September 19, 2021

the round ball at the right time

“Why football? The mystery of football according to Platini and Jankélévitch ”, by Stéphane Floccari, Les Belles Lettres, 288 p., € 16.90, digital € 12.

The kick-off of Euro 2021 on Friday 11 June heralds the cyclical return of the world’s most popular sporting spectacle. The amateurs prepare their passionate evenings, the contemptors, their avoidance strategies. Both of them can come together around a book: Why football ?, by Stéphane Floccari. About this sport of which Pier Paolo Pasolini said it was the last modern rite, the philosopher indeed invites to “Suspend judgment, to dare to think so”. Floccari, who regularly puts on his crampons within the French team of writers, recognizes the difficulty of the project. Because, he writes, “In the country of Molière and Mbappé, sport continues to suffer from a theoretical disqualification which has a long life”.

“Emotional plague”, sociologist Jean-Marie Brohm went so far as to write about it. Many benevolent theories have certainly been developed in the face of the football world. But if the light thrown on the phenomenon, from the human sciences to ballistics, has enriched our rational knowledge of the object, it has not yet exhausted the mystery. This is the goal towards which this essay launches a « kick and rush » (English technique consisting of sending the ball far forward, rushing towards the opposing goal): understand the “Mystery of the foot pushing the ball”.

Football “as a practice accompanied by meaning and a creator of values”

But what is so unfathomable here that this specialist in Nietzsche goes so far as to compare to the mysteries of love, death and time? The great interest of this nicely written book, which develops a surprising game plan in which Platini is no less cited than Merleau-Ponty, is precisely to pass this mystery to us like a leather ball, in order to do like touching the foot. It all starts with, “On one side, the ball, both subject to the laws of nature and capricious, and, on the other, the foot”, while “Other sports make the hand, organ of technique and support of thought in action, the dominant and exclusive principle of human skill”.

After having gone through history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and having activated the memory of gestures and words from the field, the reflection seeks to account for football “As a practice accompanied by meaning and creator of values ​​for those who practice it and watch it”. It is therefore a question of thinking in a situation, ball to the foot or in this “Game without a ball” what the spectator’s activity consists of. On such “Definition surface” then appears the real number 10 of this work, the philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch (1903-1985).

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