If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Monday 28 January 2013
Read gnomica 1-250 here!
There is a syndrome in sports called paralysis by analysis.
Arthur Ashe (10 Jul 1943 – 6 Feb 1993)
This clever homoioteleuton appeals to me not only for its clever phonic play but also because it is broadly applicable and everywhere equally sound. It is also known in some more literary or academic circles as the ‘Hamlet syndrome’, well defined here. The type first came to my attention when I was an undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley in the late fifties. (Was it that long ago?)
You’d run into them in the coffee shops on the near North side of campus or along the eateries and drinkeries lining Telegraph Avenue going south off Sather Gate. I still remember some of them – older guys (not many women) with longish hair and expensively frayed clothes, chain-smoking their cigarettes (grass had not yet entered the center stage it was to come to occupy on American campuses that following decade of the decadent sixties), pontificating, probing to see where the weekend bashes were going to be based. At the end of the day (as we say today), they were kind of a sad bunch.
Certainly they were knowledgeable, not uninteresting (in brief doses, and spaced at judicious intervals), educated (in the formal sense) — most of them had gotten their PhDs from Berkeley back in the thirties some time. A few were veterans of WWII or Korea, but I never got the sense that those experiences were what moored them like limpet mines, still two decades later, so tightly to the Berkeley mother ship. They couldn’t seem to pull away, to leave, to strike out on their own. I remember one guy in particular who had been in school with one of my professors, and I never much cared for the supercilious tone of dismissal he took towards his former classmate, my professor, who, unlike this essential wannabe, had made quite a name for himself academically in the interim (but right after finishing grad school in the early 1940s something had served in the North African Campaign [1940-1943] during the war). I just read it as a pining, regretful envy that the wannabe himself had not been able to snip the umbilical and, with all his education and degrees, do something a little more serious in the real world than trying to impress impressionable Depression babies.
He fit Ashe’s characterization to a tee: a lot of deep intellectual analysis to the point of functional paralysis. A loser with a smooth routine of glib patter, often wittily amusing, lost.
When I got to my first (and only) job at Iowa in the early sixties  I discovered that the Midwestern instantiation of the type (like the East Coast variants – those snobs in their bespoke tailoring I’d run into my first year of grad school [1959-1960] around Harvard Square) was just a wrinkle on the coastal varieties – except that now there was grass everywhere!
Well, not being a sports type like Ashe, I draw on the populations in my own universe for validation of his astute observation. And it is indeed equally valid here, and, I suspect, in many other worlds as well. Indeed, as for my bailiwick, I’ve often wondered why there aren’t more ‘wrecks’ like this sailing, wounded, about the nation’s campuses. Graduate school does do something to people, and not everybody runs that gauntlet untouched and, with or without the PhD, comes out of it unaffected in some strange way.
But let me not get started on the relevance of paralysis by analysis when it comes to one’s personal life …
In the immortal and memorable words of Theo Kojak, “Pax vobiscum, baby!”