Posts Tagged ‘childhood’


January 17, 2010

That’s the countdown to the new baseball season, my great symbolic annual thaw, my “return to life”: it’s about thirty days, give or take, ’til pitchers and catchers start to report to Spring Training. I’m angling to get there myself, possibly with Older Daughter in tow, en route to a philosophy conference in Charlotte, NC. We’ll see.

The countdown has experienced a hiccup, though, with the Mark McGwire rehab story coming out of St. Louis. I experimented with supporting Joe Torre’s Dodgers in the last postseason, if things don’t improve I may have to think about adopting a new team and switching allegiances permanently.

Well, clearly I am “thinking about it.” Actually doing it is probably impossible, given the coercive power of childhood indoctrination. But I’ve never been a Tony LaRussa fan, and his protests of ignorance about McGwire’s steroid abuse remind me of Tricky Dick Nixon. What did he know and when did he know it? And, as Senator Baker also used to ask, if he didn’t know it, why  in the world not? He was the President [manager]!

I’ve been more down on football than usual of late, because of new research showing that it’s even more brutally violent than meets the eye; and I still feel a general antipathy for collegiate athletics, for compromising the academic mission of the university. Baseball has always been my safe harbor as a sports indulgence that seemed at least relatively semi-defensible, compared to the others. But this performance-enhancement scandal continues to vex.

The  submission deadline for this year’s Baseball and Literature conference in March looms (the extended deadline, thankfully). It’ll be good therapy to hammer out a presentation addressing these issues.  The big-name guest speaker this year is going to be Ferguson Jenkins, the old Cub pitcher whose name reminds me instantly of my childhood favorite: Bob Gibson. A question to explore: were those guys really better heroes than the scandal-ridden Steroids Era players, McGwire and Sosa et al? Or were we, are we– meaning we fans of many decades– just naive? And does it matter?  Can we appreciate athletic excellence for its own sake, on the field, without worrying about what kinds of persons (and with what “enhancements”) are wearing the uniforms?

I’m thinking this last question mirrors an issue raised in class the other day: is a philosophy’s worth to be evaluated independently from the character and the biography of the philosopher? Does it matter that Heidegger was a Nazi, that James was prone to depression, that Nietzsche had trouble relating to women?

Of course it does. And it matters that a record-breaking season was juiced. Does it matter enough to make me question my continued interest in the game, or re-consider ancient admirations formed in childhood? Can’t wait to talk to Fergie about that.

***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***

NOTE to A&S students: I’ve posted another little Carl Sagan selection for you to take a look at before Tuesday, and if you want to read ahead for Thursday you can begin with the Center for Inquiry’s “Declaration in Defense of Science and Secularism”  and the Secular Humanists‘ Declaration too. Then, have a look at the Brights‘ site.  Which reminds me to remind you:


November 24, 2009

Time is winding down on our course, and it keeps popping up in our reading selections. Nietzsche, whose “eternal recurrence” thought experiment invites personal reflection on one’s own meaningful relation to past, present, and future, raises the subject this time, and Sartre (remember Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion and their excellent adventure?) chimes in with his claim that since “existence precedes essence and we will to exist at the same time as we fashion our image, that image is valid for all and for the entire epoch in which we find ourselves.” Time is nothing, we are nothing, until we act and choose. But when we do, we create something we can’t run away from. Scary, and– as previously noted (“renunciation“)– not so happy. Recall, too, his distinctively French- intellectual disdain for the distinctively American “myth of happiness” and Americanism generally.  Robert Solomon says Sartre said he never had a real moment of despair in his life. Huh. It was all affected, then. Sounds like “bad faith,” doesn’t it? But “Jean-Paul Sartre is currently dead,” authentically an object without possibilities. So let him be.

We’ve noted the views of at least two Taylors, Richard and James, and of Philip Zimbardo. Is time even real? Well, aging feels real enough. When time passes slowly it feels oppressively real, and when it “flows” it feels unbearably light. “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in,” said Thoreau. Meaning?

Meaning, I suppose, that we experience time as a condition of meaningful, happy-making activity. So it’s as real as happiness, happiness is as real as time, and both are real-as-experienced. We need time to unfold our projects, construct our relationships, and enjoy our lives. When we succeed, we experience them and it together as a subjective unity that closes the loop on each episode of expectation. A closed loop is a moment in time– which may or may not correspond to a conventional moment as measured by our clocks and calendars– that represents fulfillment or (in Dewey‘s language of everyday aesthetic experience, and in Nietzsche’s of self-overcoming, in the clip below) consummation. Enough moments like that will make some of us describe ourselves as happy, whether or not Aristotle would approve.

For Dewey, btw, the thing about time is not that it’s not really  real, but that it’s not just yours and mine: it’s ours. It’s the stream humanity goes a-fishing in. We still have our consummations as individuals, but our largest meanings embrace the “continuous human community.” When we affirm our place in that pan-temporal community, our inescapably-subjective relation to time trades the worst vestiges of misanthropic narcissism for the more sympathetic angels of our nature: social solidarity and species identity. My time then is your time, and our kids’ time, and theirs, and… and aren’t we glad we had this time together?

Does it help, though, to live now and into the always-cresting now of what was the future just a moment ago, to  excise big chunks of the past? Nietzsche (among many others) said happiness requires living in the now. How forgetful must we be, to accomplish that? Must we aspire to the “blissful blindness” of childhood, the animal (“dog-like”) spontaneity of the Cynic, (IEP) or the aphasia of the amnesiac?

“Forgetting is essential to action” and for “the life of everything organic.” That seems right, we accumulate too much informational dross every hour of every day for our finite minds to absorb. We can be “healthful, strong, and fruitful only when bounded by a horizon.”

But then he gives us “eternal recurrence,” the “greatest weight.” The horizon, fixed decisively to the shores of this world, seems suddenly, paradoxically infinite and dizzying. And liberating? “Be calm.”