You wouldn’t think that Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un had anything in common with Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee, but they do. That very strong link is sports. Rodman recently visited North Korea and hung out with Un while they bonded over their basketball obsession. In a recent book of letters written between 2008 and 2011 Auster and Coetzee spend at least a quarter of the book lobbing their ideas about sports back and forth. They meander between wonder for various games they’ve played and absolute confusion and guilt over the hours spent glued to a TV screen vicariously hypnotized.
I’ve never understood this culture’s obsession with spectator sports, so it is an incongruous pleasure reading great minds at work. This is Coetzee musing about envy. "One starts by envying Federer, one moves from there to admiring him, and one ends up neither envying or admiring him but exalted at the revelation of what a human being – a being like oneself – can do". At one point they go into this riff about the rise of mass sports and cult of numbers and the importance of hooking people with numerical packaging (think baseball stats).
These guys are anthropologists, historians, poets and most importantly pretty engaged human beings. I have experienced such a strange pleasure reading these letters, perhaps a little like watching spectator sports. One of them will serve up a subject like dying which will lead into the difficulties with language and the chimera of memory which opens up a path to our obsession with food and food rituals. I feel like I’m almost there with them.
They both dislike interviews. Coetzee says that I have often felt oppressive boredom as I listen to myself mouthing off to interviewers. To my way of thinking real talk only occurs when there is some kind of current running between the interlocutors. And such a current rarely runs during interviews. The current in this book kept me up reading late in to the night!