Petrarch (on lost souls and tennis)

In pursuit of a possible piece centring on the too-soon departed David Foster Wallace, that brilliant and neuron-crackling and ultimately doomed writer, that Guy with Curious Hair (and an ever-present headband), that Broom of multiple Systems, that brain of infinite zest, that Pale authorial King, that supposedly fun-tastic writer-thing he’ll never be or do again¹ – and oh, the loss that was to us, though too few know it! – I bought a posthumously issued collection of his essays, Both Flesh and Not. Before I could even finish the first piece, his classic take on the on-court genius of tennis god Roger Federer, the universe delivered a piping-hot review of another posthumous collection of all the tennis-themed Wallace oeuvre. (It’s called String Theory, which title is a tidy bow linking ribbons of jockery and the nerdiest domains of physics. Would Wallace have approved of the title? Sure, it’s a pun, but not the most brainless, after all.) In eager pursuit of writing I didn’t actually have to do – that is, somebody else’s – I was electronically extracted from the old-school pulpy pages of Both Flesh, (surely by Twitter, or perhaps it was Wikipedia?) pricked by precisely God-only-remembers-what in the Federer piece, and then virtually dragged to an on-line review of String Theory, which rubbed my ever-forgetful nose in pungent memories of what little I know of the desperately sad and finally self-destroying DFW, laden meanwhile with my own fumbling, muted, doomed urgency about doing whatever for no particular reason or special benefit to anybody but my imaginings, vain or narcissistic or otherwise.

This is the author photo for "Both Flesh and Not". Very high, this man, on my Wish I'd Met Him list. Reading more will only make this worse, but that's okay.

This is the author photo for “Both Flesh and Not”. Very high, this man, on my Wish I’d Met Him list. Reading more will only make this worse, but that’s okay.

¹ DFW was famous, in his essays and even in his novels, for an exuberant use of superscripts and page-end notes, digressions and elaborations that were just as fascinating as the central march of his subject. Sometimes there were end-notes to his end-notes. This note of mine points back to a set of descriptions each of which nods to one of his most important book-titles. Way too nerdy-clever (clerdy! nerver!), I know, but I had fun.

And somewhere in that review was Petrarch,

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Roger and Rafa, Legacy and Kitsch

NEWS FLASH! Rafael Nadal, a short-ish lefthander from Spain, of all places, just won the United States Open tennis championship! It was a stunning, unforeseen victory that left him flat on his back, overwhelmed by exhausted emotion, utterly shocked by this incredible result in one of tennis’s greatest venues, and one of its most important tournaments of the year.

Well, no. Not really. Although he did lie prone on the court, absorbing the admiring roars of 22,000 at the Arthur Ashe court, attracting millions of viewers and hundreds of millions of GIFs and dramatic stills, it was hardly a shock. Nadal is the king of contemporary tennis. This was his 13th major championship, and a 2ndvictory in New York. Pardon me for probing the sincerity of his reaction – from all I’ve read and seen, Rafa is an astonishingly fierce competitor on court, a dedicated trainer and a fine gentleman off it – but haven’t these amazed post-match collapses become a little clichéd?

This was’s photo of Nadal in victorious distress. Way in the background, Djokovic waits to be acknowledged.

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