Episodes in the Life of Bounce

Weiditz_Trachtenbuch_1529_finalCarlin Wing at Cabinet Magazine:

All cultures engage in some form of ball play. Ball games are a basic way for us to hone what computational neuroscientist Beau Cronin calls “the quotidian spatiotemporal genius of the human brain,” and over the past two hundred years, they have come to dominate the popular imagination, with huge swaths of airtime and large volumes of ink given over to the dramas of soccer, basketball, baseball, American football, tennis, golf, rugby, cricket—the list goes on.1 All ball sports are aleatoric structures organized, to greater or lesser degrees, around bounce. Aleatoric structures—structures of planned chance—produce a reliable kind of uncertainty. We don’t know who will win and who will lose, but we know that at the end of the day, there will be a winner and a loser. A ball introduces a second, more uncertain, kind of uncertainty into the fray. Its bounce dances along the edge of our predictive capacity, always almost but never fully under control. At least in the Anglophone world, this second kind of chance—the chance of the ball—seems to be especially important to our contemporary understanding of play.2 While other kinds of contests are raced, run, rowed, and swum; wrestled, fenced, fought, and boxed; timed, weighed, measured, and judged; ball games are played. And only an athlete who contends with balls (or pucks, or shuttlecocks, or other third objects) earns the title “player.” We become players in and through bounce.

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