The Idiot


I recently read a collection of essays that included Herman Hesse’s “Thoughts on The Idiot by Dostoyevsky.” In it, Hesse writes that Prince Myshkin has been so often compared to Jesus because each lives a purer existence than others, neither one, “separates thinking from living…” This way of being, “isolates [him] in the midst of his surroundings” and makes him “the opponent of all.”

What is interesting however is, in becoming the opponent of all, the idiot simultaneously becomes the hero of all—including those who would agree on little else. In separate interviews, both the Christian minister Malcom Muggeridge and beat poet Allen Ginsberg claimed Prince Myshkin as his literary hero.

The Russian word for such a person is yourodivyje (holy fool).

In the final story of his collection A Bearer of Divine Revelation, Hungarian-American writer Lawrence Dorr tells of one such holy fool, an old man who takes an enemy soldier into his home, feeds him, cares for him, does not allow the neighbors to harm him. The old man lives “in total abnegation of the self…amidst the running tide of killings and hate, praying for the peace of God for all.” He knows this will likely get him killed, but he cannot do otherwise.

What sets this “idiot” apart, according to Hesse, is something “magical.” Hesse explains it as a “supreme receptivity and insight that he has experienced a few times, that magical ability for a moment, for the flash of a moment, to be able to be everything, to empathize with everything, to sympathize with everything, to understand and accept everything in the world.”

This insight makes the holy fool unable to ever again categorize people, separate us from them, friend from foe. All are the same.

Opponent and hero, the idiot is a living example of a better way.

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