Thursday, October 7, 2010

In Praise of "In Praise of Folly"

I remember Erasmus as an European-history-question answer, but I had never really read his stuff until this last week. And now I have another dead man crush. As you might suspect, In Praise of Folly praises folly. (Well, aside from a side-jot to satirize religious hypocrites.) But folly's become a bit of a bosom-pal of mine recently, now that I'm letting myself be foolish in important ways. Erasmus I ain't, but here's my own addendum to the praise of folly.

1-Folly makes me audacious.

It's folly that keeps me from "keeping my fool mouth shut" when meeting influential people. It's folly that made me track Walter Benn Michaels to where he was eating lunch and folly made my little first-year-graduate-student self challenge his economic assumptions. Folly made me submit to journals way above me, conferences I don't belong in, contests I can't win, and positions I'm not qualified for. And though there's been plenty of falling on my face, now and again folly makes me more successful than I could have foolishly imagined.

2-Folly makes me happy.

I'm weird, but I like me. Yes, maybe I whistle a little when I walk to my car. Maybe I spent $20 and a weekend to paint the classroom I'll teach in for one semester. Maybe I went swimming at 10:00 pm in October, trying stunts like an underwater cartwheel or keeping one foot aloft, like a mast to the stars. Maybe I dissected an owl pellet on my lunch break, cutting it open with a plastic fork to look for the small bones of animals. But you know what? I had a good time. Folly might not be suave or graceful or societally normal, but I got joy from it.

3-Folly gives me room for faith.

"Choose faith," Elder...who? Cook? Christofferson? One of them...said. Sometimes it doesn't make sense right now, but choose faith. Erasmus gets at this at the end of his book: the wisdom of men is foolishness to God, but also the seemingly foolishness of God (I mean, "love your enemies"--really?) is actually the wisest thing men can think. My criticisms may yet prove foolishness, so allowing myself to be considered foolish may create future, eternal wisdom.

All of this is to say, I'm trying not to take myself so seriously here. Sometimes, as a first-semester PhD candidate, and as a new member of a single adult ward (with plenty of Mormon Venuses and Mormon Athenas), I wonder if I don't come off as ridiculous, as utterly foolish even. Erasmus suggests that's not such a big deal. And that's why I love him.


xister said...

A+ (I really need to get that "Patrick's Seal of Approval" stamp.)

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