Sublime and sublimation

Mr Ward’s charming fan’s encomium to Bradman prompted me to reflect on the experience of the partisan spectator.

Whether on the terraces with a pie or in an armchair with a bottle at his lips, the sport’s spectator, unlike the Zenmaster-like player, is not without memory or desire. In fact they are the only things which help him contain his anxiety during the game: the memorial crutch of the trophy cabinet and the desire for present and future triumph. Despite the reflex shouting of “Wanker” at every disappointing move, the spectator rarely thinks of sport as sublimated masturbation: and his own activity as a consequential voyeurism. But something almost intensely sexual does unite player and spectator.

The limiting case of spectator anxiety is the heart attack at the game. I remember as a ten year old St John’s Ambulance cadet at Nottingham Forest being told at halftime of a man who’d just collapsed and died.

“He’d been banned from attending, because of his heart” explained my Group Leader, “But he must have sneaked in”. My young mind couldn’t imagine that much desire and anxiety.

This experience came back to me when I read this week of the dancer Andy Howitt’s plan to choreograph a dance based on the 1978 World-Cup goal Archie Gemmill (yes, a Forest hero) scored for Scotland: and recently voted the Greatest Scottish Goal Ever.

The Guardian reports: His grandfather, who had been watching the match with Howitt, then 13, died of a heart attack three minutes after Gemmill scored. “He had already had two heart attacks and this goal went in, and he cheered and told me, ‘We will win the World Cup’. The shock was so great for him.”

One can only envy his fatal orgasmic expectation: he had sublimated his desire to conceptual possibility. Perhaps, like Moses, it’s better not to arrive. But the Reality Principle that stalks the seemingly bottomless pit of Scottish optimism released a tenfold anxiety that burst his poor elated heart.

Is a dance based on a football-move a double-sublimation? In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud writes lyrically of the artist’s joy of creating – in ‘giving his phantasies body’ – or of a scientist solving problems.

“But we can only say figuratively” he continues, “that such satisfactions seem ‘finer and higher’. Their intensity is mild as compared with that derived from the sating of crude and primary instinctual impulses; it does not convulse our physical being”. Little chance, then, of a death at the ballet. Yet one thinks of Howitt on his first night: might he, like Daniel Day-Lewis playing Hamlet, be tackled from behind by the paternal ghost?

Let’s wish him well.

by Kalu Singh

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