February 16, 2011

John Keats And David Ortiz

We finally watched Ken Burns's "Tenth Inning" this week, and I copied down three quotes.

The episode was quite good. I thought it did an admirable job (overall) with the steroid issue. Mike Barnicle, the stand-in as the long-suffering Red Sox fan, was far more enjoyable and poignant than I had expected, based on various comments I had read when the episode first aired last September. I enjoyed listening to Daniel Okrent, Tom Verducci, Marcos Breton, and Thomas Boswell, though at several moments, I expected Boswell to break into a George Plimpton impression. Even George Will showed a deadpan humour and (gak!) charm.

On the other hand, some of Howard Bryant's comments on steroids were cringingly ignorant, actually embarrassing coming from a well-established writer who has written a book on the subject. I might have agreed with some of Bob Costas's comments, but I am not sure, as his words were hard to hear over his raging pomposity. And I don't remember what the exact comment was that turned me against Gary Hoenig, but he got more annoying as the show went on.

I sat silently fuming (seriously fucking fuming) through one section of the film, re-shocked that such monstrous stupidity could exist in the world, and closed my eyes for roughly 20-30 seconds at one point -- a bit of meditation, perhaps. Then things got really wonderful. (Oh, and Pedro slept with his mom.)

Okay, the quotes.

Okrent, on Barry Bonds hitting his 756th career home run:
There are no asterisks. There is no asterisk next to the name of the Cincinnati Reds, who won the 1919 World Series that was thrown. It doesn't say "They didn't deserve to win", then an asterisk [mimes an asterisk indicating a footnote] "They should have lost." The asterisk is whatever exists in the mind of the fan.
Boswell, on Bonds and steroids in general:
The moralist wants to decide what's right and wrong; the artist wants to see things exactly as they are, even if there are so many shades that right and wrong isn't a place that you get to. John Keats wrote in a letter -- he was talking about William Shakespeare -- he said the feature that distinguished Shakespeare the most and made him the greatest of all writers, was what Keats called "negative capability", which he described as the ability to remain in tension, undecided, between opposing poles. And he said that Shakespeare had that negative capability -- the ability to see everything and not jump to one side of the question -- to a greater degree than any other artist. Now we live in a sports age and a baseball age, where nothing is more valuable than negative capability. Because if we are just in a rush, if we can't wait to see Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds or whoever it is, as right or wrong, then we are missing the complexity of these people and the difficulty of the age that they are living in.
In all the reporting of the 2004 post-season, Boswell stood alone. He was to the sports page that month (writing in the Washington Post) as David Ortiz was to the baseball field.

Keats explained the concept in a December 1817, letter to his brother:
... & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason ...
That attitude of accepting uncertainty and the unresolved mysteries around us would have suited Red Sox fans quite well for decades. Beats the hell out of believing in ghosts. It turns out to have likely been a passing thought, however, as the idea of negative capability does not appear in any of Keats's other surviving correspondence.

Doris Kearnes Goodwin, as the 2004 World Series was about to begin:
For the first time in my baseball life, I watched every play of every inning. [She had talked earlier about having to leave the room at extremely tense moments.] I don't think there was a single time when I ran away, closed my eyes, went out of the room. I began to no longer think we were going to lose; I felt brave. The team, I think, had transformed the fans. It was almost as if they believed in themselves so much, and if they could get us through that Yankee series on the brink of disaster in every moment and come back at the last minute -- who were we not to believe in them?
I think it goes deeper than that. The team picked up on the unflagging faith and hard-headedness of the fans -- especially after the horrific end to 2003 -- and did their best to reward that at times unfathomable loyalty. There was a unique and powerful symbiosis between the fans and players for those two weeks. David Ortiz hinted at it, after winning Game 4 with a 12th-inning home run:
After last night's game, I saw a woman on the sidewalk crying. I had to turn that frown upside down.
One more thought about Keats, from this BBC page:
It is this ability to hold onto a beautiful truth despite the fact that it does not fit into an intellectual system that Keats praises in Shakespeare. ... [W]hat matters to Keats are moments of intense feeling that combine "thought" and "emotion" in appreciating beauty. This explains why much of Keats' poetry is devoted to catching, and holding, moments of beauty. ...

In many of Keats' poems this need to hold a perfect instant leads to an excited tone, an almost excessive use of superlatives and an atmosphere of crushing, voluptuous intensity as Keats demonstrates the depth of his appreciation for the beautiful and in the act of appreciation creates poems as exquisite as that which he is admiring. ...

15 comments:

Zenslinger said...

Some beautiful observations, and a great articulation of an elusive concept. As years pass I am less and less angry at Bonds and Clemens, and just look at this whole PED thing as a phenomenon.

Amy said...

Beautiful post, Allan. I love the idea of negative capability. It can carry through to so much of our lives.

(So what was the part that had you fuming?)

FenFan said...

I haven't had the chance to see that episode yet. I did catch some of the original series recently and found it as enjoyable as I remember it being during the initial broadcast.

I might have agreed with some of Bob Costas's comments, but I am not sure, as his words were hard to hear over his raging pomposity.

Yes, he is full of himself, isn't he?

laura k said...

I really enjoyed the film. I thought the steroids issue was handled very well, full of the context it needs to be properly understood, as I would expect from Ken Burns.

I did not like Howard Bryant or that idiot Hoenig, but their perspectives were important to the film.

though at several moments, I expected Boswell to break into a George Plimpton impression. Even George Will showed a deadpan humour and (gak!) charm.

Boswell was totally the ghost of George Plimpton.

George Will is so hard to reconcile. How can anyone be so great about baseball and so awful about everything else? :)

As soon as Doris Kearns Goodwin finished speaking the part that Allan quoted, I said, (after asking Allan to hit pause), that's it, right there, that's your piece on how 2004 changed Sox fans.

laura k said...

(So what was the part that had you fuming?)

Think. You'll get it.

Hint: shortly after that is the part where Allan closed his eyes, so not to see something.

Hint: it's baseball, not commentary.

laura k said...

One interesting bit for me. I found I had pangs of both joy and pain from incidents that would cause everyone here to have quite different reactions - especially the pain where you all would feel joy. (Hint: Red Sox not present during these games.)

I guess it's like running into your ex, and you remember a wonderful time together, and it stirs up old feelings that you didn't realize were still there.

Then, of course, you go home to your partner and remember, this is how it should be.

allan said...

(So what was the part that had you fuming?)

You're kidding, right?

Woti-woti said...

allan said "you're kidding, right?"

Grady? GRADY??

Amy said...

No,I haven't seen it, so no clue at all. :(

Oh, wait, I see Laura's clue. Got it. Something very bad that we all have nightmares of....

Benjamin said...

Schadendickerfreude: the 2011 Yankees are certain to be one of the heaviest teams in baseball history.

Pokerwolf said...

I saw this film awhile ago and just reading Doris Kearnes Goodwin's words gives me goosebumps! I thought that the time spent on Bonds was well done as well.

I'm right there with you on the fuming part. Oy. Also, that description of Costas is *very* apt. Well said! Hahaha!

allan said...

A few people -- Will and Gerald Early, I think -- poked fun at the bizarre suggestion of removing the "tainted" home runs from the record books. I'll give Selig credit for one thing -- he never came up with a proposal that silly.

Also, who the fuck got Selig ready for his interviews? He looked like he woke up with a hangover after only 2 hours of sleep, got roughed up in a wind tunnel, and plunked down in his chair.

FenFan said...

Also, who the fuck got Selig ready for his interviews? He looked like he woke up with a hangover after only 2 hours of sleep, got roughed up in a wind tunnel, and plunked down in his chair.

Allan, has he ever looked good for an interview?

laura k said...

Also, who the fuck got Selig ready for his interviews? He looked like he woke up with a hangover after only 2 hours of sleep, got roughed up in a wind tunnel, and plunked down in his chair.

Imagine what he looks like if no one preps him!

But... don't.

laura k said...

You're kidding, right?

I was going to say this, but I thought I'd be nicer and give a hint instead. :)