Monday, August 11, 2008

Seymour, Benedict. "Blurred Boundaries: Sport, Art and Activity." MUTE 2.8 (2008).

In his autobiography Beyond A Boundary, C. L. R. James remarks the simultaneous birth of modern sport and modern politics in the mid to late nineteenth century: the Football Association was founded in 1863, the first all-professional US baseball team organised in 1869, in 1866 the first athletic association. Around the same time, Disraeli's Reform Bill (1865) introduced popular democracy in England, the slave states were defeated in the American Civil War, the first modern organisation of American labour appeared, and Marx and Engels founded the First Communist International (1864). As Loren Goldner [author of Melville] relates, James saw this historical conjuncture as not only a significant intersection of novel forms of sport and politics, but as a moment in which an intimately related mutation in the aesthetic was occurring. James, who grew up in Trinidad, was well placed to register this transfusion between art and sport, raised as he was on a steady stream of English novels and constant games of cricket. James became fascinated by what he called the "social aesthetic" of cricket: "men from the neighbourhood described by his aunts as 'ne'er-do-wells' were transformed into aristocrats of self-mastery and brilliance at bat in cricket matches." Goldner discerns in this vignette not simply the grace and cooperative activity celebrated in today's paeans to football but an intimation of the sovereignty of the working class, a new social relationship manifest in the "at once collective and highly individualized . . . tensions of men at bat." James was unusual among Marxists in that he attributed a positive value to the working class's passionate interest in 'organised sports and games'. Unlike his comrades, rather than seeing workers as deflected from politics by sport, or believing that workers needed "raising" up to some cultural level set down by the bourgeois radical intelligentsia or avant-garde, James recalled the "ne'er do well" sporting aristocrats of his youth, and refused to accept this one-sided evaluation. James differed from both Lukács "who saw the works of high bourgeois culture, up to the watershed of 1848, as bourgeois society's legacy to the working class" and currents such as the Frankfurt School, "which saw that legacy more in the modernist revolt against classical bourgeois culture", as Goldner succinctly sums it up. For James, not only was sport not a diversion from revolutionary politics but it contained within itself, "a new, higher rationality for the organization of society that superseded the capitalist antagonism between work and leisure," says Goldner. James, like Melville and Marx before him, see in working class labour and leisure a new form of activity which overcomes the very work/leisure, and individual/collective oppositions. James may not have known it at the time, argues Goldner, but in his meditations on working class sport and games as a new social "art" form:
he had reproduced Marx's own fundamental idea of the supersession of the work/labour split in the Grundrisse: "Capital's ceaseless striving towards the general form of wealth drives labor beyond the limits of its natural paltriness [Naturbedürftigkeit] and thus creates the material elements for the development of the rich individuality which is as all-sided in its production as in its consumption, and whose labor also therefore no longer appears as labor, but as the full development of activity itself..." (Grundrisse, p.325).
Here we should note that capital, rather than simply instrumentalising or subsuming creative activity, is seen as one of its preconditions. The emergence of this "rich individuality . . . as all-sided in its production as in its consumption" derives not from the development of "artistic" activity by isolated bourgeois individuals of genius but from "activity itself" – the identity-in-collectivity of the proletariat whether at work or at play, in the hold of the whaling ship described by Melville in Moby Dick or at the wicket on the patch of grass outside James' childhood home. . . . Read the rest here:

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