Chapter 9: The Myth of the Man, July 8, 2010 (Taste)
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Via the myth of the man, the basketball world hysterically chanted—like the boys in Lord of the Flies, intoxicated by unanimity—over and over again, “LeBron is not a Man! LeBron is not a Man!.” The words resonated with the vitriolic resentment its adherents felt toward James, not because he failed to be “a” or “the Man,” but rather because he behaved as a free man. For, by doing so, he forced us to see first, how the league—indeed the entire basketball culture—we loved was structured like a plantation, running smoothly only insofar as its black players agreed to limit their own freedom and second and more painfully still, the ways in which we ourselves were unfree in our own lives. We thought we’d scripted James’ life for our entertainment. Instead he wrote his own story and showed us that our lives were scripted by others.
Henry Miller once observed, “Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers.” Nietzsche called it ressentiment. It means resentment, of course, but the specific form of resentment we feel when someone else is doing what we wish we could, or rather wish we had the courage to do. Simultaneously exposed to and separated from what we could but will not, do, we feel not inspiration but pain. As philosopher Gilles Deleuze explains: “The man of ressentiment experiences every being and object as an offence in exact proportion to its effect on him. Beauty and goodness are, for him, necessarily as outrageous as any pain or misfortune that he experiences. . . . [He] “is venomous and depreciative because [he] blames the object in order to compensate for [his] own inability to escape.” Ressentiment is what we feel when we’ve enslaved ourselves, forgotten that we did it, and then despise those—like LeBron—who have refused to do so as though they were evil and trying to get away with something.