Unreal Nature

May 9, 2015

This Kind of Sport

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… Even if briefly, there ensues a temporary reshaping of our being.

This is from the essay ‘Places for Fun and Games’ found in Landscape in Sight: Looking at America by John Brinckerhoff Jackson; edited by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz (1997):

… Traffic proceeds by fits and starts. A dozen or more small children are running along the sidewalks; when they suddenly decide to cross the street and dart out from between the parked cars, some of them stoop to recover a cap or a glove or a baseball they might have dropped. Cars and trucks come to an abrupt halt, but the children show no alarm. They playfully slap the fenders of cars and pluck the car aerials. They call out some kind of greeting or defiance, and skip out of sight.

The vacant lots, ugly with trash and bottles and cans, slope down to a small stagnant puddle overgrown with weeds. What charm there is in the scene comes from the running children in their bright-colored parkas — blue and purple and green and pink.

When we have worked our way through the street congestion and halt to get our bearings, we watch them as they run and skip. We say what all drivers say on such an occasion: it is a public scandal for children to have to play in so dirty and hazardous a place.

… All agree that there ought to be a better place for play: one with a fence or a wall where there would be no intrusion, no dirt.

A fence, if it were high and strong enough, would be an excellent solution. It would keep out blowing trash and prevent shortcuts by strangers (so our speculations go). A fence would allow us to take care of the grounds, plane trees and grass; a place where all children, whatever their size, would be safe and have an equal chance; lawsuits would be unknown. Having a fence with a gate would mean that we could control how and when the playground was used and by whom; it would allow for special hours and special groups, and do away with quarrels. [ … ] More important, a fenced, well-kept playground would encourage efficiently organized activity, with records and scores and a kind of membership badge or uniform. Thus we visualize the ideal playground.

[ … ]

… Helix sports are what we in America have called sports of mobility: skiing, gliding, soaring, sailing, snowboarding, skateboarding, as well as [off-road] car and motorcycle racing, surfing, and mountain climbing.

… In all of them we see an instinctive avoidance of the “beaten track”: the familiar itinerary, the rails, the surfaced highway, the track, the lawn, even the gymnasium. We can see a revolt against the timetable, the schedule, the planned journey. It is as if a whole generation had taken off cross-country to explore the unfamiliar, nonhuman aspects of an environment where tradition offered no guidance or warning.

… compared with the terrain of traditional competitive sports, the terrain of helix sports usually bears few visible signs of its function: a few marks in the snow, a strip in the desert, a buoy, a light. Weather, which plays so important a role in most helix sports, is of course unpredictable. What the participant sets out to do is not to follow a well-defined course; he simply heads toward some remote destination: a new experience, a new environment, a dehumanized, abstract world of snow or water or sky or desert, where there are no familiar guidelines. With this goes a sense of uncertainty and of being totally alone. We note how we tend to revive an intuitive awareness of our surroundings, reacting to textures, currents, tides, temperatures, slopes, lights, and clouds and winds, even directions. The essential value of these sports seems to lie in a fresh contact with the environment and a new sense of our identity. Even if briefly, there ensues a temporary reshaping of our being.

… To quote Caseneuve: “This kind of sport finally results in diverting our consciousness, in creating the illusion of abandoning our everyday personality by modifying the relationship between the individual being and his environment. … It is not speed in itself that we seek … but the intoxication it produces. … There would be no helix sports if there were not a profound urge in all of us to escape from ourselves, and if there did not come to every living being a time to turn away from mundane existence.”




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