Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cricket in the U.S.A

Beyond A Boundary is my favourite sporting book. It is also pretty damn good on culture and society.

Humanistic Academia (I use this phrase as it always irritated me to read in reviews books described as "a must read for students" when I could not see many science students, apart from myself, ever reading it. I was the student who read so widely around the subject he forgot the subject, but that's for another discussion) in the USA loves CLR James.

Unfortunately the centrality of cricket and cricketing analogies to Beyond A Boundary means it is the neglected work.

The New York based writer Joseph O'Neill reviews Beyond A Boundary and writes

cricket was, as it happens, the first modern American team sport -- which is to say, a sport properly organized and monitored. Benjamin Franklin was very interested in cricket, and by 1779 at least two teams, Brooklyn and Greenwich, were turning out regularly. More teams sprang up, and in 1838, the first formally constituted club, the St. George Club of New York City, came into being. Matches for money were played: In 1844, a Toronto team won a $1,000 purse in front of several thousand spectators in New York. Most of the players were British expats, but in Philadelphia, significant numbers of homegrown Americans took up the sport as an elite pastime and produced great cricketers and great clubs.
O'Neill then argues that
Using cricket to blur boundaries between white and black, colonized and colonizer, an-cient and modern, political and social, [James] stages a brilliant attack on "that categorization and specialization, that division of the human personality, which is the greatest curse of our time." His concern was profound and by no means abstract. Are there more-consequential divisions of human personality than the ones currently imposed by religion and nationality?

The trouble, of course, is that Americans, even if they are Americanists, can't read Beyond a Boundary. They can follow the words, but with what prospect of understanding them? How could their reading not be riddled with misconceptions, guesses, gray areas? E. P. Thompson once remarked, "I'm afraid that American theorists will not understand this, but the clue to everything lies in [James's] proper appreciation of the game of cricket." Unfortunately, he was right.

O'Neill ends with the Jamesian line, borrowed from Kipling, "What do they know of America who only America know?" Indeed.

(Hat Tip: Norm)

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