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Erik Barnouw in his Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film writes this about Polish cinematographer Boleslaw Matuszewski on pages 27 to 29:

He recognized that history does not always happen where one waits for it, and that effects are easier to find and photograph than causes.

This makes me wonder whether brilliant documentary filmmaking captures the causes and not only the effects. It allows viewers to understand why something happened or why something is the way it is.


I am reading Terry Eagleton presents Jesus Christ The Gospels. The meat of the book is found in the Introduction and Note on the Text. The rest of the book is The Gospels by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and may be found in any Bible near you. The version of The Gospels translation used here, Terry Eagleton explains, is the New Revised Standard Version, which

is the academic translation of choice for university theology and probably the most widely authorized among churches.

Of course this version of The Gospels comes with footnotes that explain some of the issues raised in the introduction.

I have to confess, despite not being born into the Catholic tradition, that I have not read the Bible. I tried in my early teens, but I didn’t get it. I have been told by S that the biblical text is rather poetic, but I have not yet stumbled upon such instances, or I haven’t noticed them.

One thing I did notice on my current exploration of The Gospels however, was this in Mark chapter 11:

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. 12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. 15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16 and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.

If you, like me, suffer from sudden sugar lows you too may have recognised what I recognised in this story. Jesus was hungry. He had not eaten for a while and had become ratty. This happens to me, too, when my blood sugar levels drop and I become single-mindedly focused on food. It makes me wonder whether, had Jesus eaten, or had there been figs on that tree, would the story have unfolded as it did? Would he have driven out all the traders?

That’s it.

The title of this post is also the title of a chapter in J.M. Coetzee’s ‘Diary of a Bad Year’, which I am about to conscientiously type up for you. It so happens that I am reading this book and this chapter during the 2010 Soccer World Cup spectacle and the first section of this chapter offers pause for some interesting reflection:

In athletics, in foot races, it used to be the case that, when the judge at the finishing line could not tell who had won, he would declare a dead heat. The judge here stood for the common man – the common man with the keenest eye. When, in an athletic contest, the keenest common eye can discern no difference, then, we used to say, there is indeed no difference.
Similarly, in a game like cricket, the understanding used to be that when the umpire said that something had happened – the ball had touched the bat, for example – then for the purposes of the game it had indeed happened. Such understandings were in accord with the somewhat fictive character accorded to sporting contests: sport is not really life; what “really” happens in sport does not really matter; what matters instead is what we agree has happened.
Today, however, the outcomes of contests are decided by devices keener than the keenest human eye: electronic cameras divide each second into a hundred instants and save each instant in its frozen image.
The handover of the power of decisions to machines shows how far the nature of athletic contests, whose model used to be children’s play – the contestants played at being foes – and whose modus operandi used to be consensus, has been reconceived. What used to be play has now become work, and decisions about who wins and who loses have become potentially too important – that is to say, too costly – to be left to the fallible human eye.
The lead in this anti-social, anti-human turn was taken by horseracing, which despite being known as the sport of kings always had a questionable standing in the gallery of sports, both because the contestants were not human beings and because races were so nakedly a vehicle for betting. Simply put, deciding the result of a horserace was left to the camera because so much money rode on the result.
The abandonment of the old, “natural” ways of adjudicating in sport in favour of new, mechanical ways paralleled a larger-scale historical development: from sporting competition as a recreation for healthy young males (and to a lesser extent females), which members of the public with time to spare could, if they felt so inclined, watch for free, to sport as an entertainment staged for masses of paying spectators by businessmen employing professional contestants.
To the generation brought up under the new dispensation, laments over what has been lost are as uninteresting as laments for the demise of the wood-frame tennis racquet. Should the Jeremiahs therefore shut up? The obvious answer is Yes. Is there any sense in which the answer might be No?
In sport, even in modern sport, we look forward to equal contests. A contest whose outcome is a foregone conclusion does not engage us, save perhaps when the weaker contestant performs bravely enough to win our sympathetic admiration. For to face up bravely to a stronger rival is of course one of the lessons that sport, as a cultural institution, was invented to teach.
The confrontation between a nostalgic, backward-looking view of sport and the view that predominates today may have an analogous cultural value. That is to say, the argument that the past was better than the present cannot be won, but at least it can be bravely put.

From J.M. Coetzee’s ‘Diary of a Bad Year’.

July 2018
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