Friday, 22 June 2007

For the Few Béisbol Fans Here (Edited because it was supposed to be a draft, as you can tell, what with it not making much sense.) I try to avoid writing about my unintellectual passions here. They're mine, and passionate, but they're not why you read me. That said, since uniquely engaging prose stylings falls well within my ken of expertise, I feel justified in making the following recommendation: If you're at all interested in béisbol, read Joe Posnanski's blog. This recommendation falls into the same category as the one I'd offer in defense of A.J. Liebling's A Neutral Corner: the man can write. He can create and sustain interest in subjects you might not otherwise care about. This is the defining characteristic of literary journalism: orchids weren't my thing before Orlean, and although I had fond thoughts of my undergraduate work in geology, I never yearned to return to before McPhee. Posnanski possesses the same talent: read his column on Bo Jackson and tell me that you, béisbol fans, don't flash back. Non-béisbol fans, read it and tell me that some part of you doesn't want to know what it is us fans flash back to. Writing with impassioned humility, Posnanski's able to riff like this: Hal, in case you don’t know, was a fabulous long-time sportswriter in Cleveland–he co-wrote a book with Satchel Paige, to give you an idea–but he was probably best known for that Sporting News column where he would try to clear up absurd rules questions from readers. Dear Hal: My buddy and I were arguing. Let’s say a player had really, really long legs–or even that he had the sort of superpowers that would allow him to stretch his arms like rubber–and he could touch first base and second base at the same time. Would he be out if you tagged him at that precise moment that he was touching both bags? Is there a rule against touching two bases at once? My buddy says yes, but I think he would be safe. What do you say? Signed: Confused. And then Hal, would respond in some gentlemanly fashion: Dear Confused: Shut up. My favorite Hal-Lebovitz-type column, though, used to run in the Lake County News Herald in the 1990s. I’ve talked about this before, but I never get tired of it … by that time Hal was pretty old and his mind tended to drift a bit–so his columns mostly read like Larry King mocks. But even at that age, Hal had amazing sources, so in the middle of the most ridiculous sections you would have these enormous breaking news stories and remarkable bits of fortune telling. In 1993, the Hal column would read something like this: My wife was in the backyard planting petunias and I told her that I think the petunia has to be the prettiest flower. She responded that she always preferred the violet. And I have to admit that violets are nice too … Whatever happened to Joe Lis? He always seemed like a very...
Thought-in-Process: Wharton's "The Descent of Man," Part II (Previous installments: Part I ) Many works of pseudo-scientific synthesis were popular. As Linyard thinks to himself: "Every one now read scientific books and expressed an opinion on them ... the inaccessible goddess whom the Professor had served in his youth now offered her charm to the market-place" (314). And yet, he counters, "it was not the same goddess after all, but a pseudo-science masquerading in the garb of the real divinity." Wharton undercuts Linyard here: science is the goddess most worthy of worship transforms science into a religion, at least in the mind of Linyard. His perspective on scientific inquiry is skewed, which may be why his idea is mistaken for the very pseudo-science it mocks; namely, works in which "ancient dogma and modern discovery were depicted in a close embrace under the lime-lights of a hazy transcendentalism" (315). As to his idea, the divine, incomparable idea was simply that he should avenge his goddess by satirizing her false interpreters. He would write a skit on the "popular" scientific book; he would so heap platitude on platitude, fallacy on fallacy, false analogy on false analogy, so use his superior knowledge to abound in the sense of the ignorant, that even the gross crowd would join in the laugh against its augurs. And the laugh should be something more than the distension of mental muscles; it should be the trumpet-blast bringing down the walls of ignorance, or at least the little stone striking the giant between the eyes. (315) Wharton may be suggesting that his ability to pull this off is marred by the pseudo-scientific quality of his "superior knowledge." At this time, the disciplines had yet to coalesce into the neat units interdisciplinarians now smash: biology, psychology, sociology, literature, philosophy, botany, you name a department and William James taught the exact same course on Herbert Spencer in it. When Linyard pitches his manuscript to an old college friend in publishing, Harviss initially considers even reading the manuscript a favor. When he reads it and mistakenly believes Linyard to "have come round a little—have fallen in line" (316), he immediately orders the publication of The Vital Thing. Linyard returns a fortnight later, and upon learning that it will be published as the very thing it mocks, he laughs himself into a whirl, recovers, then "succomb[s] to a fresh access, from the vortex of which he managed to fling out" (317). Once Harviss recovers from his flushes of embarrassment, he proposes that Linyard not "insist on an ironical interpretation [addressed] to a very small class of readers," that "if you'll let me handle this book as a genuine thing I'll guarantee to make it go" (317). Linyard accedes, charmed by "the enlarged circumference of the joke" (317). Here, then, is another possible gloss on the title: it could document the descent of Linyard, as he puts aside his scientific qualms for monetary gains. Harviss offers him a $1,000 advance, no small reward for setting aside his scruples. That he begins to...

Become a Fan

Recent Comments