P&P Reading Club: Ted Walker on The Art of Fielding Chapters 18-33

he art of fielding by chad harbachAs the carefully built structure that Henry Skrimshander has committed his life to fortifying against disorder systematically caves in on itself, our anxiety-ridden shortstop seeks solace in the ritualistic circular walk around the deck of the ferry, in the prescription drug-addled, disappointment-laden voyage that takes the boys back to their home at Westish College. These circular turns, which Rick O’Shea manages to transpose into a winding-down “like a toy,” exemplify what had been gnawing on me as I read these chapters: performance.

Mike Schwarz employs “The Stare” to stir his teammates, employing motivational techniques that come less from experience than from some tape recorder buried within his reptile brain, to the point that he “felt a little off, a little odd, like he was playing himself on TV.” He buoyed even himself with the performance, the familiar ritual of the man standing before his comrades on the eve of battle.

President Affenlight, caught up in a torrent of strange passions in his burgeoning affair with Owen, falls back on the deeply familiar ritual of reading out loud, of transposing the burden of his own emotion into the performance of distant, separate turmoil. Not to mention the college president’s continual presence as the prime performer on behalf of the school’s interests.

Baseball is a ritualistic game, and it attracts people who are interested in repetition, in a kind of tortured turning of the metaphorical wheel. The extension of this brilliant observation, of course, is that many people choose rituals of many kinds to manage their daily lives, far out of the realm of sport. College, in its way, is a four-year course in repetition management, in discipline, in regularity. Graduation is the great launch into life’s disarray.

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