The Pure Subject of Will-less Knowing – Flintoff’s Aesthetic Experience

“Unfulfilled desires are painful, and pleasure is merely the sensation experienced at the instant one such pain is removed … unfulfilled desires are painful, and pleasure is merely the sensation experienced at the instant one such pain is removed …”

With these words ringing out from the neat white earphones of his i-pod, Andrew Flintoff mounted the stairs four at a time to the England dressing room at Lord’s on Monday 20th July 2009.  [Third Man has described some earlier scenes from this match here and here which possibly need to be read first.]

The night before Flintoff had down loaded a ten minute talk on Arthur Schopenhauer from Philosophy Bites.  With stuff like this going on in his head he cared not that his knee was the size of a beach ball and that playing that day risked doing such irrepairable damage that he would never be able to play again. 

As others have found, Schopenauer banishes pain ten times better than the anti-inflammatory injections and painkillers he’d had back at the team hotel.

Flintoff had never before been so excited about a day’s cricket in a life already filled with intense cricketing emotions.  “This guy ‘Shop ‘n drop’ is powerful stuff,” he confided to Anderson in the corner they shared in the dressing room.   “No, man, he’s dropped the essence of Kant,” expatiated the Burnley boy.

Today Flintoff had had a good haircut at a favourite barber’s shop around the corner and was going to blow the remaining Australian batsmen away with this new mental technique.

“Straussy, don’t you dare take me off.  I know I’ve got the capacity for aesthetic experience today.  I can feel it.  I just know it.”   “What ever,” mumbled the England Captain, winding some tape on a finger bruised when taking a questionable catch the day before.

“I can see the ball I’m gonna give Haddin.  Not the real ball, skip, but the ideal form of it.”  “Yer, yer.  I tried that Platonic stuff last year to get my hips and feet back in line.  It’s over rated.”

“Fancy a bowl in the nets Fred?” suggested Ottis Gibson.  “Don’t need it, coach.  It’s all in my head.   I tried it yesterday, first thing.  I just stayed here for a minute or two after everyone left .  For a brief moment I escaped the cycle of the unfulfilled Lord’s 5fer, the blank on that bloody board.  Then …  I just got there.   Following you all down stairs, I became, you know, the pure subject of will-less knowing.”

“Freddie, you’re a work of art, that’s what you are,” said Peitersen revealing in afrikaans an unsuprisingly deep understanding of the German philosopher’s ideas.  “A right piss artist,” said the rest of England team, in unison, revealing much else.

The rest is history.  Haddin knicked off to Collingwood at second slip on the fourth ball of Flintoff’s first over that morning.

The great cricketer stood Christ-like as his fellows mobbed him.  “You’re effing there Freddie,” said Alastair Nathan Cook, his hand drawn instinctively to the bowler’s heart.   A silent Flintoff nodded firmly and deliberately in agreement. 

He was there, the pure subject of will-less knowing on the very spot where Richards and Lloyd had had their aesthetic experiences in World Cup Finals, where Bradman and Hammond had got there in Tests, where Lillee and Massey had become transcendently will-less on a muggy day in ‘72.  Where Grace and Sobers … so many others had found the thing in itself in a simple field that had once been part of the Eyre family’s estate at the edge of St John’s Wood village.

“Your’re effing there Freddie,” said Alastair Nathan Cook, his hand reaching instinctively to the bowler's great heart.

Clarke did not delay them long.  Dancing Feet came down the track to Swann, found himself yorked and quit the field at the end of another of the great Lord’s innings. 

Hauritz, mesmerised by the intense stare in Flintoff’s eyes, left a ball that the bowler had already seen would jag back and crash into the off stump, leaving it leaning sideways like a crocked tooth.

By now the roar around Lord’s was deafening to all but Flintoff who heard only the inner quiet of the aesthetic experience, the one hand clapping of the noumenon from where he could not sense his body demanding release from this torture.  The three cortisone injections from a few days before were inadequate to prevent the disintegration of his knee.    

A cry went up, but was not heard. With four wickets to his name, his body refused to take him back to his mark, those hard yards ahead of him. 

Will-less, Flintoff,  turned there and then,  eight paces from the bowling crease. 

If he could go no further, he would bowl from here, where he stood.  If this was to be his last ball it would be ‘the’ ball. 

Starting wide, angling in, and surfing time as the day before he had surfed his team mates, Flintoff foresaw the ideal delivery force itself through the batsman’s feeble guard to crash into the centre stump as if he was once more that boy playing in a Preston street.

The photograph, left, shows Flintoff for the last time as a player leaving the Eyre’s field, Thomas Lord and James Dark’s great enterprise. 

He has fulfilled his sponsorship duties and hurdles, with no thought to his knee now, the eccentric rise from the playing area up a couple of steps and through that famous old field gate.  As he does so, up in the dressing room, a tatty piece of masking tape is being stuck to the honour’s board:  2009     A Flintoff     Australia     5 – 92

In the Long Room the Australian Captain’s expression is like none seen before.  Boyish.  Puckish.  What does he have in his hand?  Who is he trying to catch sight of?

Compassion, says Schopenhauer, arises from the penetration of the illusory perception of individuality, so that one can empathize with the suffering of another.  In this way compassion serves as a clue to the possibility of going beyond desire and the will. 

But then again, as Third Man learnt at his father’s knee, “Never show an Australian compassion.  Transcendence is one thing, boy, beating Australia is quite another thing in itself.”

In a painting such as Willem Kalf’s Ewer, Vessels and Pomegranate (above), Arthur Schopenhauer believed an artist could communicate the aesthetic experience to others through the beauty to be seen in ordinary everyday objects.   The parallel Third Man hopes to have made should need no further explanation.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “The Pure Subject of Will-less Knowing – Flintoff’s Aesthetic Experience

  1. diogenes

    I have numerous notes scattered around on various envelopes and scraps of paper, attempting to convey the importance of the lemon in any Dutch still-life painting. This morning at Lords was clearly a day when will overpowered pain, commonsense, thought and everything else. The way that Ottis Gibson was lining up his body at the start of play…get in this shape and you will overpower. It was awesome to watch.

    There are few things that come into the same category. Nothing I have personally seen. Maybe Hutton’s great innings in the West Indies in 1955 – where he set out to score a match-winning innings and did so, to the awe of great talents such as PBH May. Maybe Miller’s opening spell at Melbourne in 1954-55. The reference to having a haircut reminds me of Tyson in that same series, getting a haircut, walking to the ground and then scattering the stumps. Maybe also SF Barnes in 1911-12, that amazing spell which ended when he went off with a migraine, the brain-power involved in controlling the ball and outwitting that amazingly talented batting line-up just too much for even someone as strong as he.

  2. Tell us Diogenes, what did you see that morning?

  3. Remarkable stuff.

    I wonder who took that illicit photo of Punter? The times I’ve stood in the Long Room desperate to use my camera but too fearful of the wrath of the white-jacketed stewards and the potential confiscation of my MCC pass…

    • Mobile phone records will show that Third Man was elsewhere on the day in question. Thankfully, the Mark III allows the time traveller to ‘hover’ (as it were) in a way that freezes motion and allows the capture of an image. However, the Squire has told him that the timely use of the 189 to Baker Street Station (35 minutes after the close of play) allows one to build good relations with even the most taciturn of stewards as these most helpful people make their way homeward before taking one conveniently on to the West End. The correspondent may find this a useful tip … though, even this is a slow process.

  4. Reblogged this on Down At Third Man and commented:

    England are looking for a new ethics and a new Philosophy, they could do a lot worse than going for a little Flintoff and a dash of Schopenhauer …

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