Jean-Phillipe Toussaint - Zidane's Melancholy
Zidane’s Melancholy is, nominally, a recount of the minutes before Zinedine Zidane headbutted Marco Materazzi during the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final. That’s the surface, but the story itself can easily be seen as both commentary on art and its creation, as well as Toussaint’s criticism and reference of his own earlier works.
Belgium author Toussaint, explaining his short story during an interview, said that, “I think that an author has a responsibility to examine the contemporary world”, noting that football, particularly for Europeans, plays a significant role in many people’s lives. Football – sport in general, one would think – is an expressly neutral when it comes to literature, but Toussaint rejects that idea. He makes Zidane’s Melancholy a literary story, imbuing it with the smothering melancholy of the artist performing his art. The artist in this case, Zidane, contemplates his performance on the football field with the intensity, self-appraisal, and vicious (self) negativity of a painter standing unsatisfied in front of a painting that just doesn’t quite seem to be working.
He no longer has the means, or the strength, the energy, the will, to pull off a last stunt, a final act of pure form; the header deflected by Buffon a few moments earlier, for all its beauty, will definitively open Zidane’s eyes to his irreparable impotence. Form, at present, resists him – and this is unacceptable for an artist.
Form, beauty, the concept of satisfaction always one more work away – these are the conceits of the artist, explicitly identified by Toussaint as being Zidane’s concerns.
Added to this, Toussaint references his own earlier works quite heavily, drawing from The Bathroom, but also touching on Freud, Starobinski and Bachelard. These references – and the story, at five pages, really has quite a number of them – add weight to Toussaint’s insistence that soccer (or indeed any subject) can be made literary and intellectual while remaining true to itself and holding the essence of its own subject. This is still very much a soccer story, and World Cup fans will recognize the excitement and anticipation of the final match, and the confusion of Zidane’s headbutt.
Zidane’s Melancholy by Jean-Phillipe Toussaint is a short story from The Dalkey Archive Press’ publication, Best European Fiction 2010 (edited by Aleksander Hemon). This review is part of a series intending to examine each story from the collection, in an effort to broaden awareness of both the project itself, and the excellent array of authors contained within.
Titles by Toussaint also under review:
Other titles under review from the Best European Fiction 2010 anthology include:
---Bosnian: Štiks, Igor - At the Sarajevo Market
---Bulgarian: Gospodinov, Georgi - And All Turned Moon
---Croatian: Ušumović, Neven – Vereš
---Danish: Aidt, Naja Marie - Bulbjerg
---Estonian: Viiding, Elo - Foreign Women
---French: Montalbetti, Christine - Hotel Komaba Eminence (With Haruki Murakami)
---Hungarian: Konrád, György - Jeremiah's Terrible Tale
---Icelandic: Bragi, Steinar - The Sky Over Thingvellir
---Italian: Mozzi, Guilio - Carlo Doesn't Know How to Read
List of title published by The Dalkey Archive Pressunder review