Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Olympic Intrusions

In spite of the great reading time I had during the opening ceremonies, I have found the Olympics are, overall, not conducive to reading. The TV goes on and it is as if I am hypnotized. I am unable to turn away even during the too frequent commercials. My sister says she thinks they are broadcasting on some mind control frequency which forces all normally non-sporting, non-TV watching people to watch. I wouldn't be surprised if I got an electric shock through my remote control finger if I try to turn it off. But of course I haven't tried. There is something utterly fascinating about the Olympics, especially to this unalthetic bookworm. I am convinced the only reason I was able to play two years of varsity soccer and on year of varsity tennis in high school is because they had no one else who wanted to be on the losing team. Really. On my school's soccer team, after all positions were filled on the field, there were only two girls sitting on the bench. Sometimes one of those girls was me, but not always. As for the girl's tennis team, we had only three individual players and two sets of doubles players. I played doubles with my younger sister and when we weren't yelling at each other for screwing up we managed to win once in awhile. So it is with much awe and amazement that I watch the Olympics. But, did you know that the ancient games used to have a place for literature? So says Tony Perrottet in his Village Voice essay, The Literary Olympics:

sports fans are feeling pretty righteous these days. With the Olympics kicking off in Athens, the connection to the ancient Greeks has made every Bud-swilling couch potato feel somehow related to the Apollonian ideal. But we pallid, bespectacled book lovers shouldn't miss out on all the nostalgia. The world has forgotten that literary "happenings" were once an essential ingredient of all ancient athletic festivals; for those well-rounded Greek crowds, the 90-pound-weakling writers could be as compelling an attraction as the beefcake that paraded stark naked around the stadium. In fact, we should thank the first Olympics for several crucial breakthroughs in the Western literary tradition—including the pioneering act of self-promotion by a celebrity-hungry author. In 440 B.C., a struggling young prose stylist named Herodotus wanted to publicize his newly composed account of the Persian Wars (it was the first work of written history—an experimental literary project if there ever was one). Rather than embark on a multi-city book tour—an expensive, time-consuming, and dangerous venture, dodging pirates and storms around the Aegean—the budding writer came up with a brilliant PR stroke. Why not premiere his work at the hallowed Olympic Games, when the entire social register of Greeks were gathered in one spot?
Ah the good old days when literature was deemed just as important as a good body. I may have failed even then with my lack of athleticism, but at least I'd be able to hold my own in the sport of literature.