December 6, 2014

"When colleges pick the one book that every new student should read... they tend to choose something of the recent-social-ills variety...."

"But colleges should consider the value in The Bacchae, something much older and, in its way, much more uncomfortable. Euripides’ play still matters after some 2,500 years because it is the product of a culture and a poet who were far better than we are at imagining themselves into a time when drunkenness was new. There’s a refusal in this play to take intoxication for granted. There is an insistence, instead, on seeing it as literally awesome — wonderful and frightening — in a way that seems to join our own adolescence and the far-off adolescence of our culture....  Of all the kinds of authority that Dionysus has deranged, it’s control over women that most dominates the young king’s mind. Again and again, in his increasingly feverish sobriety, he imagines how 'they fill great bowls of wine, then they creep into the bushes and lie down for lusting men.' 'I can see them now, in the bushes,'  [the king] tells Dionysus, 'little birds, trapped in the toils of love.' He is captivated and repulsed by alcohol, women, and sex... Dionysus promises to dress him up as a woman and smuggle him into their midst...."

From "How to Be Intoxicated," by Rob Goodman.


MadisonMan said...

My Son had to do the groupread (GroupThink) thing as a freshman. Of course he didn't read it. But he can discuss just about anything.

My assumption is that Colleges have this silly GroupRead thing because an Administrator someplace read the results from (or actually did) a lame Ed Psych or Education dissertation that used bad statistics to "prove" that the "community-building" that emerged out a GroupThinkGroupRead enhanced Learner Success.

MadisonMan said...

And let me add: Why would they add The Bacchae when Rob Goodman has just produced the Cliff Notes version of the story. No need to read.

Indeed, I think a time-aware incoming student will just scour the internet for commentary on the book they are supposed to read. Isn't that what all students do these days?

Ann Althouse said...

When I went to college in 1969, the book they had us all read was "Cat's Cradle."

Freeman Hunt said...

We didn't have a GroupRead. We had a GroupClass called something like "Foundations of Western Civilization." All the freshman had to take it. The college published its own textbook for the course. It was good.

Skeptical Voter said...

Well the Bacchae sounds like some recent fraternity parties.

Freeman Hunt said...

Looked it up, and it was called "Western Intellectual Traditions."

Tank said...

Tank's daughter number 1 went to Fordham. They asked the kids to read a certain book (can't remember it) for orientation. Mrs. Tank gave up at page 50. Tank gave up at page 100. Unreadable book.

Later learned that daughter number 1 did not bother to try, and, in fact, mostly just the parents tried to read it.

I would have enjoyed re-reading Cat's Cradle.

I admit she got a pretty good education at history and drinking at Fordham.

chuck said...

In today's environment, The Bacchae would be an inspired choice.

rhhardin said...

DeQuincy's Confessions of an English Opium Eater was nice, if they're looking for one.

Just for prose style.

MadisonMan said...

If I had to read anything as an incoming Freshman, I've forgotten about it. Maybe Earth and Mineral Science students weren't required to do so. Or maybe it wasn't required college-wide. That was 35 years ago (sigh).

pst314 said...

"they tend to choose something of the recent-social-ills variety...."

Fashionable crap. Ten years this becomes so obvious that even a few of the professors notice.

FleetUSA said...

Yes, The Bacchae would be good, but Atlas Shrugged might be good too to help them understand they will be responsible for making their own way in the world as they have left home.

PB said...

It's not about education, it's about indoctrination.

Laslo Spatula said...

The Starbucks Barista Handbook will prepare them for life after college.

I am Laslo.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm especially interested in the focus on deep thinking about intoxication.

tim maguire said...

Smoking, Drinking, and Screwing: Great Writers on Good Times. There's your quality freshman reading.

JSD said...

I remember various lists of suggested reading back in the 70’s:
Old – Moby Dick, Crime and Punishment, Huck Finn,
Modern - Catcher in the Rye, Cuckoos’ Nest, On the Road, Cat’s Cradle, A Separate Peace
Other – Zen & Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Electric Kool-Aid, One-Hundred Years Solitude

They were all pretty good. I’ve been told that young people no longer read because you can access a summary of any book on the web.

Anonymous said...

I prefer Bukowski's view, found in "Women" - “I was drawn to all the wrong things: I liked to drink, I was lazy, I didn't have a god, politics, ideas, ideals. I was settled into nothingness; a kind of non-being, and I accepted it. I didn't make for an interesting person. I didn't want to be interesting, it was too hard. What I really wanted was only a soft, hazy space to live in, and to be left alone. On the other hand, when I got drunk I screamed, went crazy, got all out of hand. One kind of behavior didn't fit the other. I didn't care."

For the more high-minded, there's the beginning of Bertrand Russell's 'History of Western Philosophy' which focuses on the Bacchic - "In intoxication, physical or spiritual, he recovers an intensity of feeling which prudence had destroyed; he finds the world full of delight and beauty, and his imagination is suddenly liberated from the prison of every-day preoccupations. The Bacchic ritual produced what was called “enthusiasm,” which means … having the god enter into the worshiper, who believed that he became one with the god … without the Bacchic element, life would be uninteresting; with it, it is dangerous. Prudence versus passion is a conflict that runs through history. It is not a conflict in which we ought to side wholly with either party."

Michael said...

I thought it had to be something by Alice Walker or Maya Angelou. It has been pretty much every year of my youngest' high school. He has been thoroughly dunked in that crap for sure.

Colleges in my day had not yet become wings of the Democrat Party. we read nothing modern until the second semester and then the Victorians were barely old school.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

"Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker", said Ogden Nash.

And that's about the pithiest truth ever spoken on the subject.

Laslo Spatula said...

"I'm especially interested in the focus on deep thinking about intoxication."

If that is the case, let me quote from memory some Jim Morrison:

"The derangement of feeling
from the intoxicating well of knowledge
I can feel all of the Universe existing
in my left little toe
Wiggle wiggle little toe
I am the Tiger Toad
on Tiger Road
flicker flicker
wet long tongue
chasing the elusive fly of Inspiration
all those little fly eyes
the Fly is pretty strange
Can you picture just being a fly, man?
Fly Man Man Fly
just doing its thing
Hey man don't swat at it
I am communing with him
as he sits on the precipice
of my beer can."

I think I got that right.

I am Laslo.

Bruce Hayden said...

When I started college, the year before Ann, something the entire entering class all read was The Moynihan Report. Didn't realize until decades later how radicalizing that was. Unfortunately for all those left wing profs who thought that it was such a good idea, it has pushed some of us to the conservative/libertarian side.

Mattman26 said...

That's a fascinating little essay. Made me think about picking up the book, though -- oh look, a squirrel!

Ron said...

Can I put in my vote for The Epigrams of Martial?

The 1st Century Onion....

Christy said...

Walden II by B.F. Skinner, which I despised and which convinced me, as opposed to the intent, that creativity and progress (as I defined it in 1970) came from conflict. I became horrified by the very idea of the lamb lying down with the lion, seeing it as the end of man.

Guess it had an impact.

Velasquez's The Feast of Bacchus is a favorite of mine.

traditionalguy said...

I'll drink to that.

William said...

I read somewhere that the most assigned book given to high school readers was that Howard Zinn book about American history. Zinn's heirs must be very wealthy. I wonder if they're decadent and idle and have taken to drugs and increasingly weird forms of sex to stimulate their jaded libidos. That would be really ironic.

William said...

During the Dionysian rites didn't they tear apart a lamb and eat its raw flesh. I'm no PETA fanatic, but that seems wrong. I haven't read the Bacchae, but it does seem that Euripides has glided over some of the more unseemly features of Dionysian excesses.

traditionalguy said...

They are Greek fraternities after all.

chuck said...

Euripides has glided over some of the more unseemly features

Not really.

"Led by Agave, his mother, they forced the trapped Pentheus down from the tree top, ripped off his limbs, his head, and tore his body into pieces."

traditionalguy said...

The tradition of heavy drinking in the US Navy and Its Marine Corps goes deep.

Admiral Ernie King who directed victory in WWII in the Pacific was a believer that you could not trust an officer who was not a heavy drinker.

King' s favorite drink was a champagne and brandy mixture. I'll try one or more tonight and report back, unless I don't remember much.

tim in vermont said...

Cat's Cradle. Oh my. I read so much Vonnegut, and I always thought he was writing ironically. When I found out that he was serious, that he really meant "The Sirens of Titan" for example, the way it was written, as serious commentary, I couldn't read him anymore. But I am glad for the ideas that he put in my head, even if they were my own take on what he was writing, rather than the intention of his stories.

tim in vermont said...

Oh yeah, and my brother the commie who lives in the Berkshires, Titus, gave me Walden to read, and it ended up making me more libertarian and conservative. I am sure that was not his intention, but I don't think he understood the book.

Dr Weevil said...

Not a lamb. It was a live bull that the Bacchants/Maenads would supposedly tear apart and eat raw.

A story I read somewhere, as best I remember it:

Jane Ellen Harrison, one of the first great anthropologists, used to teach this as if it were fact. Bertrand Russell (a rich man) asked her to prove that a group of women could kill a live bull with their bare hands, and offered to provide the bull if she would bring over however many undergraduate women she cared to bring to kill it. (Eating it raw was not part of the deal.) She never took him up on his kind offer.