‘Zidane’s Melancholy is My Melancholy’
— By Anelise Chen | June 14, 2010
It became loudly apparent to me Saturday as I watched the England vs. USA World Cup game with a room full of usually quiet and gentle pacifist intellectuals that we all need, once in awhile, to let loose our animal selves. People got drunk; popcorn was thrown; rude epithets, insults, threats bandied; it was a little bit like a controlled reenactment of the Revolutionary War.
I’ve been thinking about sports a lot. After watching the Winter Olympics this year it struck me that moments in sports are like so charged and fertile with meaning I don’t know why more writers don’t write about it. Athletic competition takes the most essential human desires and boils it down to something so straight-forward and concrete. That is, we all want to conquer, take from the other, destroy for glory and fame, and when we fall short it’s tragic. (Read: Barthes “The Tour de France as Epic”). Life is really like one epic sports game that goes on and on until you die.
Maybe because it is so like war & a metaphor for surviving, athletic competitions often have an element of madness that is so beautiful and awe-inspiring in context but terrible to witness out of context. Desperation, exhaustion, anger, loss of control: these represent our physical limits. To see athletes going through these states is grimace+cringeworthy yet strangely life-affirming.
I’m thinking about cross country skiers who throw up after races from sheer exertion. Iron Man competitors whose bodies give out, sphincter muscles and all, and must crawl towards the finish line. Soccer players who, in a moment of tired frustration decide to headbutt a member of the opposing team.
Most likely, if you remember anything about the 2006 World Cup it it’s French soccer star Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutt. Jean-Philippe Toussaint writes a lovely piece called “La Melancholie de Zidane” that carefully dissects that incomprehensible, bewildering moment in soccer history. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it was to be Zidane’s last game (ever) before he would retire. Italian Marco Materazzi supposedly said some things to piss him off and Zidane headbutted him–in the chest.
Toussaint suggests that perhaps Zidane, athlete-as-artist, is so preoccupied with finding “la Forme” that he doesn’t know how to properly close off his career. For an athlete, to not play is like accepting a certain kind of death. He can’t score, he feels ambivalent, he doesn’t want to quit but he no longer wants to play. But to headbutt another player, that at least leaves some options alive, open. “Incapable de marquer un but, il marquera les esprits.”
Toussaint’s piece isn’t just about the melancholy of one soccer player, it’s a melancholy we all experience. “Zidane’s melancholy is my melancholy, I know it, I’ve nourished it, I feel it deeply,” Toussaint writes. “Something in us turns against us.” How do we manage life, legacy, form? Perhaps we all feel the melancholy because perfect form will always be unattainable and the chances to it mathematically impossible. And after acknowledging that, will life still be meaningful and worth living?
Another post about soccer and video art— “Juergen Teller filmed himself watching the 2002 World Cup final (Germany lost 2–0 to Brazil). Eyes on the television set, he twists and shouts, stewing with bullish rage. He later said that this film was ‘the most disturbing thing’ he’d ever seen.”Tweet