Sunday, 27 December 2015

The physiognomy of football managers #2

Should we call him 'Roberto' or 'Bob'? Indeed, Roberto Martinez has spent virtually his entire playing and mangerial career in England. He is 'Anglo-Spanish,' rather than 'Spanish.' Can we ascertain this when we look at him?

It must be said, though, Roberto seems more 'Spanish' in appearance - and this indeed is reflected by his teams' style of play. Roberto has helped make English football 'sexier.' This is evident when we look at Roberto's physiognomy: he sports an immaculate suit, wears a Rolex watch, speaks eloquently and is quite likely best groomed manager in the entire premier league.

Roberto is very animated on the touchline. He prances about a lot. He always directs incomprehensible hand signals and gestures at the players. This is most likely a sign of narcissism. Do the players really know what a square, plus four and a wave mean - all signaled by hand gestures? Don't football players have a reputation for being a bit thick, anyway? This is most likely a showcase for the cameras which all are, conveniently enough, perched right next to the managerial dug out.

We can tell by the way that Roberto grimaces that he is brave and that he is a poet. Indeed, he is very articulate and well-spoken. Let's not forget that football managers aren't the leading exemplars of articulacy. They are prone to dishing out tired sound-bites and platitudes such as 'we played with belief'' again and again and again. Let us not forget, either, that English is Roberto's second language.

Why is Roberto, then, a brave football poet? His teams so far haven't been blessed with the highest budgets. He is swimming against the current. The remedy for that would be the old tried and tested English way: lump the ball forward and defend. But no. Roberto plays innovative football with flair, with gusto and - poetically - with danger. When Roberto was at Wigan Athletic, his motto was 'Sin miedo.' Wigan Athletic were relegated from the premier league at the end of his tenure - with the lowest budget - but won the FA cup. This really was a romantic fairy tale. And it was led by the premier league's poet.

We can certainly tell all this when we look at Roberto. When he looks at the field, he is a man on a mission. Yet no-one finds him insufferable - quite the opposite. Unlike his counterpart Brendan Rodgers, Roberto does have a sense of humour and is a very nice likeable chap. Even when his teams enter a losing streak - and this does happen now and again with his teams, even Everton - we can't bring ourselves to get angry with Roberto. How could you?

Saturday, 26 December 2015

The physiognomy of football managers #1

What does the figure of David Moyes tell us about him as a person? First of all, let us make a clear distinction between his two tenures as football manger: Everton and post-Everton.

His two tenures do confirm that Moyes is worthy of the epithet 'Brooding Dave.' The difference between the two tenures is very simple - it is one of confidence.

Moyes has always been static and immobile whilst on the dugout. Beyond those blue, cavernous eyes we can positively ascertain that he is a passionate, glum and solemn figure. He cares about one thing and one thing only: football. His unrelenting energy is driven towards that direction. His mind is racing. He is not thinking about sophisticated tactics. His mind, on the contrary, works on rather binary terms: win/lose. The outcome of a football game determines the outcome of his feelings and his frame of mind. Although not sophisticated when it comes to tactics, he knows that he can transfer his passion onto the players. He has grit and his team plays with grit. He is hard-working and team play with a similar ethic. Hence, they are organised and tough to beat.

Moysie is a working class kid from Glasgow. We can see this when we look at him. We can see that he has been marked by his upbringing. We can see that as he statically stands in the rain, bellowing instructions at his players. His upbringing has informed his values. Hence, he is a Methodist and a Labour supporter. Beyond that, he only cares about his football. We can see that as he stand on touchline. He is tenacity personified.

Once he moved to global multi-billionaire extravaganza that is Mancherster United, things changed for Moysie. He continues to brood, as is his wont. Except that he now cuts a rather glum, flummoxed and confused figure. He is overwhelmed by the new circumstances. He frequently scratches his head, dumbfounded. He is no longer fighting against the current as an underdog. He has all the resources at his disposal. Nevertheless, the circumstances are not propitious for Moysie. As such, he looks miserable and terrified. Will the tenacious Moyes make a come-back? Sadly, Moyes seems to think that he is more flexible and talented than he actually is. He is suitable for a team with a mid-table budget vying for Europe. Beyond that he cannot manage a global monolith like Man U, nor a Liga team like Real Sociedad. He needs to fight against the current. He needs to be in miserable circusmtances. Otherwise, wonderful circumstances make him miserable. Hopefully, he will come to his wits and realise that he a lot more parochial and one-dimensional than he thinks himself to be. We need the real David Moyes back on these shores.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Nausea: A Personal Assessment

Nausea is a book that impressed me a lot. I class it as formative reading. In this brief post, I will not make arguments as such. Rather, I am going to write why this book had an emotional impact upon me when I read it. I am going more for a ‘cheesy op-ed’ vibe rather than a ‘scholarly’ one.

When I read Nausea, I had scarcely imbibed any philosophy. I have read a little more philosophy since. Hence, I did not have the remotest framework to understand the ‘philosophical thesis’ expounded by the text. ‘Thesis’ sounds problematic given that this is a novel, not a philosophical tract.

Apparently, this is the closest a work of fiction has come to being called ‘a philosophical novel,’ according to Iris Murdoch. Surely, a work of philosophy is more ‘holistic’ than fragmentary or plural. It offers a thesis. Nausea is more plural in that there are little tid-bits here and there of philosophising scattered around the text. Surely, a novel can be ‘philosophical’ in so far as it draws from philosophy, but it is not philosophical in that it doesn’t use the same methods. More often than not, a ‘philosophical novel’ brims with arguments, but it doesn’t offer a single thesis which is arrived at inductively. My idea of an exciting novel is one which is completely against the idea of having a thesis. My idea of an exciting novel is one which is ambiguous and anti-didactic. A novel that has any philosophy in it derives its material from philosophy and plays around with it. You can broach philosophical questions in a much more haphazard way. You don’t have to do it properly because the novel is a form without rules. Anyway, let’s get abstruse theory out of the way. Basically, at the time in which I read it, I did not fully extrapolate the existential argument propounded by the book.

Nausea is the kind of novel that appeals enormously to angsty teenagers. Why? Well, because, to state the obvious, teenagers feel alienated and angsty a lot of the time… When I read it, I felt as if I ‘saw’ my life mirrored, to use a crass metaphor, in that of Antonie Roquetin, the protagonist of the book.   

Roquetin completely detaches himself from others. He is a former academic and historian. He leads a subdued existence where he goes for walks across the sea front, writes in cafés and studies at his desk. The title ‘nausea’ refers to the way in which he can no longer derive any satisfaction, or even any feeling, from anything. In a very striking scene, he jabs his hand with a knife. It bleeds profusely, yet he is utterly passive about it. He goes to galleries and he is utterly unmoved by the paintings he sees. He detests music and calls people who go to concert halls ‘mugs.’ He no longer sees a former lover. Every now and then he experiences pangs of ‘nausea.’

Basically, when I read this novel I was also a recluse and terribly alienated. More than anything, over the years I have also felt immunised from ‘enjoying’ anything in the most elementary level. I am going to give a few anecdotal examples. I equate certain types of behaviour as being ‘childlike.’ I feel as though I am seeing the mind of children trapped within the body of adults. It is just adults having fun. When I go to clubs and I see people dancing, I see it as an utterly childlike expression. I feel the same bemused reaction when I see people take ‘selfies.’ It makes me think of them as being ingenuous. How can they go along with trends which seem so utterly artificial? Worse still, I feel as though time passes extremely quickly. While I am isolated in my room, everyone outside is busy having fun. I find their idea of fun utterly perplexing. The next thing I know, all the people I know are busy having children and getting married. Meanwhile, I am still in my room, utterly frustrated because I have not achieved the goals I have set for myself. Hence, I find the sense of alienation that Roquetin experiences, and his immunity to ‘satisfaction,’ very relatable.

I found this novel a far more relatable experience than Camus’ The Outsider. I think that’s down to the fact that Mersault is such a wooden and two-dimensional character. Mersault, although an intelligent and educated person, is perhaps so immunised that he cannot really even bring himself to articulate his sense of alienation. He reacts to his environment, ultimately, in a very primal way. The universe is absurd and there is no universal moral imperative, but Mersault merely reacts to this by murdering a group of people in a completely random way. Roqeutin, meanwhile, retreats into introspective despair. Psychologically, this makes for a much richer experience.

Ultimately, I am not entirely ‘mirrored’ by Roquetin. He is much more educated than I am. I am perhaps closer in spirit to the character ‘The Autodidact.’ When Roquetin meets The Autodidact, he finds him to be a sweet, and ultimately deluded, character. He has no real education, but he is determined to read as much as he can and build a belief system in the process. Roquetin looks down on The Autodidact, but still views him with some affection. He describes him as reading every volume in the library and, once that happens, he will ask himself ‘and now what?’ This goes completely against the grain of the vision that Jorge Luis Borges had in his story ‘The Library of Babel.’ In that story, all of the books ever written are held there. In addition to that, every single variation of an individual book is held there. Books containing gibberish are held in the library. Once one reads every single book, they reappear. Hence, Borges is saying that one can never attain complete knowledge, even if one were some sort of divine entity capable of reading the entire canon of human knowledge. Knowledge keeps growing. One’s perception of something is always open to re-evaluation. Sartre’s view seems a lot more pessimistic than Borges’. Perhaps one can never attain true knowledge, but even if one did – so what? Perhaps, what’s more important is to stake a political position and to gain experience.

Perhaps disappointingly, the novel ends in a clichéd way. Roquetin proclaims (I am paraphrasing here) ‘Oh, I will leave reclusion and my study area! Oh yes, I will become a writer – a novelist!’ This is somewhat similar to the ending of Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, which is similarly sentimental. But then, Joyce is so creative with his use of language in those passages that it remains worthwhile. Anyway. Nausea is one of my favourite novels for a number of reasons and one of the most important books I read in my formative years.

Monday, 14 December 2015

More scepticism please

Case closed. I know what I am talking about. It is difficult to broach a subject with someone who claims to have all the answers. It is just as difficult to do this with someone with a religious fundamentalist as it is with a scientific fundamentalist. Someone who is a Christian might not even be an expert on theology, but he is resolute that the Holy Bible has all the answers, it has a factual basis and that it is a reliable guide for an ethical lifestyle. Meanwhile, an expert on theology might say that the Bible is just a series of myths, that they are not logical and rational propositions and that these myths can be interpreted in a logical and rational way. A scientific fundamentalist would say that science can be used to solve anything and it is the best method as a result. They might not say this because they are experts on science or philosophy, they often say it because a guy in a lab coat told them so. If you claim otherwise – that science cannot solve everything – you might even be accused of being a creationist! (This happened to me recently.) Surely it is healthy to talk about everything, to question everything and to have a plurality of disciplines and discourses. What a few members – not all members! – of the scientific community end up doing is that they shut off all discussion of these issues. Even when non-experts have conversation – and I am not an expert on philosophy or science – all discussion is shut off because of an allegedly consensual view. Is that scepticism?

Science, surely, is empirical. It analyses causality; it doesn’t interpret it. It’s not really about meaning in the sense that language connotes meaning. Science is extremely laudable. We wouldn’t have better living standards without it and I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this without it. That’s all functional. It’s how, not why! Science can explain why I am here in the sense that it can explain the psychogenetic features of perception. It can explain the nature of the physical world. Again, that is all descriptive. It doesn’t explain what something like consciousness means, or the nature of my existence.

So, science is surely empirical. We need facts to ascertain how things as they there. Science can empirically tell me that this really is a computer and that I really am typing on a keyboard. It can tell me how this computer works. But is everything empirical? When we speak about the ideas that language connotes, they have no empirical basis in the same way that this computer or a chair has an empirical basis. Metaphysics cannot be empirically proven because my thoughts are not in the empirical world of cause and effect.  

When we speak about morality, I have values and moral judgements that precede experience. If you try to scientifically reach an absolute truth about morality, you get to really murky territory. If I have a political bias, I might find certain things about universities morally repellent. I might think that fees are extortionate and that students become mired in debts. From a moral standpoint, I might say the there is a duty to provide welfare to attenuate all this.  Someone from a different political persuasion might say that, no, students have to work and pay for their debts regardless of the circumstance as they themselves have made the choice to come to university. So, you can have a moral framework to inform a moral argument, but the moral argument is driven by values and principles which precede experience and hence are non-empirical and non-scientific. The only way to resolve that is dialectically. You have thesis, antithesis and synthesis. How is that scientific? If you were to say that we could use scientific methods to solve these problems, then you are still doing philosophy because you are working with abstract ideas. When someone like Richard Dawkins says that we should use genetic engineering to prevent children with Down’s Syndrome being born, surely this is morally objectionable. You don’t judge the morality of scientific experiments like eugenics through science either.

How can science have a say in aesthetics? (Science has tried its hand at this recently.) You can scan a painting and say it has certain features. That’s just a description of shapes; that’s geometry. It can’t really say how these shapes have been put together to create a desired effect and whether it is good or bad. What about the messages and ideas connoted by the painting? Again, this is impossible. Aesthetically, you might ascertain that a painting is, for example, about the quest for transcendence or about injustice. Those are concepts and concepts are removed from experience. If you say that that is meaningless because it can’t be empirically tested and, is hence, not there, you are wrong because concepts tell us something about experience and hence have meaning. All art is representational (it can be of a concept or a real object or a real life event). The artist has used his intention to represent and/or interpret his perception of something. In this sense, it is expressing something metaphysical and conceptual and is removed from experience. These are ideas which aesthetics explores and that can’t be empirically tested.

Confusion arises when science makes enormous leaps. These leaps should be welcomed by everyone. Science makes progress because its knowledge is cumulative. Philosophical questions are timeless and perennial. We always ask why we know what we know. Epistemological questions like those are philosophical, not scientific. Ditto to morality, aesthetics, metaphysics, ontology and on and on and on. The reason why it hasn’t led to any ‘findings’ after thousands of years is very simple – its problems are insoluble. If you want findings, then yes, by all means, go to science. I don’t understand why, for instance, finding how the universe came to being discredits philosophy or even theology. On the contrary, it makes more of a case for them. It leads to more questions and more speculation. If I learn what the causal factor of the universe is, then that makes me think about my being here and the existence of other objects in a different way. You can theorise why there is something rather than nothing. Theologically, it has implications because you can work existing theories and ideas about creation around it.  When Stephen Hawking claims that ‘philosophy is dead,’ this is an example of that confusion. It seems to imply that morals, ethics, epistemological questions progress in the same way that science and technology do. If you make the claim that they do progress, then you still doing philosophy.