Delight Springs

Monday, July 27, 2015

Full of life

Great time at the ballpark last night with my young friend from New Orleans who, attending only his second professional baseball game ever, was delighted to find that my home team was playing his. The Zephyrs from NOLA beat Nashville 9-7, and he tolerated my complaints about our relatively mild humidity. Down on the bayou the air's thick as water, he says. We have no idea. Like William Carlos Williams' crowd at the ballgame, the spectatorial spirit of uselessness delighted us too. David Hume ("be a philosopher but... be still a man") would have approved.

And to our Humean friend who could or would not join us, whose blanket hostility to spectator sports I find so confounding, a note from the late Renaissance scholar and baseball commissioner:
“The gods have fled, I know. My sense is the gods have always been essentially absent. I do not believe human beings have played games or sports from the beginning merely to summon or to please or to appease the gods. If anthropologists and historians believe that, it is because they believe whatever they have been able to recover about what humankind told the gods humankind was doing. I believe we have played games, and watched games, to imitate the gods, to become godlike in our worship of each other and, through those moments of transmutation, to know for an instant what the gods know.”
A. Bartlett Giamatti, Take Time for Paradise: Americans and Their Games
In other words, joining the crowd at the ballgame doesn't make you a sellout or a bad atheist. It just means you're doing your part to naturalize paradise, to bring heaven out of the clouds and down to earth, to the delightfully distracted space that Giamatti elsewhere called the "green fields of the mind"-where it always belonged in the first place.

It's the birthday of a woman to whom I feel a real debt of gratitude, Elizabeth Hardwick (1916). She co-founded the New York Review of Books, dedicated to spotlighting "the unusual, the difficult, the lengthy, the intransigent, and, above all, the interesting." I like the NYRB, but what I most thank Ms. Hardwick for is her earlier (1961) edition of The Selected Letters of William James. I first came across it as an undergraduate, rediscovered it in grad school, was charmed by the irrepressible humanity of its subject, and began a lifelong fascination with the philosopher who was capable even as a very young man of writing letters like this one to a despondent friend:
To Thomas W. Ward.
BERLIN, Jan. —, 1868.

...It made me feel quite sad to hear you talk about the inward deadness and listlessness into which you had again fallen in New York. Bate not a jot of heart nor hope, but steer right onward. Take for granted that you've got a temperament from which you must make up your mind to expect twenty times as much anguish as other people need to get along with. Regard it as something as external to you as possible, like the curl of your hair. Remember when old December's darkness is everywhere about you, that the world is really in every minutest point as full of life as in the most joyous morning you ever lived through; that the sun is whanging down, and the waves dancing, and the gulls skimming down at the mouth of the Amazon, for instance, as freshly as in the first morning of creation; and the hour is just as fit as any hour that ever was for a new gospel of cheer to be preached. I am sure that one can, by merely thinking of these matters of fact, limit the power of one's evil moods over one's way of looking at the Kosmos.
That was the tip of an iceberg I'm so happy I ran into. Thank you, Elizabeth Hardwick.

[The real me, idolatry of the Whole, my tedious book...]
6:50/5:51, 75/97

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