Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gerard Genette do the narrative police in different voices; or, the 2011 World Series DVD

[Our Cardinals shrine, October, 2011, with Tortilla]

The St. Louis Cardinals clinched the Wild Card on the last day of the regular season, September 28; they won the World Series exactly one month later. During those four weeks, I watched almost every pitch of every game they played; when my husband, Bryant, and son, Sangha, were home, they did, too. Our daughter, Radhika, watched a lot of it, and had to find a ride home from soccer during Game Six because darkness fell during the baseball game and we would not leave our television screen. (If you're wondering about this detail, night games occur during the afternoon in Hawai`i.) So "watch" is too weak a word; I lived and died on every pitch. I screamed on some of them, and my son slammed doors downstairs in his room on others. When games got terribly stressful, I could hear Sangha outside hitting a ball with his own bat, doubtless imagining a good outcome for our Redbirds. October was the "baseball research" month of my sabbatical; if any administrators are reading this, the rest of my sabbatical was devoted utterly to my writing and research, I promise you that. Well, except for this earlier post . . .

That was the story. The DVD that arrived in the mail the other day is discourse. Who knows why the moment when Prof. Michael Levenson unveiled this distinction by way of Gerard Genette and Seymour Chatman, was so memorable to this poetry person during her muddled graduate school career? I don't remember much more than that distinction (see this entry on Genette's narratology for all that's been lost to me over time), but I'm thinking of it now as I consider the move from the postseason to its memorializing by MLB Productions, as narrated by Jon Hamm of St. Louis. The 2006 video was narrated by Tommy Lee Jones, whose intonation on "they had forgotten what it meant to be a member of the St. Louis Cardinals" was as perfect as Pavarotti's . . .

By now, the 2006 DVD has re-organized my memories of most of what happened that year. But 2011 is still so fresh in my mind and recently adrenaline-drenched body that the DVD works against memory, like backwash. To mix metaphors from flood to drought conditions, it feels like sandpaper between the synapses; I want to resist its intrusions, even as I watch it (again). Of course it leaves stuff out. That it provided me the occasion to teach Radhika the meaning of "foreshadowing," when Nelson Cruz is shown running for a fly ball during practice, many hours before he failed to rein in Freese's 9th inning triple in Game Six, is gravy, but not meat. Where suspense was most acutely constructed over time--strike, ball, ball, strike, then what?--the DVD replaces these acuities with the single pitch, delivered in super slow motion, heightened by music. Yes, David Freese (it's almost always David Freese) gets that crucial hit, but the drama's contrived rather than lived. My memory still lives in that present tense of mid-October, but the DVD wants it to abstract itself, become historical time, lose immediacy and then recover it through gimmicks. Not yet!

There's the matter of the squirrel. The squirrel did not simply author an odd event; s/he was a mythological being. (When Tony LaRussa suggested that the squirrel was female and was hanging out with Jason Motte's male glove, he was corrected by the tortoise, but more on this in a bit.) While there is a clip of the Busch Stadium squirrel running across the plate between Skip Schumaker and Roy Oswalt of the Phillies (this was the NLDS) we don't get the aftermath of that famous moment (prefigured when the squirrel ran behind third base the day or two before). First, here's the squirrel in action. It does not run, it leaps, all four legs sailing through the air:

First, Oswalt freaked. Second, the squirrel became a cult figure, emblazoned on rally towels and shirts, made into stuffed animals waved by fans at the stadium, covered in the St. Louis media.
The squirrel was captured when the teams went to Philadelphia, and taken to a park, so that he never again appeared on national television. Third, the squirrel acquired a twitter feed. It was not so good a twitter feed as Jason Motte's glove, Sir Glovington A. Wilson, which was not so good as Allen Craig's tortoise, Torty Craig's feed, but it was a twitter feed nonetheless.

Torty Craig's last tweet warmed this poet's heart: "'The shell must break before the bird[s] can fly.'" - Alfred Lord Tennyson | Our have flown to the greatest of heights. " But throughout the playoffs, TortyCraig wrote stories about the Cardinals' clubhouse, stories that moved in backwards order of his tweets (what say you to that, Gerard Genette?). The mystery of his authorship consumed a good deal of my time. I assumed he was outfielder Allen Craig (or Master Allen, as Torty called him), but sometimes he tweeted just after Master Allen hit a home run. I thought I'd busted him, calling out one of the Vivaelbirdos.com writers (who is studying for his MFA), but word came back, via Aaron Belz, that DanUpBaby had denied authorship. Aaron wrote a piece on Huffington Post about Torty Craig. Aaron, himself a Cards fan-poet-tweeter, knows poetry when he sees it: "Like a poem by Ezra Pound, it's compact, strange, and manic. Other tweets are downright absurdist: 'Sometimes Jason Motte's glove joins our conversations. That is to say that Jason & his glove talk & Jason & I talk. I can't hear his glove.' Welcome to the 21st century, we guess."

The DVD leaves out the poetry, the mythology, the tweets, time's chronological passage into suspense and sometimes nauseating anxiety (as during Game Six of the World Series, when the Cards came back not once but twice from being two runs down with two outs and two strikes on the batter, only to win on Freese's walk-off home run in the 11th inning). It replaces real time angst with sentiment, the sometime tedium of the game with constant action, lives in the climax and denouement without really touching the narrative arc (do I have this at all right, oh prose writers of the world?). So what does it offer, aside from the nostalgia we yearn for and now have?

It gives us Lance Berkman's shoes. I kid you not. The most beautiful moment of the DVD comes when Berkman (late of the evil Houston Astros) comes up in the 10th inning of Game Six. The Cardinals are down by two, again, and there are two outs, again; Nolan Ryan has risen from his seat in his black coat and is nearly smiling. The Rangers are about to win the Series. But Berkman has not yet gone down two strikes. He has not yet hit the ball into center field to tie the game--again--and he has not yet looked at the camera (sans playoff beard) to say, "there was nothing in my head, nothing." He is at the plate. But we don't see him there when the camera shows us his shoes, toes pointed toward the plate from the left side (his better side), cleats metallic gray against dull dirt. We see his red and oh so carefully polished shoes. This image is worth the price of admission. It is the image of suspense, in the course of a seemingly endless game, but it is also the image of love--time spent--for the game. Time we do not see went into shining those shoes. Time we do not feel went into the selection of those shoes. Nobody else's shoes were so bright. Berkman later tells us that these at-bats go quickly. But that's his temporal field. For us, the moment was excruciating, and the DVD embraces the moment, holds it longer than it should, but winks at us, too, bright light flashing off red leather.

Here, discourse earns its cleats, trumps story, if only for a moment, and then David Freese hits his famous 11th inning shot to win the game, send the Series to 7, and we're back in the land of serious nostalgia, men in white and red romping across the field of view, Freese throwing his helmet down between third and home, celebrants leaping, tearing off his shirt, the all-too-quick return to cliche (alas only Berkman and the losing Rangers' players evade baseball cliches in the film, Berkman too clever and the Rangers' too disappointed to utter the obligatory "team efforts" and "we came to play baseballs").

Five years from now, the red shoes will have trumped Game Six's suspense as it was lived in real time. But for now, the playoffs and the Series are embodied memories, still capable of jump-starting my nerves. Besides, the full set of games is on order--being shipped as I write this--and I'm planning a Game Six party for just after Christmas, after Sangha knows what plot I've been hatching for his Christmas morning. The party will happen in real time, the game in realish historical time, and the result--however well foretold by the archive--will seem as astonishing then as it seemed in late October. I can believe the Cardinals won the Series, but I still cannot believe they won Game Six.

Neither could the New York Times, for three minutes during Game Six. They put out an article with this bold headline: HAPPILY REWRITING TEAM HISTORY, which chronicled--in what they thought was historical time--the victory of the Texas Rangers over the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. How do we characterize the narrative stance of the writer of this deluded paragraph?

Now there will be new pictures, iconic shots that will live in Texas sports lore. The Rangers blew the lead with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth before Josh Hamilton's two-run homer in the top of the 10th. It lifted Texas to a rollicking 9-7 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, and shook the Rangers' status as the oldest baseball franchise without a championship.

No, there will be but one photograph, and this is it. No, wait, let me play you the video, in time:

For a while, my office computer was out of time. I'm on sabbatical, so I don't go in often, but every time I did, I'd turn the computer on and it would be stuck in September, 2011. The New York Times headlines were in that month, and so was the St. Louis Cardinals' home page. Jaime Garcia was pitching, and the Cards were chasing the Braves for the Wild Card. It was as if none of what I've just written about had happened. It was as if Kenny Goldsmith were teasing me with a conceptual month-before-the-Cardinals-won extended grab from every screen on the computer. Turned out the "work off-line" function had been turned on. When I unchecked the box, I was given back my present tense. Back in the world in which the Cardinals are 2011 World Champs, I feel a bit like Wordsworth crossing the Alps. Sublimity comes after. But not via DVD.

Game Six Forever.

[With thanks to the Cardinals facebook hui and farewell to LaRussa, if not quite Pujols. RIP Bob Forsch.]

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