When I am not in class or falling off my bike I am working behind the front desk of my residence hall as a desk attendant, as the liaison between residents and our supply of games. The pool sets are the items most checked out. Bursts of cheers and groans accompany the distinct sound of balls knocking into each other and creating new trajectories other players can exploit to win the game. Watching a group of people play pool is watching that space around the pool table become a site of a new reality teeming with energy, both at the center of the table and around the outskirts where the spectators hang around. Even from my removed vantage point behind the front desk, I feel the energy.
Playing billiards reminds me in many ways of the journey a character in a Bildungsroman narrative endures. Phelan constructs an image of playing billiards that is akin to this prototype character’s trajectory. He writes of “the elated hope, the depressing fear, the sanguine exultation, the mortifying defeat—the philosophical resignation to fate, the indifference of success, and all the multiplied and manifold passions of the human mind, are variously depicted and easily discovered,”. There are a series of shifts, ups and down and change. In many ways it seems like an individual billiards game can function as a microcosm of historical moments of potential change such as the one Marin opens Utopics with.
Marin begins chapter one of Utopics with the nationwide May 1968 protests in France. That specific historical moment is a time where words and bodies seemed positioned to overturn the laws and cultural norms which provided—up until that point—a framework for French society, much like the lineup of balls on a billiards table. Michael Phelan writes in Billiards Without a Master “in Billiards, who can tell what is the distance of the object to be played at, or what will be the position of the balls at the next stroke?” To me, this is the biggest connection I found between Phelan’s description of billiards and Marin’s discussion of utopia and utopics. Billiards is a game where the framework is constantly changing—there can be no “elite” until the next move is made. This is where strategy comes in. It provides an illustration of power as being suffused within a network, manifest and made visible in social relations. Whoever is up to cue so to speak has the power in that moment to upturn the framework of the game through tact and strategy. The framework of the game has to do with who occupies an advantageous position. The “laws” are constantly changing and this contributes I think to the high energy the game elicits from players and spectators alike.
I’m not sure if metafiction as a genre has any relation to utopics and utopia as we are currently studying it. In my Modern Culture and Media class we just finished reading Raising Stony Mayhall, a metafictional take on the zombie genre. The connection I think that can be made between metafiction and uptopics is the way both frameworks construct another place to exist in textually that is somehow tied to what we construct as reality. But reality in this sense does not just refer to one spatial-temporal thing; rather it is a multiplicity of these spaces.
What is the value of the imaginary? What is the significance of constructing the imaginary through the real—that is, through words—in order to negotiate and interrogate truths? What does this say about the constructed nature of reality? Do games function the way literary genres do? Are there intersections between billiards and different literary genres? These are lingering questions I have regarding our class discussions.