Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Blind Bookkeeper (or Why Homer Must Be Blind), Alberto Manguel

Always according to the pseudo-Herodotus, it was the poet's blindness that gave him the name why which we know him today. As a child, the future author of the Odyssey was given the name Melesigenes, after the river Meles; he acquired the name Homer, much later, in Cimmeris, where the wandering poet had proposed to the local senate that, in exchange for bed and board, he might make the town famous with his songs. The senators (in the tradition of most government bodies) refused, arguing that if they set this dangerous precedent, Cimmeris would soon be overrun with blind beggars (homers, in Cimmerian) in search of handouts. To shame them, the poet adopted the name Homer. (p 19)
I recently got a copy of The Blind Bookkeeper (or Why Homer Must Be Blind) (Goose Lane Editions / Frye Festival/Festival Frye / Université De Moncton, 2008) by Alberto Manguel, a bilingual edition of a short essay presented on April 26, 2008 in Moncton, New Brunswich as the Antonine Maillet-Northrop Frye lecture during the Frye Festival's tenth season. How can this man be so knowledgeable, so wise? I want to quote from the entire small essay. Can I do such a thing? I will be absorbing this little book for quite some time, I think.

And on either side, we continue to create our enemies. We require these enemies not only to keep the industry of war going but also to keep our sense of self cocooned. We are fearful of the stories we don’t know, and we are afraid that those who tell them will impose on us their versions of the world and that we'll no longer know who we are. We don’t want to change the plots we know for plots that we may not understand, or that may not move us if we do, or that may move us in mysterious ways. We want the comfort of a familiar face by the bed. We hold to the conviction that our stories are better than anyone else's We distrust foreign tongues and we don’t encourage translation. The balance sheet that the writers of the twentieth century drew up to show the deathly experience of war was meant to be a cautionary one, summed up as "Never Again." It didn’t stick, as daily experience has since proven. All the chronicles, all accounts, factual and fictional, all the symbols and fables woven from the debris left by the slaughter and the destruction somehow failed to build for us a peaceful or even a more humanly acceptable world. If there is a God who reads us, then his patience or indifference is certainly remarkable. (pp 25-6)

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