“It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look – I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring – caring deeply and passionately, really caring – which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naïveté – the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball – seems a small price to pay for such a gift.”Roger Angell
Years ago my mother and I saw Swan Lake, our first ballet, at the Liverpool Empire theatre. I loved Tchaikovsky’s score and the skill of the dancers although by the final act of the show my arse fell asleep and I began to wish the dancing would just end. Call me uncultured. But, that said, I never forgot the grace of the dancers.
In “Roger Federer as Religious Experience”, his piece for The New York Times on the 2006 Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal, the late David Foster Wallace wrote:
“Beauty is the not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war.
The human beauty we’re talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.”
I remember, about six or seven years ago, I was invited to a wedding reception and I watched with awe while a friend of the bride, a young gay man, vogued on the dance floor to Madonna. To the best of my memory he was the only man that night who seemed comfortable in his own skin. In time other men and women joined him but their uncoordinated, drunken shuffling, the kind you see at every wedding reception, was poor by comparison.
Kinetic beauty. It’s something to behold.
… of all team sports, baseball, with its graceful intermittences of action, its immense and tranquil field sparsely settled with poised men in white, its dispassionate mathematics, seems to me best suited to accommodate, and be ornamented by, a loner.John Updike, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu“
I love this sentence. I love the sound of it and how Updike uses punctuation to balance what would otherwise be a cluttered and breathless sentence. Notice the repetitive s sound. In phonetics, the study of how we make the sounds of speech, this s sound is called a hissing sibilant and here it’s part of a larger literary technique called consonance, the repetition of consonants between words. (Notice also the assonance between baseball and graceful.) We’ll never know for sure how conscious Updike was of these techniques but I’d wager at that point in his career he had a feel for their use and it wasn’t necessary to be conscious of them.
Though I avoid adjectives on the advice of many writers because they’re often used to disguise bad nouns, I think Updike chooses wisely here. I’ve never seen a game of baseball but I imagine, unlike football (or soccer in the states) where the action is constant from start to end, baseball includes many pauses which Updike eloquently describes as “graceful intermittences of action”.
I’ve never been to America but, if I ever do, I think I’ll see a game, and maybe get a vegan hot dog.