The somaesthetic experience of the sports performer

We feel many things while playing sports. It is an experience, but in what sense is it called aesthetic experience? What is happening in the experience? This chapter attempts to execute an analytic somaesthetics concerning this problem.

Masakazu Nakai's aesthetics of sport

Regarding the problem of the aesthetic experience of sports performer, the theories of Masakazu Nakai arc very important. Nakai studied aesthetics at the University of Kyoto and wrote articles on the aesthetic in sport based on his sports experiences as a rower on the university team. He was not only absorbed in the aesthetic contemplation of art but also an active sports performer and sports spectator. While that alone would have made him a scholar of aesthetics who liked sports, he was also an unusual person who attempted to relate his own experience as a sports performer in the language of aesthetics. What was remarkable about his theory was the consideration of the aesthetic experience of the sports performer. In the 1930s, Nakai had already developed a concept of an aesthetic perception with kinesthetic perception—that is, the view of kinesthetic as an aesthetic, which was developed by Peter Arnold,1 a British sports philosopher, and others in 1970s.

Nakai considered the aesthetic experience of sports performer from two factors. One was the aesthetic feeling of competition and the other was the aesthetic feeling of muscular operation. He described the former as the feeling of a rower pulling away from the rival with “take that” in mind and with the relief of getting away from the enemy; he described the latter as the feeling of the muscle reflecting its activity with deep pleasure. Since sport is a competition through bodily movements, as discussed previously, we could easily understand “competition” and “body-ness” as the elements of a sports performer’s experience. Nakai started with a real feeling gained from his own experience and introduced the concept of the “sports mood” into his theory to place such a feeling on the philosophical horizon and construct an aesthetic thought.

Nakai captured an atmosphere within the place sports occur and a peculiar sensory experience in sports practice with the concept of sports mood, indicating its four characteristics: spatial, common existential, bodily technical, and temporal.2 The

The somaesthetic experience 17 concept of mood in his concept of sports mood was derived from Martin Heidegger’s fundamental analysis of Dasein or human being in Sein und Zeit? Nakai quoted: “Dasein is disclosed to itself prior to all cognition and volition, and beyond their range of disclosure.”4 In other words, it seems that existence appeared first in the mood and that this formed the background of Nakai’s theory. In the article “The Structure of Sports Mood,” however, Nakai mentioned that he merely borrowed or partially relied on Heidegger’s ontological way of thinking; Nakai’s concept of mood only focused on and did not go beyond the “disclosure of mood.”

It was, however, an acute observation in which Nakai considered his own sports performer’s experience as a sort of existential experience and took up the concept of mood, which had a wide range for grasping the intangible matter. The experience of a sports performer is quite different from that of an appreciation of art as object. The concept of mood successfully captured nonobjectivity. The attention to mood had the possibility of expanding the perspective to a broader problem, even though Nakai himself did not recognize it. This is suggested in how Nakai briefly referred to or even ignored Heidegger’s theory and directed his consideration to a position opposite to that of Heidegger. If he fully digested Heidegger’s Sein und Zeitand faithfully followed it—so that he did not uninhibitedly skim over the scope of Heidegger’s investigation—an aesthetic consideration on sport like “The Structure of Sports Mood” would probably not have been realized. Nakai lightly jumped over the existentialism of Heidegger in a certain aspect while he was unconscious of it. This suggests that a matter of sport could escape from the depressed condition of modern times, which existentialism had to face, by taking a different direction. The direction was an aesthetic one for Nakai. He proposed that the experience of the sports performer is firstly an experience of mood and that the area of sport is originally aesthetic. A century later, this view is highly suggestive, particularly in modern times, in which every value could be demolished in a relativization, making us conscious of a closed and absolute aesthetic world called sport.

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