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Our issue on human play chronicles the thrills of victory, the agonies of defeat, and the luck that makes all the difference. Among the contributors: Pindar, Vince Lombardi, A.J. Liebling, Annie Dillard, Ovid, Vladimir Nabokov, Andre Agassi, Abul-Fazl, Nick Hornby, George Plimpton, Damon Runyon, Beryl Markham, A.E. Housman.


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Our issue on human play chronicles the thrills of victory, the agonies of defeat, and the luck that makes all the difference. Among the contributors: Pindar, Vince Lombardi, A.J. Liebling, Annie Dillard, Ovid, Vladimir Nabokov, Andre Agassi, Abul-Fazl, Nick Hornby, George Plimpton, Damon Runyon, Beryl Markham, A.E. Housman.

32 review for Lapham's Quarterly: Sports & Games

  1. 4 out of 5

    Johnrh

    Lapham's Quarterly Spring 2010: Sports & Games, Pt. I of III A review. Consider if you will (thank you Rod Serling.)  It is Spring of the year 2010.  Barack Obama has been president for over a year.  The 9/11 event is eight and one-half years past and George W. Bush's responsive invasion of Iraq et al has reached disastrous proportions. Even considering the preparation time before any issue of Lapham's Quarterly I am amazed that this issue's Preamble: Field of Dreams by editor/founder Lewis Lapham Lapham's Quarterly Spring 2010: Sports & Games, Pt. I of III A review. Consider if you will (thank you Rod Serling.)  It is Spring of the year 2010.  Barack Obama has been president for over a year.  The 9/11 event is eight and one-half years past and George W. Bush's responsive invasion of Iraq et al has reached disastrous proportions. Even considering the preparation time before any issue of Lapham's Quarterly I am amazed that this issue's Preamble: Field of Dreams by editor/founder Lewis Lapham does not mention a single modern-day U.S. President.  I must check and see if I missed something. G.W. Bush is Mr. Lapham's favorite whipping boy and he (Bush) is thoroughly skewered in the L.Q. Preambles more often than not as responsible for all our current ills.  Perhaps this is a kinder gentler issue, a reprieve, a breath of fresh air.  Boys of summer (baseball), 'are you ready for some football', healthy athletic competition.  Hmm.  We shall see. Lewis does rail against 'the media' and corporate sports.  Who can argue?  Both are ever-growing monstrous megaliths who seem to serve us by us serving them.  To Serve Man. (Thanks again Mr. Serling and Damon Knight.)  Our collective goose is cooked. Corporate facts and figures, large in 2010 terms and no doubt hugely greater as I write six years later, are presented as evidence.  The NFL is a money machine.  The Federal Reserve pales in comparison IMO.  In recent years I've attended one or two NFL games per season and it is a phenomena to behold.  'Gladiatorial' is putting it mildly. Romans and gladiators alike would seethe with envy.  Eric Hoffer and Elias Canetti would have a field day observing.  Perhaps they did to some extent.  When I go to a game I see a whole lotta' people emotionally invested to the core of their being.  Unleash the hounds! Release the Kraken!  Definitely stay out of the way because win or lose the energy release is nearly palpable. (But the Preamble, John.  You're wandering.) RE: 'Big Sports' Lewis says: "During the second half of the twentieth century, in conjunction with the rising of an American world empire and the expansionist policies of network television, the manufacture and sale of sports events has blossomed into the gargantuan enterprise serving the nation as both fountain of youth and river of gold." (p. 16)  True, everything is bigger these days.  Was that even avoidable?  Is it unfair, greedy? "...an American team in good working order affirms the doctrine of egalitarianism, erases the distinction between race and class [at least now that segregation went away, and before Tom Brady and Alex Rodriguez made monstrous salaries--JH], rehabilitates the principle of justice under law." (p. 17) "On the far side of the left-field wall, wars bleed and children starve; men cheat, women rot, banks foreclose, politicians lie.  Inside the park the world is as it was in the beginning, as green as the grass of childhood, as bright as the sky at noon..." (p. 17) Sports and games as an escape.  How many of us are concerned with the disasters across the globe while we're 'at the game'? "Tickets to the game now come at a price that most people can't afford." ... "The steadily rising costs of the production values (Alex Rodriguez paid $33 million for the season, $2.8 million for a thirty-second commercial in attendance at the Super Bowl) [this in 2010, six long years ago--JH], speak to the steadily mounting fear of imminent defeat--if not for the New York Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys, then for the home-team American promise of a democratic republic, which for the last forty years, has been on a losing streak." (p. 19) Ah, another dig at our pathetic condition.  That's the Lewis Lapham I've come to know. Forty years back from 2010 puts us at the Nixon administration through Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and a smidgeon of Obama.  I blame them all.  Don't get me started on how complaints about income inequality and one-percenters never seem to include sports figures or movie stars.  Hmm. One theme Mr. Lapham refers to that I'm curious about is that of "...Johan Huizinga, in Homo Ludens [Man the Player--JH], his study of history that discovers "in the primeval soil of play" the origin of "the great instinctive forces of civilized life," of myth and ritual, law and order, poetry and science." (p. 14)  Perhaps this issue will tell us of the contribution play has made to the structure of civilization. Surely this issue will be kinder/gentler than L.Q. on Disaster, Death, and Crimes and Punishments, the last being the most chilling IMO. The Preamble is available free online. Another aspect of every LQ issue that particularly intrigues me are the side quotes scattered throughout the main sections.  They are often poignant and piquant.  Some examples: “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game–and do it by watching first some high school or small-town teams. –Jacques Barzun, 1954 (p. 46) Barzun, a transplanted Frenchman who became quite the Americanophile, apparently was quite the historian and philosopher of education.  He led me on my first forays into Wikipedia for this issue. Mark Twain, on the other hand, always had a comment on a variety of topics: “There are few things that are so unpardonably neglected in our country as poker.  The upper class knows very little about it.  It is enough to make one ashamed of one’s species.” –Mark Twain, 1877 (p. 42) Not everyone is supportive of sport: “Wild animals never kill for sport.  Man is the only one to whom the torture and death of his fellow creatures is amusing in itself.”  –James A. Froude, 1886 (p. 22) He obviously didn’t see the YouTube video of Orca whales tossing seals around.  This Greek philosopher wasn’t a fan of sport either: “These useless men ought to be cut up and served at a banquet.  I really believe that athletes have less intelligence than swine.” –Dion Chrysotom, c. 95 (p. 23) “Chess is a foolish expedient for making idle people believe they are doing something very clever when they are only wasting their time.” –George Bernard Shaw, 1905 (p. 65) “Golf is a day spent in a round of strenuous idleness.” –William Wordsworth, c. 1810 (p. 77) HA!  SOME-one must like sport! “It’s just a job.  Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand.  I beat people up.” –Muhammad Ali, 1977 (p. 140) Whose side are they on?  There are 65+ side quotes in this issue.  Most seem to me to have some negative connotation. For those of you who have experienced (enjoyed?) the frustration of any sport or game I leave you with this: “Play, wherein persons of condition, especially ladies, waste so much of their time, is a plain instance to me that men cannot be perfectly idle; they must be doing something, for how else could they sit so many hours toiling at that which generally gives more vexation than delight to people whilst they are are actually engaged in it?” –John Locke, 1693 (p. 111) (Locke has TWO side quotes in this issue.) Habeas Corpus. According to Wikipedia and Merriam-Webster this is Medieval Latin meaning literally “You may have the body” . Also, variously, “may (let) you have the body”. The body to which I here refer are the main sections of Lapham’s Quarterly, always titled Voices in Time. Our voices this issue are divided into: The Player The Game The Fan The Players talk about themselves playing the game. Some of the games referenced in the first section: Baseball Boxing Roulette (Russian!) Billiards Polo Ice Hockey Gladiator Basketball Sumo Origins Courtier (?!) Sportswriter Emperor Gladiator Baseball Fiction Running – miler Steeplechase Cockfight Betting Chess Tricycling Hunting Women’s Baseball Golf Soccer Horse racing Judging from Virgil’s Aeneid boxing hasn’t changed much in over 2000 years. How could it? Lermontov’s piece on Russian Roulette from his fictional novel gets one’s attention: “And if predestination actually exists, why then are we given free will and reason, and why must we account for our actions?” (p. 28) “I offer you to try out on me whether a man may dispose of his life at will or a fateful minute is assigned to each of us in advance … Who is willing?” (p. 28) Introducing unknowns to me like Lermontov is how L.Q. sets me off on lengthy jaunts through Wikipedia. There you will find a fairly lengthy bio on this czarist-era accomplished painter, poet, and novelist who died in a duel at the age of 26. When I was 26 I was still trying to find myself. (I haven’t stopped looking.) Hockey player Eric Nesterenko is insightful on playing. “There’s an irony that one gets paid for playing, that play should bring in money. When you sell play, that makes it hard for pure, recreational play, for play as an art, to exist. It’s corrupted, it’s made harder, perhaps it’s brutalized, but it’s still there.” (p. 34) “The whole object of a pro game is to win. That is what we sell. We sell it to a lot of people who don’t win at all in their regular lives. They involve themselves with their team, a winning team.” Aye, their’s the rub. Living our lives vicariously through celebrities both sport and screen (movie or tv). Roger Bannister’s detailed account of breaking the four-minute mile earned my coveted two-asterisk annotation (**), as did Andre Agassi’s well-written account of a grueling U.S. Open tennis match against Marcos Baghdatis. Agassi’s is the first extract in The Game section and as such is as much Player as Game. Blaise Pascal is noteworthy on Man’s easy diversion with games. Lewis Carroll offers Alice’s thoughts on the odd rules in hedgehog croquet. Lucian, living from c. 125-180A.D. opines on Why Sports? It’s a lot of work for seemingly little return. Ovid waxes poetic: “…a russet glow fanned out evenly over her pale, girlish body, as when a purple awning covers a white-marble surface, staining its artless candor with counterfeit shadow.” (p. 124) The footrace is exciting too! One might find Ovid, Lucien, and Lewis (Carroll) online at Lapham’s nicely done website if one is a good searcher. Satirist H.L. Mencken is disparagingly hilarious c. 1894 in The Fan section: “…I still begrudge the trifling exertion needed to climb in and out of a bathtub and hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense. If I had my way, no man guilty of golf would be eligible to any office of trust or profit under the United States…” (p. 162) ‘Nuff said for our modern U.S. Presidents. Hemingway, Twain, and Steinbeck conclude this excellent section. John is particularly eloquent and humorous: “My feeling about hunting has made me pretty unpopular. I have nothing against the killing of animals if there is any need. I did, can, and always will kill anything I need or want to eat, including relatives. But the killing of large animals just to prove we can does not indicate to me that we are superior to animals but a kind of deep-down feeling that we are not. A room full of stuffed and glass-eyed heads always gives me a feeling of sadness for the man so unsure of himself that he has constantly to prove himself and to keep the evidence for others to see.” (p. 179) “I don’t expect you will believe that I once sent for a mail-order course in alligator wrestling complete with a practice alligator, so I will not tell you this.” (p. 180) I enjoyed the corpus of this issue. It is not as intense as some other issues, but it’s thought-provoking and even entertaining. The Further Remarks section follows the Voices in Time main body. It usually consists of 4-6 complete essays on topics relevant to the theme of the issue. I will let them speak for themselves. The first essay is titled Skate Fever by Jay Griffiths It’s about passion… for skating. The first and last paragraphs summarize well: “I suffer from a seasonal illness that was once very common in Britain but is now rare. It still afflicts the Dutch, though, in the thousands. It strikes me like delirium, when the lakes nearby freeze over and the ice issues an imperative: Carpe diem! Get your skates on! Love, yawns, and suicides, they say, are all infectious. So is play, and skate fever is a highly contagious form. The industrious, beware.” (p. 183) “Of all my friends who skate, the one who knows better than any that life is short and skating days precious is the good doctor who understands that all things rare and lovely must be seized on the instant—that in a lifetime there are so few skating days, and each must be caught with glee.” (p. 188) Short essay The Comeback Kid by Terry McDonell is about orchestrating comebacks for fallen-from-grace-but-still-wealthy sports celebrities. It’s mostly about baseball play Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod). The last paragraph summarizes: “The story of Alex’s comeback was not a tale told by an idiot signifying nothing. The work was done by high-paid professionals, free agents dealing in the commodities of sound and fury. Alex telling his own story to a mirror.” (p. 192) The next essay piqued my interest more than the first two. The Great Game by Caroline Alexander delves into late nineteenth/early twentieth century atheleticism and gamesmanship and its relation to military endeavors. (Not unlike Spartan Greeks one might presume.) “Modern pentathlon is a composite competition, devised in 1912 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, to mirror the prestigious pentathlon centerpiece of the ancient games. The eccentric selection of modern events, however—show jumping, épée fencing, pistol shooting, swimming, and cross-country running—was predicated on the belief, already anachronistic in 1912, that these were the skills a good soldier should possess. In my day [1977], the majority of American male pentathletes, as well as a sprinkling of the inaugural group of women, held rank.” (p. 193) “America’s most conspicuous modern pentathlete was the twenty-six-year-old West Point graduate George Patton, who came in fifth at the event’s premiere in 1912, having performed poorly in the shooting.” (p. 193-194) ” …Teddy Roosevelt, whose devotion to manly sporting activities is too well known to require much amplification. As a young boy suffering from myopia and asthma, “Teedie” heaved himself into a regime of weightlifting, mountain climbing, and boxing, the bloody details of which he reported proudly to his father. Blood was an important aspect of Rooseveltian sport, hence the organization he founded in 1887, the Boone and Crockett Club, whose membership was limited to men who, in his words, “had killed with the rifle in fair chase.” The club’s purpose was “to promote manly sport with the rifle.” The distance between “manly sport with the rifle” and the perceived sport of war was perilously short.” (p. 194) “British and Rooseveltian sporting values were directed toward very different ideals of manhood. As befit the rough-riding frontier ethic, American athleticism was about being stronger, clobbering the competition, blood lust—in Roosevelt’s words, letting “the wolf rise in the heart.” The cult of British athleticism, on the other hand, was about playing games.” (p. 195) “War was sport. Or so it must have seemed at first.” … “Of the 1,200,000 British men who joined the Army in 1914 as volunteers, almost half a million had done so through the influence of popular soccer organizations. “Join and be in at the final,” one recruiting poster advertised, while a rugby poster exhorted men to “Play the Game!” And it was soccer that gave the war one of its most indelible and heartbreakingly pointless images: that of a soldier dribbling a soccer ball toward enemy lines.” … “When the war ended, Britain had far fewer sporting men. Some 885,000 had been killed outright, and another 1,700,000 soldiers grievously maimed and wounded.” … “The association of war with sport is not likely to disappear, given the physicality and competitiveness embedded in the practice of both.” (p. 196-197) Glory, Glory Hallelujah. The Best Of It by Beth Raymer is an insightful and amusing factual account of a young woman stumbling into the bookmaking profession in 2001 Las Vegas. I recommend it for the sheer insanity of sports betting. Wordplay by Simon Maxwell Apter comments on our sports metaphor-ridden language. “Even the most effete and non-sports-minded Washington policy wonk has referred to a certain political candidate as a “dark horse,” asked whether or not to “cut and run” from the Iraqi desert. An abusive, anachronistic husband doesn’t have to play cribbage to “take his wife down a peg,” and a cockamamie idea need not be born in a ballpark to come “straight out of left field.” Because we are always playing, competing, scorekeeping—a game always in progress somewhere, at the arena or onscreen, live-blogged or streamed to an iPhone—the turns of phrase come as confidently and fluently to mind as did the Latin tags and Biblical verses that once furnished the infield chatter of eighteenth-century statesmen and nineteenth-century preachers. We decide elections by means of a race, champion sexual conquests as scores, characterize self-inflicted blunders as fumbles. ” (p. 206-207) Blossom And Fade by John Crowley revisits The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse and is slightly more comprehensible, but only slightly. I should note that the Johan Huizinga paragraph in Conversations (Bacchylides & Johan Huizinga, just before the Crowley essay) earned my extremely rare triple-asterisk annotation. Find it and all the Further Remarks essays FREE online at laphamsquarterly.org if you can. Lest I repeat myself, I repeat: My meager, cut-and-paste, so-called ‘reviews’ of Lapham’s Quarterly can never do it justice. Each issue is only 221 pages including sidebars and beautiful artwork. I feel a good analysis of these fine extracts deserves half that much again. I keep trimming my content but there is still too much chaff, not enough wheat. This is yet another superb issue. I recommend it. Keep reading. (This means YOU.) [The now-standard notes: 1. Since L.Q.’s inception with the Winter 2008 issue its size is always 7″ x 10″ x 1/2-17/32″. It is white-covered with very high quality paper throughout, richly printed reproductions of fine art from time immemorial, exactly 221 pages up to the Sources index at the back. 2. For more details see my previous-posts link or my Goodreads site for earlier reviews of the 25 (31 now?) issues I’ve read so far. I have 3 archive issues remaining to have read them all once.] P.S. Those of you who want to ‘own knowledge’ might consider subscribing and buying back issues while they can still be obtained. May you have many skating days.  

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lance Grabmiller

    I really couldn't care less about sports, but as usual the work here is deep and wide ranging and as interesting as I could have hoped for. Luckily, the subject was very open to the "games" end of the spectrum as well. Unfortunately, it ended on an absolutely stupid, nonsensical and offensive essay which actually had nothing to do with its purported subject (Hesse's The Glass Bead Game). I really couldn't care less about sports, but as usual the work here is deep and wide ranging and as interesting as I could have hoped for. Luckily, the subject was very open to the "games" end of the spectrum as well. Unfortunately, it ended on an absolutely stupid, nonsensical and offensive essay which actually had nothing to do with its purported subject (Hesse's The Glass Bead Game).

  3. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bob Beaird

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ken Mcmillan

  6. 4 out of 5

    Doug Bright

  7. 4 out of 5

    Adam Arnold

  8. 4 out of 5

    Robert

  9. 5 out of 5

    T.S.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Van

  11. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  12. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  14. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

  15. 4 out of 5

    Dwight

  16. 5 out of 5

    Robert Moreno

  17. 4 out of 5

    Simona

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lapham's Quarterly

  19. 4 out of 5

    Becky Schroder

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

  21. 5 out of 5

    Paul Natsuo Kishimoto

  22. 5 out of 5

    cognitive dissident

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jason Manford

  24. 5 out of 5

    Eric Furman

  25. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

  26. 4 out of 5

    Erin

  27. 4 out of 5

    Justin Wolters

  28. 5 out of 5

    Caitlyn

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dan

  30. 4 out of 5

    Damien

  31. 4 out of 5

    Sandra

  32. 4 out of 5

    Terrence Lonergan

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