Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Blind Seer: Tiresias, Mama Odie, Milton, Ursula, Toph, Jenna, and Itako

In class we briefly discuss the paradoxical character of the "blind seer" in Oedipus, specifically Tiresias. Tiresias, who has no sight, in many ways "sees" more than any other character because he has knowledge of Oedipus's crimes and heritage. But the idea of a "blind seer" isn't unique to Oedipus. In fact, it shows up in literature, myth, TV, comics, and even anime.

Y'all may know of a little Disney movie called The Princess and the Frog. Remember Mama Odie? The woman is blind as a bat yet sees the future of Tiana's and Naveen's relationship. She sees their growing feelings for each other and has the insight to push them together. 

But what about the narrator as a "seer" of sorts? Let us revisit our old friend Milton. Milton, who was blind in real life, narrated the epic of Paradise Lost with total knowledge of the inner workings of his characters' minds. He kind of had to in order to "justify the ways of God to men." Earlier, I commented on Alex's post concerning the Oracle at Delphi about the relationship between sight and knowledge in Oedipus. I think that this connection can also be seen (no pun intended) in other works. In Milton, his knowledge is the only sight he has.

In class we also touched on Ursula from One Hundred Years of Solitude as a blind seer. She gradually loses her sight but does not lose her inner perception of the nature of the Buendia family. She sees the vicious cycles in her family and uses her foresight in an attempt to break said cycles. There is also an interesting parallel between Oedipus and One Hundred Years in the role of fate. There is the idea that knowledge is power but no power can overcome fate (which in Oedipus equates to divine will). However, while Ursula attempts to fight fate, the ancient Greeks tended to accept the power of the gods/fate much more easily. 

An interesting spin on the blind seer in pop culture is the character of Toph in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Toph, an earth bender, perceives not only people, events, and emotions more clearly than seeing characters but also detects physical objects and happenings more easily due to her special earth bending abilities. In this sense, she is the least blind character of the Avatar's party. 

Another example from pop culture is Jenna from Pretty Little Liars. Sometimes a seer isn't someone with supernatural abilities but just one who sees things more deeply and closely than those around them. Although she is not omniscient like Milton, a priestess like Mama Odie, or naturally gifted with what equates to a superpower like Toph, Jenna is exceptionally observant and perceptive despite her lack of physical sight. 

Finally, one example from real life. In Japanese culture, there is a certain sect of female shamans known as itako who are blind. Itako can supposedly communicate with the dead and commune with spirits. 

Sorry, I know that was a lot but I just found the various interpretations of the blind seer trope really interesting. If y'all want to know more, I've included a link to the "Blind Seer" page on (a fantastic and hilarious study of archetypes, motifs, and themes across music, literature, real life, television, movies, etc.)

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