Monday, March 27, 2006

The Heroic and the Sublime

It's interesting to watch your children grow up. They are you, of course, but only so much. The rest is in play, and infinitely changeable and interesting. People often live vicariously through their children, it is said, but I think that's really less prevalent than conventional wisdom allows for. They are an extension of you, perhaps, at least for a time, but the world is not often a little fishbowl, it is a whole ocean, and your little kivvers are going into it sooner or later on their own. All you can do is teach them to wiggle their fins as best you can and then wonder where they might go. The idea that you could micromanage them for your own benefit or amusement seems comparable to flying a kite in a whirlwind. To build the kite sturdy enough, it would no longer fly. People still try occasionally to yoke their children to their own ambitions, but it's generally a fool's errand. If you succeeded, all you'd end up with is Michael Jackson or the Olsen Twins or similar misanthropes. A decent, well rounded, and happy person is unlikely to result. And so we raise them as best we can, and hope for... well, we hope.

" David53" commented on an earlier post about my older son's baseball adventures, and shared his recollections of his own son's. He talked about his son's surprising ability to act as well, and how neither David nor his wife had any footing in understanding in their son's facility at something mysterious to them personally. The athletics they understood, as they were similarly inclined when younger, but by acting in Tartuffe, their son was on his own, and his parents could only watch, and marvel.

My son is no athlete. He participates, and his father is proud of him, but only because of the way he comports himself. He's not bad, exactly, but it shows that it's not his raison d'etre, unlike many of his peers for whom physical activity bounded by lines is the entire universe.

He performs music too, and chose to play the trombone like his old man did, even though I told him Hell was a bellows attached to a trombone. Son, a trombone is worse than a bagpipe, in that in addition to sounding like what it is, you can pinch your finger in it too. It's a trumpet with emphysema. Son...

He doesn't listen. Like all humans, he watches, and learns all by seeing that what people do trumps what people say, every time. Why was there a trombone still in the attic, if I hated it so?
David's comment made me think of the two strains of the human condition we are watching played out with our boys: The Sublime, and the Heroic.

Music, acting, painting, humor, and writing and so forth, are all attempts to approach the sublime in humanity. When your loved one is dressed as a carrot in the school play, and has no lines, but is simply chased back and forth by third grader dressed as a bunny with spectacles, it may not seem, well, sublime exactly, but I suspect it is, in essence if not in degree. To observe, and distill, and portray, and express, and delight, and inform, and dazzle and disgust perhaps, can be as clarifying as any sermon. We examine ourselves, and reveal our thoughts to others. The trick is to paint the hands without making them look like catchers mitts, or to keep from eating the scenery in the play because the othere kids have the good lines, or whatever the minutiae of your proposed genre might be.

Sports are a representation of the heroic in humans. We strive, and test ourselves, and compete, and keep score, and live with the losses as well as the victories as best we can. The audience is different at a sporting event than at an opera, or at least it should be. It can be the same people, of course, but they must be there to see what is played out before them in a different way. How will your champion's mettle be tested? Will they triumph? Will they acquit themselves nobly while winning, or perhaps, in defeat?

It's fashionable fun these days to make entertainment that should be sublime, and coarsen it with competition. I don't want to watch people sing and choose which gets fed to the lions, like some Broadway Caligula. It makes the art less artisitic, and the audience less in tune with the essential humanity of the performance, to keep score on the stage. Hold the auditions before the performance, please.

There is also the drive to make the heroic in sports into something less prominent, and the outcomes less harsh. No one can win, because someone might lose. It diminishes the meaning of the thing itself, and so is counterproductive. People milling around without a purpose, even if it is on a lovely grass field, isn't heroic. Let them go at each other, and shake hands when it is done, and say, "better luck (or we'll get 'em) next time.

It has been likewise observed, that the money paid to professionals is ruining the ideal of sports for the amateur. It's not helping, but the money alone does not taint it; it's money given irrespective of effort or achievement that is the toxin, the tapeworm in the body heroic, and has made professional basketball and baseball and other sports diminished in stature and importance, because we are watching checks being cashed, not heroic competition. Figure skating and baseball with no-cut contracts are exhibitions, not sports. I don't care if they keep score. If the participants don't have to try if they don't want to, or if someone "decides" who won, it's not a sport.

Our children will likely never cash the checks at the stadium or the opera house; few ever do. But all humans need to sort out their approach, their affection, and their admiration and interest in the sublime and the heroic.

They're going to watch a lot of it on TV.

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