2010 FIFA World Cup Final
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On Tuesday, Andrew Edgar presented us with the following question: would you rather be a beautiful loser, or an ugly winner? In terms of the 2010 World Cup Final, Spain, or Holland?

He also presented us with a great deal more food for thought, revealing the many complexities of the role of sport in human societies, with┬áthe aesthetic dimension being only the first of those he addressed. When we think about why sport matters (or doesn’t matter) to us, it’s often difficult to avoid using aesthetic concepts. Apart from categories of beauty and ugliness, ideas we use in other domains to talk about the characteristics of narratives (drama, tragedy, even comedy) are all in common usage.

Perhaps, then, the key relationship sport bears to other domains of human experience is one of expressiveness. Sport borrows activities which originate elsewhere, transforms them into rituals governed by codified rules, and seems perhaps to distil something essential, fascinating, from them, in which aspects of what it means to be human – and what it means to excel in being human – are presented to us for reflection and enjoyment. Typically, when we consider why a sport matters, the answer given will be different depending on whether the participant’s or the spectator’s experience is the subject of interest: immersion in the “flow” of an activity, as one Cafe participant pointed out, is vital to the experience of many sports. But for a spectator, what is often important are isolated moments of heightened drama, beauty, tragedy, or even violence.

Beyond the purely aesthetic, we need then to consider the extent to which sport sets up spaces where moral exceptions can be played out. Bullfighting, boxing: sports of this kind allow transgression of the binding rules of the social order to take place (albeit under certain other formalised constraints). If competition is essential to sport, then perhaps competition itself should best be considered a kind of enactment or transformation of of violence and aggression. Again, here we encounter the expressiveness of sport, the way it takes phenomena found elsewhere in human experience, isolating and distilling from them a pure form which is then served up to spectators for contemplation and enjoyment. Perhaps, then, the Holland-Spain match, the game of beautiful losers and ugly winners, is fascinating because it exemplifies a clash of aesthetic and moral categories in which we see a more universal significance.

You can listen to Dr Edgar’s talk from Tuesday by clicking on the arrow below.

Alternatively, you can go to a download page by clicking here.

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One thought on “A Beautiful Game? Audio available”

  1. Prof. Andrew Edgar’s talk looked at the importance of sport, with art, western art, an insistent back seat driver. Many aestheic puzzles were on offer – how can we enjoy a game that is not beautiful? How can we enjoy a game that is not well-behaved? Are beauty and moral order connected, somehow?

    I dislike puzzles, and will look for a way out if presented with one. Tonight, the way out was Tolstoy. Tolstoy I had read and sympathised with though, for most academics, he is thought of as a maverick and just a bit stupid. Tolstoy thought that true art was about bringing people together, and art that appealed to aesthetics alone was as likely ‘bad’, tinny, special effects-ridden, or ‘counterfeit’.

    That is why I said that the talk tonight about the aesthetics of sport was skewed: it drew on, appealed to, a uniquely western (and as it happens anti-Tolstoyan) idea of the hegemony of aesthetics in activities that bring people together, such as sport, art and dance. And for us, as a culture, and in the talk tonight, to invite sport to willingly import that aesthetic bias was a great mistake, a ‘corruption’, I think was the word I used.

    I argued that the philosophy of the aesthetics of art that was being imported into sport as it’s be-all-and-end-all was a modern invention and that the ancient world wouldn’t know what it, as western art, was. For them, an artifact’s reason for being was rooted in communal values and was not a unit in a uniquely western universal aesthetic exchange rate. Such a unit, I might add here, would be a trophy, and our aesthetics the pleasure of surveying stolen goods. To call ancient art “art”, in the western aesthetic mould, is an act of counterfeiting or theft.

    Was it a mere coincidence, I asked tonight, that art and sport are at least in some degree, and in a Tolstoyan way, corrupted by the professionalization and preciousness of aesthetics, in that art and sports have commitments to gambling or the lottery – forms of legal theft? Legal theft of our expression and community is what Tolstoy had in mind when he spoke about the usurpation of creative inspiration in community by the professionalization of aesthetics and rise of the critic.

    That should solve many of the puzzles on offer this night. A good game or a good song – the “stage”, as one person put it, – is about bringing people together (I added that a stage was independent of aesthetics). The way in which we bring people together, whether in a crowd or by proxy in the private moment, whether aided by the pleasure of form and style -“aesthetics” – doesn’t matter. An ugly game is as good as a beautiful game if we feel equally bonded by either. The same, of course, would apply to other “stages”, such as dance as one person pointed out.

    The Tolstoyan china-shop bull didn’t persuade tonight. Though, who can say if it brought people together? Like everyone, I had a good airing. The talk continued with the assumption that aesthetics was the root of art and sport and a guide to our understanding of both. I gave my polarised view, I could be tempted to give aesthetics a second look, but, maybe not this night.

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