Saturday, August 25, 2007

Youth 6

"He has not played cricket since he left school, when he decided to renounce it on the grounds that team sports were incompatible with the life of a poet and an intellectual."

Near the end of Youth, Coetzee's "youth" makes this discovery: cricket (his sport of choice as a child) is too much fun to renounce on the grounds that it lacks intellectual seriousness.

Me, I've never been good enough at any sport to have to renounce it on intellectual grounds, but I have always been a sports fan, and being a fan has always given me aesthetic pleasures that both resemble and differ from those provided by art ("It is not beautiful, yet it speaks like beauty, imperiously"). Resemble: the beauties of drama and narrative (and sometimes of comedy) are what make sports work. You have to follow them for a while to really experience this. (One reason I only tangentially follow baseball in Basel is that I have nobody to share the drama with.) Differ from: the beauties of sport are always subject to one significant determining factor that is lacking in art: in sports, the goal is always the same. Roger Federer and J. M. Coetzee may both abide by the rule "just do it", but in Roger's case, the "it" is defined in advance; in Coetzee's, it is not.

Recently I have had two striking experiences playing sports. Since last year, my son Miles has gone crazy for soccer (I have to write "soccer" for Americans reading this!), so I have played lots of soccer with him. But that was not striking. It was playing a bit of basketball with him earlier this year, and then in the past few days ping pong, that was striking: those are sports I grew up playing, and though I make no claims to being especially good at either (my basketball skills are especially rusty), when I play them, it feels natural in a way that soccer does not (which I only played regularly for a year as a child, when my family lived in Leamington Spa in England when I was nine).

Coetzee: "Does there not also exist a poetry of ecstasy, even a poetry of lunchtime cricket as a form of ecstasy?"

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