Archive for July 10th, 2013

Talking and living

July 10, 2013

This would be a good post to reprise in the early Spring, but now’s when I happen to be grubbing down in the dusty vault. One more from March ’07:

My building at ESU yesterday was host to two noteworthy academic occasions:

1. Our department sponsored an address by a charming visitor from Chicago, who explained at length (and diagrammed) the structure of racial and sexual oppression in America. He used many words to say that black women have it worse than black men and whites generally. His thesis was almost too true to be good, too obvious to profit from theoretical elaboration. The ensuing trans-gender, poly-ethnic Q-&-A discussion was constructive, but on the whole I was reminded of what Richard Ford said (noted in Tuesday’s post) about the futility of exhaustive explanations. The post-talk reception in our department chair’s back yard, though, under a gorgeous moon on a perfect early spring evening with terrific food and drink and uninhibited conversation among good people, was more than worthwhile. I enjoy my friends and colleagues (and, btw, am pleased to report that they will continue to be my colleagues for the foreseeable future).

2. The English department sponsored a conference on Baseball in Literature and Culture. The luncheon speaker was the infamous old Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain, who was villainous when I was 11 years old because he helped defeat my Cards in the ’68 World Series… and villainous later too, accused of racketeering, extortion, conspiracy, theft, money laundering, and mail fraud. He spent six years in prison. But his talk was all baseball. McLain had disturbing things to say about Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin (Martin “killed” Mantle) and Boog Powell (he broke Powell’s hand with a “purpose pitch”) and my hero Bob Gibson (he “hates America” but was a great pitcher).

I attended a session in the afternoon on the incredible old Negro Leagues star Satchel Paige (who was finally given an opportunity to pitch in the major leagues, and pitched well, at age 59). Paige said: “Age is a case of mind over matter, if you don’t mind it don’t matter.” And: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” Well, he was 75 (though his birth certificate apparently cannot be located to confirm this) when felled by emphysema. Smoking is not a good idea if you want to pitch forever, as Satch once proposed to do.

I spoke a few years ago at the Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, saying in part: “I suppose we are all here because we love to talk about baseball. Yet, and perhaps paradoxically, those of us who are most enthusiastic about baseball know that talk about it is ultimately incapable of bearing its own weight… personal enthusiasms run deep, to a place beyond talk and the objectifying intellect.” It was fun to visit the Hall of Fame and meet fellow enthusiasts, but in the end I’m still with Ford: we need to “leave off explaining” and get on with living. “What an awful trade that of professor is,” William James complained at term’s end in 1892, “paid to talk, talk, talk! . . . It would be an awful universe if everything could be converted into words, words, words.” And yet, he came back to teach again in the Fall. As will I.

So, in the name of leaving off explaining and getting on with living: our daughter’s little league season opener is tonight (she’s the only girl on her team of “Diamondbacks”) and I intend to enjoy it, not explain it. Happy Opening Day!

DS 3.31.07

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