Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Plurality Of Languages



It should go without saying that international literature is enjoying one of its strongest periods, and looks to continue that way in the coming years. While a lot of my essays in this realm tend to be heavy on Roberto Bolano, I'm hoping to add more diversity to my readings (however, there will be more Bolano reviews and essays coming). Elsewhere, one could point to Haruki Murakami's steady place in both critical circles and mainstream bestseller lists. The books published by Europa have a wonderful variety of titles available, most notably the bestseller The Elegance Of the Hedgehog, which, as a bookseller in the past year, I've noticed has not waned in reader enthusiasm. Most of us are introduced to international literature in high school, and it's safe to assume that works like Crime and Punishment or The Stranger were on your high school syllabus. This may seem like a basic introduction, but it's necessary as I begin to discuss a lesser known title, but one that's one of the best, early examples of a Western translation. Soseki Natsume's I Am a Cat had been on my reading list for quite some time. In addition to being a work that radically goes against most generalized notions of international fiction, the work also brought up many issues in my mind, most notably the idea of the potential limitations in certain translations.

I Am a Cat was originally intended to be a short story, but was expanded by Soseki into an epic, three-volume novel that was completed in 1906. The nameless narrator is a kitten who's wise from day one, and serves as the ultimate critic on human nature. He stumbles into living with Mr. Sneaze, a Japanese schoolteacher and henpecked, unhappy family man. In this living situation, the cat is able to see the comings and goings of a peculiar cast of characters, namely Mr. Waverhouse (who provides a bulk of the comic relief) and Mr. Coldmoon (an intellectual given to long pronouncements and rambling educational monologues). While the cat ages, his mentality never dims nor grows, although when interacting with other neighborhood cats, his preference of engaging in more human mentalities makes him "less" of a cat in some fashions. With the exception of a late-night burglary in Sneaze's home, none of the actions in the novel are particularly climactic. The activities of the people are what one would expect in everyday life, but the cat's narration highlights both his feline makeup and distance from human nature. His personality ranges from hilariously astute....

"To say that I 'sneak in' gives a misleading impression: it sounds vaguely reprehensible, a term to be used for the self-insinuations of thieves and clandestine lovers. Though it is true that I am not an invited guest, I do not go to the Goldfields' in order to snitch a slice of bonito or for a cozy chat with that disgusting lapdog whose eyes and nose are convulsively agglomerated in the center of its face. Hardly! Or are you suggesting that I visit there for the sheer love of snooping? Me, a detective? You must be out of your mind (Soseki 119)!"

...to very somber and thoughtful:

"Now the cat is a social animal and, as such, however highly he may rate his own true worth, he must contrive to remain, at least to some extent, in harmony with society as a whole. It is indeed a matter for regret that my master and his wife...do not treat me with that degree of respect which I properly deserve, but nothing can be done about it. That's the way things are, and it would be very much worse, indeed fatal, if in their ignorance they went so far as to kill me, flay me, serve up my butchered flesh at Tatara's dinner table, and sell my emptied skin to a maker of cat-banjos (Soseki 178)."



What was the most notable to me in my reading was the realism and modern tendencies in Soseki's writing style. Granted, having a house cat narrate a novel lends itself to notions of fantasy, but for the most part, the reader becomes comfortable with this notion, especially given the cat's eye for detail, plus the fact that he himself sees nothing out of the ordinary with his ability to see human beings on their own level. That's not to say that a little more fantasy would have helped. Once the novel gets going, it ranges from brilliant observations to semi-tedious pages upon pages of dialogue that seems to not move the story along. The discussions between the humans, most notable the back-and-forths between Sneaze, Coldmoon, and Waverhouse have stretches of philosophical ideas, humor, and an obvious dedication by Soseki for writing dialogue that reads very naturally. Virtually all of the conversations between Sneaze and his wife are arguments, but they're written carefully, highlighting the simmering tension and unhappiness between the two. Some of their conversations read like a stage play dialogue, an uncomfortable banter that comes very close to an all-out argument.

"'But they say it's very good after eating starchy things. I think you should take some.' His wife wants him to take it.
'Starchy or not, the stuff's no good.' He remains stubborn.
'Really, you are a most capricious man,' the mistress mutters as though to herself.
'I'm not capricious, the medicine doesn't work.'
'But until the other day, you used to say that it worked very well and you used to take it every day, didn't you?'
'Yes, it did work until the other day, but it hasn't worked since then,' an antithetical answer.
'If you continue in these inconsistencies, taking it one day and stopping it the next, however efficacious the medicine may be, it will never do you any good.'
'......I don't care. I don't take it because I don't take it. How can a mere woman understand such things? Keep quiet (Soseki 24-25).'"

I Am a Cat was translated by Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson, and the time in which the novel was written, combined with losses given in any translation, gives the novel a decidedly non-Japanese feel. The novel comes from Japan's Meiji period, a time in which Japan began to open up to international relations (despite its inconsistencies, the Wikipedia page on this era provides some excellent, more detailed information). Soseki also studied in London, giving another side to understanding the Western "feel" to his novel. As with any major transformation, there was undoubtedly some tension between Soseki and Western culture, and that presents itself in I Am a Cat. The characters have their own problems, and it doesn't help when they're engaging in activities that try to strike a balance between Japanese society and Western influences.

Translations are never perfect. Translators should work to provide the most honest translations, but native and linguistic differences can make this impossible, especially considering the idiomatic differences between English and Japanese. As I've mentioned before, it's wonderful to have such a vast bibliography of translated works in English, but it's never the same as being able to read a work in its native language. This led me to seek some outside essays, and I garnered some excellent thoughts from a valuable collection called Theories of Translation. Some eloquent thoughts from Octavio Paz, in his essay entitled "Translation: Literature and Letters," highlights the sometimes treacherous balancing act that presents itself to even the best translators. This opening of the passage below is slightly, uncomfortably xenophobic, but moves into more thoughtful prose.

"The sounds of a tongue we do not know may cause us to react with astonishment, annoyance, indignation, or amused perplexity, but these sensations are soon replaced by uncertainties about our own language. We become aware that language is not universal; rather, there is a plurality of languages, each one alien and unintelligible to others. In the past, translations dispelled the uncertainties. Although language is not universal, languages nevertheless form part of a universal society in which, once some difficulties have been overcome, all people can communicate with and understand each other."--Octavio Paz

While I admire I Am a Cat as a piece of historical, international fiction, I'd be hard pressed to count it as a favorite. For all of the insights into human nature, as well as the relationship between two vastly different cultures, I found some stretches to be too inconsequential. While Soseki has to be saluted for his attention to detail, most of the chapters work much better as short stories, a fact that is acknowledged in my edition's introduction. However, Soseki's natural humor works wonders, giving the novel a comic, satirical side that is evident over one hundred years later. Despite my personal critiques, that is a sign of a novel that can be deemed a "classic." Some classics are wonderful historical sketches, and some are written in fashions that make certain texts continually relevant. Soseki provides both, even in a work that isn't perfect. In the aforementioned anthology of translation essays, I came across a passage by a Mexican writer named Jose Ortega y Gasset. The passage comes from a recap of a colloquium on translations, but inadvertently serves as a perfect introduction to Soseki's novel, almost good enough to work as a summary to the novel's themes. This may be excessively pessimistic, but also provides a wonderful highlight into translations and literary criticisms at their best. How else could an essay from a Mexican writer in 1937 so amazingly highlight a Japanese novel from 1906?

"Animals are normally happy. [Humans] have been endowed with an opposite nature. Always melancholic, frantic, manic, men are ill-nurtured by all those illnesses Hippocrates called divine. And the reason for this is that human tasks are unrealizable. The destiny of Man--his privilege and honor--is never to achieve what he proposes, and to remain merely an intention, a living utopia. He is always marching toward failure, and even before entering the fray he already carries a wound in his temple."

Work Cited:
Soseki Natsume. I Am a Cat. Copyright and translation 2002 by Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

American Wilds




Many decades have passed, many arguments have ensued, and many pieces have been written about what constitutes an American style or literary genre. Of course, there are thousands of American writers, some who write about the national landscape or social issues, and the combination of hypotheses, sequences, and definitions are/could be staggering in scope. Even an idea as wonderfully vague as the "Great American Novel" has been posed and dismissed just as often. Of course, the widespread popularity of international literature and foreign-born American writers adds yet another dimension to this idea, not that I've posed a specific idea anyway. To offer a simple idea, great writing is great writing, no matter what place a given writer calls home. However, as I read Wells Tower's short story collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, I couldn't help but mentally classify him as an American writer. His stories span various settings, most of which are unspecified, whether urban or rural (with the exception of the title story, which takes place in a European Viking setting). There are no politics at play, but his characters and emotions, while universal, seem to fit perfectly into American sociology, for better or for worse.

I scribbled down Wells Tower's name in my notebook after reading a brief but unequivocally applauding review of his stories in Esquire magazine. He's been published numerous times before in some of the world's best literary magazines, but Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned has truly put him in the mainstream spotlight. During my reading, he was named by The New Yorker as one of the best writers under the age of 40. Such hype, especially lumped together in this paragraph, can seem excessive, but as a follower and lover of the short story genre, I'm pleased to note that his accolades are well-deserved. This collection is a careful combination of stunning descriptions and, depending on your personal disposition, some of the most sympathetic or reviled characters that I've come across in some time.

The prototypical protagonist in a Tower story (based on this book) is a male in crisis or at some sort of personal crossroad, sometimes both. Yes, literature is dominated by plays on masculinity, but Tower is careful to make them less obvious, and often with surprising habits. In "The Brown Coast," Bob resorts to filling an old aquarium with various forms of sea creatures as a way to cope with his infidelity and collapsing marriage. It's the sort of act that could go in one of two directions: it could become an obsessive way of coping, or a possible redemptive activity.

"The fish swam in contented circles and did not seem to mind the tiny white crabs that had come in with the seawater. The seams were sweating a little, and Bob patched them as best he could with caulk he found under the sink. Then he hiked over to the grocery store and bought two kinds of fish food. He carried it back, and sprinkled a little pinch of each food into the tank to see which one the fish preferred (Tower 14)."

Tower does create strong female characters, even if they're regulated to supporting roles. "Wild America" tells the story of two female teenage cousins, one beautiful, one not as much. This very scenario, with a less talented writer, could have easily become a mess of stereotyping and cliche, but here, it's handled with realistic depictions. Teenage bickering and togetherness coexist quite well throughout the course of the story, along with a consistent balance of humor.

"On the walk up Smithfield Road, Maya did not talk of Nureyev, or modeling, or of her own greatness. Instead, she boasted of Jacey's triumphs, her singing voice, and her speed in the fifty-yard dash (Jacey had the surprising fleet-footedness you sometimes find in the plump); how at the girls' camp of their childhood, Jacey had outfoxed a group of Methodists who'd beaten the cousins to the signup sheet for canoes by reminding them that at Judgment the last would be first, and that the meek would inherit the earth (Tower 167)."



The beauty of Tower's stories is that the plots, while intriguing, are often left open-ended or blatantly unresolved, resulting in atmospheres that somewhat evoke a more humorous Raymond Carver. At times, I found myself immersed in the intricacies of his eye for detail, and the applications of the classic writing rule of showing, not telling.

"Your mother's fingers graze your sternum, and this makes you uncomfortable. A spray of large and painful pimples has recently sprouted there. They throb with humiliated awareness when your mother touches them. This area of your body is a source of worry, in part because, years ago, a babysitter told you that in their teenage years all boys develop a soft spot in their chests, like a baby's fontanel, and that you could kill somebody by punching him in that place (Tower 115)."

These details make even the weaker stories contain some worth. "The Door In Your Eye" appears to be a sort of homage to Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, but dissolves into an unsatisfying climax that seems to be grasping for obvious symbolism. But as I mentioned, even the shaky plot of the story is lifted by the nuances of the characters, and the unique descriptions that make even the mundane feel heightened. The title story, "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned," could be the most polarizing piece in the entire book. It's an old-fashioned Viking tale, but laced with modern dialogue for a story that feels both historical and relevant, with the dialogue working as bitingly funny in the face of intense violence (imagine what could be meant by the phrase 'blood eagle,' and see if the actual definition matches what you mentally created). When discussing various forms of art and creativity with friends, I often use the phrase "I love this, but I could see how others could hate it." "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned" is a great example, since I can imagine that a comedy based on murderous Vikings wouldn't appeal to everyone.

"'Uh-huh, said Djarf. 'Can't tell us anything about a hailstorm, or locusts and shit, or a bunch of damn dragons coming around and scaring the piss out of everybody's wife. You don't know nothing about any of that.'
Naddod held his palms up and smiled piteously. 'No, I'm very sorry, I don't. We did send a monkey pox down to the Spanish garrison at Much Wenlock, but honestly, nothing your way.'
Djarf's tone changed, and his voice got loud and amiable. 'Huh. Well, that's something.' He turned to us and held up his hands. 'Hey, boys, hate to break it to you, but it sounds like somebody fucked something up here (Tower 227).'"

There are quite a few other stories that I haven't mentioned, but the examples above, while taken out of a lot of context, stand well as previews of Tower's writing style. The sociological aspects that I mentioned above are mainly in the sense that the characters are all seeking happiness in some capacity, but as in real life, it doesn't come as expected, doesn't come at all, or comes in profoundly disturbing ways. Tower's descriptive gifts alone are worth the attention, and combined with the wealth of emotions that the stories contain, the collection is one of the better books that I've read so far this year. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is an example of classic storytelling with unique twists, told by a writer who is rightfully on his way to the attention that he deserves.

Work Cited:
Tower, Wells. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. Copyright 2009 by Wells Tower.

For more on Wells Tower and his creative process, read this interview from Bookslut. Some of this conversation is standard, but Tower does highlight some excellent companion ideas to his stories and creations.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"Likes/Dislikes:" Interactivities


(SPOILERS)
Anyone familiar with Facebook has surely come across online campaigns by Facebook users, demanding the addition of a "dislike" button to go along with the "like" feature. Supposedly, this is done a.) to show disapproval for bad news and to make sure that other Facebook users understand that news such as a broken leg or a crashed computer is nothing to be liked, and b.) because some people waste too much time on said website (I'll cast the first stone at myself). Perhaps it's saddening that such a widespread social media diversion was the first thing that popped into my head upon reading about Blank Line Collective's latest installment, "Likes/Dislikes." One final word about Facebook before I get into the more relevant thoughts: at best, the website can foster quick, yet inventive collaborations, with long-running commentaries and notes sometimes leading to a wonderful exchange of ideas. "Likes/Dislikes" is the epitome of collaborative creation, from its theatrical interpretation to its happenstance origins.

Amanda Lucas and Erica Barnes (the actresses in "Likes/Dislikes") found themselves looking through the zine collections housed by Chicago Underground Library, and stumbled upon a zine called "Likes/Dislikes" by Lacey Prpić Hedtke, an artist/writer based in Minnesota. The subject is a massive collection of simple statements, all beginning with either "she likes" or "she dislikes." There are hundreds of such phrases in the zine, and it's refreshing to find that, after a recent Google search, none of Hedtke's zine work is immediately available, given the creative intent of zines, normally available for modest payments or creative exchanges. Chicago Underground Library (an organization that I'm still planning on being involved with, even though I wrote that several months ago) rarely, if ever, turns down any submissions to their ever-growing database, thus explaining how a tiny, self-created work was in their possession in the first place. Blank Line decided to adapt the work into their latest piece, and the result is a quick, almost avant-garde performance, and a small link in a much larger piece.



The audience is led into the performance space by The Expert (Stephanie Brown), and immediately thrust into a white space completely covered with ink, pastel marks, mirrors, and paintings, with Lucas and Barnes writing, shouting, and sharing various ideas in the vein of "likes/dislikes." There is no seating, and the audience has complete control of where they view the performance, if at all; there's nothing stopping anyone from exploring the art on the walls and just listening to the ideas being exchanged in the background. Furthering the idea of links and collaborations, the audience is part of the creation, functioning as a sort of background to the ongoing movements. The "likes/dislikes" are often hilariously funny, but tinted with some sadness, despondency, anger, and subtle hopes that the various declarations won't be met with jeers or disbelief. Lucas and Barnes work their physical and emotive energies quickly, their "characters" (possible metaphors for the right and left sides of the brain) rarely stopping for any reflection or insinuations to sink in; ideas are tossed about, sometimes with some breathing room, but more often than not written down and discarded for the next round of ideas. The performance was very evocative of the Blank Line production of Eugene Ionesco's The New Tenant, heavy on the action and letting the implications stand on their own.

The beauty of the audience interaction continued on Saturday with a group discussion of the meanings behind "Likes/Dislikes." Questions, complaints and discussions were welcome, and to me, was still a part of the original performance. Every aspect of "Likes/Dislikes" is based on shared creativity, and the decision by Lucas, Barnes, and Brown to open up the floor to the audience was a wonderful combination of shared artistic intent and personal meanings garnered by the people in attendance. Zines are meant to be shared, Chicago Underground Library is meant to be a physical and mental colloquium, and "Likes/Dislikes" is merely an extension of those missions. The performance may lead to some initial confusion and questions, but in reality, that's the whole point.

NOTE: "Likes/Dislikes" has two more performances scheduled:
June 25th and June 26th, 8:00PM
Fulton Street Collective, 2000 W. Fulton Street, Chicago, IL 60612.
Suggested Donation: $10-15, with a silent auction of stage materials beforehand. Click here for more information.

(Blank Line photograph taken by Nk Mooneyham)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Idio(t)syncrasies



Since I'm currently planning some longer projects, I was recently looking for something quick to read, and I stumbled upon Charles P. Pierce's Idiot America. The book jumped out at me for a few reasons, and seemed to confirm an earlier hypothesis that I read about a few months back. I try to balance my readings of fiction and non-fiction, usually with a ratio of about 2:1. The full title is Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue In the Land Of the Free, so naturally it kept with my normal interests in studying intelligence and learning, with a strong dash of contemporary American culture mixed in for good measure. There is a left-leaning political bent, but saying that this book is about politics is like saying Pulp Fiction is about boxing. I knew this going in, and the aforementioned hypothesis came from an article in The New Yorker a few months ago. With such a recent wealth of political (right or left) mediums, from books to blogs to television and radio shows, the seemingly understandable assumption that information from all angles could lead to people becoming well-rounded is considerably false. I'm implicating myself in my selection of Idiot America, but people will naturally gravitate towards authors and forums that they know support their given beliefs. I'm sure that Pierce had a number of critics of this book, but I found that, despite my expectations of the subject matter, he highlighted certain ideas and definitions that go beyond simplified "people on the right are wrong."

Right away, and continuing throughout the work, Pierce stresses that it's possible (contrary to what some may believe) to be a liberal, a critic of certain segments of American life, and still be patriotic. He takes care to differentiate between the notion of "idiots" and "cranks." According to him, there's nothing wrong at all with people sharing far-fetched, even downright crazy ideas, provided that said ideas don't eventually take root and become common beliefs or national causes. Being a crank is protected by the First Amendment, and Pierce thinks that this is something to be celebrated.

"This is a great country, in no small part because it is the best country ever devised in which to be a public crank. Never has a nation so dedicated itself to the proposition that not only should people hold nutty ideas, but they should cultivate them, treasure them, shine them up, and put them right up there on the mantelpiece. This is still the best country ever in which to peddle complete public lunacy. In fact, it's the only country to enshrine that right in its founding documents (Pierce 27)."

The above quote may very well sound like pandering to some, but Pierce is right. In some countries, outlandish ideas could have very dangerous consequences. However, when the "nutty ideas" are disguised as common sense, then they move from being the ideas of mere cranks and into the foundation of Idiot America. According to Pierce, the three foundations of Idiot America are: "1.) Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units. 2.) Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it. 3.) Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough." This is where a lot of the critique of the right comes into play.

There are many ways in which this could go, and Pierce covers quite a few of them. His best analysis (or rather, critique) comes from the battle over the teaching of intelligent design. While this may seem commonplace, given that it's been written about and dissected numerous times by numerous sources, it takes on new meaning when applied to the above hallmarks of Idiot America. The current battle over secular policy and the ever-growing Christian right is not new. Once of Pierce's favorite sources is President James Madison and his writings/opinions on freedom of speech and the separation of church and state.

"Citizens had a right to follow any religion they wanted, Madison wrote. They had a right to follow no religion at all. The primacy of the individual conscience was paramount. His language was unsparing. Religion established by the state is of necessity corrupted. Madison 'argues that religion will best support morality if it is free and pure, working up from its independent and spontaneous roots,' observes the historian Garry Wills. Moreover, Madison contends, the commingling of religion and government is inevitably a recipe for civic discord (Pierce 129.)

Other subjects are covered in great detail: the travesty that was the Terri Schiavo circus, the debate between the realities of global warming and global warming deniers, and the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom. However, Pierce's most scathing criticisms go after the rise of conservative talk radio, and how it has shaped the current political landscape.

"Talk radio was the driving force in changing American debate into American argument. It moved discussion southward from the brain to the Gut. Debate no longer consists of thesis and antithesis, moving forward to synthesis; it is now a matter of choosing up sides, finding someone on your team to sally forth, and then laying the wood to each other in between commercials for male-enhancement products.
Talk radio provides a template for the clamorous rise of pundit television and the the even swifter interactivity on the Internet. And, because the field of play has moved from the brain to the Gut, talk radio has helped shove the way we talk to each other about even the most important topics almost entirely into the field of entertainment (104)."

That last word is the most important: entertainment. The landscape (not just on talk radio) reduces important topics to mere soundbites, and as Pierce warns, it's not just the spread of wrong ideas that is dangerous, it's the notion that intelligence is being replaced by stupidity and pandering. People have a right to believe what they want, but the mass simplicity and ignorance spewed by Glenn Beck and Michael Savage are being accepted as truth by a large segment of the populace. On a side note, it's quite telling (for both sides of the political spectrum) that in the same year, 2009, Pierce published Idiot America while Glenn Beck published a book called Arguing With Idiots.

Subject matter aside, I found Pierce's writing style to be quite effective. His research and journalism are strong, but he's best when introducing the stories that shape his themes. He never embellishes his descriptions, but crafts them so they almost read like a sort of storytelling, which in some hands could be very poor. However, Pierce focuses on details, without going overboard, but laced with great creativity. At times, I found myself pleasantly lost in a great narrative while at the same time never forgetting that this is a non-fiction work.

"The Chukchi Sea is a southern child of the Arctic Ocean. The great Pacific storms that barrel through the tropics and then swing north to devastate China and Japan keep coming, roiling and merciless, until they spend themselves in the Chukchi, battering against the hard barrier islands in the far northwest of Alaska. The storms roar themselves hoarse, having finally found a place as implacable as they are. This is where typhoons come to die (Pierce 195)."

Idiot America , as I mentioned before, has its share of critics, and I imagine that a lot of them haven't actually read the book. However, I'm guilty of that too; I criticized Michael Savage on the basis of articles, not the actual content of his political books. I plan on following Pierce's writings and articles in the future. He's a contributor to Esquire magazine, which, along with GQ, can be an overlooked source for well-written, compelling articles. Pierce, like his target audience, is not afraid to let his opinions be known. However, unless the situation calls for it, he's not needlessly angry or insulting. He gives strong examples of past and current cultural problems, and his overall style speaks of something that he says is lost nowadays: common sense. But most importantly, Idiot America is a call for intelligence in discourse, a call for less shouting and more research. People will always disagree on something, but arguments can be thought-provoking instead of crumbling into idiotic name-calling and the spread of false ideals.

Work Cited:
Pierce, Charles P. Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue In the Land of the Free. Copyright 2010 by Charles P. Pierce.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Cost Of Perfection



The ninth inning of Tuesday's baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and the Detroit Tigers has been discussed, tweeted, blogged, analyzed, and ripped apart in a few ways in the past two days. My goal for this piece is not to add yet another small part of cyberspace to the discussions of Jim Joyce, but to open, it will help to recap the events. At Detroit's Comerica Park, right-handed pitcher Armando Galarraga was one out away from pitching a perfect game (twenty-seven batters faced, twenty-seven batters retired); this has happened only twenty times in Major League Baseball history. Indians shortstop Jason Donald hit a hard ground ball to Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who threw to Galarraga at first base. The throw beat the runner by a full step, but first base umpire Joyce blew the call and signaled safe, ending both a perfect game and a no-hitter. Galaragga ended up pitching a fine 1-hit shutout, but immediately following the game, there was a surge in media, with the majority of people calling for either a reverse ruling from Commissioner Bug Selig, the firing of Joyce, or both.

Just as quickly, Joyce acknowledged his error, and before the Indians-Tigers game on Thursday, Galarraga met with Joyce at home plate, giving him the lineup card, and symbolically forgiving the man for the mistake. Selig decided against an executive decision to award Galarraga a perfect game, and for the most part, all seems to be forgiven, if not forgotten. Tigers manager Jim Leyland stressed that everyone in baseball makes mistakes, and while it would have been a historic feat, the Tigers won 3-0 and remain just a few games out of first place in the American League Central Division. Had Joyce clenched his fist for an out call instead of waving his arms for a safe call, it would have marked the third perfect game in the 2010 season. The previous two were thrown by two vastly different pitchers, showing both the "obvious" expectations and the randomness of such a feat.



Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies threw a 1-0 perfect game against the Florida Marlins on May 29th, and his career is such that he's the type of pitcher one would "expect" to throw a perfect game (forgive the constant quotation marks; what I love about baseball is that certain ideas have to be marked with them, combining normal statements and what could be perceived as far-fetched opinions). He's a former Cy Young winner with dominant pitches, and he routinely throws complete games in an era that doesn't allow that to happen as often. Halladay has accumulated many shut-out games, and has come close to throwing a no-hitter before. The coverage of his May 29th game was normal, but in the back of my mind, it was almost an anti-climax, along the lines of "well, it's Roy Halladay. It was bound to happen sooner or later." See also: Randy Johnson's perfect game in 2004.




But nobody expects a perfect game, especially not the fans who saw Dallas Braden pitch one on May 9th. Not only was Braden barely known outside of the Oakland area, his game came with the kind of supporting stories that almost seem fictional: he pitched his perfect game on Mother's Day, years after losing his mother to cancer. Before, after an on-field argument with Yankees' third baseman Alex Rodriguez, Rodriguez said that he didn't want to increase Braden's "fifteen minutes of fame." Assuming that Braden's career stays along its course (he's currently 4-5 with a 3.77 ERA), he'll retire with that perfect game being his major feat. That's not necessarily a bad thing, depending on how much he wants to publicize it. Don Larsen threw a perfect game in the 1956 World Series and has spent decades enjoying that publicity. See also: David Wells' perfect game in 1998.

So what if Galarraga had officially been perfect on Tuesday night? The excitement and attention would have been the same, but, and this is not meant to be pessimistic, it might have been lacking. Wells' perfect game was followed the next year by David Cone's, and at the time, it was shocking that two rare pitching milestones had been reached in such a short timespan. After Braden's gem, it was less than a full year since the previous perfect game, thrown by Chicago White Sox ace Mark Buehrle. Once Halladay became the twentieth man to tally one, it was generally agreed that it would never happen again in such a short span. Then, a week later, Galarraga almost made history.

The 2010 season has been dominated by pitching, but that has no bearing on these rare games. It's a combination of great pitching, great fielding, and the occasional break in which a hit ball or a strike call could go either way. Had Joyce properly called Jason Donald out, baseball fans would have been spoiled yet again, after the exciting hangover of the past month. But, it might have been lackluster. When a rarity happens too often, it's not nearly as exciting. The 1990s saw four perfect games; the 2000s saw two; and the 2010s have seen almost three in less than a month. Maybe Galarraga would have been the last for twenty years, or maybe there will be another one thrown in August. But even though he lost out, his interactions with Joyce has gained the young pitcher even more respect, when he rightfully could have been sulking over his lost chance at history.

But now, more than ever, when fans settle in for the first pitch, the looming idea of random magic will be even more palpable this season. For a game of numbers, there are plenty of wonderful intangibles to be rightfully discussed. And even though it won't go in the record books, Galaragga was perfect on Tuesday night, even if he gave up that one "hit."