Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Disappointing Gymnast Memoirs

I've been reading a lot of gymnastics books lately for a project. Most of these books are memoirs from famous coaches and athletes, and unsurprisingly, the prose is boring. Every time, I pick up one of these books I hope to find it engaging but end up finding it opposite, I'm reminded of the David Foster Wallace masterpiece, "How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart," which asks why athlete autobiographies are so shoddy and banal?

"One sort of answer, of course, is that commercial autobiographies like these promise something they cannot deliver: personal and verbal access to an intrinsically public and performative kind of genius...Real indisputable genius is so impossible to define, and true techne so rarely visible (much less televisable), that maybe we automatically expect people who are geniuses as athletes to be geniuses also as speakers and writers, to be articulate, perceptive, truthful, profound. If it's just that we naively expect geniuses-in-motion to be also geniuses in reflection, then their failure to be that shouldn't really seem any crueler or more disillusioning than Kant's glass jaw or Eliot's inability to hit the curve."

Here's to trying to read these books with a more benevolent eye. The elite gymnasts may not be able to write a gorgeous sentence, but I was never able to do a full twisting double back on floor. Let's call it even.

(I know that I've quoted DFW and this passage before on this blog, but it's so good that I could read it over and over. If you want to read the full text of this essay, check it out here.)


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