Essay
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Notes on a goal

It is the last possible moment. He stands away from the ball at an angle, his back arched, his elbows pointing outwards, his head extending forwards, his feet aligned, right in front of left in a line that ends at Reus.

The replay is available from twelve camera angles. The moment is a few seconds long. This is sport in condensed form, thick and full. If a work of art is something you don’t get tired of then a replay could hang looping on a screen next to a Rothko and I think I know what I’d spend more time looking at.

Am I making too much of this? It’s a game. These seconds are unimportant outside the game. Yes, but isn’t that always true?

63. If we imagine the facts otherwise than as they are, certain language-games lose some of their importance, while others become important. And in this way there is an alteration — a gradual one — in the use of the vocabulary of a language.

64. Compare the meaning of a word with the ‘function’ of an official. And ‘different meanings’ with ‘different functions’.

65. When language-games change, then there is a change in concepts, and with the concepts the meanings of words change.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty — Translated by Denis Paul and G.E.M Anscombe

Two defenders stand hunched shoulder to shoulder. The goalkeeper strains to see past them.

Tragedy, then, is the re-enactment [mīmēsis] of a serious and complete action. It has magnitude, with language embellished individually for each of its forms and in each of its parts. It is done by performers [drôntes] and not by way of narrative, bringing about through pity [eleos] and fear [phobos] the purification [katharsis] of such emotions [pathēmata].

Aristotle Poetics 1449b24–28, trans. Gregory Nagy.

Kroos tugs at his shirt and shorts. His body leans over the ball, his feet are still aligned. He looks ready, but isn’t yet. He is fine-tuning, picking at his adidas gear. These are acts of concentration: years of training and personal experience in every gesture. He points his tattooed arm at the goal and he says something to Reus who steps in place and adjusts his position. He is upright, calm, steady, ready to receive the ball with his right foot.

With the tip of his right foot Kroos pokes the ball to Reus. Does time exist? His right leg snaps back to the ground, ready to receive weight again. Then his left foot comes off the ground while Reus stands straight, eyes on the ball in transit. As Reus receives the ball, Kroos shifts his weight back to his left foot, pushes off, accelerates and plants the toe of his right shoe on the ground. For a sliver of time he is poised on the tips of his feet. The distance to the ball is greater than the length of his right leg, then his left foot leaves the ground and covers the distance as his center of gravity arcs around the pivot of his right foot. Now his left shoe is rooted by the ball. His left arm branches outwards, body coiled for the shot.

I settle my body like a rooted tree stump, I hold my arm like the branch of a withered tree… I don’t let my gaze wander or waver, I would not take all the myriad things in exchange for [my target]. How could I help but succeed? Confucius turned and said to his disciples:

Intent sustained undivided

Will verge on the daemonic.

Zhuangzi, trans. A.C Wilson

The lower right leg is cocked, all the way up and back from the knee and then it punches down and pushes sideways through the ball. His left arm folds back in a recoil motion that brings the body back to square balance. The moment passes, he turns away from his shot, Reus reacts simultaneously.

Marco suggested a direct shot but didn’t convince me because it’s just too difficult from that angle. So then we said OK, we’ll do it with a ball-stop to improve the angle, bring the shot on to the target. And then it just worked out somehow.

Kroos, post-match interview

How do you measure the knowledge implicit in a sequence of actions?

No one hitherto has gained such an accurate knowledge of the bodily mechanism, that he can explain all its functions; nor need I call attention to the fact that many actions are observed in the lower animals, which far transcend human sagacity, and that somnambulists do many things in their sleep, which they would not venture to do when awake: these instances are enough to show, that the body can by the sole laws of its nature do many things which the mind wonders at…

Spinoza — On the Origin and Nature of the Emotions

A student sees his subject from the outside, separate and apart. With familiarity he sees its individual pieces. The master inhabits the game.

His cook was cutting up an ox for the ruler Wen Hui. Whenever he applied his hand, leaned forward with his shoulder, planted his foot, and employed the pressure of his knee, in the audible ripping off of the skin, and slicing operation of the knife, the sounds were all in regular cadence. Movements and sounds proceeded as in a dance…

The ruler said, ‘Ah! Admirable! That your art should have become so perfect!’ … the cook laid down his knife, and replied to the remark: ‘I have left skill behind me.’

When I first began to carve oxen, I saw nothing but oxen wherever I looked. Three years more and I never saw an ox as a whole. Nowadays, I am in touch through the daemonic in me, and do not look with the eye. With the senses I know where to stop, the daemonic I desire to run its course. I rely on Heaven’s structuring, cleave along the main seams, let myself be guided by the main cavities, go by what is inherently so. My art avoids the ligaments and tendons, and much more the great bones. A good cook changes his knife every year; (it may have been injured) in cutting — an ordinary cook changes his every month — (it may have been) broken. Now my knife has been in use for nineteen years; it has cut up several thousand oxen, and yet its edge is as sharp as if it had newly come from the grindstone. At that joint there is an interval, and the chopper’s edge has no thickness; if you insert what has no thickness where there is an interval, then, what more could you ask, of course there is ample room to move the edge about. Nevertheless, whenever I come to a complicated joint, and see that there will be some difficulty, I proceed anxiously and with caution, not allowing my eyes to wander from the place, and moving my hand slowly. Then by a very slight movement of the knife, the part is quickly separated, and drops like (a clod of) earth to the ground.

I stand chopper in hand, look proudly round at everyone, dawdle to enjoy the triumph until I’m quite satisfied, then clean the chopper and put it away.’

‘Excellent!’ said Lord Wen-hui. ‘Listening to the words of Cook Ting, I have learned from them how to nurture life.

Zhuangzi — trans., Wilson and Legge.

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