The Other Boy

“The true opponent, the enfolding boundary, is the player himself. Always and only the self out there, on court, to be met, fought, brought to the table to hammer out terms. The competing boy on the net’s other side: he is not the foe: he is more the partner in the dance. He is the what is the word excuse or occasion for meeting the self. As you are his occasion. Tennis’s beauty’s infinite roots are self-competitive. You compete with your own limits to transcend the self in imagination and execution. Disappear inside the game: break through limits: transcend: improve: win. Which is why tennis is an essentially tragic enterprise, to improve and grow as a serious junior, with ambitions. You seek to vanquish and transcend the limited self whose limits make the game possible in the first place. It is tragic and sad and chaotic and lovely. All life is the same, as citizens of the human State: the animating limits are within, to be killed and mourned, over and over again” (84).

Image 18 Mario-SchtittIn this – one of my favorite passages from the book – Coach Schtitt shares these words of wisdom with Mario as they observe the ETA students practice their afternoon drills. The language here is beautiful, bordering on the poetic. But what Schtitt describes is a thing beyond even poetry: the transcendence of the sport, something described in greater detail in this New York Times article, “Roger Federer as Religious Experience.”

Image 31 Tennis MatchesNow I’m not much of a tennis player – hell, I’m really not much on an athlete [1] – but I certainly can appreciate the “kinetic beauty” and artistry and grace of a seemingly impossible shot on the tennis court, or a miraculous catch on the baseball diamond.

But I’m not here to talk about sports. I want to focus on the third through fifth sentences in the quote above. Here they are again [2]:

“The competing boy on the net’s other side: he is not the foe: he is more the partner in the dance. He is the what is the word excuse or occasion for meeting the self. As you are his occasion.”

I continue to fight the urges to have this devolve into a treatise on the beauty of sports – perhaps that will come in a later post [3] – but I wonder if this “dance” or “partnership” can also be found in other works of beauty and art. Maybe in a book. Maybe even here in Infinite Jest.

I wonder if, perhaps, this reading of Infinite Jest could be the, what is the word, excuse or occasion for meeting the self. Might we, if we give the book a chance, find ourselves anew within the 1079 pages of this monstrous tome? As we dig deeper into the text, might we dig deeper into ourselves?

It might be a dreadful, fearful thing to allow ourselves to be vulnerable as read march through this text. It can be “tragic and sad and chaotic,” but also “lovely.” It just might turn out to be a thing of beauty and grace, and maybe even a thing of transcendence.

[1] I like to say that I have all of the athletic ability of a Pop Tart. The only reason I have a letterman’s jacket from high school is because my school was that the school was too small to make cuts on its sports teams.

[2] So that you don’t have to go back and try to find the sentences yourself.

[3] But probably not. I’ve got a lot of other writing projects to work on.


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3 thoughts on “The Other Boy”

  1. Nice post….and it seems quite true that close encounters/readings of art works with a high degree of ambiguity teach us as much about ourselves as they do authors. It is a kind of ‘self help’ thing for those willing to do the work. Its as if if the outcomes of serious encounter with, say, literature, should be measured, not in how we read or how well we can discucc, but in how we interact/behave in the world afterwards.

  2. One of my favorite passages as well. These thoughtful, philosophical passages are what make IJ and DFW such a pleasure to read. Reflecting on the beauty of sport with language that mirrors the subject is just such a joy.

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