Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2010: Sports & Games, Pt. I of III

[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review, Sports]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]
[Some of LQ’s contents are available free.]
[L.Q. cover, art, and banner are all from L.Q. Summer  2010: Sports & Games.]

A review.

L.Q. Spring 2010: Sports and Games
L.Q. Summer 2010: Sports and Games

Consider if you will (thank you Rod Serling.)  It is Summer of the year 2010.  Barack Obama has been president for over a year.  The 9/11 event is eight and one-half years past and George W. Bush’s responsive invasion of Iraq et al has reached disastrous proportions. Even considering the preparation time before any issue of Lapham’s Quarterly I am amazed that this issue’s Preamble: Field of Dreams by editor/founder Lewis Lapham does not mention a single modern-day U.S. President.  I must check and see if I missed something.

G.W. Bush is Mr. Lapham’s favorite whipping boy and he (Bush) is thoroughly skewered in the L.Q. Preambles more often than not as responsible for all our current ills.  Perhaps this is a kinder gentler issue, a reprieve, a breath of fresh air.  Boys of summer (baseball), ‘are you ready for some football’, healthy athletic competition.  We shall see.

Lewis does rail against ‘the media’ and corporate sports.  Who can argue?  Both are ever-growing monstrous megaliths who seem to serve us by us serving them.  To Serve Man. (Thanks again Mr. Serling and Damon Knight.)  Our collective goose is cooked.

Corporate facts and figures, large in 2010 terms and no doubt hugely greater as I write six years later, are presented as evidence.  The NFL is a money machine.  The Federal Reserve pales in comparison IMO.  In recent years I’ve attended one or two NFL games per season and it is a phenomena to behold.  ‘Gladiatorial’ is putting it mildly. Romans and gladiators alike would seethe with envy.  Eric Hoffer and Elias Canetti would have a field day observing.  Perhaps they did to some extent.  When I go to a game I see an awful lot of people emotionally invested to the core of their being.  Unleash the hounds! Release the Kraken!  Definitely stay out of the way because win or lose the energy release is nearly palpable.

Blue Nude Skipping Rope by Henri Matisse, 1952 (p. 12)
Blue Nude Skipping Rope by Henri Matisse, 1952 (p. 12)

(But the Preamble, John.  You’re wandering.)

RE: ‘Big Sports’ Lewis says: “During the second half of the twentieth century, in conjunction with the rising of an American world empire and the expansionist policies of network television, the manufacture and sale of sports events has blossomed into the gargantuan enterprise serving the nation as both fountain of youth and river of gold.” (p. 16)  True, everything is bigger these days.  Was that even avoidable?  Is it unfair, greedy?

“…an American team in good working order affirms the doctrine of egalitarianism, erases the distinction between race and class [at least now that segregation went away, and before Tom Brady and Alex Rodriguez made monstrous salaries–JH], rehabilitates the principle of justice under law.” (p. 17)

“On the far side of the left-field wall, wars bleed and children starve; men cheat, women rot, banks foreclose, politicians lie.  Inside the park the world is as it was in the beginning, as green as the grass of childhood, as bright as the sky at noon…” (p. 17)

Sports and games as an escape.  How many of us are concerned with the disasters across the globe while we’re ‘at the game’?

Surfer at the Banzai Pipeline, Oahu, Hawaii, 2000. Photo by Ed Freeman. (Detail, p. 43)
Surfer at the Banzai Pipeline, Oahu, Hawaii, 2000. Photo by Ed Freeman. (Detail, p. 43)

“Tickets to the game now come at a price that most people can’t afford.” … “The steadily rising costs of the production values (Alex Rodriguez paid $33 million for the season, $2.8 million for a thirty-second commercial in attendance at the Super Bowl) [this in 2010, six long years ago–JH], speak to the steadily mounting fear of imminent defeat–if not for the New York Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys, then for the home-team American promise of a democratic republic, which for the last forty years, has been on a losing streak.” (p. 19)

Ah, another dig at our pathetic condition.  That’s the Lewis Lapham I’ve come to know. Forty years back from 2010 puts us at the Nixon administration through Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and a smidgeon of Obama.  I blame them all.  Don’t get me started on how complaints about income inequality and one-percenters never seem to include sports figures or movie stars.  Hmm.

One theme Mr. Lapham refers to that I’m curious about is that of “…Johan Huizinga, in Homo Ludens [Man the Player–JH], his study of history that discovers “in the primeval soil of play” the origin of “the great instinctive forces of civilized life,” of myth and ritual, law and order, poetry and science.” (p. 14)  Perhaps this issue will tell us of the contribution play has made to the structure of civilization.

Surely this issue will be kinder/gentler than L.Q. on Disaster, Death, and Crimes and Punishments, the last being the most chilling IMO.

The Preamble is available free online.

Ball Players by George Catlin, c. 1841 (p. 67)
Ball Players by George Catlin, c. 1841 (p. 67)

Another aspect of every LQ issue that particularly intrigues me are the side quotes scattered throughout the main sections.  They are often poignant and piquant.  Some examples:

“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game–and do it by watching first some high school or small-town teams. –Jacques Barzun, 1954 (p. 46)

Barzun, a transplanted Frenchman who became a devoted Americanophile, apparently was quite the historian and philosopher of education.  He led me on my first forays into Wikipedia for this issue.

Mark Twain, on the other hand, always had a comment on a variety of topics:

“There are few things that are so unpardonably neglected in our country as poker.  The upper class knows very little about it.  It is enough to make one ashamed of one’s species.” –Mark Twain, 1877 (p. 42)

The Football Players, by Henri Rousseau, 1908 (IFC, inside front cover)
The Football Players, by Henri Rousseau, 1908 (IFC, inside front cover)

Not everyone is supportive of sport:

“Wild animals never kill for sport.  Man is the only one to whom the torture and death of his fellow creatures is amusing in itself.”  –James A. Froude, 1886 (p. 22)

He obviously didn’t see the YouTube video of Orca whales tossing seals around.  This Greek philosopher wasn’t a fan of sport either:

“These useless men ought to be cut up and served at a banquet.  I really believe that athletes have less intelligence than swine.” –Dion Chrysotom, c. 95 (p. 23)

“Chess is a foolish expedient for making idle people believe they are doing something very clever when they are only wasting their time.” –George Bernard Shaw, 1905 (p. 65)

“Golf is a day spent in a round of strenuous idleness.” –William Wordsworth, c. 1810 (p. 77)

Royal and Ancient (St. Andrews 1798) by Robert Paton 1894 (p. 70)
Royal and Ancient (St. Andrews 1798) by Robert Paton 1894 (p. 70)

SOME-one must like sport!

“It’s just a job.  Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand.  I beat people up.” –Muhammad Ali, 1977 (p. 140)

Whose side are they on?  There are 65+ side quotes in this issue.  Most seem to have some negative connotation.

For those of you who have experienced (enjoyed?) the frustration of any sport or game I leave you with this:

“Play, wherein persons of condition, especially ladies, waste so much of their time, is a plain instance to me that men cannot be perfectly idle; they must be doing something, for how else could they sit so many hours toiling at that which generally gives more vexation than delight to people whilst they are are actually engaged in it?” –John Locke, 1693 (p. 111) (Locke has TWO side quotes in this issue.)

To be continued.



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