Thursday, 26 March 2009

Coming down with Wordsworth and Human Traffic

Comedowns are an inconvenient reality. Whether they are alcohol or drug-induced, or merely the realisation of a natural high’s termination, the after-effects of a good time tend to taint enjoyable experiences.

William Wordsworth, a poet preoccupied with notions of the sublime and solitude, pleasure and pain, formed a model of what we might now call ‘post-session depression’ in his poem, ‘Resolution and Independence’. Although written in 1802, the lyric poem is relevant to anybody who has ever experienced a low that follows a high:

But, as it sometimes chanceth, from the might
Of joys in minds that can no further go,
As high as we have mounted in delight
In our dejection do we sink as low;

This passage from the third stanza encapsulates Wordsworth’s exploration of the immediacy between joy and dejection; that to experience the pinnacle of pleasure is to automatically become despondent.

Human Traffic may not necessarily be the most obvious contemporary cultural reference in relation to poetry of the Romantic period, but the film does bear some ideological resemblance to Wordsworth’s verse.

The film follows Jip (played by John Simm) and his friends as they indulge in the drug and club culture of the 90s and, when Simm’s character discusses ecstasy, his sentiments are reminiscent of Wordsworth’s: “We risk sanity for moments of temporary enlightenment.”

Jip then turns to the fragility and temporality of joy detailed by Wordsworth, “The last thought killed by anticipation of the next.” Although Wordsworth is sober and Pip under the amphetamine's influence, the two have in common a delight in the present but also an awareness that this dream-like state will at any moment switch to despair.

It is not only an eternal search for enlightenment which the Romantics poets and clubbers of Human Traffic have in common. Where natural delirium fails to ignite, both have sought alternative highs, primarily of the chemical variety.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, composer of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, famously pushed the self-destruct button when searching for inspiration later in his life; his alternative high, opium, eventually contributed to his death. Compared to Coleridge, Pete Doherty looks less a tortured soul, more a mischievous schoolboy sneakily sipping on his parents’ sherry.

‘Resolution and Independence’, however, is not concerned with the pursuit of an intoxicating escape from reality but, rather, a natural clarification of matters of joy and dejection.

One doesn’t necessarily need to be recovering from a drug’s side-effects to endure a comedown. For example, having experienced the rapture of a concert or the rush of a last-minute winner at a football match, once the immediate joy has passed, it seems that the only way for our spirits is down.

The culmination of expectations and ecstasy of the moment mean that, even in perfect sobriety, we have entered the highest point of pleasure and, as a result, we immediately enter a state of decline.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Tomatoes, chimneys and seagulls: An introduction to sporting philosophy

Post-match interviews and press conferences are often seen as the pinnacle of sporting figures’ capacity for dullness. Brian O’Driscoll, the Irish rugby union captain, however, bucked this trend in peculiar fashion during this year's Six Nations championship.

In a press conference held before Ireland’s match against England, O’Driscoll was asked about playing alongside Martin Johnson for the British and Irish Lions, and facing him as opposition. The centre’s reply was wilfully cryptic: “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.” It is unconfirmed whether this turn of phrase was a part of O’Driscoll’s team talk.

Meanwhile, flying the flag for footballing idiosyncrasies is Juventus manager Claudio Ranieri, who when faced with the sack at Chelsea in 2004, remarked, “Before you kill me, you call me the "dead man walking." I must buy you an espresso. But only a little one - I am Scottish!”

This particular trail of managerial misquoting is one blazed by many before Ranieri; none more so than Kevin Keegan, who said of decision-making processes, “It is understandable that people are keeping one eye on the pot and another up the chimney.” Read this sentence repeatedly for a day, and the word “understandable” still seems somewhat misplaced.

O’Driscoll’s enigmatic assessment is reminiscent of Eric Cantona’s famous foray into philosophy. Addressing the press in the wake of his kung-fu kick on a Crystal Palace, the former French international said that, "when the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea." As of yet, the forward-turned-actor’s profundity is one which has yet to have been matched by anybody at Old Trafford.

The aforementioned examples should illustrate how sport and philosophy are not as incongruous a pairing as one might first assume. To those still unconvinced, the great Algerian philosopher Albert Camus offers a definitive final thought: “All I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football.”

As written for Leeds Student