Winter 2014-2015

On the Ball

A global roundtable

D. Graham Burnett

“You won’t believe what just happened. I was standing out there, getting ready to stride toward the ball, when a strange feeling came over me. I was looking right at the football. It was up on the tee. I was standing ten yards away, looking right at it, waiting for the whistle so I could make my approach, and that’s when I got this strange insight. I wish I could describe it, Gary, but it was too wild, too unbelievable. It was too everything, man. Nobody would understand what I meant if I tried to describe it.”

“Describe it,” I said.

“I sensed knowledge in the football. I sensed a strange power and restfulness. The football possessed awareness. The football knew what was happening. It knew. I’m sure of it.”

“Are you serious, Bing?”

“The football knew that this is a football game. It knew that it was the center of the game. It was aware of its own footballness.”

“But was it aware of its own awareness? That’s the ultimate test, you know…”
—Don DeLillo, End Zone

D. GRAHAM BURNETT: On the occasion of Cabinet’s current theme issue, it’s a pleasure to host our roundtable discussion this evening—a conversation that we hope will meaningfully re-center a number of debates associated with theoretical reflection on the culture and history of “sport.” Picking up on a streak of recent philosophical work that has urged experimentation with various heuristic vitalisms, our aim here will be to “think sports” from a perspective frequently overlooked, and thereby to solicit insights from a subject position ineluctably central to many sport forms, but almost entirely marginal (for whatever reason) to sport discourse. To that end, then, let’s have our panelists briefly introduce themselves.

CATFORD KING: Good evening. I’m Catford King, and I am the 1966 FIFA World Cup final ball. I participated in England’s 4-2 victory over West Germany (with Geoff Hurst scoring a memorable hat trick) at Wembley Stadium on 30 July of that year. I currently reside in Preston, and lecture in cultural studies at the University of Lancashire.

JUNE BENTEVOLO: And I’m June Bentevolo, and I’m based in Redwood City, California. I’m an artist. But in 1973 I was one of the polyester balls that Professional Bowling Association hall-of-famer Paul Colwell notoriously left soaking in a highly volatile mixture of toluene-based solvents in the bathtub of his hotel room the night before a major tour tournament. Some of you will know that this was a technique for “softening” the new generation of synthetic bowling balls of that era, to give them more spin-grip on the waxed lanes. It was hard on all of us. The practice came to a halt after the scandal occasioned by Colwell’s near-death that night from the inhalation of toxic fumes. I also teach art.

XIN HAO: Hello, I am Xin Hao—you can call me Jimmy—and I’m a table tennis ball. I am a Chinese-American, and I recently finished a PhD in rhetoric at Berkeley. I’m currently doing a post-doc in Media, Culture, and Communication at NYU, and I serve on the editorial board of Cross-Cultural Poetics.

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