I have always been a Yankee fan. My first baseball memories are from the 1949 pennant race, listening on the radio to the final two-game series with the Red Sox; the Yanks came in a game down and had to win both. It was the prelude to five straight series victories.
The Yankees have been in the Bronx since 1923, yet no one has ever dreamt of calling them the Bronx Yankees. In the old days, the Bronx didn’t even have its own post office; it still doesn’t have its own team. The Bronx Romantic roots for the most powerful dynasty in American sports without being able to identify with it as his home team the way Brooklynites used to identify with the Dodgers. Because my girl friend was a Dodger fan, we made a few two-hour subway treks out to Ebbets Field, which had an altogether different feel from pin-striped Yankee Stadium. I could understand how a Bronx girl could be a Dodger fan. They truly were a home team–but it wasn’t my home.
I also absorbed in my younger days a good deal of baseball lore, stories and stats about those old-time players, Cy Young and Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner, dozens more. But what remains in my mind of all this is more memory than information. I wouldn’t fare well on a quiz show and never bring the subject up in conversation. It is something that belongs to me, but not something I possess.
The Bronx Yankee fan has faith in a team, housed in his borough, that will never be his own.
In order to affirm the universal human truth as something beyond the human, faith asks us to affirm the truth of a particular discourse as a precondition of our humanity. GA too defines the human by a linguistic affirmation, independently of its specific content. This abstraction is the earmark of the Bronx Romantic.
What makes the Bronx Romantic a man of faith is an intense need for “meaning in life,” for generating a sacred narrative about himself in which the intuition of meaningfulness takes the place of religious dogma. Mere ambition has no attraction for him; he can be satisfied only with immortality. Living every moment in the solar gaze of transcendence, he tends to neglect anything so banal as facts.
In symmetrical opposition to this faith is the cult of the factoid. Where the Romantic strains his brain to focus on an infinitely meaningful kernel, the factoid master, a man of faith no less than he, is memorizing encyclopedias. Factoids are those superficial facts, not merely known but talked about, that we also call trivia. What is trivial, however, is not the names of the kings of France or the capitals of the fifty states, but the fact of knowing them–the trivial advantage over the ordinary guy who has to look them up in a reference book–that scores points for the factoid master in the eternal game of one-upmanship. However much the master is resented, he is respected; trivial or not, he knows who won the Oscar for best supporting actress in 1942 (Teresa Wright for Mrs Miniver) and you don’t.
We are all experts in something; what makes our expertise, professional or amateur, something other than trivial reflects the fact that it is specialized. You can memorize French kings or capitals without having the faintest idea how Boise differs from Denver or Louis XVI from Charles the Bald. A specialist of French history or American geography possesses a rich fund of knowledge culled from extensive research; trivia are found in almanacs and the Guinness Book of World Records. No knowledge can become trivia until it has been made available to the general public in such a book. A fact becomes a factoid when the excitement of discovering it is replaced by that of knowing it before your neighbor.
True trivia mastery is attained only when one has a set of factoids appropriate for every conversational context. The fund of knowledge required employs much time and many synapses. GA, in contrast, offers a minimal set of ideas it claims to be relevant to any human situation. Like the factoid master, the generative anthropologist provokes resentment, but for just the opposite reason. The one has too many stories to tell, the other too few; both are suspected of holding a faith that puts them outside the normal range of human conversation.
It is a mistake to think of faith as confined within the traditional scope of religious rhetoric. Belief in “life after death,” in heaven, hell, or purgatory, is a sign of faith rather than its substance. Whatever we may think about the hereafter, most people behave in this world in such a way as to give meaning to their existence, be it though career ambition or love, not to speak of the subordinate goals that make each day a series of minor tragedies and comedies. Outside the realm of pure terror and pain where one thinks only of survival–and even there–the goals we set for ourselves are based on a faith inseparable from human culture and its representations. Human aspirations, dependent on our possession of language, are incommensurable with the aims of survival and reproduction that we share with animals. Nor can they be understood if language is understood merely as a tool for the manipulation of the environment.
Bronx Romanticism and the factoid cult are two forms of the life of faith. What separates the Romantic from the trivia master is what separated Protestant from Catholic in the Reformation: salvation through faith versus salvation through works. Works too are demonstrations of faith, in the Jewish religion even more than the Catholic. But there is an important difference between a conception of faith that privileges these demonstrations and one that views them as contingent manifestations of a prior state of grace. One says, “by knowing important facts and communicating them to you, I participate along with you in an absolute sense of significance.” The other, “our shared absolute sense of significance is demonstrated by my not having to know any facts.” The factoid master performs good works by placing his trivia in conversation. He knows that you too could look them up in the almanac, but the fact that a beggar could get a job does not diminish the sanctity of alms. The minimalist Romantic, on the other hand, disdains mere local utility; he contributes his sublime ideas to humanity as a whole.
GA is my way of justifying Bronx Romanticism to those born far from Yankee Stadium. Its minimalism locates the priority of form over content, of faith over works, of hedgehog over fox, at the very origin of humanity. The sense of dispossession from the positive world of facts that leads me to find refuge in transcendence and abstraction can be vindicated only if this intuition is the right one after all, the generative principle of the human, the missing link between positive science and humanistic faith.
The theory of the “little bang” expresses my faith that my own experience of significance is universal, that my need to communicate some significant truth to the world is inherited from the origin of human representation. My intuition tells me that this same need to participate in significance drives everyone else as well; it is inseparable from our participation in language and in human collectivities whose primary need is to protect themselves from internal violence.
Religious people will tell you that you “really” believe in God even if you deny it. The person of faith can conceive of others only through the mediation of faith; he translates the other’s self-concept into the terms of his own. Although this is not an argument for any particular faith, it argues the truth of faith as such, the minimal truth that the originary hypothesis seeks to capture.