A Study in Eating Sand

“They’re like the weird kids at the playground, who rather than running and going down the slide are like eating sand together, okay?”—Levy Rozman

Above, Rozman describes how chess grandmasters look to an average person. Their actions look erratic and their moves make little intuitive sense. And yet, this ‘sand eating’ is of the highest performance.

Rozman leans on a modern trope in which especially skilled individuals must also lack in other key components, usually social abilities. This individual’s prowess would be so great that they surmount most, if not all, shortcomings. I wish to propose that this phenomena in a Victorian literature both reveals and critiques the capitalist call for specialization. In the case of Sherlock, for instance, he prides that his mind “will have nothing but tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order.” (Doyle 17). So, while Rozman’s comment may come from the past couple of years, Sherlock Holmes most certainly consumes a similarly large volume of sand.

Holmes, however, may not possess that same iron stomach as modern chess players. At the cost of his specialty and skill, “now and again a reaction would seize him, and for days on end he would lie upon the sofa in the sitting-room, hardly uttering a word or moving a muscle from morning to night.” (Doyle 15). Sherlock’s character achieves balance through this suffering, and yet his focal point remains on his work. Holmes even encourages a blind eye towards this occasional catatonia. He instructs Watson that he, “must not think [he is] sulky when [he does] that. Just let [him] alone, and [he]’ll soon be right.” (Doyle 13). None of Sherlock belongs to himself. Everything from his pursuit of knowledge to his retention of information to his caring for his general well-being centers around his profession. When we love Sherlock as Watson does, do we also overshadow the pain and deliberate neglect in constraining a boundless man to specialized detective? Admittedly, he is one hell of a detective, but should we celebrate that?

Works Cited

Doyle, Arthur Conan. A Study in Scarlet. Penguin Classics, 2001, pp. 1-128.

Rozman, Levy. “GothamChess about eating sand Animation.” YouTube, uploaded by doctor bees, 21 April 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M00sbevHlhs

2 thoughts on “A Study in Eating Sand”

  1. “Sherlock’s character achieves balance through this suffering, and yet his focal point remains on his work.” I think this line is really interesting. If Sherlock achieves balance through suffering, what is it about his usual state of inbalance that demands suffering? What is it counteracting? Are his episodes just the result of bottled up emotions finally coming out, or is there something about Sherlock’s specialization which denies him the tools to deal with modern life?

  2. I found it very interesting that you brought up the idea of self-objectification within Sherlock Holmes. Not the kind of self-objectification that we see in modern media but the kind that would lead a working class Victorian to refer to themselves solely as hands. I found it very eye opening that you were able to see how Holmes treats himself as if he is just his brain, the only part of himself that he holds any value to. That then brings up the idea that I have of what exactly is Conan Doyle portraying in presenting Holmes’ own perspective of himself as one of only being his brain? I Conan Doyle showing mental illness within his portrayal of Holmes? Is he presenting or demonizing the objectification of the working Victorian through presenting Holmes as someone who only sees himself as valuable as his mind is capable? And how does that influence the interpretation of the overall story and other stories that Holmes appears in?

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