Plato’s “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart” (Or, David Foster Wallace’s ION)

“For the poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer in him: when he has not attained to this state, he is powerless and is unable to utter his oracles” (Plato, Ion 534b).

“The real secret behind top athletes’ genius, then, may be as esoteric and obvious and dull and profound as silence itself. The real, many-veiled answer to the question of just what goes through a great player’s mind as he stands at the center of a hostile crowd-noise and lines up the free-throw that will decide the game might well be: nothing at all.

“How can great athletes shut off the Iago-like voice of the self? How can they bypass the head and simply and superbly act? How, at the critical moment, can they invoke for themselves a cliché as trite as ‘One ball at a time’ or ‘Gotta concentrate here,’ and mean it, and then do it? Maybe it’s because, for top athletes, clichés present themselves not as trite but simply as true, or perhaps not even as declarative expressions with qualities like depth or triteness or falsehood or truth but as simple imperatives that are either useful or not … Those who receive and act out the gift of athletic genius must, perforce, be blind and dumb about it—and not because blindness and dumbness are the price of the gift, but because they are its essence” (David Foster Wallace, “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart”).