμυθάδες και η επιβίωση του παραμυθιού ως τις μέρες μας, [Kliafa M., Ιωαννου Γιώργος (επιμ.), Παραμύθια του λαού μας, [Ioannou G.,Greek Folktales],Ερμής 1987 Rogoff Barbara, Apprenticeship in thinking. Cognitive development in social context, Oxford University Press, 1991 Tavener John, Preface to his composition “The Hidden Face”, C.D., Harmonia Mundi, 2001
Language] Κέντρο Λεξικολογίας, 1998, p.1310
racist and misogynistic propaganda.
Λαογραφία, τόμος ΛΑ΄ 1976-78
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