Friday, December 4, 2009

Tiger Woods and the Language of Confession

“Human, All Too Human,” was one of Nietzsche’s book titles. For all his heroics on the golf course, Tiger Woods is no exception.

As the human drama behind his car accident continues to unfold, the purely legal aspects have reached closure. The Florida Highway Patrol cited Woods for careless driving for crashing his car into a fire hydrant and a tree at 2 a.m on November 27. The formal penalty (civil, not criminal) was $164 and four points against his driver’s license.

There was also the matter of cooperation with the investigation into the crash. Woods refused to speak with the patrol’s accident investigators, but he did provide his driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance, as required by Florida law. After consulting with the local prosecutor’s office, the patrol concluded it lacked sufficient evidence to subpoena records from Woods’ hospital visit after the crash, which briefly knocked him unconscious.

The jarring images remain, however. Woods’ wife, Elin Nordegren Woods, had to smash the vehicle’s back window with a golf club to help get him out. And the facts of the accident seemed to suggest a marital argument. The plausibility of this possibility has only increased in the last few days, amid speculation of sexual impropriety by Tiger Woods.

I’m reminded of the youthful Augustine and his epic indiscretions. “To Carthage then I came,” Augustine wrote in his Confessions — and went on to describe the “cauldron of lust” in which he found himself.

Compared to Augustine, Tiger Woods has offered only — to use the old Watergate phrase — a “limited modified hangout.” In a statement released to the press, he admitted to unspecified “indiscretions” and apologized to his family for “personal sins and failings.”

Sounds like Augustinian language. Alfred North Whitehead famously said that all philosophy is footnotes to Plato. One might equally say that the language of confession consists of footnotes to Augustine.

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