Higher Living Reflections

A Tale Told by an Idiot

The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Attempts creating normal tales of fiction during this abnormally inflamed period seem decidedly offkey. Perhaps others can prod themselves to do so despite the bombardment of the senses. I cannot.

To get one’s head around the scope and depth of the insidious insurrection and of the insurrectionists themselves, I find two schools of thought to be helpful. One is via psychology and sociology. Why individuals and groups do what they do? Though social studies, both ologies are also aspects of the mythic realm. More on that next time.

The other is through story, tales and texts of wisdom including myth. Its components – allusion, allegory, metaphor, timeless characters, and symbolism – allow the curious mind to grasp the profundity of what is happening. William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury with mentally disabled Benjy initially narrating is helping me gain insight into the madness.

I read the novel years ago. It is the most challenging read I have done. (No, I have not attempted Ulysses.)  But after painfully watching the heinous, unpatriotic desecration of our sacred secular temple, I am finding reading Faulkner comparatively a stroll through a mountain meadow.

Comprehending the man-child Benjy is no easy task given that idiotic expressions defy logical thought. In the Introduction, Faulkner writes, “He (Benjy) had to be an idiot so that…he could be impervious to the future.”

Impervious to the future. Stuck in time. As it was and always will be, even if that perception of reality is not real.

Pretty much everything Benjy says is nonsensical gibberish full of non sequiturs, unintelligible and unfathomable to the sensible mind even as it makes total sense to his. It is thus a tale told by an idiot.

Faulkner gleaned the title from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the story of a would-be despot who stops at nothing, including regicide, to gain power. In his soliloquy beginning with “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,” Macbeth laments his looming demise. He is disgraced and abandoned, and despondently concludes life “is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury / Signifying nothing.”

In his powerfully moving video about the insurrection, Arnold Schwarzenegger, an immigrant from Austria who was born in post-Nazi Europe and achieved stardom and political fame as California governor, references Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass in Nazi Germany. His allusion to the historical event with its imagery resonates for me not only because of the shattered windows and other glass objects in the Capitol, but also because “Shattered” is the title I have given to another piece about how this tragedy might cause personal relationships, even within families, to shatter.

Schwarzenegger uses another metaphor to drive his point home: a sword. He talks about how steel, when tempered by heating, pounding, and immersing in cold water, becomes hardened. Being from Steel Town, it also resonates. Schwarzenegger compares the tempered steel sword with the indefatigable, enduring strength of the Republic. Tempering only makes it stronger.

I find a second meaning in the tempering process: Superheated steel objects can also be used to excise a wound of pernicious infection and cauterize it. The power of metaphor.

Unlike for Bathsheba Everdene in Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, there’s no escape from this American madding. All one can do is move through it while trying to make sense of it. Fortunately, master authors, poets, and mythologists provide us guides.

The Sound and the Fury and Macbeth are not only thought-provoking but also timely for they prompt one to wonder, what causes someone to believe a tale told by an idiot?

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  • Melanie Mulhall
    January 15, 2021 at 1:44 pm

    Nice post, Jerry. We’re definitely being tempered.

  • Bonnie McCune
    January 15, 2021 at 4:13 pm

    Hmm. I never read this in college, yet somehow passed the test. My loss. I’ll have to go back now

  • Steven Craig
    January 15, 2021 at 4:41 pm

    I struggled through this novel when I was in AP English my Junior year. I went back and read it in my adult years and appreciated Faulkner’s craft far more than my 17 year old self could muster. I love how you relate it to our modern context.

  • Rick Posnet
    January 17, 2021 at 11:36 pm

    I’ve been to Faulkner’s home several times. On the walls of Rowan Oak are Faulkner’s notes to Sound and the Fury and other writings of his. The writing was “on the walls” so to speak! Thanks for sharing your fears and hopes for these troubled waters we swim in…

  • Karen
    January 18, 2021 at 5:14 am

    How CAN someone believe a tale told by an idiot? Well, somehow, 7 4 million someones did! I love the interplay in my mind between “tempers” and “tempered.” As Melanie says above, we certainly are being tempered, even as tempers flare! And, never did read The Sound and the Fury. I may give it a whirl. Thanks for expressing your emotions so eloquently, Jerry! May peace ultimately reign in the hearts and minds of all!