Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Camus on the pitch?

Earlier this month, in the final game of the 2006 World Cup, France's attacking midfielder Zinedine Zidane took exception to a verbal provocation by Italian defender Marco Materazzi. Zidane's riposte was a head-butt to the chest of Materazzi. The Italian went sprawling, though it turned out--oh my!--that he wasn't seriously hurt. Zidane was ejected from the game.

C'est tout? Mais non.

Is there a sportswriter, Monday morning midfielder, or intellectual who has not bloviated on the head-butt heard round the world?

Bernard-Henri Lévy wrote in the Wall Street Journal:
Here is a man of providence, a savior, who was sought out, like Achilles in his tent of grudge and rage, because he was believed to be the only one who could avert his countrymen's fated decline. Better yet, he's a super-Achilles who--unlike Homer's--did not wait for an Agamemnon to come begging him to re-enlist ... no nasty remark will ever tell us why the planetary icon that Zinedine Zidane had become, a man more admired than the Pope, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela put together, a demigod, a chosen one, this great priest-by-consensus of the new religion and the new empire in the making, chose to explode right there.
Uh, maybe.

Adam Gopnik, who I praised in this space just the other day, visits the issue in the current New Yorker. He retails (without necessarily endorsing) the theory that Zidane's act was "a bit Camusian":
Zidane...was lashing out not just at the Italian who had insulted him but at the unlivable role that he had been slotted into by the French. Forced to play the part of an ideal national hero, and knowing that he could never live up to the role, Zidane (who is still an Algerian kid from the projects at heart, and one who has played most of his career outside France), consciously or not, butted his way right out of it.
The problem, I think, with BHL's cogitations and Gopnik's ruminations is not that they are insufficiently historical or literary, or even too preoccupied with the morality of Zidane's act, but that they've latched on to the wrong historical antecedents and embraced the wrong moral.

My favorite take on the whole affair comes from Luke Dempsey, author of the forthcoming novel, A Supremely Bad Idea, in The New Republic. His bottom line:
Zidane lost nothing for France; he gained only for France, and for children everywhere; his was the great moral blow; he resisted, yet again, as the great French will do. I say, "Allez les Bleus!".... Allez Zizou, kids.... Vive la résistance!
--Marshal Zeringue