Simon Critchley, ‘Working-Class Ballet’

In Roads & Kingdoms, Simon Critchley writes on football as working-class ballet, on Zinedine Zidane as anti-hero, and on a lifetime of supporting Liverpool:

Football is working-class ballet. It’s an experience of enchantment. For an hour and a half, a different order of time unfolds and one submits oneself to it. A football game is a temporal rupture with the routine of the everyday: ecstatic, evanescent and, most importantly, shared. At its best, football is about shifts in the intensity of experience. At times, it’s like Spinoza on maximizing intensities of existence. At other times, it’s more like Beckett’s Godot, where nothing happens twice. 

Let me try and make some sense of these thoughts by focusing on an exemplary artwork: Zidane by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno from 2006. The movie’s subtitle is A Portrait of the 21st Century and these words have a wide range of meaning. Zidane is a meditation on the nature of the image and the endlessly mediated quality of reality. We begin by watching the usual, flat TV images and commentary of the game before being sucked in to something else… but let’s leave that ‘something else’ for a moment.

At the most obvious level, Zidane is a portrait of the 21st century, where reality has an utterly mediated quality. It is a world of celebrity and commodity, a world of smooth and shiny surfaces, a hallucinatory reality, nothing more. The 21st century is a portrait. Everything is a portrait. Zidane himself is a portrait, a perfect and magical fetish, a pure commodity that inspires desire, a product with rights owned by Adidas, Siemens or his whole panoply of sponsors. Zidane is a spectacle.

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