Sunday, June 12, 2011


Anthropology is a discipline that relies a lot on redefining terminology with more streamlined meanings. Retooled, recycled words become jargon. Which is probably a complaint for a lot of people, but is something I truly enjoy about the field. Language is important, but communication is more important, so doing a little dirty work and blowing up quite a few connotatively bloated phrases and words seems useful, pertinent, and fun. Either I enjoy defining terms myself, and this is one of the similarities that I found with anthropology upon choosing it as my major or I am simply influenced by my enthusiasm for the field--whatever the initiating factor, I have found myself time and time again lately creating personal definitions for terms. Ultimately, one might feel this useful for poetry, adding a personal bit to the poem that stands in front of the reader as an enigma that can only be solved by something outside of the poem. It's obviously a ton of fun to be reading a poem and realize the poet is talking about some biographical fact that you actually know, but the mystery that not knowing causes leaves the writer with what is not always a net positive. But moving back from that side-note...

My stepfather has taken to introducing me in some way revolving around my interest in sports, as in interested in SportsCenter, and not playing sports. I'm not sure if I'm happy or upset about this. (That last sentence sounds like life...) But it puts things in perspective. Sports are a serious interest in me as a fan. I know how pathetic that makes me sound. But I'm framing a point here so stop chiding me for being pitiful; I even dream occasionally of writing some sort of ethnography (except it'd be an ethnology, sigh, because I'll never do fieldwork) on the anthropology of sports, their position in our political environments and culture and what they do to impact people as a whole or as a band/tribe/nation. There was a bit in Fanon about this (update: I'm reading The Wretched of the Earth), that I'll inevitably edit into here. (Or might just put on my tumblr and turn the prior here into a link to the block quote... EDIT: read the photo if you are going to read anything, the caption is simply ideological drivel but I couldn't keep myself from cutting that part out for special judgment...) And while Fanon's nationalism is the toughest part of him to take, I'm getting a little chummy with America and being American myself, as of late, even if I do think it's stupid, pointless, and downright wrong to create a national identity based on the "pride" you have in the (nonexistent) differences between you and people who are in your special club of citizenship, as in the "pride" you have in being better than them. (That was a run-on with a lot of anger in it, my apologies.)

So as someone who considers himself an artist, and one interested in medium-blending, my way of viewing sports has been interpreted through an...should I say "artistic"?...lens. I'm actually enamored by press conferences from sports players, something I really can't see enough of (which might be due in part to my limited exposure to such); a Brett Favre debriefing after some game last season really caught my eye and I campaign to my father time and time again about how I want umpires to hold reflections after games going over how they felt they called it, as both a means of accountability and also for me to get a lot of the talking about the game from people who actually played it that I enjoy so much.

What you get a lot of in these little exchanges is phrases like "the art of the game." It was from an idea like this that a seed was sparked in my mind to create my own personal definitions of "sport" and "art." The other side of this came from certain bands and musicians that I hear of secondhand (and always forget the names of) who are known for being so great because of how difficult their music is to play. Now this sets off warning bells in my head because art is not supposed to be art because it is difficult. In my opinion, in my definition that is, art is supposed to be based on the work itself and does not so much reflect on the physical talents of the artist (it perhaps does show mental talents, but I tend to consider looking at talent as being relevant when discussing art as being distracting and leading if the wrong direction). In my opinion, the beauty arising from something because of how difficult it is to do it isn't art, and I didn't know what it was until I thought about it (and maybe considered SportsCenter segments like "Top Plays"), and realized it was sport.

Now I don't mean to disrespect anyone here. This is just a personal definition I have come upon. Although, with that written, I must admit that I do not feel bad about a potential view of my calling certain things "sport" as being a similar put-down to Truman Capote's about Kerouac's style, "That's not writing, it's typing." (The quote there to see for itself later in the article.) It's just that this qualification has solved a lot of issues for me in my regards to art and how the ability to make art is changing.

I was listening to MGMT's Oracular Spectacular with my mother when she spoke of the difficulties in playing music that are largely changing today. I'm not going to say making music is getting easier--I don't think playing laptop, as people on Radiohead albums inevitably do is easy at all--but it is changing. Really, since the synthesizer's introduction into the music scene, I, the uneducated observer, can claim to see a change. Simply you didn't need to be playing a specific instrument to make the sounds that you were making. And computers and their resulting musics have also changed the way music is made and instruments are viewed. Consider drum and bass. There aren't a lot of drums and bass guitars being used in that type of music. And I like d'n'b a lot. "I ain't trying to diss," to quote Jay-Z on Ludacris from "No Hook." What I'm trying to say is that there is a level of sport in music that is changing. When you can use a computer...well, okay, I'm going to be Bubba Watson about this and just go ahead and say it, it opens up the ability to more people.

Now I don't even know if this is true. I don't know if there are more people making music because of the introduction of the computer and software into the music industry. I don't think I'm saying much to make the argument though. Nor do I simply think this is an issue of computers and technology. Rap music, like basketball, is another field to study. You don't need an expensive instrument (computer included here), to rap, just as, if you have a park with a court near you, you don't need anything expensive to play basketball. But this doesn't make rap music any less of an art. I do see it as making it less of a sport--it becomes more a mental activity than playing the piano.

What I think results from this transition on the spectrum of sport to art is that with a sport you can do the same thing. Originality is not an issue, it's simply an accomplishment to do what you are doing. So whether this is a Willie Mays catch, a sketch of someone as a model, or a performance as first violin in an orchestra of a famous piece of classical music, there is an element of sport involved. You aren't supposed to simply cover a rap song. The reason for this, in my opinion, is due to rap's place in the artistic sphere rather than the sporting arena. If you are rapping with someone else's song then you really aren't putting much in at all, are you?

In this world of my own definition, writing is the least sporty of any of the forms of "art." It's purely an artistic discipline because the simple act of me hitting keys to string letters together is not at all considered hard and is available to the overwhelming majority of people, even more of which can take a pen or pencil to paper to write. Consider the fact that "covering" a written work is called plagiarism. Remember the Capote slight? Kerouac was just "typing"? Because typing is nothing to be proud of. I've touched on this before and actually written about it in a story for my fiction class a while back. Here's an overly long excerpt (actually the first paragraph):
La persistencia de la memoria. The first thing that had drawn me to Dalí was the titles. As a writer, I would stare at his various creations and think how easy a job I had in comparison. Where he had a painting, a sculpture, or a lobster telephone to construct, I simply dealt in words, in placing the twenty-six letters of my alphabet into the shapes of which I had become the most familiar. My laptop also made each erring toss of my chisel easily erased and forgotten, put behind me. As a man of common false starts and missteps this was an incredibly fortunate characteristic of my profession, but not something of which I was proud. You see, what drew me to Dalí was that, in my medium, to create his greatest pieces of work, all I would need to do was string together the perfect string of words, my specialty, and yet…yet he had beaten me at that as well.
 My point is tied to the mediocrity principle. It is my belief that we should always be aware that our unique qualities are not especially special. That humility is the best thing we can ever have. So, as a writer, it seems fitting to me to often think that there is nothing I do when I write that anyone else can't do. I might enjoy doing it more than other people, but everyone could do this if they set their mind to it. It's a belief. I'm sure there are some who disagree. So really, "sport" is a compliment. Not everyone can paint the Mona Lisa or come out with OK Computer. Some people don't have those abilities just as LeBron James can get to the basket a lot better than anyone reading this blog. And that's how I see it.

I guess that's where I'm going to stop typing...

EDIT: related point here

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