Are there intellectuals who are physically active in sport

The intellectual thinks the athlete is stupid, they say. This is nonsense

The rumor persists: book people are reluctant to move around, and the head despises the body. But this divorce is total nonsense - the two spheres have always belonged together.

Sitting on the sofa, turning on the television, zapping while playing football and now and then taking a “strong sip of beer from a can” - a nice thing. Many people would be given this sympathetic behavior, but hardly a poet or thinker. Yes, only normal readers see each other these days now and then again wide-open pairs of eyes: You? Are you going to football? As if having more books in your closet than muscles on your skeleton implied a disgust for exercise.

Sport and mind, some believe, are hostile to each other, the intellectual, according to this logic, disregards the body and considers the athlete to be stupid. But only this assumption is stupid - and we haven't only known that since Vladimir Nabokov, writer, butterfly researcher and former goalkeeper, admitted to watching football in front of the television.

In ancient times, sport and spirit naturally went together. In the Greek gymnasium, body and character were formed equally, and the philosophers felt it was imperative to get young people moving in every way. Plato, for example, who is said to have had an excessively wide chest and shoulder area and was an excellent wrestler, encouraged all of Greek youth to take part in the Pentathlon and therefore recommended that men of every shift take part in running, jumping, throwing and fighting disciplines to practice.

It is true that the same Plato coined a dualistic way of thinking that complicated matters: his philosophy separated the world of ideas from that of matter, subordinated the second sphere to the first - and could therefore have encouraged contempt for the body. However, this attitude only became effective in Christianity. Here the physical was really frowned upon and sport was forbidden in many forms. But in the Renaissance the body was only supposed to be resurrected all the more vital, and at first just in a class of educated humanists.

Tennis kills king

When the ancient ideals were rediscovered, sport also came back to life. In particular at the courts of the Italian princes, physical exercises from fencing training to dumbbell gymnastics were part of the educational program appropriate to their status; the Medici excelled in football, and the Visconti and Orsini also enjoyed playing ball games. So the motto "No sports" that Churchill wrote about is utter nonsense, even when it comes to powerful politicians.

It may be doubted that Kim Jong Un regularly moves in a tracksuit, but in history the heads of state have not infrequently gone to their physical pain limit or beyond. The French King Louis X is said to have died in 1316 while quenching his thirst after a hard-fought tennis match with an excess of cold wine. A later owner of the throne, Heinrich II, died in a dramatic knight tournament in 1559, as the historian Wolfgang Behringer reports in his "Kulturgeschichte des Sports".

Gradually freed from this bloody brutality, sport penetrated society as a whole in the course of the early modern period as a means of exercise and leisure. This is not least borne out by the writers who, like Shakespeare, interwoven all kinds of sports in their works - the English poet does not seem to have liked football, but his plays are fought, run, hunted or ridden, and the game of boules is supposed to be he was fond of it.

Stand in life

Goethe, too, was later able to gain a lot from physical strength. On the one hand he was active as a swimmer or ice skater himself, on the other hand he looked benevolently at other poet-athletes and registered the positive influence of activity on productivity: «There are productive forces (...) In movement. (...) Lord Byron, who lived several hours a day outdoors, now on horseback, now sailing or rowing, then bathing in the sea and exercising his physical strength in swimming, was one of the most productive people who have ever lived. »

Lord Byron was not only a romantic poet, but also a veritable athlete - among other things, the English swam through the Dardanelles. The idea associated with romanticism, according to which a spiritually creative person lives in a rapt state of intoxication or, in the modern version, ruins his body with alcohol or drugs for the sake of creativity, is just as clichéd as its counterpart. Very few people who let worlds rise out of their heads or who reflect the world in their heads do so by sitting in secluded little rooms and brooding motionlessly in front of them.

Most of them stood and still stand “normally” in life - and quite a few also on the sports field. Albert Camus played football as long as his health allowed, Pier Paolo Pasolini was on the left wing of the film crew until his murder, Günter Herburger ran marathons, Henry Miller loved bicycles like his best friend. . .

Competition for horn-rimmed glasses

At the time of these great minds, sport had already become a popular phenomenon of the modern age. Since the 19th century it has professionalized, commercialized and spread to such an extent that waking intellectuals naturally had to watch it critically. "They're all sporting them now," said Siegfried Kracauer in 1927, noting in his own way that the spirit was falling behind with the new spectacles: "The head just sits on it."

Something similar was registered by Robert Musil, who himself swam, rowed and exercised a lot. Sport, he found in the 1920s, had become just as fashionable as the large horn-rimmed glasses, which at that time had advanced to become a symbol of intelligence. “The fact that sport is already approaching the dignity of glasses in our country today”, that is, that in addition to shining heads, more and more outstanding body workers were also earning fame, honor and prestige, could not fundamentally disturb the mind.

Few of his representatives took the new "competition" as unsportingly as Theodor Adorno and his students, who saw sport as a means of discipline and suppression in the hands of the powerful. Or like Alfred Andersch, who disqualified himself with his objections. "Most of the time, the mind feels more comfortable in the not-so-healthy body," wrote the author in a commentary on the Olympic Games of 1964 and wished he could go straight back to the Middle Ages Spirit, clinging to the contempt for the body, one would like to become a Catholic right away. "

It is possible that one day tinkering tech freaks will take over the role of the church and completely destroy the body instead of just despising it. As long as we live neither in posthumanism nor in transhumanism and all have a mortal shell, sport, in the good old tradition, must move the spirit.