Sunday, August 24, 2008

Swimming Literati

Whereas this, I enjoyed very well. Go for a swim when done. This literary experience will undoubtedly better your time in the water.
A most eloquent essay by Willard Spiegelman.

"To a bookish, intellectual youth, a transformative revelation occurred when, at the age of 23, I decided that I had a body that required tending to. Does one have a body? Does one inhabit the body, a soul within a carapace? Are you your body? The philosophical dimensions of the questions interested me at the time. In graduate school I lived next door to the university swimming pool. Swimming seemed the easiest and the most expedient exercise, and one that depended on no one else’s schedule. For sheer convenience, running or walking is always the easiest thing to do: neither weather nor location should ever inhibit you. Swimming demands both a place and scheduling, but since I was free at 10 in the morning when the pool opened, and since it was never crowded at that hour, I had no excuse other than laziness for not doing it."


"Although we know that the ancient Greeks enjoyed swimming, the activity underwent changes in popularity. Under Christianity it declined but was revived with spectacular energy at the start of the 19th century. In Britain, the homoerotic, or at least the homosocial, angle was strong, as it was in Germany. Cyril Connolly summed up the old Etonian tradition in a prewar journal: “a fusion of my old trinity, grace, greenness, and security” came from his sense of the tradition of “two friends going down to bathe.” Hellenic worship of the body and pastoral sinlessness merged, at least in the imagination. Bloomsbury swam. Rose Macaulay as well as Virginia Woolf swam naked with Rupert Brooke before the Great War. Iris Murdoch was one of the last great English river swimmers."


"Ludwig Wittgenstein articulated the connection best: “Just as one’s body has a natural tendency towards the surface and one has to make an exertion to get to the bottom—so it is with thinking.” The opposite might also be said: the body unaccustomed to the water has a tendency to sink; only buoyancy, innate or learned, can keep it up. And with thought, the same is true: we divide our focus between what remains on the surface and what seems to lie below it, seldom realizing that the very metaphor we are using to describe the mind’s realm has an analogy in water and our experience of it."

Also, "an enlarged version of this essay will be included in his forthcoming book Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness."

text and info per the american scholar


Anonymous said...

I will def. buy the book. This was spectacular. A great thing to read on a sunday evening. thx.

Anonymous said...

Swimming does sth to the body that other physical activities just can't quite do...., I agree. Good piece.

Unknown said...

This sort of reading would be good in an Intro Hum course.

Unknown said...

And by the way, the following was a good find:
"Just as one’s body has a natural tendency towards the surface and one has to make an exertion to get to the bottom—so it is with thinking.”

Where can I find the original in German?

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above. A very good Humanities essay!

Anonymous said...

Can't say that I had ever read a philosophical/literary take on swimming, but this was good.
Check that, Michael Phelps! :)

Anonymous said...

I liked the Wittgenstein quote.

Anonymous said...

this will make a god x-mas present.

B.R. said...

I agree. It's a solid Humanities essay.
As for the Wittgenstein quote, I will try to locate it in German.