‘The national game’ – Arthur Streeton, 1889 (Art Gallery of New South Wales) – Wikimedia
Brendan McNamee is my newly invited guest on ‘The Dawn Within’. Brendan is an independent scholar and lecturer with a PhD at the University of Ulster in Ireland. He is the author of numerous books and essays on a wide range of writers, including John Banville, Michel Houellebecq, Gerald Murnane, Elizabeth Bowen, Sean O’Casey, Flannery O’Connor, W B Yeats and others. I’d like to present here one of his essays called ‘The Mystic Heart of Sport’. My attention was one day drawn to this eloquent title, while browsing through the platform ‘Academia’.
The text speaks about sport in general, using here the example of football, and mingling its wonderful argument with quotes by William Blake, Meister Eckhart, or W. B. Yeats. Brendan McNamee shows that “the conflict” on the football pitch is “between gods and mortals”, between “time and eternity”, both “inextricably entwined”. At its best, a game of football can give birth to “moments that justify sport at its best being called ‘poetry in motion’. Moments of sheer grace” when “skill and spontaneity join hands and, momentarily, dancer and dance are one.” I hope you will enjoy Brendan’s skilful writing and exposition as much as I have…
“Eternity is in love with the productions of time.”
~ William Blake
The Mystic Heart of Sport
In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Arthur Dent makes the startling discovery that white mice, rather than being the objects of experiments carried out by humans, were in fact carrying out experiments on humans. I wonder if a similar principle might be applied to sport. Take any high-stakes football match. Passions run high. The passion, on the parts of both players and spectators, is primarily for victory. The players receive a huge ego (and cash) boost, and from the fans’ point of view, a win for their team is, by some mysterious process of osmosis, a win for themselves. This lust for victory is so intense that the other source of sporting joy, the quality of the game itself, is often relegated to a secondary position, rendered lip service, of course, but seen really as essentially a means to an end. This, I would contend, is topsy-turvy. I want to argue here that it is the lust for victory that should serve the game, not the other way around, and that this order of things reflects a wider truth about life itself.