Edward Rothstein,

A weeklong electronic journal.
March 3 1998 12:30 AM

Edward Rothstein,

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

       I don't know many critics who go out for team sports, particularly not critics like myself, who are eggheads. We spend too much time determined to figure out everything for ourselves, shunning the dangers of groupthink, opposing the forces of fashion, the pressures of indebtedness, the obsequies of fandom.
       Whatever drummer this critical mass marches to, it is not often compatible with notions of teamwork, self-sacrifice, and submission to the will of a coach. We march to the spastic beats of self-conscious individualism--a perverse conformity. Which is why we are so often so similar in our iconoclasms. As the art critic Harold Rosenberg once slyly suggested (in a somewhat different context), we are a herd of independent minds.
       All right, I exaggerate; I know some ball-loving, sports-playing intellectuals. But I was shocked to hear myself cheering a basketball game on Sunday afternoon. There, on the court, was on display everything a critic avoids. The players were not taking the time to contemplate each move but were reacting swiftly and decisively to twists and turns of the opposition; the players were not determined to make a distinctive mark but were giving up a high-risk chance for individual glory in favor of a greater chance of group success; the players were not marking out their own borders of mastery but were fluidly shifting territories in reaction to circumstance. Not a herd, but a team.
       And I watched in admiration.
       Of course, it helped that my 10-year-old son was one of the players--wiry, small, focused, indefatigable, racing across the court to interfere with the opposition's layup, passing, leaping, blocking, shooting. Where had this spiritedness and sprightliness, this energetic devotion to a goal, the inner determination to compete and win--where had all this come from?
       I was more accustomed to spectacles like the one I saw a few days before, in a sinewy, smart piano recital at New York's Alice Tully Hall by a young man named Max Levinson. I've given up going to many concerts or recitals--20 years of music criticism is more than enough, particularly in an era as uneven and uninspired as our own. But when Mr. Levinson toyed with the lilting syncopations of a Gershwin prelude, or disclosed the ways risk and passion are knit into the architecture of Schubert's "Wanderer" Fantasy, I was reminded of the profession's pleasures.
       And I conveyed them to his piano teacher, Patricia Zander, when I gave her a warm, sustained embrace during intermission. For a short time, too long ago, Patricia was my teacher as well, providing weekly glimpses into the extraordinary worlds that lay on the other side of technical labor and hours of drill. I remember the bicycle ride to her house in Cambridge, Mass., my fingers still warm from practice, my ears rehearsing the music's possibilities. Sometimes I would leave lessons in frustration, stymied by limitations and awed by demands. Other times, I would leave practically humming with a sense of the interpenetration of music and life, having gratefully submitted to the glories of a musical order while thrilling to hints of potential mastery.
       Maybe that is a bit of what Aaron also feels when he's racing for the ball. I'm going to go see him play again next week. Then, maybe I'll make some inquiries about getting Knicks tickets. Someday, I may even reconsider my herding instincts.

Edward Rothstein is cultural critic at large for the New York Times and writes the paper's "Connections" column on technology (archived here). He is the author of Emblems of Mind: The Inner Life of Music and Mathematics.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The Feds Have Declared War on Encryption—and the New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You

It spreads slowly.

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Activists Are Trying to Save an Iranian Woman Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?