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Simon Critchley: What We Think About When We Think About Soccer (November 8, 2017)01:04:31

Jake Matatyaou introduces Simon Critchley, characterizing his work as the intersection of philosophy, literature, psychoanalysis, ethics, aesthetics and politics.

Simon Critchley outlines a poetics of football. He begins with a passage from his newest book, “What We Think About When We Think About Soccer,” stressing the human association of football (as in the phrase “association football”). He contrasts teams that have brilliant individual players and teams that are more than the sum of their parts, demonstrating – in Sartre’s analysis – the dialectic of the group and the individual, individual and collective action. He proposes that proper form of football might be socialism, citing Bill Shankly and Brian Clough. Critchley argues that the corrupt, capitalist aspect of football – personified by FIFA’s Sepp Blatter – is also part of the experience. As is football’s connection with violence, racism, sexism, colonialism, and nationalism. Even so, football contains the possibility of being “a gesture at the service of beauty” (in Mauricio Pochettino’s phrase). In short: a game, but one that takes place within a context in which something larger is at stake.

Critchley briefly discusses Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s book “Zidane’s Melancholy”, before pursuing a phenomenological investigation. He argues that football opens up a dimension in the experience of time, especially a thoughtfully attentive pensiveness. Time becomes malleable, plastic, and elastic, especially in matches governed by a “catenaccio” or “door-bolt" strategy to block the opposing team’s attacks. He cites Peter Handke’s "The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick" on the lived experience of time speeding up and slowing down, intense and slack,

Critchley argues that football also creates a new experience of space, noting how Thomas Muller was nicknamed “Der Raumdeuter” or “Space investigator”. The space of play is never a mere object, but a play of space: malleable and ductile.

He notes that football also authorizes superstitions among both players and fans. It is defined by elemental passions, but susceptible to reason and rationality. There is a stupidity to the game and the fans, but that stupidity is wonderful.

Critchley cites William James: “I’m sorry for the boy or girl, or man or woman, who has never been touched by the spell of this mysterious sensorial life, with its irrationality, if so you like to call it, but is vigilance and its supreme felicity.”

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