Today, a pause button on standard Museum 2.0 posts and a musing on the particular thrills and perils of fandom. I've thinking about veneration, the private delicious feeling when you bear witness to something glorious--a guitar solo, a mathematical proof, a perfect painting, a jump shot. This blog doesn't often acknowledge the pleasure of being an anonymous audience to greatness.
And that's because it's so fraught. The greatness makes you feel small at the same time as you feel part of it. The anonymity lets you set aside propriety but also requires you give up a bit of yourself.
The person who best described this feeling is one of my favorite poets, William Matthews, in a poem about watching basketball as a teenager.
Cheap Seats, the Cincinnati Gardens, Professional Basketball, 1959
The less we paid, the more we climbed. Tendrils
of smoke lazed just as high and hung there, blue,
particulate, the opposite of dew.
We saw the whole court from up there. Few girls
had come, few wives, numerous boys in molt
like me. Our heroes leapt and surged and looped
and two nights out of three, like us, they'd lose.
But "like us" is wrong: we had no result
three nights out of three: so we had heroes.
And "we" is wrong, for I knew none by name
among that hazy company unless
I brought her with me. This was loneliness
with noise, unlike the kind I had at home
with no clock running down, and mirrors.
I wonder what design elements best allow us to abandon ourselves to adoration and self-denial. The smell. The noise. The refusal of real-life distraction.
Where do you feel most like a fan? Is it in a concert hall, surrounded by screaming fellows, your communal chanting still not as loud as the singer onstage? Is it at the movies, in the dark secret of the soft seats? Is it in a museum, that quiet compression in your heart when you see something too old to imagine?
What makes a place right for this kind of experience?