8.15.2012

Poise, or Standing Towards the World

Consider batting in baseball. It is incredibly dramatic and profoundly existential: the batter knows the ball is coming right now — but not quite how it's coming. How is he to stand towards this at once known and unknown fate? How does he comport himself? What is his posture as he anticipates this imminent and explosive event?

The batting stance is one of baseball's great aspects. There are so-called fundamentals — elbow up, back leg planted, minimal movement — but every batter faces his fate in his own way. I still remember hearing the great Jon Miller calling a Giants-Dodgers game when Gary Sheffield, at the pinnacle of his career, came to the plate: "Sheffield steps in, waves his bat menacingly...."  Oh, man! That was Sheffield — against all fundamentals, he indeed waved his bat menacingly, twitching with anticipation — not anxiety, mind you — but rousing anticipation like a cougar about to spring from its cage. 

Some batters are stoic. Some are tightly wound coils. Some plant themselves low and broad; others, light and tight. You can tell a batter in a slump because, well, he literally slumps. 

The world comes at all of us, all the time. There is no down time, only slower and faster, more or less intense. To be alive is to perceive, to have the world literally bear down upon you, inundating you with stuff — air, sights, sounds, feelings, affects, moods, ideas, people. It is relentless.

Like the batter in his box, you know the pitch is coming. The question is: How do you stand towards this inevitable onslaught?

There are others who never let the world come to them at all: they already know the world and hence make everything fit or else they toss it aside. Others, are meek, cowering before the world, stumbling and stuttering. Some are oblivious, the world blowing by them — which can be bliss or not, depending on the situation.

I know that I, for one, am twitchy in that existential batter's box. I rarely wait for the world to come to me. I talk a lot and fast, hoping — I suppose — that my frenzy of discourse will proverbially hit the ball or otherwise control the terms of the situation before I am the one controlled. This is not the posture of a wise man.

With fear of extending the baseball figure beyond decency, a good hitter waits for the ball. Not too long, mind you, but he waits for the ball to come to him. And then goes with it. If he tries to pull an outside pitch, it will not go well. Better to go with it and hit to the opposite field. This is to say, the best hitters are those that remain poised — reposed but ready for whatever may come.

Poise is incredible — it is to be both self-composed and wavering between rest and motion. It is, then, neither still nor moving per se. Poise leans neither back nor forward — it doesn't lunge but nor does it sit back. It demands a balance but without the stasis balance can imply. Poise doesn't lose itself in the world but nor does it make the world bend to it.

To be poised is to move with the world as oneself: to be this way of going with all these other ways of going.

2 comments:

αλήθεια said...

To be poised is to be able learn the art of composing emergence.

You used this particular phrase, that is, composing emergence, in a podcast (why we listen), and I completely loved it!

Thank you!

Daniel Coffeen said...

It's a wacky idea — "composing emergence." I continue to get a lot of intellectual delight out of considering it. Glad you feel the same way!