The Landscape of Fools – Exploring Literary Depictions of Idiocy

I have read Steinbeck’s “Between Mice and Men” several times. This novel of less than 50,000 words has many advantages. Among them, the fool Lenny is the one that attracts me the most. I often recommend it to others enthusiastically: Steinbeck is the best writer of fools of all. It might sound a little strange to say nothing.

Of course, I think it’s a laurels. As people often say, it is easy to draw people but difficult to draw ghosts, or it is very difficult to act like a drunkard on stage or a mentally ill person in film and television. The general meaning is somewhat similar, but not entirely. Because fools in literature are often related to “non-fool” factors such as narrative strategies, subjective perspectives, and moral propositions, fools are also an important type of character in novels, and they are also the scoring points in the writing arena . So when I strongly praised Steinbeck, I actually had a small group of such images in my mind: Duke Myshkin in “The Idiot”, Benji in “The Sound and the Fury”, and the protagonist of the same name in “Gimpel the Fool” , Soldier Billy in “Slaughterhouse No. 5”, the Second Chieftain in “Dust Settled”, and so on. There should be many more. For the sake of simplicity, let’s invite these six people to sit down together. Six is ​​enough, but the dice are not like that. Twenty-one points on six sides are enough to form an infinite landscape.

But, looking around, can they really be regarded as fools? Even if it does not refer to a medical diagnosis in the strict sense, it is just out of common sense in life. Among these six people, who can be “purely” regarded as fools , I am afraid there is only Lenny, and Bengui is only half of them. The other four are probably not. Some of them may be more intelligent than ordinary people, even reaching the level of great wisdom and foolishness.

Let me talk about Benji first, why I said he is only “mostly” stupid.

Yeah, he’s always babbling in there, he can’t get anywhere. I don’t know how you are, but to be honest, when I was reading The Sound and the Fury, I was in a daze almost the whole time. Thanks to Mr. Li Wenjun’s translation preface, he fully understands the time and space memos and suggestive details carried by the characters in the book when they appear. Very detailed instructions are given, which of course lead to a slight reading fear, but the subsequent reading quickly proved that I had to rely on the font changes of the main text and the scene shifting in the numerous footnotes like crutches. Intimate reminder, otherwise it will be difficult to move an inch and read half a page.

Even so, it is inevitable to complain. There are three brothers in the whole book, except for Benji who was born with a mental disorder, which caused him to be incoherent and incomprehensible. The eldest son, Quentin, was in extreme agitation because he decided to commit suicide on June 2nd. , which belongs to his confession, is also like Bergman’s black-and-white close-up movie, full of exaggerated and static details, especially at the end of that chapter, the pages of unpunctuated delirium can make people read Also developed a high fever. And the other brother, Jason, who has a violent personality, not only has a severe paranoid mental illness, but also has headaches all day long, which also leads to his part of the chapter, which is full of wild, one-sided pain. And restlessness——besides the stream-of-consciousness duet of the two brothers who don’t know each other, Benji’s character setting as a fool is simply not very “prominent”, especially for convenience (God knows, how costly this layer of convenience is. Brain cells) readers understand Bangui. For his muttering, Faulkner chose a non-sentence imitation style, and through these fragments, to imply different time, environment and event information. Bengui’s uneasiness, memories, and confusion actually all have the effect of a reminder. Such as smelling something (this implies that he thinks of Katie’s uncleanness), such as he always said crying as singing (this refers to the scene where Big Mudi died), such as walking into the water (recalling Playing with Katie in the creek when I was a child), such as sticking out my tongue to lick the iron railing (this is to remind readers to go back to the present, Luster is taking him outdoors in the cold, and this day is his 33rd birthday).

To be honest, this is not a good reading experience. Under the powerful annotations, I can barely understand the subtext of Benji’s moaning, and I can vaguely see many misfortunes in this family: because Katie lost her virginity and was abandoned after giving birth, brother Quentin defended this family. The dignity of the family fell into the river and committed suicide, while his younger brother Jason treated her illegitimate daughter cruelly because of his hatred for Katie… It can be said that every seemingly careless babble of Benji has a long-suffering behind it. The long branches connect the heavy past, the present moment and the endless future of this declining house. Faulkner took advantage of Bangui’s characteristics as a mentally disabled person, and used him as the first chapter of the book to explain the past. Obviously, Benji the Fool, has been instrumentalized. Even though this instrumentalization is so highly skilled, it still makes me feel that Bangui’s innocence, sadness, stubbornness, his little pity and small movements are all “agreed” by Faulkner, and he uses Bangui appropriately. The silly words lead the readers into a huge and deeper narrative quagmire. Moreover, with the chaos of Bengui in the first chapter as a foreshadowing, readers seem to be indifferent to the ensuing chapters of despair Quentin and gloomy Jason, because from the perspective of text presentation, They are even more crazy and logical than Benji…

The three brothers, plus the Dilsey chapter in the fourth chapter, and Faulkner wrote an appendix dedicated to the background and destiny of the family’s characters 15 years after the novel was published, are equal to a total of five puzzle pieces, which together constitute the A “all-round and no dead ends” narrative system has been established. Although this multi-perspective polyphonic narrative cannot be completely regarded as Faulkner’s technical innovation, the superposition of the two layers of “crazy stupidity and stream of consciousness” has his unique patent color.

Still, I’m a little bit dissatisfied that we’re back with Fool Benji as if I were his personal lawyer. Of course, this is a very “wrong” idea, just like the defense lawyers. If we also pay attention to respect for characters in the entire fictional situation and fictional ethics, this respect is not only the level of “reduction”, “simulation” and even “sublimation”, but also includes a basic understanding of the instrumentalization of characters-of course , Fundamentally speaking, we can think that all the characters in the novel are deliberately and carefully set up by the writer, and no matter how shrewd the protagonist is, it is impossible to escape the fictional method of “being shaped”, but why do writers often have such emotional reflections? ? For example, Flaubert, like Tolstoy, they will cry for the characters they write, and they will be heartbroken because they have to “kill” a certain character, because they have to write like this, because the character has his own opinion and destiny. What’s this? This is the writer’s love and respect for the characters, like respecting a living child, old man or fool standing in front of him.

So, from this point of view, even though Bangui’s every move as a fool is completely like a fool, Faulkner not only writes particularly exquisitely, but also coincides with his painful past in various manifestations of “stupid”. It is this “coincidence” that makes me feel that his “stupidity” is still “muppet” in the end, so I feel a little sad-a sadness born of being too picky. For the fool Benji himself, and also for the novel’s “meaning that should be in the title” in terms of fictional technology. Of course, I need to pay homage and apology to Faulkner, and pay homage to the smoke and dust of his southern novels. In the conspiracy and struggle between the novelist and the characters in his novel, his willpower and ability always have the upper hand. And as long as the writer has this kind of actual combat experience, he will know that fighting a fool is far more difficult than fighting an ordinary person.

Since there are other fools here, we will stop here about Benji for now. Beside him sat Duke Myshkin and the second young chieftain, who happened to be chatting together.

Why should these two people, who are neither of the same nationality nor of the same generation, a noble descendant and a chieftain young master, be put together? Because these two are not only not idiots like Lenny and Benji, but also more than ordinary people, beyond mediocrity, they can be said to be heavenly and alien, so I can’t agree that they can be regarded as idiots at all.

Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot” is entirely a romantic lyric technique. From the beginning, the protagonist wanders alone, accidentally travels with the rich man Rogozhin, and meets Nastasya’s jade photo like a thunderbolt, then breaks into the general’s house in a ignorant way, and gets the general’s wife and three daughters at once. Afterwards, as a tenant, he entered the sub-center of the vortex of events, that is, Ganya’s home, and the Gania family and important tenants were all stirred up… The entire opening of the entrance and exit was extremely smooth, and the On the road, the oriole was played and the sparrows were frightened, and all the characters were closely related to Duke Mei Shijin. From the perspective of the construction and advancement of the opening scene, it looks like a super long and sophisticated one shot to the end. Tuo’s scheduling technique can be said to be the pinnacle, and at the same time he is constantly setting off dense “drama points” in high winds and waves, and in the In the course of such advancement, the main characters are very prominently modeled: Nastassia who is insulted and damaged, the general who is afraid of his wife, the wife of the general who is moody, the three beautiful and intelligent sisters and the youngest sister Must be the best, Ganya’s alcoholic father, Ganya who sold himself for money, etc., when these characters get together, there will inevitably be conflicts, suspense, farce, and climaxes, all of which are typical of romanticism The technique is okay, but there is one thing – when Prince Myshkin is placed in such a stage background and group of characters, his side as an “idiot”, the innocence, holiness, and unworldliness he presents in the novel Service, and the resulting compassion, understanding of beauty, pain and injury, etc., will also appear too romantic and idealized.

Having said that, the Duke of Myshkin is of course an extremely unique image in the literature corridor, which is both rare and touching. Countless readers of later generations fully understand and agree that the identification of Duke Myshkin as an “idiot” is an infinite irony and infinite Affectionate false finger. He is incompetent, and at the same time ashamed of calculation, shrewdness, and grievances. With his understanding and compassion beyond the ordinary, he tries to save everyone around him wholeheartedly. He is simply the archangel in the book. So in the final analysis, Dostoevsky definitely did not intend to sculpt an idiot, it was at most just a blindfold in the novel, what he really contributed was a guide and rescuer with a specific color of suffering image.

Similar to the identification of “Angel”, we may also identify the chieftain “Master Fool” in “Dust Settled” as “Superman”. Slightly different from Duke Myshkin’s fainting symptoms, excited delirium, and other appearances, the second young master of the Maiqi family was endowed with certain weaknesses that never aroused sympathy, but were ridiculed and awe-inspiring: he would To tell the truth, he will choose what others don’t want, he will cry regardless of the occasion, he knows no fear, no dignity, no cruelty, his actions run counter to almost all the rules of wisdom, but he can always bend Arriving at an unexpected finish line in a tortuous way, not only avoiding dangerous things in a crooked manner, and getting a beautiful woman in his arms, but also gaining wealth and power, and even assisting the last chieftain family’s wobbly life at a critical moment. Crazy end.

Who doesn’t like such an adventurous and witty clever design, I believe that every reader will get incomparable reading pleasure following Alai’s seemingly insane, silly but not stupid language flow, especially when he uses it so cleverly A simple dialogue——When my father asked me: “Tell me what love is?” “It’s just that the bones are full of bubbles.” : “You fool, even the bubbles will dissipate.” “They will keep popping up.” Listen, it is such a fool’s quotations, which are densely distributed throughout the book, and the words are distributed line by line, and every sentence is convincing. People followed, and eventually embraced him as the last descendant of the last chieftain family.

But when we discuss the image of a fool, we have to shake our heads vigilantly. We cannot be fooled by Alai, just like we cannot be fooled by Dostoevsky. What they claim, identify, and compare It is just a literary setting, a narrative strategy that is convenient for action. What is dragged behind the stage costumes, and what is revealed with the fluttering of the clothes is a larger literary iceberg. It is a better and purer realm constructed with the faces of idiots and fools.

This is just about the fool Gimpel, because the point of state sustenance is more obvious in the fool Gimpel, not only the writer, but even himself, is self-conscious and self-aware. Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Gimpel the Fool” is a short story with only twenty pages and about 10,000 words. Because of its shortness and fame, almost all “literary people” have read it, and they all like to quote Gimpel’s heart-wrenching line in the novel, which he said when he learned of his wife’s betrayal, “If I If mom finds out about this, she will die again.” And this sentence can basically represent his way of dealing with pain, even if his heart is clear, he would rather choose a roundabout attitude, covering his head and ignoring the pain. Dodge, guard, retreat. Is this just out of stupidity, cowardice, and weakness? no. When his wife confessed to him on her deathbed that all the children were not his, and even the devil couldn’t stand it anymore, and she came out to face the opportunity of revenge (poisoning the bread), let’s see how Gimpel acted— —

This is the most colorful scene in the whole novel, and it is also where the whole morality of the writer Singer lies. It can be summed up in a word that may seem familiar, that is, repay evil with kindness. Gimpel, with his consistent “doing nothing,” prays for a world “where there is no dispute, no mockery, no deceit” in which “even Gimpel will not be deceived.” Yes, Gimpel prayed for a distant “other world”. With his seemingly stretched, seemingly slow narration, Singer restrained anger, restrained sadness, but with an aura of forgiveness and sublimation, it enveloped Gimpel layer by layer. The Gimpel here is no longer a fool Gimpel, but the ideal sustenance of the writer Singer, who has the entire Jewish ethnic background, his shrinking feedback on the sorrow and misfortune of the world, and his belief in forbearance and sacrifice: God, you are blind, but it doesn’t matter, I am equally grateful to you, and I intend to take on everything like this, to take on the mockery and insult of life. Like a crooked tree oppressed by fate, it is crooked, but it is still a big tree in the world.

Of course, the “other world” projected by Singer is at least one of the real worlds. When it comes to Vonnegut, he is impatient to follow the rules, relying on war mental stimulation (intangible) and post-war brain trauma (tangible) Two medical methods, in “Slaughterhouse No. 5”, he made the soldier Billy not only suffer from traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but also have the ability to travel through memory disorder functions, and even ran to a man named Teddy from time to time. Go to the planet of Lafarmado and have all kinds of absurd stories with aliens. Such a setting not only makes the whole book take off from the ground, but also soars through the clouds and is omnipotent. Yes, now we’re talking about Silly Soldier Billy.

Watch carefully, don’t look at silly soldier Billy sitting on this table with us, but every little move he makes, even if it’s just a blink, a nap, a spit, or a few tears, hey, he But not here, Vonnegut has bounced him into various time warps—the whole book is like this, not only anti-time and space, but anti-plot, anti-drama, and anti-logic. What is the intention of Soldier Billy in this crazy and stupid state that breaks through the limitations of physics and common sense? You know, this is not simply pretending to be crazy, but Vonnegut’s greatest initiative as a witness to the Dresden bombing (he was 23 years old at the time) and as a writer: he didn’t want to use people to write Ten thousand anti-war narratives to express the anti-war theme. Because he doesn’t want to assign any context to the massacre at all, which would unknowingly make war and terror interpretable: that’s the last thing he wants to do. After the end of the “World War II”, Vonnegut spent 24 years searching for this novel that he could not write, and in the end, the toughest novel he could find The logic of this is that there is nothing sane to say about a massacre.

After establishing this major principle, Vonnegut also established the most inimitable and also the most maddening protagonist for his “Slaughterhouse Five”, the clown-like soldier Billy. Throughout the book, through the mouth of silly Billy, at every climax of the angriest and most tragic, Vonnegut would suddenly dryly, as if he were the most innocent parrot, say, “That’s the way it is.” “. Throughout the novel, he used “that’s the way it is” more than a hundred times. So that all those tragic moments are covered with a veil of calm, you can’t see the convulsions, the tears, the brokenness, or the bones. Then, because you can’t see them, you will feel a huge shame in reading, and you can’t directly see and experience the world. You think you, like Silly Soldier Billy, think that’s the way it is.

I have to say, the most contagious of the fools in this table, and the one I agree with and even admire a little bit, is Soldier Billy, although he is always going to other planets and doing all kinds of shady things. Things… and the others, as I said before, Benji, who reads words, is a word reader with a task list; the holy Duke Myshkin observes and comforts every misfortune in turn with his incomparably kind eyes Master Tusi has been loudly expressing his famous sayings in vernacular, declaring his unique conclusions or orders; Gimpel is always busy forgiving his wife and even defending and praying for his wife, exuding a strong brilliance of virtue. I don’t seem to “love” them because of these silly parts.

Well, now there’s one more person on the table who hasn’t been mentioned yet, and that’s our real, 100 percent fool, Lenny. Throughout the table, he seemed to be completely non-existent, always looking for his brother George helplessly and in fear, because he didn’t know what to do or say-he was the only one who was convincing and the most convincing. True fool. Save the best for last. I’ll talk about Lenny last.

As I said at the beginning of this article, Steinbeck really let the fool return to the fool’s “duty”. He didn’t let Lenny take on the responsibility of succession, personality shaping, or ethical sustenance and anti-war declaration. Lenny is a pure and native fool, with his own logic, thinking, shame, and hard work. From the first page, when Lenny came into our sight, to the last page, when Lenny was shot and fell to the ground, his words, deeds, and thoughts did not overflow the slightest bit of being a fool. We have no choice but to stand completely beside Lenny and his brother George, anxious, angry, nervous and moved by his stupidity. The Nobel Prize’s citation said Steinbeck had a “compassionate sense of humor,” which seems to be a broad-spectrum assessment. In “Between Mice and Men”, where Steinbeck is releasing his sympathy, where is he engaging in humor. no. He just shed bitter and invisible tears directly from the tip of his pen, which was so superb that he couldn’t see any “calculation” that is unique to fictionalists.

I really want to excerpt a little text to prove Steinbeck’s brilliance with examples, but the fool Lenny is almost everywhere in the book, so this kind of splendor is also everywhere in every corner. In the end, it will be discovered that what he uses are very common everyday words. There are the most verbs, followed by adverbs, and few adjectives, and there are no metaphors, parallels, exaggerations, etc., including mental activities. Steinbeck doesn’t need it. He is a skinny vocabulary commander, using only the most basic soldiers and the simplest formation to achieve a gentle and shockingly powerful combat effectiveness. Whenever I see the part that describes Lenny, I can’t help lingering, observing, and surrendering to his concise accuracy. The book is very thin, those who desire it can read it by themselves.

Don’t think it’s thin, just write about fools, only fools. Otherwise, you think, even a fool can write so well! In “Between Mice and Men”, there are little George, the captain of the grain team, the old cleaner, the boss and the boss’s son, the wife of the boss’s son, the disabled old man in the stable, etc., sometimes only one or two scenes, A few lines of dialogue almost covered this person’s life, his character and destiny, how he lived and how he will die—this book has always been included in the must-read list for American middle school students, and I almost want to give them reading comprehension questions , Underline a certain sentence and a few words, and ask, Steinbeck wrote this, what did it explain, what did it imply, what did it pave the way for, and what did it solve.

Well, let’s stop here for the story of the six fools at this table. In fact, I also wanted to bring a private item and quietly add a small bench at the door. In my new novel “Golden River”, I also wrote about a mentally deficient person, Mu Cang, who is a patient with Asperger’s syndrome. But it’s too inappropriate to talk about my own character here. no more. Susan Sontag has many relevant excellent points in Metaphors of Disease, not to mention Foucault, about the identification of madness, the warnings about the collective consciousness of mankind, about the rejection of illness in the so-called whole system of society, Hate and oppression, etc., are very high-level, and they are not transcribed. If you analyze it in depth, you will step into a gray and deep river of theory. And stop. I’ll just call this little gathering of fools.

Of course, behind every fool sits his fictional and creator, Mr. Writer. Hey, this is a big table. Those writers who hide behind fools are as cunning as they are sincere. When they deliver a fool character, they also plant a contractual trap. As for whether you believe it or not, how do you fall into it? How to see through, or even if you see through, you are still willing to applaud, readers, you have to think carefully.

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