David Foster Wallace, I miss you so.
Of course, I realize it is silly to say that about someone I didn't know at all. And even sillier considering I've never been able to make it through a work of his fiction (not even one of his short stories), which is what he's really known for. But I do think when the world lost Wallace it lost a fantastic essayist. And there just aren't enough of those around; when they go, you miss them.
As you know, I've been going through a bit of a reading hiccup. At the same time I picked up The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry from my library's "Serendipity Collection," I also got the title Both Flesh and Not: Essays, by Wallace, from the same collection. It took me a while to get started in it, but the first night I picked it up, the first essay in it that I read was (of course, because I am quite the boring linear-type person) the first essay, "Federer Both Flesh and Not." It's an article on the tennis player Roger Federer, and although I like Federer, I couldn't say I'm a huge fan.* But, there it was, and I was aware that Wallace was a skilled tennis player himself, so I was interested to hear his take on the subject.
I was not disappointed. In the essay I found this:
"Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are
a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is
roughly that of courage to war.
The human beauty we're talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to do with, really, is human beings' reconciliation with the fact of having a body."*
*There's a great deal that's bad about having a body. If this is not so obviously true that no one needs examples, we can just quickly mention pain, sores, odors, nausea, aging, gravity, sepsis, clumsiness, illness, limits--every last schism between our physical wills and our actual capacities. Can anyone doubt we need help being reconciled? Crave it? It's your body that dies, after all.
There are wonderful things about having a body, too, obviously--it's just that these things are much harder to feel and appreciate in real time. Rather like certain kinds of rare peak-type sensuous epiphanies (I'm so glad I have eyes to see this sunrise!, etc.), great athletes seem to catalyze our awareness of how glorious it is to touch and perceive, move through space, interact with matter. Granted, what great athletes can do with their bodies are things that the rest of us can only dream of. But these dreams are important--they make up for a lot." (p. 8.)
Sorry to quote at such length. But what I love here is how perfectly, how awesomely, really, Wallace captures a thought I have had so often; namely, the kinetic beauty of the body. I don't even have to watch sporting events or athletes to have this feeling--once, closing the library, I was working with a library page who was a six-foot tall, young guy. Part of closing was to make sure all the chairs were around the right tables, which was something of a pain because my library had these clunky, wooden, HEAVY chairs that I literally had to drag from place to place (slowly). So walking around I observed Scott, my co-worker, find one of these chairs way out of place, easily pick it up and carry it, literally, above his head (for fun?) until he found an empty spot at a table to gently set it down in. I'll never forget that. I stood there with my mouth open and wished, for just a moment, I could be a twenty-year-old, buff guy just so I could see what that FELT like.
But I digress.
When I read that quote, really, I heaved a sigh and something in my reading soul unclenched. It was temporary, but it felt so good. THAT is what I have been missing; I've been reading some good things, but nothing that has made me say, "yes, I know exactly what you mean!" And I think that communion, more than anything, is what I seek in reading.
This is too long already. More on the rest of this essay collection later.
*I'll admit it, my head is always turned by Rafael Nadal, who is just so, so pretty.