June 28, 2006

Larger Than Life

Staying up late last night to watch the Brazil vs. Ghana soccer match was not that productive. Seeing as I had a conventionally unconventional day--floating my thoughts away on the waters of cyberspace for most of the morning/afternoon--I decided to counter such abstract thinking and doing by stopping in at the local "soccer cafe" here in my corner of Wakayama City late on Monday night to watch Ronaldinho and company take the wind out of Ghana's sails with expedient grace. As I watched the first half, I recalled a book that I read last year, my copy of which I sent to a friend in San Diego (who may now be poring over its pages at the Albatross Pub in Berkeley). The volume I speak of is a mock self-help book entitled "Lost in the Cosmos," written by Walker Percy. I'll spare you the long biographical account of his life, which you can find out for yourself if I have piqued your interest. Now, to dig into the experience I had, however vestigial, of transcendental exigence:

Percy elucidates the human need for transcendence, an experience of going beyond oneself within the limitations of one's mortal existence. This "going beyond" does not necessarily amount to something good, and can/does often lead us back to the exact same fork in the road one arrives at at when it was time to make the choice to leave oneself behind. Some people pursue science, scientism, scientific humanism, or whatever permutation of objective, classified, and specialized systems of human knowledge you want to put a label on, cork, and place on the shelf for posterity. Others seek religion, seek God, or seek some infinitely mysterious but equally real presence at the ground of being. R.H. Blyth found this illuminated sense in what a Chinese master called “無生念,” which translates literally as "non-life-desire" but is a perpetual evocation of hope in something that is neither life nor death, but livable in this existence. It is the closest thing to a creed, a principle or what not, that you find in haiku. The "something there" which is nothing, unable to be reified and yet infinitely and beautifully present. Some of us prefer much more concrete, accessible means to the pressing need of "going beyond" ourselves--living the 'good life' of fine dining, art, writing, music, travel, sex, violence, drink, drugs, and of course, sports. The most salient example of the latter being the "beautiful game," I thought to myself late last night (granted these thoughts were influenced by the humidity, my lack of sleep, and the excessive amount of suds imbibed in the last three hours) about how so much of this world is now experiencing transcendence, however momentarily and (dare you scoff) in such a trivial way as a game of soccer. More than that, I thought of the modern cliches about this game, the modern mythos of Brazil's legacy as the veritable heart of the soccer world. Why is it that we are sometimes able to discover the profound accord of human fellowship and freedom in a mere game like this? As I watched the Brazilian players race blithely around the field, making every pass look like a scene wrought on a stone engraving, or a watercolor painting depicting what Kundera coined "the unbearable lightness of being" (maybe the Brazilian players would replace "being" with a less abstract verb, "passing"), I wondered why is it that this game alone is unique around the world as the game which almost every nation knows and loves. Is there something in it, its likeness to so many other modes of transcendence--being "all of the above," an athletic, aesthetic, and intelletual engagement of one's being--that makes soccer one of the few things which our modern minds can still reflect on and enjoy in earnestness? Of course there are countless other factors thrown in which deter from this lofty vision of a sport that involves, among other things, flailing elbows, fliaing knees, and flailing egos; harsh rivalries, drunken revelry and its loyal retinue, mob violence (see other forms of transcendence); scandalous deals, coporate corruption, lives lived for and lost for the sake of a mere game. It starts to sound like life itself.

Maybe I have overestimated this game, which a lot of us still probably don't care about in the least. Despite the fact that my valuation of this game may seem to be a bit overwrought, stilted in its philosophical tones of grandeur, what I see when I watch the game is the same thing we forget so many times of the day, whenever it is I think to myself, "I need to get away." Granted this is not your R&R that is advertised in brochures offering a splendid five day holiday somewhere on the shores of a Cancun resot. No, what we often feel is the need to get away, not in spatial terms, but on an existential, a spiritual level. One really means, "I need to get away from myself." Why is it that people, who know so much about the world outside, still know so little about the world within? Perhaps these means of transcendence are something worth pondering, even if one finds oneself back at square one? They offer the key to somehing that may or may not be openable, but which is the only thing worth trying, the only choice worth choosing when feels the urge to "get away."


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