I was really sick of it yesterday. I really did not want to be in the library yesterday afternoon. It was a lovely Saturday afternoon - sun was shining, daytrippers out in droves, and I'd just played tennis and was feeling good...until the thought of going to the library.
Barry, who smartly took the day off, came to my rescue. The plan - at least for me - was to have coffee with him and chat for maybe 45 minutes. We ended up taking a walk along the river and around town, Fitzbillies coffee in hand (if I were a latte drinker, we would've swapped our usual drinks), for close to two hours.
I was really tired at the end of it. But I really needed the break. I was developing cabin fever. I just couldn't sit in there for the whole afternoon. Happily, the break proved quite productive. I was bothered by this book that I was reading as it argued directly against one of the three core arguments of my thesis. After the walk, I sat in the library for about half an hour before making dinner and I sort of figured out a way to deal with it. I complained to Barry about this issue, about how I was questioning myself - doubting whether I was cut out for the PhD, and then doubting whether my intuition about the argument was right. He said, 'Trust yourself. You are right.'
I know that I am right. Without surveying even half the literature that Beau Breslin has, I know that I am right - that is, that communitarianism does not entail the priority of the community over the individual. Even if it does, it is a metaphysical priority which does not always translate to the same priority in political terms. While I am willing to grant that some communitarian theories entail this prioritisation, I think it is wrong to say that communitarianism as a whole entails this. How does Michael Sandel's philosophy entail this? All he says is that we are constituted by our community. Does it follow from this that the community takes priority over the individual? Which community are we even talking about?
Anyway. That's the gist of it. I don't like writing or talking about the substance of my PhD because I spend way too much time on it as it is (though it has not translated into actual results over the past two weeks) and sometimes, like yesterday, I really just need a break from it.
A Thing that Made Me Happy
I went to Fitzbillies this afternoon to review the abstracts for my legal theory workshop before playing tennis (see below). Matt poured me this:
It's so pretty, isn't it? It looks like a butterfly. I don't know if it's deliberate, but I really like how some of the lines are softer, as if smudged.
We haven't gone out since that last time; that Thursday, last Thursday, I think. He has not asked and I don't want to chase him because...I mean, guys chase me, not the other way around, right? (Just joking. Or am I?) But the point is, I'm happy that things are not awkward. I still think that he's lovely; I like him as a person and I still have a soft spot for him. Sometimes, though, there's just not much chemistry, and that's it, really. I'm glad that I gave it a shot; otherwise, I would still be wondering about it now, which would just be silly, wouldn't it?
A Thing that I'm Looking Forward To
I am meeting English Literature Academic tomorrow at 7.31pm. The discussion about the meeting time went like this:
Me: So what time do you want to meet tomorrow?
I literally laughed out loud while walking back to Magdalene from the tennis club - and I was by myself, AND there was someone walking alongside me, slightly behind, but close enough to hear that I was laughing.
I like that, when he texts me, he texts me something substantive and not some generic 'how was your day' thing. He sent me a picture of a comic that he's working on. It's very intellectual-funny.
He'd forgotten that we'd sort of agreed to go to the Cambridge Wine Merchant before we parted ways last Tuesday though. He initially said to go to the Pick (ugh, no); I asked, 'Do you like it so much?' He said no but it was convenient, then suggested the Punter. I didn't want to be difficult, so I said okay. I mean, it doesn't matter where we go as I'm just gonna have wine anyway (though this means Cambridge Wine Merchant would be a better choice), but it would have been nice if he'd remembered. Still, whatever - I'm not at the stage where I care about these things. I had a nice first date with him, so let's see how the second one pans out.
I read the first chapter of Woolf's A Room of One's Own. She's amazing. That's all.
I Hate Tennis/I Love Tennis
I played my last mini league match at the club today, against a guy who was nice and chatty, and his chill-ness was a stark contrast to my yelling at myself at the other end of the court. Because this shit happened again, except this time, I was up 4-1, had chances to break for 5-1, but was broken instead, and then it was 4-2, I tried to break for 5-2 but nope, I dumped returns into the net and played like a mug, and suddenly it was 4-3, I was serving, but again, got broken like a useless piece of cardboard, and then it was 4-4 and I thought, 'I need to win the next two games', but I didn't, lost the next two games, and then lost the tiebreak.
It's been four hours since the match and I am still really fucking pissed off. The most frustrating thing is that I have no idea what happened. Well, I know what happened: he cut down on his errors, started getting the ball back, started prolonging the rallies, and the longer a rally goes, the more likely it is that I end up making a mistsake. So that got into my head. And the truth is, I may hate tennis right now, but I really love tennis, and I'm super competitive, and so I hate losing at tennis. This got into my head too. Shit just got into my head and I couldn't rely on either my forehand or backhand. The forehand was especially woeful; missed all my up-the-line shots, for some reason totally failed to put any fucking topspin on the ball when hitting a mid-court ball (and so sending the ball flying out), couldn't time any of the forehand returns on his wide serves.
I get so tentative and tense when I'm playing a match. Before this, I had a hit with a guy I met at the club for about an hour, and I was swinging freely, hitting these great backhands. All that completely disappeared the second I am playing a match. I could've applied pressure by hitting fast and furious balls, or hitting the ball deep; I have better technical ability than him, so I could have done that. But everything got into my head. I started missing, and so I became tentative, and I couldn't swing freely, and when I tried, I hit the ball long. I tried to target his backhand, but he'd just send the ball back over the net into the service box, and I kept having to run forward to get to these bloody fucking annoying short balls, and that's also my biggest weakness, and it just added to the frustration and robbed me of any rhythm.
It's a game of errors, tennis is. Whoever makes less errors will win. I was sending his serves back with interest, sometimes hitting winners off them, and so I got up 4-1. But I got broken, and returning at 4-2, I kept hitting returns into the net. And then it was shit show of errors from me after that.
Of course, I give him credit for his consistency, for getting the ball back, including this great forehand I hit into the corner of his forehand side. If I had been using my brain, I would have chased the ball to the net, anticipated the possibility that it was not a winner. But I didn't, and so when the ball came floating back over the net, it was too late. I couldn't get there. And that more or less sums up the match: I couldn't get to the bloody ball.
Ugh. I just want to forget about this. I should have won this. I was up 4-1. It is ridiculous that I lost. Tennis is so frustrating.
That aside: Roger Federer is an absolutel inspiration. I watched the last game of the Miami final against Nadal. I was coming back from the club when the match was already underway, but even then, I admit that I was a bit afraid to watch it. Those dreadful memories of his matches - his losses - still scar me; every Federer fan pretty much has PTSD from those matches. So I was looking at the livescores, not the livestream, and when he broke for 5-4 (I think it was) in the second set and served for the title, I turned on the livestream.
Can't believe he's 35. Can't believe he's back from a six-month injury lay-off and starts the season winning a grand slam and two Masters titles, completing the Indian Wells-Miami double (so-called because these are consecutive tournaments and it's therefore difficult to win both). It's not just the statistics of his career and his achievements that are astounding; it's what they mean. It's what they signify. It's how he exemplifies sheer human excellence, how he keeps pushing the boundaries of what is possible. It would be narrow-minded to dismiss this and say that he's just a tennis player, it's just tennis, how trivial. 'Does it contribute to our search for the truth?' Josh would ask.
I think it does. I think Roger Federer is entirely non-trivial, even rather philosophical. What is our search for the truth? What are we hoping to discover in this search? Part of the point of this search surely has to be to answer questions about what it means to be human - and part of this inquiry involves interrogating the capacities and limits of our abilities, both intellectual and physical. Philosophers like to talk about one's conception of the good, of practical reasoning, of our elevated reason viz. non-human animals. I am certainly of the view that these issues take us closer to the truth of what it means to be human.
But that's only one aspect of being human. Our interiority does not make up the whole of who we are. There is an equally important aspect of being human that, at least prima facie, has little to do with reasoning, mapping out one's plan of life, etc - and this is the physical - 'exterior' is probably a better word - aspect. The ability to walk, to run, to create things with our hands, to build, to construct - and yes, to hit a tennis ball with a tennis racquet. But just as advances in science and technology have defied and redefined expectations of what we as humans are capable of, so too has Roger Federer pushed those limits. If the search for truth is partly a quest to understand what it means to be human, then Federer's philosophical contribution is that being human is about the ability to shape-shift, to transform, to question, to strive, to keep striving, to achieve, to break free of constraints, to have complete ownership of one's natural talent, to scale greater heights, to believe in oneself, to pursue one's conception of the good with consummate excellence. Most importantly, however, Federer has shown that being human is about being unfettered by conventional wisdom and the standards set by others; it is about the pure, innate humanity (question-begging, I know, but no other word suffices) that drives us forward, further and beyond.
So no. It is not just tennis. It is about the pursuit of excellence. And so it brings us closer to the truth. Thanks, Roger, for answering some philosophical questions!