A Pastoral Dialogue on the Game of the Quadrature
by Robert Kelly

Pryn: I'll take a fig now, a sweet one. You've been playing with them in your pocket, and have softened the dry fruit with your kneading, worked it tender again. Thank you for that.

Str: Is that ritual too?

Pryn: Now reflect: there are nine players on each team. The cycle of three-six-nine goes on. These numbers are no accident; perhaps you're right to scoff at the solar journey, but the numbers are there, and by their remorseless internal consistency remind the watcher that some meaning lies in or near the game. The numbers set may be no more, after all, than a trick to catch the attention, or a bona fides of the conscious, deliberate origin of the game.

Str: Conscious? I thought it started among rustics in old America, puritans like as not, from the rough sport of rounders.

Pryn: Freemasons. The earliest American leaders were initiates of the various lodges and temples that claim some filiation from the Egyptian workshops. Early American history was a dance again, a set of instructions on the art of transcendence. Thirteen nomes, thirteen stars, stripes, arrows, olive leaves, stone courses in pyramids--the early national cult celebrated the Sun in the Thirteenth Degree of the Crab as its chief holy day.

Str: This tedious occultry soils the golden afternoon. How can you finger such mechanical superstitions and still talk of transcendence?

Pryn: Because they found their way. Instead of being trapped by all their good ideas, they founded a game for their children. The game, once started, will always somehow stay in the world. And it teaches their transcendence without gimcrack symbols. They set only one problem: how to get out of the circle.

Str: O pour briser un seul cercle! one of our shepherd's sang.

Pryn: Exactly: to be able to break even one circle, just one--& get out. And be gone!

Str: Spirit anxious to escape from matter?

Pryn: What you call golden afternoon is too lovely to escape from. Instead, we learn to escape through.

Str: It is comfortable here, after all.

Pryn: Baseball enacts the parable. Nine means where the cycle begins again, and thus where a man can gear his being in with a higher cycle...

Str: Such language!

Pryn: Or better, slip past and have done with cycles. Nine men on each team. Each team has nine innings. See why I call numbers remorseless?

Str: Lots of multiples of three. I grant that. Your insistence on these numbers, as if on some arcana, seems peculiar, unsound, unstandard. Aren't these numbers, all numbers, the children of chance?

Pryn: I'll give you more. Three, the number of the individual beginning his work, must become six, which is the base for the measure of circles. If a man does not exceed, get beyond, his three, he cannot then engage his own life and energy in the world of spirit or matter. He has three chances--three strikes and he's out. If the pitcher throws four balls, that is, exceeds the three that he's permitted, then the batter is liberated to begin his cycle on the squared circle. You see, if the batter does not get beyond his three, he can no more make his perfect circuit than a circle itself can be generated without pi--that sacred number which is more than three-- the enigmatic never-resolving cipher of transcendence and completion.

Str: These funny numbers weary men, Prynikos. It seems to me I've heard this sort of thing before.

Pryn: See it through a little longer with me. To the basic three of any batter, what any one of us starts with in the world, the batter must add the next three bases (First, Second, and Third) to win his Six. Then, in the arcane and terrible passageway between Third and Home, he can at last exceed his Six. That passageway, much spoken of, in more or less veiled terms, by the South Thebans in their Book of Coming Forth by Day, ah Strephon, I want you to know, and not just from memory, what a bitter passageway that is. Especially when the squeeze is on, and the individual is forced into the Gate again, again, past the Guardian of the Threshold into the world again. It is a numinous alley, Strephon, a birth canal, a highway of theophany.

Str: Control yourself. I think you're dithering. Rhetoric is no better than numerology.

Pryn: But think of it! The batter has come home. He has fulfilled his destiny, and by fulfilling it, transcended both the game and the idea of destiny itself. He has squared the circle. His karma (I use Philostratus's word, that enthusiast) is improved; a run or unit has been added to the tally.

Str: Strange that with all your threes and nines, the score increases only by ones.

Pryn: Only one man at a time reaches enlightenment. But don't think about the goal, for a moment. In all baseball, there's hardly a moment more exciting than when the runner leaps from Third, hurtling into the irretrievably dangerous. Many a swift young man has been trapped there between those archons, the squat Catcher in his devil-mask, and the swifter Third Baseman like lithe graceful death running him down! It all holds together, Strephon-- the game enacts. As in any wrought Egyptian symbol, every fact and gesture of it holds and limns and beckons. It is played to remind us.

Str: But does anybody know this? Isn't this all your dreamy interpretation of a common thing? It sounds good, a little, but can it really be the instructive symbol you make it out to be, if nobody in fact is instructed by it? Of all the people who watch and play this game, who cares about all this?

Pryn: They feel it, Strephon, and their feelings make their minds. Their feelings are being worked on in the game, in their thousands in the stadium, millions maybe watching the Visual Box, all being worked on, taught to exult in certain special things and certain special contours of action that achieve them, taught to esteem transcendence above all else. They don't know all this as abstract proposition--they are instructed deeper in themselves than they know.

Str: Unprovable. And I fret this 'working on the feelings.' The barbarous Romans roar in their circuses at the deaths of men and animals, the sprout of blood. Their feelings are being worked on too.

Pryn: Your own objection answers itself: it is death and brutality that the Romans teach, and the weird pleasures to be found therein. Consider however what it is that makes the thousands roar at a baseball game. They do not roar at a kill or even an injury; even the suspicion that a pitcher is trying to hurt the batter provokes the low murmur of censure before which lancers quail. The crowd does not roar (the way they do in football, say, or the Dance of the Basket) at a simple enactment on an easy symbolic plane of the biological commonplace, the old putting-it-in-the-hole, the net, the goal. Those games of simple-minded phallic na´vetÚ may be innocent enough, but with their insertion of ball in slot they always celebrate, alas, enslavement of spirit to matter. But in baseball, sweet baseball, they roar their exultation at the Home Run, the white ball sailing, infinitely unreachable, over the outfield wall.

Str: The ball then is the soul?

Pryn: I see you are convincing yourself. Soul or self, how shall a man know what to call it? It isn't the sperm entering the egg. No. It is the Other Way. Getting out. Baseball's paragon moment, then, is when one breaks out of the whole system. Its truth is the leap across the Abyss. Supreme. Swan time. To go. Supreme, that is, for living men.

Str: I feel some of your excitement, but you're not being too clear.

Pryn: And the hunger of the mob for home Runs-- how wise that noisy furor is!

Str: They tell me that Home Runs are far more common these days than in the past years of baseball.

Pryn: So I've heard too. If that is true, and the chronicles hint that it is, it must mean a growing hunger throughout our populations, a weariness with progress and lotus-eating; it must be the start of an immense striving. The ball players feel it, the obscure men who make the baseballs feel it, and wind into the mysterious lively planetary interior of the ball some of their own sensed urgency for liberation. The ball is alive, we say. The ball gets lively, the batter practices not placing the ball but instead that flex of wrist that can give the long loft. Maybe even the pitcher, in a mystery, himself yearns too for all men to enter the road of transcendence, and, like a dreaming bodhisattva, spares his own glory to serve up, maybe hardly even knowing he wants to, that fine baseball, a little high, a little outside. That's the kind I used to like.

Str: Prynikos?

Pryn: Yes?

Str: Do you know the boys are gone? They finished their game and went home.

Pryn: So they did. We are alone.

Str: We're up here on a hill, with nothing but words and figs between us and the night wind. Let's go down.

Pryn: Was it worth the climb?

Str: If what you've been saying has any sense, it must be a sense that will develop as I watch the game. All I ever really care for is the body, its absolute beauty, grace of its turn. I'll let you know if all this hermeneutic of yours gets me anywhere. Strange that we missed the end of the game. We don't even know who won.

Pryn: We don't even know who was playing

Written May 16-22, 1971
Revised and finished July 16-17, 1976
Copyright © 1971, 1976, 1996 by Robert Kelly
Published with permission of the author.

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A Pastoral Dialogue...
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Published July 20, 1996
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