This may be the most esoteric item ever posted at normblog. I can think of four or five people of my acquaintance - OK, two or three - who might be interested, and (you never know) there could be a few others like them out there; but it won't be matching Ashes 2005 in its pulling power.
And yet I can do no other. Any reader who was ever seized by a passion to uncover the truth, who has felt the force of a tantalizing hypothesis when it has taken possession of his or her soul, will understand why I can do no other, by considering this. It would seem not to have been commented upon that the same number of theses make up Marx's famous Theses on Feuerbach as there are members of a properly constituted cricket team. There are, in both cases, eleven. I myself have once alluded to the fact (see point 6 here), but it never previously occurred even to me that this could be anything more than a coincidence - that, as well as his other and more overt purposes in those brief and sometimes enigmatic notes, Marx might have been attempting to signal to us, across the intervening years he knew would intervene, his choices for a Test XI which could give a creditable account of itself against a team chosen by, say, John Stuart Mill, or Max Weber, or Jürgen Habermas.
As I say, this never occurred to me - until, one day it did. Since that day I have been driven. With years of research on Marx's thought behind me, and some knowledge also of the history of Test cricket, I felt reasonably well-placed to explore my hypothesis. However, taking nothing for granted, and in part because of some of the difficulties I at first encountered, I have been energetic in seeking to extend the range of my interpretative skills. I have visited some of the greatest living experts in Biblical exegesis. No work of classical philology that I could lay my hands on has been left unopened - at least not by me. I have consulted Marxologists, Feuerbach scholars, linguists and retired wicket-keepers, and I have familiarized myself with the tools of discourse analysis. Yes, dear readers, I have even put some of my intellectual antipathies aside to spend time romping in the playground of post-modernism, in case it should secrete a useful enucleative resource somewhere - like taped to the underside of the tell-it-like-you-feel seesaw.
Happily, my zeal has paid off. I am now in a position to report on its results, which may be summed up in advance by saying that my hypothesis has been confirmed. Marx's Theses On Feuerbach do indeed select a Test XI, each thesis nominating a player for it. I shall take you through the selection process thesis by thesis, with just one departure from Marx's order, to be explained immediately.
Thesis I (deferred). I have to confess that when I began looking at Marx's Theses with a view to testing my hypothesis, and began at the beginning, as seemed logical, I was discouraged. Scrutinize and ponder as I did, I could see no cricketing content in the first of his theses, much less any pointer to the selection of a particular player. I won't say I thought of giving up; I am a man of some determination. But my hypothesis seemed not to have made a good start. The opening partnership, as one might say, looked to be failing. In this first thesis Marx says of Feuerbach that 'he does not grasp the significance of "revolutionary", of "practical-critical", activity.' Me, I couldn't grasp the significance of the thesis for team selection.
Thesis II. But I pressed on nonetheless, and bingo, with the second thesis I saw my hunch beginning to bear fruit.
Man must prove the truth - i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice.The meaning this time just leaps out at you, doesn't it? Proof of the truth, the reality and power... in practice. And what is the most famous practice story in the history of the game? It is the young Don Bradman practising hitting a golf ball with a cricket stump. Remarkable foresight on Marx's part that he should have anticipated the greatest batsman the game has ever produced.
Thesis III.The third thesis was harder to interpret than the second, but knowing the history of the game as I do, it didn't take me long to figure out that the key to it lies here:
This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.That obviously refers to the old distinction in English cricket between amateurs and professionals, the 'gentlemen' and the 'players'. To see how it points towards a particular selection, we must place it in the wider context of Marx's thought. Marx was identifying a social division he wanted to see overcome or - as it is also sometimes said - transcended. And this obviously indicates Len Hutton. Not only was he the first professional to captain England, so beginning to bridge the divide which Marx laments; he was later knighted and became Sir Leonard Hutton, a clear token of the unification aimed at, with a single man now carrying within his person both the humble origin and the mark of aristocracy.
Thesis IV. This one takes a little more work, but fear not, comrades and fellow cricket buffs, the work has already been done - by me. The content of the fourth thesis is, centrally and from beginning to end, religion. So Marx must have had in mind a cricketer of devout tendency. That understanding, however, takes one only so far. It could be the Reverend David Sheppard. But, then again, possibly not. There have been other Test cricketers with a strong relationship to the Creator of the Universe. I thought I had the answer with Trevor Goddard, the South African all-rounder who later became an evangelist preacher. Given how his surname begins, it surely had to be him. But aware as I am of Marx's giant stature as a thinker, I was expecting a stronger candidate. Then I hit on it. You will see from the final sentence of the fourth thesis that Marx - twice, so as to leave no room for doubt - uses the word 'family': first it's 'earthly family', and then 'holy family'. Clearly, he wanted us to think, not just of a religious cricketer, but of a religious cricketing family. This makes it Peter Pollock, the father, and Shaun Pollock, the son. And Marx would have been selecting Shaun, as having the better figures all-round.
Thesis V. Feuerbach, Marx says...
... does not conceive sensuousness as practical, human-sensuous activity.Excuse me that I should have to follow Marx in dealing with so indelicate a matter, but the combination of the words 'sensuousness' and 'conceive' has to indicate a cricketer who procreated, and the strong emphasis on activity, practical activity (in contrast with mere 'contemplation' in the first part of the sentence), suggests we should be looking, in both father and offspring, for traits of character of a get-up-and-go, can-do, 'let's give it some humpty' kind. It has to be Ian Botham - whose son Liam became a professional rugby player. You won't find a father and son much more active than these two.
Thesis VI. This one's easy:
In its reality it [the human essence] is the ensemble of the social relations.In a cricket context, 'ensemble' plainly refers to the team, and it is the captain of the team who in a certain way 'represents' it. Sceptics will point out that there have been many Test match captains, but they (the sceptics) should note that Marx links 'ensemble' to 'relations', thereby telling us that we're looking for a captain with a family member in the same team. Gary Sobers at Lord's in 1966, captaining a side that included his cousin, David Holford? I think not. Rather, Steve Waugh and his twin brother, Mark. 'Relations' is what Marx wrote, and one must assume, since he does not indicate otherwise, that he was intending the closest kind of relation there has been in the history of Test cricket.
Thesis VII. Marx writes that 'the abstract individual whom he [Feuerbach] analyses belongs to a particular form of society'. This I found more challenging than most of the others, but the strategic word here turned out to be 'form'. The Old Boy may be taken to be alluding to the well-known saying, 'Form is temporary; class is permanent'. And, given the exercise he is enagaged in, namely trying to pick a strong team, we must take this to be metonymy: he wants us to go for class rather than form. That makes a lot of sense anyway, since Marx is communicating to us across a great expanse of time, so how could we go for form? Form when? Now, traditionally, one indication of class (as I've already had occasion to note here in a different connection), a mark of aristocracy, is being a knight. So I ran through a list of cricketing knights and I quickly found my man. It's Vivian Richards. Why? Because Richards was born in Antigua, and fully five letters of 'Antigua' (a, t, i, u and a again) are shared by the word 'particular' and in the same order. Observe that the word 'particular' directly precedes the word 'form', the latter referring here metonymically to class - and Richards definitely had that.
Thesis VIII. The emphasis of this one is unmistakable:
All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.So, against mysticism; and for rational solutions and (practical) comprehension. This time it is Sobers. Must be.
Thesis IX. 'The highest point reached by contemplative materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity... etc.' What is the most visible symbol of 'practical activity' on the cricket field, the one that spectators most thrill to? Yes, it's the fast bowler strutting his stuff: running up to the wicket; wrecking a batsman's stumps. That's the first clue; we want a fast bowler. But there's another clue - in the 'highest point'. This says that he has to be, not merely tall, but the tallest (eligible) candidate. And as far as I can see, that reduces it to a contest between Joel Garner and Curtly Ambrose, both of them 6ft 8in. Since their bowling averages are virtually identical, I'll assume here that Marx had Ambrose in mind since his tally of wickets was so much greater than Garner's. But I'm bound to confess to an element of doubt in this case.
Thesis X. Marx writes:
The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or social humanity.When I first read these words (with cricket in mind) I thought Marx was pointing us, if you'll forgive the feeble pun, to someone who regularly fielded at point. For he says 'standpoint' - as in: to stand at point. But you will see that Marx then uses the same word again. He can't have wanted that repetition from a fear that the reader might miss his point (ha ha ha) first time round. To any cricket-wise reader the meaning is too glaringly obvious. No, it's more subtle than that. Marx repeats the word 'standpoint' by way of trying to indicate that he doesn't mean standing at that point, the first fielding position that comes to mind; he means, instead, standing at the other fielding position (also) known as point - i.e. cover point. So who? The man who was, according to Jack Fingleton, 'perhaps the greatest cover-point ever', Jack Hobbs. (See also here and here.) Another indication that this is who Marx intended is given by his reference to the 'old materialism'. He was not above exploiting the loose association between Jack Hobbs the cricketer and Thomas Hobbes the philosopher.
Thesis XI. Probably the most famous words from the Theses on Feuerbach:
The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.The words should be taken in conjunction with what Marx says in Thesis III about 'the changing of circumstances'. Not to beat about the bush, this clearly refers to Shane Warne. No bowler in the history of the game has been able so to terrorize batsmen with the thought of what might change in the trajectory of the ball after it left his hand, and been able so to follow up on that thought with the reality of such change; and to change the circumstances in which batsmen found themselves - one minute on the pitch, the next, heading back to the pavilion - and to change the whole shape of a game. Just no question about this one.
Thesis I (resumed). The whole can sometimes give you the secret of a single part. Having painfully deciphered Marx's meaning in the other ten theses, I returned to the one that had defeated me at the start. But I was now the wiser in a crucial way. For there was no wicket-keeper amongst the players selected so far. As soon as I realized this I was home free. Marx says of Feuerbach, remember, that...
... he does not grasp the significance of "revolutionary", of "practical-critical", activity.It now stares out at you. In the cricketing context this isn't about the grasping of significance at all; in a typical dialectical inversion, it's about the significance of grasping. Marx wanted someone who would hold on to those chances behind the stumps. The rest is easy. Just look at the top of this list. Then consider that Marx in the first thesis refers to Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity. So... Ian Healy? Rod Marsh? Mark Boucher? I'd say the claims of Adam Gilchrist were stronger.
Marx's Feuerbach XI, then, in a plausible batting order (since I have not been able to find any clue to Marx's own intentions in this regard):
1. Len HuttonAnd this team, I submit, would give an extremely good account of itself against all-comers. The batting speaks for itself. Look at those coming in at 6, 7 and 8. Look at 1, 2 and 3, for that matter. Ambrose and Pollock share the new ball, with Botham as first change, Sobers to bowl either fast-medium or spin as required, and of course Warne, quite simply the greatest.
2. Jack Hobbs
3. Don Bradman
4. Vivian Richards
5. Steve Waugh (C)
6. Gary Sobers
7. Adam Gilchrist (W)
8. Ian Botham
9. Shaun Pollock
10. Shane Warne
11. Curtly Ambrose
Finally, I anticipate some possible questions and objections. First, why no twelfth man? To be honest, I'm not entirely sure. But I'll offer this suggestion. In real life a twelfth man is needed in case of injury to one of the other eleven. Being himself a materialist, Marx will have known that picking this team was a speculative exercise and that no actual game would occur between his XI and John Stuart Mill's, or Max Weber's, or anybody's. So a twelfth man would be entirely redundant. Besides, Marx might have wanted not to draw any further on the pool of players available to the other great thinkers.
Second, some will scoff at the idea that Marx would have had Shaun Pollock to open the bowling, when he could have had Malcolm Marshall or Dennis Lillee. All criticism offered in good faith and a properly serious spirit I will endeavour to respond to in the same spirit. But I have to say that I won't be detained by footling objections of this kind. A hundred years, and in some cases considerably more than a hundred years, in advance, Marx managed to pick out players of the calibre of these. They include all five of Wisden's cricketers of the (twentieth) century. To carp and cavil because he also chose a player with Shaun Pollock's record - only Shaun Pollock - would be to display a lightmindedness that has to be called unworthy. And silly.
Third, some might think it will embarrass me to be told that Marx penned the Theses On Feuerbach in German, while I have argued from an English translation of them. This is true but not very deep. Knowing as much about cricket and its future as it has become clear that Marx did, he will have wanted an English readership to be able to pick up on the various leads he was giving in the Theses, and therefore will have composed them with possible English translations in mind. He will have known that more readers in Salisbury and Tunbridge Wells than in Leipzig or Berlin would be able to see what he was getting at.