Archive for July, 2009.

Roger Federer, Kinetic Beauty, and the Religious Experience

Written by Philip Walter on Jul 11 at 5:40 pm.

Roger Federer

photo courtesy of Squeaky Knees

On the heels of the great Roger Federer’s recent and utter silencing of any critics, with major championships number 14 and 15 at Roland Garros and the All England Club, I revisited a 2006 New York Times article by David Foster Wallace, “Roger Federer as Religious Experience.” If you’re a tennis fan in general, a Federer fan specifically, the entire article is worth reading. Its 5 pages are full of astute observations, but there is something said in the first several paragraphs I found incredibly interesting on this particular reading. I thought I might comment on it in this blog entry.

Wallace asserts, “high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war.” It’s not that courage is the object or purpose of war. Obviously, conquering the enemy is the goal, but the courageous tend to rise to the top. You might say, courage in war is often rewarded with victory. Likewise, in the uppermost tiers of competitive sport, it seems, beauty is often rewarded with victory.

This might seem a strange statement since most sports fans flock around their big-screen televisions with thoughts of beauty far from the fronts of their minds. However, what we’re talking about here is, as Wallace pointed out in his essay, “beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty.” He goes on to say,

“Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.”

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