If you want a masterpiece, the artist has to screw up

One of the defining moments in the last twenty-five years of world soccer is the infamous (or perhaps glorious) “Hand of God” goal, scored by Diego Maradona in the 1986 England–Argentina World Cup quarterfinal (video here). The referee didn’t see that Maradona had knocked the ball in with his fist, and so the goal stood. But should it have? If you could go back in time and erase all the mistakes, would soccer be better for it?

What that means is that, if we care about the sport as a story, we have to hope that the people in charge of running it do their jobs just badly enough to ensure that the Hand of God is possible. The wider the circle within which you’re willing to see the game as aesthetic, in other words, the more you wind up relying on chance and accident. If soccer is only a game—that is, aesthetic only in the most limited and technical sense—then it can achieve perfection as a deliberate design or as a successfully realized intention. If it’s a story—that is, aesthetic in a more primary sense—it can’t. If you want a masterpiece, the artist has to screw up. The lamest defense of bad refereeing in the world is “human error is part of the game.” It isn’t; but it is certainly, and problematically, part of the story.

from “Aesthetics and Justice,” by Brian Phillips, The Run of Play, 20 April 2010 :: video via YouTube

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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