Sunday, March 10, 2013

Ethics, aesthetics, and sport

Ooh, this is good: Coetzee and Auster on sport. Some good bits:
Coetzee: One starts by envying Federer, one moves from there to admiring him, and one ends up neither envying nor admiring him but exalted at the revelation of what a human being—a being like oneself—can do.
Which, I find, is very much like my response to masterworks of art on which I have spent a lot of time (reflection, analysis), to the point where I have a good idea of what went into their making: I can see how it was done, but I could never have done it myself, it is beyond me; yet it was done by a man (now and again a woman) like me; what an honor to belong to the species that he (occasionally she) exemplifies!
And at that point, I can no longer distinguish the ethical from the aesthetic.…
Coetzee: Winning or losing—who cares? How I judge whether or not I have done well is a private matter, between myself and what I suppose I would call my conscience.
Auster: By trying to win the game you are playing, you forget that you are running and jumping, forget that you are actually getting a healthy dose of exercise. You have lost yourself in what you are doing, and for reasons I don’t fully understand, this seems to bring intense happiness. There are other transcendent human activities, of course—sex being one of them, making art another, experiencing art yet another, but the fact is that the mind sometimes wanders during sex—which is not always transcendent!—making art (think: writing novels) is filled with doubts, pauses, and erasures, and we are not always able to give our full attention to the Shakespeare sonnet we are reading or the Bach oratorio we are listening to. If you are not fully in the game you are playing, however, you are not truly playing it.
I'm not sure how much commentary I can offer that would have the slightest value, but there's a lot to think about here. Connections come to mind with Geoff Dyer on the Olympics, the possible relation between not being fully in the game and language going on holiday (if philosophical problems arise when we take our heads out of the game, so to speak), and Stephen Mulhall on freedom through subjection to law.

And then there's Wittgenstein on rule-following in matters that call for appreciation (is this what unexceptional but high-level professional athletes do?) in contrast with the tremendous (is this what a Federer or a Beckham occasionally produces?). Lots to think about. 

UPDATE: on Facebook I just came across this, which seems relevant: “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see.” - Schopenhauer

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