Bill GreifMarch 20, 2012
The Tour Guide
Pitcher and Sky #5
In this last piece, we see the completion of a motion that has so far in this series been shown only at an early stage. In this card there is blue sky, as in the others, but there’s also one shred, finally, of the everyday world: in the lower left, just behind the icon of a pitcher, what appears to be the top of a metal fence or a backstop. The pitcher icon in the lower left reveals the larger human figure to be an off-rhyme of an ideal. The real version is slightly ahead of the icon in the motion, his right leg settled. Forward momentum has ceased.
When I can’t write, when I can’t see anything, I feel like I’m imitating existence instead of actually living. I’m going through a motion, pitching without a ball. It has been this way for a few days. It always comes back around to this. It is like this more often than not, yet the other life I see in brief glimpses, when I’m curious, interested, working, always feels real, while this way, though inescapable, feels fake, the milieu of a fraud.
Bill Greif has hope. I would venture to say that he believes that his authentic self as a pitcher is one who succeeds. Yet in the three seasons leading up to when this photo was taken in the spring of 1975, Bill Greif lost a total of 52 games, the most over that span in the National League. His American League counterpart, Wilbur Wood, lost even more games during that time, 57, but Wood also won 64 games, while Greif won just 24.
It’s difficult to know what’s authentic. The distortion of limb in this portrait of Greif—the right arm seems elongated, exaggerated, while the left arm is thin, small, barely visible—reminded me of Mannerism, a movement in the visual arts during the renaissance. A blog called Beauty in Distortion includes this quote from Montaigne in its discussion of Mannerism: “Since our state makes things correspond to itself and transforms them in conformity with itself, we can no longer claim to know what anything truly is: nothing reaches us except as altered and falsified by our senses.”
This morning, I did a search on Daumier and Montaigne, hoping to find some connection that might tie this meandering tour together. All I found was that they both commented on the crinoline. The crinoline was that giant frame of a house kind of thing women wore under their dresses in olden times. Out of all the endless series of torture chambers women have been forced to wrestle themselves into in the name of fashion, the crinoline seems to me to be the most pronounced and absurd, yet at the time I’m sure it seemed like a good idea. It idealized and codified and disempowered the most powerful form in human culture, that of the human female. It distanced everyone from everyone, including themselves.
The moment in history I keep coming back to is the era when I was a child, the 1970s, when Bill Greif was losing and yet had hope and a droopy, elongated Mannerist mustache. Bras and draft cards had recently been burned. The distorting virtual crinoline below the nation’s idea of itself, that postwar blue sky Mickey Mantle America, had disintegrated from within as if gnawed by termites. Mickey Mantle was out of his uniform, red-nosed and limping. There was defeat overseas, fraud at home. My mother painted her loved ones backed by blue sky. I moved toward blue sky captured in cardboard rectangles. No one is leading the tour.