Friday, October 20, 2006

Homeric blindness in "colledge"

I've been thinking about Homeric blindness today -- not the legendary blindness of the perhaps non-existent poet nor the literal blindness of the Cyclops Polyphemus but the figurative blindness of Homer's egomaniacs.

Odysseus is one such egomaniac. When he makes his escape from Polyphemus in Odyssey 9, he shouts back to the Cyclops to let him know just who has blinded him and stolen his animals:

"Cyclops, if anyone, any mortal man,
Asks how you got your eye put out,
Tell him that Odysseus the marauder did it,
Son of Laertes, whose home is on Ithaca."
That's a wonderful moment for thinking about Odyssean strength and weakness: having made his tricky escape from the Cyclops' cave, which involved the anonymity of being "Noman," Odysseus can't resist the desire to tie his name and line to his deeds. His desire to be known blinds him to the practical necessity to get away; he's like a pickpocket who stops to announce that he's lifted your wallet.

The suitors in Odysseus' household suffer from another form of blindness, a cluelessness as to the ways others might see them. In Odyssey 21, they're concerned that they will be shamed if the old beggar (Odysseus in disguise) is able to succeed in the test of the bow (bending and stringing Odysseus' bow and shooting an arrow through the sockets of twelve axe-heads). They want to maintain their reputation and fear being shown up by an old tramp. But as Penelope points out to them, men who have done what they have done "'cannot expect / To have a good reputation anywhere.'" Their names are already mud.

I thought of both Odysseus and the suitors today when reading a newspaper article about a student "organization" called War on Sobriety. The group's purpose is to drink (deeply) during each day of homecoming week. Saturday (the day of the Big Game) is devoted to all-day drinking, beginning with a beer breakfast. "It's our fight for the people who like to drink," one leader of the group is quoted as saying. He is identified by name in the article; I'm omitting his name here.

This student is also quoted as saying "It's really underground. We don't want to get a bad reputation." Yet he's giving an interview to a newspaper reporter (and leaving tracks that any potential employer will be able to find via a search engine). There it is: Odysseus and the suitors combined. Duh.

One question that this article doesn't address: Wouldn't a week of sustained drinking create some sort of difficulty with the responsibilities of being a college student? I suspect though that the members of this group aren't in college. They are, rather, in what I call colledge, the vast simulacrum of education that amounts to little more than buying a degree on the installment plan.

If I sound cranky, it's because the so-called War on Sobriety (front-page news in a college newspaper) serves to cheapen the degree of any student who's really in college.

(Odyssey passages are from Stanley Lombardo's translation.)

comments: 3

Anonymous said...

Good entry.

I'm hoping to attend a youniversity

Diana said...

This is one of my favorite entries; I reread it every time it pops up as a "related post." I just wish that I could have read something like this in my "colledge" days. I didn't take my studies as seriously as I did my social life but I remember always feeling vaguely haunted and as if I were missing something. I was missing the whole point.

Michael Leddy said...

Now that would make a good post, Diana. : )

I was a pretty studious kid, but I realize now that there are all sorts of lost opportunities back there too, matters of what was my utter cluelessness. "We had the experience but missed the meaning," as T.S. Eliot says.