What truly indicates excellent knowledge, is the habit of constant, sudden, and almost unconscious allusion, which implies familiarity, for it can arise from that alone.
— Walter Bagehot, Literary Studies
Jack Butler takes gentle issue with Micah Meadowcroft’s paean to the virtues of lifting weights:
Meadowcroft, to his credit, is not exactly saying that lifting turns off his brain. My main concern about his approach is almost the opposite, in fact: that he seems uncomfortable with accepting physical activity simply for what it is. He builds his case for lifting with references to Camille Paglia, Apollo, C. S. Lewis, Manicheanism, and other abstract intellectual currents.
I read both of these posts with interest, hoping I might find something interesting to riff upon. After all, as I’ve mentioned before, working out is my main form of recreation in those rare moments when I’m not working or grocery shopping. The thing is, though, without bringing in allusions to writers, artists, and philosophers, there’s not a whole lot to say about a topic like lifting weights. Like many of the activities that make up the bulk of our existence, it speaks for itself. Meadowcroft is only doing what writers always do, bringing in reinforcements to bulk up a mundane topic. He takes an ordinary subject and tries to make it (and, possibly, himself) seem more interesting by connecting it to other, seemingly unrelated, subjects. Is there really any genuine disagreement here? Isn’t Butler himself basically manufacturing dissent in order to have an excuse to write about his preferred activity, running? Wouldn’t this entire difference of opinion likely dissipate in a couple moments of conversation? I’m pretty sure the entire blogging economy runs on this sort of exchange. Without allusion, we’re mostly left with straightforward description, and description is always a paltry substitute for action. And so, instead of writing about lifting weights, here I am offering meta-commentary about online writing. I should have just gone to the gym.