Saturday, April 30, 2005

Rant of the Week: Les Sports Extremes

When I took up skateboarding again, about four years ago, I brought my new board with me to a mid-sized burg in northern Quebec for a French immersion program. The program was pretty intense. For five weeks one was not allowed to speak a word of English, or they would ship one's ass back to Angloville. I was living with a host family, who were lovely people, if a little difficult to comprehend due to their thick, Quebecoise accents. There were perhaps one hundred students in the program, from all different parts of this vast country of ours, as well as a mother and son from New Mexico who had paid the several thousand dollar fee it cost for non-Canadian citizens to attend. Our classes were held at a local univeristy facility, but because it was late spring, and between the winter and summer sessions, there were few other students or faculty present. I was the only skateboarder on campus, and people became familiarized with the sound of my wheels echoing across the pavement of the parking lot on lunches and breaks.

I don't remember if it was my teacher, one of the peppy animatrices, or one of the members of my extended host family (there were four generations of them living on the same property), who made the comment, but I was startled one day to hear said of myself, 'Monsieur fait toujours les sports extrêmes'. I was taken aback. Les sports extrêmes. Moi? I had to double check the meaning in my ever handy Roberts & Collins 'poche'.

You see, I have never considered myself an extreme sort of person. I like to think of myself as a follower of the Middle Path, the Golden Mean, the Wu Wei. I am a firm believer in the Heraclitean-by way of Jung-principle of enantodromia, the idea that when a system is given energy so as to push it in a certain direction, it will eventually recoil with an equal force in the opposite dirction, thus maintaining an overall state of equalibrium. All of these philosophies and theories propound that the best widom is to hold fast, as much as is possible, to the centre of things, in order to avoid what inevidably become painful attachments to extreme positions.

I think there is great wisdom in this insight. As a node or limit in a system of tensions, an extreme can only ever be one part of a greater whole. Spiritual health would dicated that while extremes are necessary in defining the world of our perception, our allegiance should ultimately be paid to an holistic vision of the totality. Sounds nice, but how is one to attain such a view in this warped and partisian age? I believe that the totality is best revealed to us through art and philosophy. Artists and philosophers, one hopes, have courted the muses, sacrificing personal interest in the pursuit of beauty and truth. They may be flawed and twisted like the rest of us, but they are the best crack we have at getting a glimpse of a god's-eye-view of the world. Read novels and essays. Recite poems. Watch movies and 'films' even. Get to know a painting or two. Listen to the music of the ages. An image of the whole will start to form, probably without your even noticing, in your soul.

The image is not difinitive. It is never completed, but constantly under construction. We can keep it, like Plato's republic, as an abstract vision of justice in our imaginations, where everything under the sun has its rightful place and can be seen exactly for what it is; but it can never be, as that ancient Greek prototype was, a closed and completed system. We can do all of this imaginative work in the abstract realm of ideas, but what is more difficult--perhaps impossible--as finite corporeal beings is to embody the whole personally. As individual people we are bound to time and its vicissitudes, its oscillations, its movement from one extreme to another. This is why, while the Apollonian dictem of Everything in moderation sounds reasonable, the Blakean proverb that The path of excess leads to the Palace of Wisdom elicits sparks of recognition from the heart. As creatures of time, we are sometimes given to excess, to extremes, but these too, through the infernal wisdom of divine immanence, may ultimately lead to the palace of wisdom.

We need to be shown extremes in art in order to construct in our imaginations the image of the whole that leads to wisdom. I believe that this process is the root of the spiritual pleasure we experience in being exposed, through art, to things that in real life would likely cause us to recoil. I'm not trying to defend gratuitous extremism in art here. I didn't enjoy the movie Sin City very much, not because it depicted extremes, but because it did so in a juvenile and superficial way. What worked in comic book format, under the pen of a master illustrator and storyteller, was transfromed by a run through the Hollywood dream machinery into cheap thrills. No great surprise there. I did enjoy the movie Constantine because I thought it depicted something of the precarious postition humanity inhabits in the Chain of Being: suspended somewhere between the angels, idealistic and insane, and the devils with their frightening appetites. The movie also seemed to suggest that there is a mysterious sort of Grace moving through the universe; a transcendent power that makes use of both the divine and infernal energies to bring about a greater, and unexpected--I won't say goodness--but at least at the end of the film humanity, in the figure of Constantine, is allowed to continue on.

So what do all these musings have to do with extreme sports? If Fakiegrind seems a little extreme in its delivery, it is only trying to mirror the energy of the activity that gave it birth. We do so not to shock or titillate, but to entertain and educate; to help in the ongoing project of building, in the souls of readers, an image of the whole that will hopefully aid us in navigating through the world, filled as it is with the energies of the angelic, the demonic, and the human.


noble sentiments said...

I would prefer excitement and titillation over entertainment and education. Or, if you insist on being pedantic, could we at least have 'titillation and education'?

Carlos Youngerman said...

The term "enantiodromia", borrowed from Heraclitus by Jung, was actually used by him to describe the process by which a tendency within a system, taken to its extreme limit, will often turn into its opposite. Thus, it not so much describes an oscillation between poles, as an alchemical transmutation of substance.