writings: Books: Reviews: "Boldens øjne, værens ben"
What do you do when the ball comes?

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(Below is an unedited Google translation of "Hvad gør du, når bolden kommer?", a review by Mikkel Krause Frantzen of "Boldens øjne, værens ben: Notater langs idrættens spalte(n)de veje" ("Eyes of the Ball, Bones of Being: Notations along the divisive ways of athletics") that appeared in the Danish newspaper Politiken, Oct. 20, 2018.) To see the original in Danish (as PDF), click the image at left.

What do you do when the ball comes?

In his new book, Torben Ulrich reminds his readers that it could of course be different. That the game, the sport and life as a whole could easily be defined from other parameters than competition, results, winning or losing.

By Mikkel Krause Frantzen
(Five of six hearts)

No less than 90 years filled Torben Ulrich the other day. Shortly before, a collection appeared on his best texts on jazz over the years, 'An alarm clock in Cecil Taylor's grand piano: texts on jazz 1945-2005', which I reviewed here in the newspaper with 5 hearts. But on the actual birthday, October 4, when Gallery Tom Christoffersen also opened an exhibition of Ulrich's paintings, the book 'Eyes of the Ball, Bones of Being' with the subtitle 'Notations along the divisive ways of athletics' also appeared. Reportedly, the work has been several decades along the way, but now it is here: a life work. A smaller masterpiece.

The book consists purely of two tracks. On all left-hand sides, texts in English, so-called songlines, song lines, lyrics or simply just poems. On the right-hand sides, a text runs in Danish, which in the absence of a better one could call a coherent prose text of a philosophical nature. There are a total of 108 of them both, a figure which, according to the tireless editor Lars Movin, refers to the Buddhist or Hindu prayerman's mala, which usually has 108 beads. Either way, the whole book is based on the tennis ball, the sport, the game, athletics.

As a former tennis player at Torben Ulrich knows what he is talking about, but what he is talking about, goes far beyond the American hardcore tracks in Queens, the red French gravel, the green English grass or KB's courses in Copenhagen. For when Ulrich speaks - and writes - about tennis, he also speaks of Eastern Buddhism and Western philosophy, economics and ecology, art and cosmology, ethics and politics. And above all, he speaks of coming beyond the dualism that both defines sport as such and the world as we know it: the dualism that people up in the winners and losers who win or disappear.

The first left of the book begins (all the texts are in italics): »when / the ball / comes // it / comes / as / the mark / of / a question: / how // to play«. And ends: »when / the ball / comes, / maybe // it also / asks: / what / you / mean / by / play«.

And yes, what do you really mean by games? Are you able to think or play a game where - when the ball comes, when the ball comes as the chorus sounds - not just thinking about smashing the ball to erase its opponent, adversary. Where what Ulrich articulates it elsewhere is the term and not the imprint that depends. Where the game's ongoing game is more important than the game's outcome, the result, the binary code, 1 or 0, inside or out.

Obviously, how concrete it is to run out of the stack is not so easy to decide, but Ulrich has seen, even in his career and in his life, not the road, but a road, one among many possible roads. It is important to note here that he does not introduce a new dualism, competition and non-competition. No, he perceives "it differently as another way, not as an opposite way". It is not that the result is rejected, it just becomes secondary, because some other and more potential fields arise.

The right sides are filled with references: Deleuze, Haraway, Whitehead, Kierkegaard. There is Buddhist thinking and theoretical physics. There are a number of neologisms "binaries, the (oblique) safe point of view, both legs on the ground". Body Feel helpfulness. Mærksom. Weather and the weather (and with the dot above the a). What it is about is a teaching, a training of common thought patterns and learned habits. Then, to dare and allow ourselves to ask the question: What if we tried to think the sport and life differently? What if ... Somewhere quoted Spinoza: "What manages the body? What can we do if we wonder intensely? What can happen if we open ourselves intensely to another movement, other movements that we do not know or master than do not dream to master? ". No one knows what the body can do. No one knows what a body is capable of. Nobody knows.

BUT IS IT not a utopia? yes. But not a utopia in the sense of impossible and unrealistic. Rather, utopia as a challenge like not-two. As a room where there are not always two options, but a whole spectrum, i.e., a space beyond the space of the results; a room that, with the author's own words, does not "taste of numbers." A space where one does not seek to avoid or achieve anything.

Somewhere, Ulrich writes about the ubiquitous principle of competition "that prints the prices that test the effort, the energies that push the lemon, the mind that serves the nation, the way of life, the ways of life," then he writes, "Can it be different? Maybe. Or rather: It could of course easily be. It could of course be quite easy, but it is so easy to forget: In a time when we have just forgotten that things could actually be different, we need such reminders.

THE ONLY PROBLEM I have with 'Eyes of the Ball, Bones of Being' is the graphic organization. The book as object, the visual side. Because it just looks a bit cheap, and it is really incomprehensible when now also one of Ulrich's typical paintings - done with ball and paint on rice paper - is placed on the front page. There are probably also those who will find the thoughts in the book somewhat obscure or just hard to accept, but the whole project is precisely to come out on shaky ground: theoretically and practically. Intellectually and physically. And then one can always just enjoy themselves with the left-wing poetic, but also critical texts. Like this sarcastic commentary on today's tennis players: » will / this / great / fist // pumping / take / you / through / the final / will // it / soften / the hearts / of / sponsor, / save // iraq , / show / the world / how / much // you're / really / trying «.

(Photo caption) Buddhist thoughts. Torben Ulrich got the idea to write a book from a Buddhist leader, Karmapa, who suggested he write about Buddhism's thoughts in the glow of tennis. The book has been more than 40 years underway.
Photo: Emma Sejersen