Marianne Moore, the baseball fan

I just learned from Chris Fischbach, publisher of the great Coffee House Press, that Marianne Moore once threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium.  I always thought she was a Dodger fan!  My hope is that she threw the pitch and then said “I, too, dislike them.”

I forgot that there was actually baseball in this poem!  See:

the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
                   do not admire what
                   we cannot understand: the bat
                             holding on upside down or in quest of something to
eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf under
        a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse that feels a flea
                                                                                         the base-
       ball fan, the statistician—

 

(line breaks kind of destroyed by WordPress, sorry)

I’m actually not sure how to read this — I think the catalog here is not delineating who “we” are, but rather what we cannot understand and thus do not admire.  What makes a baseball fan hard to understand?  Maybe this makes more sense in 1924, when the first version of the poem is written, and we’re not so far from the point where the term “fanatic” for a baseball rooter acquired its permanent abbreviation.  But why is it hard to understand the bat looking for something to eat?  The other animals in the poem are, indeed, engaging in some weird repetitive unparseable motion, but the endless quest for food seems like something we fail to admire precisely because we do understand it.

The appearance of the “bat” before baseball is presumably on purpose but I don’t really understand the work it does.

Also, the famous phrase from this poem, “Imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” is not so far off as a description of mathematics.

Anyway, per BaseballLibrary, Moore was a Dodger fan for most of her life but felt so betrayed by the team’s move to Los Angeles that she switched to the Yankees.  Understandable but unforgivable.  She’s the baseball equivalent of those people who repent for their youthful liberal overreach by becoming right-wing culture warriors.

 

 

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9 thoughts on “Marianne Moore, the baseball fan

  1. Dick Gross says:

    The greatest reference to baseball in poetry may well be found in John Slade’s monumental work “Pale Fire”. See the helpful explication of Chapman’s homer in the text by Charles Kinbote.

  2. Interesting that the bat is the most canonical (purported) example of ‘what we cannot understand’ in 20th c. philosophy, no? Maybe Moore has exactly the incomprehensibility of what sonar feels like in mind.

    [Nagel, Thomas. “What is it like to be a bat?.” The philosophical review 83.4 (1974): 435-450.]

  3. Sean Kelly says:

    I’m no bat expert, but presumably what is hard to understand is not that they look for things to eat, but the way in which they do it. All herky-jerky motion – a rapid sequence of constantly updated but only ever partially resolved uncertainties – like they are changing their mind with the refresh rate of a high-speed camera. Or at least, as Nagel would say, that is what it would be like if I were acting the way the bat does. Nagel’s point, as Peli Greitzer notes, is that I could never understand it from the bat’s point of view. MM’s point may be slightly different: that even when I try to put myself into the bat’s activities, it feels a bizarrely alien life for me.

  4. JSE says:

    This fits nicely, then — maybe the herky-jerky motion of the bat (the animal) is meant to refer forward to the waggle of the bat (the baseball implement) that some hitters carry out before the pitch, a gesture whose relationship to the bat’s purpose is opaque but clearly important. We should get Nagel to write a baseball-themed followup: “What is it like to be a batter?”

  5. Hi Professor Kelly! You were almost my 4th committee member for a second last year.

  6. Sean D. Kelly says:

    How funny, Peli – I thought I recognized your name! Sorry it didn’t work out.

  7. JSE says:

    What I want to know is whether Peli is related to Samuel L. Greitzer!

  8. Sean D. Kelly says:

    Forward reference to the bat waggle – I like it! I suspect that Nagel would argue, though, that no batter – not even one with a wicked waggle – is crazy as a bat.

  9. JSE — Not that I know of. But it’s funny how often these gambits work out: last year I made friends with a physicist/literary-linguist named Dmitrii Y. Manin.

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