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Thursday, October 2, 2003

Sport as ritual.

In "The Saving Grace of Sport," John Savant writes:

It is precisely because of its relative inconsequence that sport allows us such freedom of emotional commitment: should the home team lose, “it’s a shame” (as the song goes)—but the buses still run, the bills get paid, water leaks are repaired, children will phone home at roughly the same anxious intervals, and the body is more or less what it was before. Vicariously, we have risked, we have dared, we have struggled, we have won and lost. Imaginatively, we are authenticated: warriors, generals, strategists, acrobats, contenders, victorious (even fallen) heroes. That master of paradox, Chesterton, might have called this exercise an inconsequence of consequence.

The essay provides an especially helpful account of what ritual is, and how "sport" is like dramatic tragedy and religious ritual.

[S]port, unlike tragedy, belongs more to the realm of amusement than artistic or religious ritual. The latter is marked by ambiguity, paradox, and irony—necessarily so, because life itself is replete with such qualities at every turn. We live to die; power is both necessary and corrosive; knowledge is both alluring and perilous; true love approaches fulfillment in loss of self; wisdom seems inseparable from suffering; the spiritual beckons even as the flesh demands; success is often the beginning of the fall; and so on. While it is true that, at the level of action—that is, of melodrama—sport evokes some of these themes, great art, drama, and literature plunge us morally and intellectually into their murkiest and most disturbing depths.

As for the ritual of sport:

The formalism of Greek tragedy—its masks, its costumes, its act and scene divisions, its choral commentary, its elevated language—emerged out of religious ritual as conventions setting the tragic “action” both apart from ordinary reality and interpretive of it. Sport is similarly formal. The uniforms and equipment (sometimes even jersey numbers) signify distinctive functions; the playing boundaries, time or period segments, pregame ceremonies; the emergence and adulation of heroes, the distinctive jargon; and, especially, the intensive, focused, and goal-driven “action” with its elements of chance, surprise, excellence of execution, suspense, and resolution: all these conspire to become ritual, to set the game and its players apart from ordinary life even as they somehow satisfy one of its needs.

("The Saving Grace of Sport," John Savant, Commonweal 9.26.03; see also "America and the Church of Baseball," Chris T. Hall, San Francisco Chronicle 9.29.03; thanks, Holy Weblog!)

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 2 October 2003 at 9:38 PM

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