Thursday, December 10, 2009

Where Amazing Gets Analyzed

"The method, however, cannot be separated from the content. Benjamin's ideal of knowledge did not stop at the reproduction of what already is. He mistrusted all limitations placed on the realm of possible knowledge, the pride of modern philosophy in its illusionless maturity, for in it he sensed a plot to sabotage the claim of happiness, the attempt to strengthen a situation which tolerates only what is more of the interminable same; he sensed the presence of myth itself."
- Theodor Adorno, "A Portrait of Walter Benjamin" taken from Prisms, pg. 239

This gets, only a little bit obliquely, at why the Phoenix Suns are still my number one non-Celtics pick to win the NBA Finals this year, unless, say, Brandon Jennings one-(or two-, or three-)ups 2001 A.I. and single-handedly lures LeBron to Milwaukee1.

I think I ought to take a brief detour here and make explicit something that has been nagging at most No Fours posts so far: sports is not art; however, sports and art are bifurcating expressions of the exact same human impulse. Call it applied aesthetic immanence-- the difference2 is that sports is self-actualized through the formalized praxis of competition, which is basically a fancy way of saying that sports, unlike art and like say, science, is systematic, accountable. Whereas artistic legitimacy is a total fucking philosophical morass, depending on idiosyncratic, culturally mediated combinations of intellectual contemplation and inarticulate, gut-level reactions, sports legitimacy is a product of winning. If you dig deep enough, of course, a certain amount of arbitrariness and contingency are inherent in this formalization; but a) I'm totally willing to forgive this on the basis of all the totally wonderful narrative and tribalistic side-effects thereof3 and b) this has nothing to do with the fact that the aesthetic moment underlying a whole lot of the experience of sports fandom and art is one and the same. Anyway, the reason I feel impelled to bang on about this here is to sort of explain why I think quoting postmodern dialecticians is bully for sports analysis.
1: If he pulls this off, you might want to steer clear of Milwaukee for a while, because that would be some Tetsuo meets Akira shit.

2: This is also why the Burmese sport of Chinlone is so gobsmackingly wonderful conceptually even though it's just glorified hackie-sack. It doesn't synthesize art and sports, it totally dissolves the partitioning, leaving no difference for synthesis to bridge. Or rather, being subject to different cultural mediation, it shows just how semantic the opposition of the two really is.
3: Epiphenomenal swaga!
a: Sorry, guys.

But back to the Germans and the Suns. This is ultimately an attempt to parse my personal NBA fandom, not to rehash the highfalutin' defense of sports as conceptual edifice, and this is where shit gets complicated. Because historically, the ideological reverse (or obverse, depending on your perspective) of the Run-And-Gun Suns here is pretty clearly the Spurs (for "illusionless maturity" read "defense wins championships"), and, as pointed out by 48 Minutes of Hell recently, the current Celtics are in many ways the spiritual heirs of the Tim Duncan Spurs (I'm writing this in a flat with no viable internet connection, so I can't pull relevant quotes). These two impulses, liberated fandom and let's call it captive fandom4, are inescapably contradictory. Which leads us, natch, back to Adorno (this from the parsing of a philosophical disjoint between two French dudes' notions of museums re: art and its vitality, so we're getting a bit more metaphorical here):
"In the litigation implicitly pending between them, neither Proust nor Valéry is right, nor could a middle-of-the-road reconciliation be arranged. The conflict between them points up in a most penetrating way a conflict in the matter itself, and each takes the part of one moment in the truth which lies in the unfolding of contradiction. The fetishism of the object and the subject's infatuation with itself find their correctives in each other. Each position passes over into the other. Valéry becomes aware of the intrinsic being of the work through unremitting self-reflection, and, inversely, Proust's subjectivism looks to art for the ideal, the salvation of the living."
- Theodor Adorno, "Valéry Proust Museum" taken from Prisms, pg. 183

So I guess what I'm saying here is that I think I can have my cake and eat it too. Unless they meet in the Finals, in which case I hope Steve Nash makes some really pretty passes en route to getting lit up for a triple-double average by Rondo.
4: "Captive fandom" is cute, but if someone has a formulation that actually gets at the meaning of hitching your apple wagon to the home team's star, please holler at the comments.

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