Sunday, October 14, 2012

Book Report: Foolish Wisdom

Stories, Activities, and Reflections from Ken Feit
[post 289]

This is the second of four posts in remembrance of the life and work of Ken Feit, "itinerant fool."

Ken Feit was an experience, one that no book could hope to recreate. That being said, Joseph Martin's posthumous 1990 collection of some of Ken's philosophy, stories, and workshop activities is a welcome piece of research, and will be especially valuable to all us aging fools who played with him over three decades ago and for one reason or another cannot quite remember every detail. (You know who you are!)

After a sweet preface by Margie Brown and a good 14-page overview of Ken's life by the author, the book breaks down into six sections. Much of the content consists of short reflections by Ken, which Martin chooses to arrange like poems, each one almost its own haiku, each one on its own page. Nothing wrong with this, but just know that the 150 pages of Ken's foolish wisdom could easily fit into 50 pages — but it's certainly a rich 50 pages!

I. The Fool
Ruminations on the role of the fool and clown in modern soceity.  (I used several in yesterday's post). Very thought-provoking, though there is some repetition.


2. The Priest
Ken recognized priesthood as part of his persona, but in this section he searches for the similarities between the role of the priest and that of the fool. For example:
The term "priestly fool" is used to describe that person, male or female, who is a discerner of wonder, mystery, and paradox; who celebrates life and death; who is a storyteller and listener; who is a focuser of community (though frequently living on the periphery of the community); who is a proclaimer of the truth (verbally and non-verbally); who is a servant and healer of the poor (powerless); and who re-symbolizes, re-ritualizes, and re-mythologizes for the tribe.


3. The Storyteller
Ken would sometimes insist that he was a story maker, not teller. This section has reflections on stories, but also contains many of the stories that he performed. Some were totally from his fertile imagination, others adapted from the world's cultures. Here's a short excerpt from one of his original pieces, Cleo the Pregnant Woman, with Ken confronting the audience as the mother-to-be.
Don't know what to do. Don't know. What would y'all do if'n you had America in your belly? Would you have it, or would you stop it? I needs help. I don't know. How about you, mister? Would you have the baby, or would you stop it? Keep it, then. You, mister? You'd have the baby too! How about you? Don't know. How about you? Y'all mighty brave with Cleo's baby. Yeah.

You'll be able to see Ken performing this in a film two posts from now!


4. The Prophet
This category very much overlaps with the Fool section, so again some repetition, but also some nice passages, including this one on his sound poetry:
In a flash I saw two visions of language like the cities of Augustine. One was intuitive, process, personal, marginal, and the other was conceptual, static, conventional, mainstream. In the first city lived children, primitives, dreamers, artists, cripples, seniles, the poor and powerless, mystics, madmen and fools. The other world was peopled by the rest of society — adults, rationalists, professionals, skeptics, the economically secure and powerful, healthy, civilized, and buffoons. Between the two cities there were constant exchanges as children became "educated" or adults became senile, as fortunes were won or lost, as sickness, madness, faith, or folly were cured or caused. That night I went home and stayed up all night creating my own language — sound poetry.


5. The Mystic
Meditations on the mysteries of life. This one, sadly, came true way too early:
Several years ago I began formal preparations for my death journey — collecting maps, visas, consulate addresses, vaccinations, traveler's cheques, other supplies. There are still a few items missing, but I feel basically ready. There's no departure date, and I haven't decided on my mode of transport, but that will take care of itself I trust.


6. Activities
A Ken Feit workshop was better than kindergarten. I especially remember the Cornstarch activity, which he said he'd done with the Milwaukee police as an illustration of how the greatest force did not always produce the best results.
Fill a bowl with a box of powdered cornstarch and add water, mixing the cornstarch in until all the powder is first absorbed in the water; add no more water. Then strike the mixture smartly with your fist and observe that you cannot penetrate the solution. Place your finger in the mixture and it easily penetrates...
_______________________________

All in all, an essential book for anyone interested in Ken's work, but where to find it? The bad news is that it is indeed out of print; the good news is that (as of this writing) you can still find a few used copies at amazon.com for under $10. And in this day of digital publishing, why not roll Ken over in his Chicago grave by turning it into an e-book?


Coming up: 
• Ken's long letters about his incredible global adventures.
• Excerpts from Fools for Christ, a documentary partly about Ken's work

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