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Bruce Fleming. Running Is Life: Transcending the Crisis of Modernity.

Bruce Fleming. Running Is Life: Transcending the Crisis of Modernity. Lanham: University Press of America, 2010. 148 pp. Paper, $25.00.

Bruce Fleming is the author of numerous books and articles with far ranging titles. Running Is Life may be his attempt to sum them up, traversing both the globe and time as this volume does. Certainly, this is a self-conscious work, beginning with the Introduction where the reader is confronted with a crisis of representation, why after all produce another book when so much has all ready been written? Fleming suggests that another book is worth the effort, if only to provide the rare opportunity for concentration.

What he offers for concentration under the rubric of running is his personal view of modern philosophy and its relationship to the problem of modernity, much of it by way of Wittgenstein. As running books go, this one is unusually chewy; it is clear that this man has taught (The Naval Academy); it is clear that he has thought (World Literature): the problem is Running Is Life in its early chapters is too much like dropping in on a Western Civilization course. However, the pedantry is relieved by Fleming's creative symbols and metaphors that reduce unmanageably large concepts to something like Chinese characters. In fact, the novelty he brings to these concepts is suggestive of John Irving's compressed understatements in The World According to Garp. The central symbol Fleming uses to both explain and ridicule our relationship to history is "small, hard things." Fleming holds that because these are the things that survive--as opposed to the "large, soft things"--it is these things that we allow to represent who and what we are. Though an apparent inveterate museum visitor, Fleming concludes that collecting such objects in a building just makes free the remaining space for other pursuits, such as running; it does not go far toward explaining who we have been and who we are.

As for running as transcendent, Fleming's argument seems to be that though we cannot resolve the lack of certainty and substantiality of the world, especially through modern philosophy, we can choose to run. We can assert our free will even in the face of arguments against it. And this makes running transcendent. But for all Fleming's jaunts around the globe, rarely does he seem the runner, rather he seems to be more the thinker, with one notable exception. When thrown off a golf course in Death Valley, the hardcore runner rears his head and resents out-of-shape golfers directing him off the course, as if to say to him, real athleticism is not allowed here. He angrily recounts the incident to himself with true runner's ire. Bravo!

Although clearly running for Fleming is the best revenge, Fleming seems incompletely reconciled to the temporality of human existence and the ultimate meaninglessness of our "small, hard things" that we leave to posterity. In the end, he fails to convince that running is life, but he confirms that life is more than the sum of its parts. Possibly, he needs to turn East rather than West to transcend the crisis of modernity.

D.C. Risker

Webster University

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Author:Risker, D.C.
Publication:Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2010
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