The Cloud of Unknowing: A Meditation on Liverpool 0 – 0 Swansea
There’s something about scoreless draws. 0-0.
They’re a sticking point for many an American sports fan being evangelized, who hears about them and asks, “Well what’s the damn point then even?” Even you filthy foreigners find yourselves wondering the same thing from time to time.
Football relies on goals for justification. They give it purpose; they’re the meaning of life as far as the game’s concerned. The philosophers agree.
The sketch is a joke, of course. But as everyone knows, jokes are the best way to tell the truth. No surprise then that history’s greatest philosophers, men who dedicated their lives to addressing life’s most important and elusive questions, find their answer in scoring a goal.
Goals, goals, goals. In football philosophy, it’s goals all the way down.
Yet we can go without them. Scoreless draws are not just possible in this sport but rather common. In league play or two-legged ties it’s sometimes even a good result. How can this be? Why?
I don’t know the answer. In fact, I suspect there isn’t one. Like most things in sports, the rule is arbitrary. It doesn’t need to mean anything.
But as humans, we need it to mean something. We infuse everything we encounter with meaning, it’s more important to us than air. The great Umberto Eco wasn’t half wrong when he said “I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”
How then can we give nil-nils meaning? How do we get something out of nothing?
For help with this we may turn to an anonymous Christian Neoplatonist monk from late 14th-century England, who authored perhaps the greatest mystical text produced in Western civilization, The Cloud of Unknowing. Five hundred years before Kierkegaard, he wrote:
Let not, therefore, but travail therein till thou feel list. For at the first time when thou dost it, thou findest but a darkness; and as it were a cloud of unknowing, thou knowest not what, saving that thou feelest in thy will a naked intent unto God. This darkness and this cloud is, howsoever thou dost, betwixt thee and thy God, and letteth thee that thou mayest neither see Him clearly by light of understanding in thy reason, nor feel Him in sweetness of love in thine affection.
And therefore shape thee to bide in this darkness as long as thou mayest, evermore crying after Him that thou lovest. For if ever thou shalt feel Him or see Him, as it may be here, it behoveth always to be in this cloud in this darkness. And if thou wilt busily travail as I bid thee, I trust in His mercy that thou shalt come thereto.
We are not entitled to knowledge. Higher purpose and divine inspiration do not just arrive at our feet. We have to spend our days sucking in air, food, and water if we want to stay alive. In parallel, we have to continually seek out meaning in the universe if we’re to bear the drudgery of our existence, so soft, so slow.
Sometimes you get lucky, and pierce the veil. The clouds part and the warm sunbeams of heaven shine down on you. Sometimes they shine on someone else, and though they cast you even further into darkness and shadow, you have a reference point. You know that the light exists, that there’s something beyond the cloud.
Sometimes though, the clouds don’t part. The sunbeams don’t shine down on anyone. You’re left dumb, kicking a ball around in the dark.
On Saturday, November 5th, 2011, Liverpool had such a time. Their Cloud of Unknowing was a Dutchman in a green-yellow keeper’s kit named Michel Vorm.
Maybe that’s the meaning of scoreless draws. Maybe not. We’ll probably never know. It works for me.
Does it for you?