The Fool on the Moon

Who is a fool?

You haven't heard of Occlève Siméon, the first man to visit the moon? I know, I know. You think Neil Armstrong was the first, flying through space in his lunar lander. But as poet-journalist Dany Laferrière has pointed out, Armstrong arrived only to find a Haitian peasant already waiting.

"I haven't had a cigarette for three days," the peasant said, according to Laferrière's sources. "Do you know what that's like for a smoker?" We shouldn't be surprised to find The Fool on the moon. For him, it was the perfect job. America had reached its crowning moment of ego, and needed to be deflated. Even more importantly, the world needed a reminder that an epic journey of spirit-a metaphysical flight-can take you much farther than to a rock in outer space. The Haitians, living in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, knew exactly how to bring America down to Earth. "That's a mighty big rocket you've got there, Uncle Sam," they said. "Is it as big as the mind? As free as imagination?"

The tale is heavy with festivity and fantasy, the twin pillars of foolery. The pillars stand on a foundation of greed, arrogance, authority, pride, all those "pitiful little tricks and handsprings." These are the acts of real fools, without which The Fool would be useless and mute.

The Fool is a looking-glass. She is male and female, he is human and animal, they are one moment immersed in the workaday routine and the next overturning the norms of daily life. When we play The Fool, we are The Other, strangers who are in this world but not entirely of it. The ancient term Narrenfreiheit means "freedom of the fool." That freedom reminds us that in a moment of ecstasy we can sweep away the illusion of so much of what we endure. The Fool breaks the trail; the revolutionaries follow. "World-changers need not be joyless and ascetic," writes Harvey Cox, author of Feast of Fools. The original Feast of Fools was a medieval tradition, older even than the age of court jesters that turned their pitiful tricks for those in power. In the Feast, priests would don rude masks, pious citizens would discard and ridicule cherished rituals, underlings would parade in the robes of rulers. Often, the day of festivity would spill over into a week. Authorities constantly condemned the feast, and it faded some 500 years ago.

The tradition, though, has traveled through the underground, nourished by Fools from hundreds of cultures. In the past century, we've seen Dada and the surrealists; the situationist vision of the city-as-funhouse; the beat poets, Yippie pranksters, punk artists and drag queen parades. And now, once again, The Fool is on the rise, stiltwalking and firebreathing over the heads of corporate culture.

The Feast of Fools was celebrated at the start of each new year. Now we stand at the start of a new millennium. What better time to revive The Fool's spirit? Imagine the sweet chaos of a single day dedicated to popping a jack-in-the-box in the face of the global elite. How will society cope with 24 hours of raw weirdness, a rain of pranks and unexpected public dreams?

let's return Fools Day to its rightful tradition: tweaking the nose of power and authority. Let's turn the world upside down, and see what falls out the pockets.
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Other fools who have visited the moon include Baron Munchausen, Domingo Gonzales and numerous shamans

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