From the Desk of Director Tim Stookesberry
“Trying times are times for trying.”
I saw this quote on a friend’s social media post recently, and it really stuck with me. I think it’s a good way to summarize the stories we’re bringing you in this issue of our newsletter as we’re featuring essays by and interviews with a few of our old and new SUNY Press authors that are incredibly appropriate for commenting on the history that we’re all living through.
is the Director of SUNY Press, and he would love to hear about your publishing projects! Contact him at
Kept from All Contagion
focuses on the period between 1870 and 1900 when germ theory had “gone viral.” How did germ theory mark such a dramatic change in scientific and social thinking on disease and why is this such a fruitful period of study?
I love answering this question! Germ theory was the first moment in history when Western society became aware that
human diseases were contagious. It’s important to note that this was not the first moment humans were aware that contagion existed at all. Things like the bubonic plague were simply
contagious when they occurred. Diseases such as the bubonic plague and smallpox had visible dermatologic signs of illness and quick incubation periods. So, when Cousin Mary visits a shopkeeper who has buboes on his body and who dies the next day, it is pretty obvious that, three days later, when Mary develops identical buboes and dies in a similar manner, the disease is contagious. So
as a concept was not new. It
a new idea that
diseases were contagious, and that very particular microscopic particles caused each specific disease. What was also new with germ theory was the idea that particular people could give you a disease. The former theory was miasma theory, which held that certain unsanitary places might cause disease.
For me, this mixture of realizing that
diseases are caused by specific particles harbored by
has undeniably profound effects on the way humans interacted with one another. Obviously this would make you look at your family—your own children, your spouse, your siblings, your parents—differently than you had 30 years prior. That distinctive tubercular cough that your father has always had now has implications for you, not just for him. I’m fascinated with exploring what people did with that knowledge. Did they choose community in spite of its risks? Or did they decide to opt out of interpersonal connection, because the danger was too great? To have an entire “slice” of time in which everyone is grappling with this question makes it an exceptionally fruitful period of study.
Q: Your book offers a literary history of germ theory, but you look particularly at “Biopolitical Resistance Literature”—including works by Charlotte Brontë, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, and others—that challenged the social attitudes provoked by germ theory. What were some of the views and fears that these writers were contesting?
Well, the general attitude I noted in this period is the knee-jerk human reaction to avoid, avoid, avoid. None of us wants to die of plague, after all! I saw this “avoidant” attitude in fiction, nonfiction, periodicals, medical products—there was a pervasive idea that if microbes were dangerous, the best thing to do was to attempt to avoid or cleanse all microbes and to create a germ-free life for humans. This seems rather natural, I think. We’ve seen it with COVID-19, too. We’ve each struggled with the question of, “how much bleach is enough? When have I gone too far with trying to cleanse that doorknob? How much handwashing is a problem of diminishing returns?” Therefore, what
piqued my interest was a handful of authors I noticed
doing this. Instead of saying, “yes, sanitise to your heart’s content and stay away from others,” I saw these authors depicting, say, a woman kissing a tubercular man because, in the height of their love, she doesn’t care if she gets tuberculosis from him—in the fictional space of the novel, an author can use a situation like that to say, “hey, maybe some relationships are worth some risk.”
Q: Your book stresses the importance that these writers gave to “risk encounters” and what we might lose in the pursuit of a mythical purity: as you put it, “to reject risk is to risk real connection with others.” This might feel a difficult idea to grapple with in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Do these works help us navigate the dilemma we are currently facing between protective retreat and the impact of isolation on social bonds—or should we be wary of drawing too many parallels?
I was just about to make my perennial caveat about COVID-19. I do think my book has important and vast implications for life in the time of COVID, but it’s important to me that people don’t misapply my findings. Giorgio Agamben, for instance, whose work I used in my introduction to distinguish between preservation of “bare, biological” life and a meaningfully enriched existence in community, has claimed that the social distancing efforts now underway constitute another form of losing our emotional and social life for the sake of our bare biological life. This was a bad take, and my argument cannot be applied this way.
The sort of aversion/avoidance I note in the 1880s was much more individualistic—akin to a “prepper” mentality in which one protected themselves and had no concern for others. The sort of global social distancing we’re seeing now is immensely community-minded—we are separating so that we may again come together after we have protected as many of us as we can. In fact, far from this form of social distancing being the same type of “self-protective isolation” that I note in my book, I rather think it demonstrates so beautifully what the authors of Biopolitical Resistance Literature urged: we must look out for one another, or we truly have nothing, for no person is an island. The sadness and loneliness many of us have felt in quarantine also demonstrates this sense.
A second point I’d like to make, however, now that I’ve got the chance to make it carefully and in print, is I am increasingly concerned at what I see as a quarantine-catalysed total risk aversion that
remind me of what I saw between the 1870s and 1900. I believe the global social lockdown was absolutely necessary—we were facing a great crisis of maxing out hospital capacity, and it was incredibly important that we protect as many people as we could. However, I see a lot of people saying now that they don’t want to lift restrictions until things are perfectly safe. Now, of course no one actually phrases it this way, but this is the sense I get from the broad swath of statements I’ve observed. Things will never be perfectly safe. Things never were. I don’t claim to know when or exactly how things should open up—and I’m frankly glad I’m not in charge of such decisions. But I do know that people’s perceived sense of risk seems to have been opened up by COVID-19, particularly as it has made the Western world have to face the fact that we, too, are still vulnerable to infectious disease. But with this burgeoning awareness of shared risk has come a concomitant unwillingness to encounter this risk. As my book makes clear, I don’t think that’s a viable way to live either. At some level, each of us has to think critically about what risk we’re willing to accept, how and why, and move forward. What I see around me now is a vague sense that no level of risk is acceptable, and that’s not realistic or sustainable.
Q: Your book discusses how the subject of contagion gave women authors the opportunity to explore women’s intimate relationships with other women, particularly through literary treatments of tuberculosis. How do these writers navigate the gendered implications of isolation and its particular harms for women in the period?
It is well-known that women bear the brunt of the burden of emotional labor in households. It is my absolute contention that women have struggled more than men in trying to simultaneously raise kids and keep their jobs while working at home. While women’s roles have obviously changed a lot since the 1880s, at this earlier time responsibility for the cleanliness and sanitation of the home fell to women. Working-class women were hired to actually do this cleaning, and middle- and upper-class women were seen as responsible for hiring competent employees to do this work. If illness befell a family, it was seen as due to a woman’s recklessness. Though this may function in more insidious ways today, through such concepts as emotional labor (knowing when a family is running low on bleach, making sure children wash their hands, etc.), I very much believe this burden is still at play.
Q: Your book explores how fiction and drama illuminate and challenge the epidemiological understandings that emerged between 1870 and 1900 and their social consequences. What is the value of the humanities when thinking about the socio-political implications of contagion and disease?
One thing I think COVID-19 has revealed is the value of the humanities as a field of study. When the outbreak first began, I saw the typical STEM-heavy emphasis in the news; people wanted
data and facts
. Of course, I always try to encourage my students to realize that when dealing with disease, the data and facts we are demanding are always about
first and foremost. As the pandemic grew, and particularly as global communities faced quarantine and lockdown, I saw people more broadly recognise that data wouldn’t help us understand what we were experiencing
. Then, I was glad to see a renewed desire for humanities-based perspectives, and for the arts generally. As much as we may want things to go back to normal, this is one of many things that I hope
return to normal. I hope people remember how much the arts and humanities helped them cope during this time.
Note: This interview was conducted by Dr. Rosemary Deller, Managing Editor of the
LSE Review of Books
blog. This interview gives the views of the author, and not the position of the
LSE Review of Books
blog, or of the London School of Economics.
Dr. Kari Nixon
is an Assistant Professor at Whitworth University, where she specialises in medical humanities, contagion, and Victorian literature. Her recent public humanities work has included popular publications with
, CNN, and
Magazine, as well as work with the iAMResponsible project (@I_AMResponsible), a USDA- and NIFA-funded project developed to promote public awareness about antibiotic resistance. Follow her on Twitter @HalfSickShadows.
Thank you to
LSE Review of Books
for allowing us to reprint this essay.
Much of Jeffrey Berman’s work, including his SUNY Press books, engages with the therapeutic power of personal writing. Here, he discusses how a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic can present an opportunity for personal growth and how that can be inspirational for student writers.
A benefit of students engaging in therapeutic writing is that it allows them to share their personal writings with classmates in an empathic, nonjudgmental classroom. They discover that they are not alone in struggling with problems, a recognition that contributes to the therapeutic impact of classroom writing.
This past semester has been challenging for everyone, especially those who were struggling with mental health issues
the COVID-19 pandemic. Once we shifted to distance learning, I gave out writing assignments that encouraged students to explore their feelings about the present crisis. The essay topics included “Writing about Illness,” “The Impact of Personal Writing in a Pandemic,” and “Alone with Our Thoughts.”
Most students complained about online teaching, feeling unmotivated and isolated from their teachers and classmates, but they tried their best to rise to the challenge. A few students wrote about losing relatives and friends to the virus. “I find writing to be a therapeutic way to process my emotions,” one person wrote. “A few weeks ago I wrote about my grandmother’s death. I felt writing about the event was a good way to channel my reaction toward the death.” Another classmate wrote about her expanded point of view: “The first covid-related assignment was the most therapeutic for me, because it was the first time I had sat down and expressed my feelings since being home. It has provided me with new perspectives, ones where I feel both disadvantaged and privileged at the same time. I may live smack in the epicenter of the entire pandemic, but I am home, healthy, and surrounded by people I love, who are also able to do the same.” And another spoke about writing as a form of problem-solving: “Writing has the ability to untangle the messes of complex emotions that need to be addressed.”
A crisis represents an opportunity for personal growth—and the expression of gratitude. “I would say that I have felt more alone with my thoughts now than at any other time in my life. This pandemic has truly forced me to take a step back and appreciate all the blessings in front of me. I believe that this is the cause of my constant worrying about my family’s health and safety. In the event something unfortunate were to happen, I would have hugged them tighter and laughed louder, the last time I was with them.”
One of the most eloquent essays was written by an international student who reminded us that darkness is necessary to see the stars at night. “I remember hearing stories about great poets and saints who spent so much time in isolation and meditation that something as simple as going to the market became like an adventure for them. Even though we all have been in isolation for only two months, I’m sure many of us can relate to this feeling. Thinking about this made me wonder if the isolation contributed to making their writing so great. I wonder if their detachment to the outside world aided them in becoming better authors. There was a proverb that said 'detachment from the world leads to the attachment to one’s heart.' In my opinion, anyone who has the time should try to experiment with this concept while in the current lockdown.”
Who’s zooming who?
In an essay for the
, Mauro Carbone explores philosophical questions and implications of increased screen time during the global pandemic. Carbone’s recent SUNY Press title,
Philosophy-Screens: From Cinema to the Digital Revolution
, draws from twentieth-century French thought on film and aesthetics to address the same philosophical inquiries.
It was March 5th, and Italy had already fallen into the coronavirus emergency when, during an online video forum, I heard the Italian writer Alessandro Baricco suggest considering the pandemic as “the first major crash test of the digital era.”
Beware, though: talking about this emergency in terms of a crash test does not necessarily mean that, given we have crashed and given the very consequences of the crash, “nothing will be the same as before.” Such a sentence was obsessively repeated already after 9/11. Yet, I think that what the cartoonist Francesco Tullio Altan wrote in one of his puzzled-looking women’s speech bubbles stands in the case of the pandemic, too: “Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I believe that after 9/11 we will continue to be the same rabble we were before.”
Still, I would like to posit the hypothesis—and the hope—that at least with respect to our relations to the screens, quite an amount of things will not get back to the way they were. I say “will not get back,” because it is clear to everyone that, in the meantime, a lot has changed. After all, the title of an article published in the
New York Times
on March 31
also states it: "
Coronavirus Ended the Screen-Time Debate. Screens Won
This article, however, specifies that the reported unconditional surrender to the siege of screens would only apply over the emergency period. All the interviewees are in fact convinced that, by the end of this period, our relations with screens will not be irreparably transformed. Moreover, some raise the hope that the lesson will prove useful for us to feel a greater need for physical contact with other human beings. At this point, the reader cannot repress the tacit hope that everyone will beware of such a need, because it would obviously trigger a terrifying resurgence of the contagion.
The doubts about the return to an “as before,” even if seasoned with new wisdom, hence begin to rise. Why, in a world made drastically poorer, should someone continue to buy expensive flight tickets for me to attend conferences in Japan or Brazil, when it is now clear that I can be there from my own home, much to the benefit of the hosting institution’s funds? But also: why, after the end of the emergency period, should I stop having dinner on Skype with that couple from London that I never had many opportunities to hang out with before, now that I discovered it is not only possible, but also easy and pleasant? After all, the aforementioned article in the New York Times reports a meaningful statement by techno-repentant psychologist Sherry Turkle, who nine years ago denounced our technologically alienated condition in Alone Together, and four years ago, in Reclaiming Conversation, pleaded with us to have a chat instead of looking at our cell phones. Well, in the light of the perpetually lit screens in the coronavirus era, Turkle admits that the concern over the time spent facing that light was “a misplaced anxiety,” finding that “now, forced to be alone but wanting to be together, so many are discovering what screen time should be.” Indeed, didn’t the other night’s screen experience allow exactly the conversation Turkle had hoped for, helping me to finally deepen the acquaintance of the London couple?
The crash-test of the coronavirus pandemic therefore made us discover—it is the verb used by Turkle—things that were not crystal clear neither to her nor to us (but let me add: to someone less, to another more
Here are a few points that now spring to my mind:
1. Screens are not—and never have been—simple surfaces showing images. Because they have always operated a certain (historically, culturally, and technologically determined) distribution of the visible and the invisible, they have from time to time
established different kinds of relationships and therefore opened different kinds of experiences
. In short,
screens have never been mere surfaces, but surfaces operating as interfaces
, if this is what creating relations means.
2. With the electronic and, later on, digital revolution, screens have gradually become the main visual interfaces of our communication with others and with the world.
They have thereby highlighted the power to establish relationships that their showing-and-hiding the visible obviously implies
. In the meantime, such a power has been
technologically developed in a multimodal sense
, by combining in multiple ways texts, images, sounds, and including looks, gestures, and voices.
3. However, we needed the coronavirus pandemic crash-test, about thirty years after use of the Internet began to spread, to massively realize, in our collective experience, certain potentials implied in what I indicated in the previous points. Thus, thanks to the screens, we no longer just share snapshots of our meal before even tasting the food, but we eat it
. This is what makes Turkle say that we are “discovering what screen time should be.” And yet, the possibility of spending it that way was already available. In short, “I didn’t know, I have always known it,” as the double formula of the Freudian unconscious would claim. Still, how did this happen? It seems to me culturally relevant to wonder on the reasons that led to this cultural delay.
4. Obviously, such a delay does not concern our collective experience only. Spurred in their development precisely by the digital revolution, screen studies have been focusing mainly on the status of surface of their study object, by investigating it through archaeological and genealogical researches both suggestive and erudite, but often not equally helpful in the understanding of what characterizes the current or upcoming screen experiences, and how they affect our way of being-in-the-world.
5. Even certain visual culture studies were not able to actually grasp and point out the status of visual interfaces featured on multimodal relationship devices that electronic and then digital screens were progressively highlighting. This way, they too often focused exclusively on visuality and its mutations. On the one hand, such studies isolated this area of investigation from the complementary domain concerning the parallel mutations taking place in our relations with language, both written and spoken. On the other hand, starting from the restricted consideration of screens as mere surfaces showing images, such studies moved in a purely
perspective, engaging in rather thoughtless leaps forward by predicting what visual device would supplant the screens themselves, and inevitably ending up finding it in VR devices, as Lev Manovich already did in 2001. However, once we have exited the coronavirus emergency and entered a world in which the most widespread need could become to be connected, interactive, and protected, one wonders if a more effective response to this need could not come from certain head-up displays (HUD), which employ what I call “arche-screen” (Carbone 2019a) technologies such as the virtual retinal display. In other terms, such devices use our retina as their “quasi-prosthesis” (Carbone 2019b) in order to make us access the participatory and multimodal horizons of “mixed reality.”
6. For the reasons set out above,
I believe it is both important and urgent to develop a transdisciplinary research focusing on the study not of screens, but of our present and forthcoming multimodal screen experiences
, in the conviction of their persistent centrality and their decisive influence on the wider range of our social interactions.
7. So far, the scholars who reflected on the proliferation of screens and on the evolution of our experiences with and through screens came mainly from the fields of film, media, literature, or aesthetics, and were inevitably influenced by their training in these areas. It seems to me that it is increasingly urgent to try to focus on what I would call a pragmatics of screen experiences, in the sense in which Paul Watzlawick and his collaborators of the Palo Alto School spoke of a Pragmatics of Human Communication, by explaining that “the data of pragmatics are not only words, their configurations and meanings, […] but their nonverbal concomitants and body language as well” (P. Watzlawick, J.H. Beavin, D.D. Jackson, Bas du formulaire 2011: 4).
In this sense, last fall I submitted to the French
Agence Nationale de Recherche
a “pre-project” (
) which, in my pathetic attempt to make more appealing, I designated with the acronym SES (“Screen Experiences Studies,” in fact). Unfortunately, that pre-project was not accepted, among other reasons, because, as the evaluator explained, “its innovative feature is […] difficult to seize, since the dossier states that SES do not exist yet, but at the same time opposes them to already existing doctrines.”
Who knows; after the coronavirus pandemic, maybe my pre-project would not have posed such insurmountable logical problems to that evaluator. It is also in this sense that I guess and hope that, considering our relationships with screens, “nothing will be the same as before.” Maurizio Ferraris is right when he announces the advent of what he mockingly named “
Post Coronial Studies
.” After all, in order to get a glimpse of the novelty of the perspective toward which we are moving, it suffices to read another article on screens that the same author of the aforementioned piece had published in the New York Times just a year earlier. She then recalled that once “screens used to be for the elite,” while avoiding them had later become a status symbol,” because, as she explained a year ago, “
human contact is now a luxury good
On the contrary, at least until a vaccine will be available and an effective treatment against the coronavirus perfected,
we will preferably use screens in order to have “human communications,” and at the same time to protect ourselves from the aforementioned “human contact.”
After all, the word “screen” is etymologically linked to the function of protecting. And too bad for those who do not have a personal access to a screen, or cannot rely on a good Internet connection.
is Full Professor of Aesthetics at the Faculté de Philosophie of the University Jean Moulin Lyon 3, and an Honorary Member of the Institut Universitaire de France.
Thank you to the Center for 21st Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for allowing us to reprint this essay.
1. M. Carbone, 2019a,
Philosophy-screens: from Cinema to the Digital Revolution
, trans. Marta Nijhuis, Albany NY, SUNY Press.
2. M. Carbone, 2019b,
From Screens as Prostheses of Our Body to Our Body as a Quasi-Prosthesis of the Screens?
trans. Marta Nijhuis, in D. Cavallotti, S. Dotto, A. Mariani (eds.),
Exposing the Moving Image: The Cinematic Medium Across World Fairs, Art Museums, and Cultural Exibitions
, Milan, Mimesis: 159-166.
3. L. Manovich, 2001,
The Language of New Media
, Cambridge MA, The MIT Press.
4. P. Watzlawick, J.H. Beavin, D.D. Jackson, 2011,
Bas du formulaire Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes
, New York—London, W.W. Norton & Co. Inc., 1968.
When I entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, for the first time, I witnessed immediately the larger-than-life-sized statues of three players, uniformed, without their caps, poignantly upright, their expressions confident about their purpose. Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees, Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Roberto Clemente of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I recognized each
not as iconic statues to the memory of the great plays or hits made or championships won—although they all achieved such accomplishments—but as the personal embodiment of ethical conduct and civic duty. Models of aspiration and fairness, each real, known, touchable, looking into the future from a history of humanitarian commitment, racial struggle, and the menace of death.
It was a moment that required reflection on values that Baseball wanted understood. Conveyed to the young boys and girls captured in the photograph behind each player was the standard for preserving Baseball’s place in America. Baseball explained it: “Off the field challenges—and how those challenges are met—reveal an inner character that serves men and women throughout their lives.” Gehrig, Robinson, and Clemente faced obstacles “with strength and dignity that set an example of character and courage
for all others to follow.”
I was in the Hall’s “Giamatti Research Center” to determine the scope of a biography about Bart Giamatti, former president of Yale and Baseball’s seventh Commissioner, who died unexpectedly in September 1989. The documents centered on Cincinnati Reds Pete Rose’s conduct, which Giamatti called a “stain on Baseball.”
In 2004, Rose—15 years after Giamatti banned him from Baseball—acknowledged he lied. He had bet on his own team. He had lied to Cincinnati authorities, to fans, teammates, and the press, and to the United States when he evaded the civic duty to pay taxes. In 2004 he substantiated what former prosecutor John Dowd, Giamatti, and Deputy Commissioner Fay Vincent had proved in 1989. Rose was imprisoned for every parent, son, and daughter to witness.
As if it excused him from the rule prohibiting gambling or that, given his pervasive lying, it was even believable, Rose asserted that he never bet against the Reds. Henry Aaron, who hit more than 700 home runs and was honored in 2002 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, said: “[Pete] hasn’t given any signs of an honest confession … . I’ve seen absolutely no truth.” The rule doesn’t exclude you “if you have 4,000 hits or 700 home runs,” he said. Aaron understood the meaning of Baseball’s “example of character and courage.” Money
and the lie seemed the only imperatives that mattered to Rose.
What mattered to Giamatti, however, wasn’t just Rose’s lie. It was the cunningly insightful, amoral
Rose had in persistently embracing it. Giamatti learned that Rose also lied to the writer of
Pete Rose: My Story
, Roger Kahn; to the publisher, Macmillan; and to at least four lawyers. Those lawyers misled courts of law about Rose’s gambling. Kahn and Macmillan’s monetary interests, and the monetary interests and ethical duty of lawyers, had legitimized the lie and used it to make money.
Rose was the forewarning of a more insidious threat to Baseball. He evokes the insatiable dark lure that has always slithered through Baseball’s owners and players, the looming apparition of greed cloaked in athletic and legal pretense. He lent credence to forces more dangerous than himself. Giamatti anticipated that danger and said to all of Baseball in early February 1989 that he was prepared to do battle.
Giamatti had long engaged in the moral journey to attain fairness. The Quest—the imperative central to the Renaissance Epic—spoke to his commitment to responsible citizenship. “We cannot escape epic’s long view,” he wrote, “that rest will come by never resting, that peace will come only by war.” In Baseball, it was the battle to preserve Elysian Field—the idyllic paradise in Homer’s
and the first game in Hoboken’s green field that to Giamatti and others reflected the soul of America.
Giamatti had embraced the ethic of rules as the base of fairness since grammar school, when on the touch football field, as quarterback he battled tougher and bigger kids fearlessly with the understanding that skill alone mattered. He abhorred discrimination, the claim of special privilege that precluded fairness to others. It tempered the life of his father
and immigrant grandparents. He’d experienced discrimination at Yale. “Those days” he said as Yale president, “must never return.”
In Baseball, Giamatti did the same. “[W]hen baseball desegregated itself in 1947,” he said, “baseball changed America … Merit will win, it was promised.” But, he said, “When [Baseball] failed to deliver completely, it cheated the country. [It] “must again strive to lead, and it will.”
Giamatti melded fairness into everything he wrote, spoke, and acted regarding the game.
As Commissioner-elect, Giamatti made his intentions plain and public. He called out to the dark forces in Baseball—stated that he knew them, past and present, and their vulnerability to challenge, his challenge. He laid the battlefield strategy, the intellect and his duty as weaponry, for the Quest he knew was necessary.
“The conventional quality of contests,” he began, “lies in the fact that games are rule bound”—on players, owners, and coaches. “[T]he essential assumption of all the rules is that skill or merit … will win out.”Giamatti identified the sadistic threat to those rules: the “cult, those closed-off, self contained cultures” of “short-cuts” into the cockiness of special privilege. “Totally absorbed, some [people]”—Rose defined it but not singularly—“feel invulnerable, invincible, completely exempt [from rules] and completely protected from sanction.”
When the cult is given
, that destruction of Elysian Fields in America occurs in its deadliest form: cheating. A “premeditated act [that] has no organic basis in a game,” maliciously intended only “to acquire a covert advantage.” Cheating, Giamatti said, “strikes at the heart … of openness and equality,” which requires that players and teams “all begin … aboveboard.” Giamatti’s unequivocal belief for all to know: “If cheating is not dealt with swiftly and severely, the game will have no integrity” and spectators and other players “cannot trust the game to deliver the fairness it promises.”
Giamatti declared the duty that all Baseball should expect. “The highly moralized (because rule-bound) world of [Baseball] is very fragile in the face of the amoral … hunger to win at any cost. [W]hen those running [Baseball] do not believe their own conventions, then … meritocracy … will be undermined. When laxity on that scale occurs, then cheating on a large scale metastasizes,” and will “threaten to shatter the whole enterprise.”
What encouraged the laxity, Giamatti believed, was the power of money, be it greed cloaked in grand and loud scoreboards that diminishes the centrality of the score or the enormous compensation that removes owners and players into a cult of expectation far from the daily lives of fans. Giamatti knew the damning antecedents, the classic moment when “Odysseus cheated in the Funeral Games near the end of the
” on through to the Black Sox scandal of 1919.
Emerging in time was the premeditated drug-induced plague of steroids, displayed openly in grotesque bodies and fraudulent performances that Baseball accepted. Only the “asterisk” was available to penalize cheaters.
What followed, predictably, was premeditated cheating by stealing by an entire team, the Houston Astros. The legitimacy of standings; every Astro batter’s average; the pitchers skill; the umpire’s purpose; the coveted World Series and player bonuses—all unequivocally corrupted. While fans were deceived, attentive betters cashed in. All metastasized into Giamatti’s fear: players who lied and cheated unpunished, the grand award from unearned wins preserved, no penalty of severity related to the immorality and harm of the wrongdoing that, in the end, confirmed only the power of money. And there stood, once again, Henry Aaron: “I think whoever did that should be out of Baseball the rest of their life.”
And, with cunning timing, Pete Rose seeks readmission to Baseball, now that Baseball has abandoned any standard of acceptable conduct. The looming apparition of greed no longer hides within the history Baseball is intent on abandoning, except as expensive theater. The apparition knows its prey: Cooperstown’s “examples of character and courage.” Replaced by Pete Rose, and the Little League player, dollar bills jutting from his glove, plainly on the take
Giamatti had the help of Fay Vincent’s shared ethical imperative and corporate experience, and the prosecutor’s insistence on truth
Rose was the insightful cultist for whom, if truth was properly found (as it was), the rule’s proscribed penalty was the opening challenge in the Quest. Dino Giamatti said of his brother: “[H]e was going to make it right … It’s in his nature.” Giamatti also knew, his friend David Halberstam wrote, that he’d “end up clashing with” the owners. Halberstam conjectured, “Whether, given the forces … that have worked greatly to lessen the game’s attractiveness [… Bart] would have been able to hold the line against the power of greed and materialism is doubtful. But … we would have had his voice.”
Giamatti would have eloquently, forcefully, and publically recognized that The Fall from America’s Grace was occurring, that fairness and merit were torn asunder by the cheat in uniform or business suit. This Dante scholar knew where to place liars and greed-driven entrepreneurs who’d spread the stain they’d wrought in every town, city, and school that had a ballpark, green or sand or pavement. They’d be out of Baseball. Giamatti never had to confront that choice. Yet who is to say that—with his knowledgeable commitment to principle, to fans who embraced his respect for the game, grandparents holding tightly to grandsons and granddaughters, glove in hand, and to players who retained their pride in a game they loved that fairness helped them earn—Giamatti would not have engaged in the epic quest of a lifetime, and that he would have won it.
Thank you to
Across the Margin
for allowing us to reprint this essay.
And finally, congratulations to Joseph M. Pierce, Associate Professor of Hispanic Language and Literature at Stony Brook University, SUNY, whose book
was just named the 2020 Best Book in the Nineteenth Century by the Nineteenth Century Section of the Latin American Studies Association. Joseph is just one of a number of SUNY Press award winners this quarter.
Another white Man’s Burden
, by Tommy J. Curry—2020 Josiah Royce Prize in American Idealist Thought, presented by the Josiah Royce Society.
The Beauty of Detours
, by Yoni Van Den Eede—2020 Susanne Langer Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Symbolic Form, presented by the Media Ecology Association.