Sunday, June 17, 2012

Occupy Gaddis, pp 29-51: What Democracy in the Arts is All About

I was in Book Court today when the proprietor, a shaggy and appropriately well, bookish-looking middle-aged guy noticed my Nationals cap, and offered consolation as regards the 14-inning heartbreak of the previous afternoon, during which the Nats were one blown call away from beating the universally-hated (even in Brooklyn!) New York Yankees. In the 8th inning, Tyler Moore scored what should have been--what was, as replay would immediately reveal--the go-ahead run in a close play at the plate. He was called out. Fuck everything.

Philosophical question: how often does it (sports, life, whatever) come down to Just One Thing? The game did not come down to One Thing--The Nats stranded Ryan Zimmerman at 3rd in the bottom of the 13th, and Craig Stammen pitched three perfect innings in extras, just to be pulled in favor of the recently-injured and all-of-a-sudden washed-up Brad Lidge. But the game did come down to Just One Thing--it is not as if the home plate umpire observed the collision at home plate, peered through the temporal mists, considered, for a moment, the Nats' upcoming failures to manufacture runs and manage their pitching staff, and decided to preemptively punish them by deliberately fucking up the game's deciding call. No. This did not happen. What happened was the temporary breakdown of some fairly basic assumptions. Baseball is played with an expectation of a pristine, overriding order. The balls are balls, the strikes are strikes, etc. You cannot manage anything--sports, life, whatever--if chaos governs your assumptions. Things have to work the way you expect them to. The calls have to be right.

The One Thing that screwed my Nationals was the suspension of this higher order. But fuck it, what is this higher order? Isn't it nothing more--or less--than the arbitrary tyranny of rules, and the people and institutions that uphold and impose them? It's late, and I spent almost my entire post-Book Court day traveling to Chicago, so I'm not gonna wade too deep into the actual reading today (a shame cuz it's an important section: little JR, dressed in an ugly sweater and ditching his Tim and Eric-esque glam rock Wagnerian community theatre interpretive dance routine in order to go commit RICO-level wire fraud using a government-owned phone, the devious bastard, makes his first appearance). But order and the imposition of order is a crucial aspect of the book so far, and most of our characters are adults sitting in a room somewhere, using television screens to remotely control invisible groups of mindless, impressionable children. It's sort of creepy! These are petty, mediocre people that demand loyalty oaths and believe in punchcard-based social engineering schemes--in their hands, even high art becomes a kind of dysentery. They are almost fascists, although not really--although, come to think of it, whether they are or not, and whether Gaddis is trying to evoke a sort of Cold War-bred, distinctly American brand of authoritarianism would be a ripe topic for a future post. My little baseball example proves that this arrogant positivism ("arrogant positivists" strikes me as a more accurate description here than "fascists," but hey, where do you draw the line?) can only hide its facile and constructed nature for so long, and I hope that one of the pleasures of this book will be seeing a sixth-grader upend and destroy the systems and assumptions that envelop him. 

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