In 1937 appearance, Joyce joined Hungarians ‘in the middle’

One of the most substantive explorations appears to be the “Hors Jeu” (“Offside”) exhibit at the Musée d’Ethnographie de Genève, which runs through 26 Apr 09. Curators, obviously with long lead time, contacted craftsmen in Côte d’Ivoire to carve totems, from rubber trees, representing a holy pantheon of world football: Diego Maradona (“God”), Joseph “Sepp” Blatter (“Pope”), Michel Platini (“Cardinal”) and Victoria Beckham (“Courtesan”). The figurines take an active role, according to exhibition curator Christian Delecraz: “They question the visitor: ‘Is football a good lens through which we can try and make sense of what’s going on in our world?’ ”

The “Hors Jeu” exhibit in Geneva, which looks at football “through an anthropological lens,” covers totemic aspects. Some players carry gris-gris (talismans) or wear lucky undergarments. An Italy supporter carried this doll at the 2006 World Cup—pins presumably placed ex post facto, following the Zidane-Materazzi incident. (Musée d’Ethnographie de Genève)

But of all the literary, musical and visual inspirations on view, among the most thoughtful words come from Turkish author Orhan Pamuk. In an interview with Der Spiegel (“Football Is Faster Than Words,” Jun 4), the Nobel Prize winner—again, a writer who occasionally lets football take a scene-setting or background role in his fiction—confesses his conflicted views. On one hand, Pamuk says, football has offered him community. Yet his imaginary football has suffered from attendant “nationalism, xenophobia and authoritarian thinking,” particularly in Turkey, where the game has been a tool for nation builders—even before its stunning, Euro 08–saving victory over the Czech Republic on Jun 15. In Pamuk’s novel Snow, “secret confessions of a national goalkeeper” form part of a patriotic stage production at the National Theater in Kars.

Pamuk has stored his affections in memory. Of seeing Fenerbahçe matches with his father, Pamuk likens the players in yellow strip to canaries, “fluttering into the stadium out of a hole”:

I can still recite the entire lineup of the 1959 Fenerbahçe team like a poem. Of course, it has something to do with identifying with my father. We always sat in the main stands next to the VIPs, who looked like capitalists from a Bertolt Brecht play. Throughout the match they smoked cigars, a sign of great wealth at the time, and because a breeze from the Bosporus was constantly blowing into the stadium, the smoke made my eyes tear up.

We issue a call to playwrights around the world. If football can fire such recollection, the cast of 1937 Hungarian players now cries out for rebirth. Why not a reenactment, with these kitted-out Magyars as intermediaries, of the Joyce-Nabokov meeting on its 75th anniversary … in 2012 in Kyiv?

Sources

Michael H. Begnal, “Joyce, Nabokov, and the Hungarian National Soccer Team,” James Joyce Quarterly 31 (summer 1994): 519–25; James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916; Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1981); Vladimir Nabokov, Conclusive Evidence (New York: Harper & Bros., 1951), 195–200; idem, Pale Fire, in Novels, 1955–1962 (1962; New York: Library of America, 1996).

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3 comments on this post.
  1. Curses, wallies & the return of the Russian linesman - Professor Champions League - FourFourTwo:

    [...] was no master of the “greasy leather orb,” as he referred to the ball but, according to this intriguing post on The Global Game he was happy to rub shoulders with the Hungarian football team at a lecture in Paris in 1937. [...]

  2. Tom Weisshaus:

    The 1937 Hungarian All-Star football team was in Paris
    quite understandably — being in the playoffs for the
    World Cup finals in 1938, to be played in Paris. I lived in Budapest in those years and remember how dominant the Hungarian teams were — over even the Italians, who eventually beat them in the final. For a country of a mere 10 million, after a tragic war and more tragic peace settlement at Trianon, the Hungarians
    had nothing to be ashamed of in football for most of the first half of the century. Their prize-winning female novelist, author of “The Street of the Fishing Cat,” received her prize in Paris and was undoubtedly the reason the footballers had that enviable literary encounter with the two greats, Nabokov and Joyce.

  3. Tom Weisshaus:

    As a child fan of Hungarian football teams of the late
    ’30′s, I find their presence in Paris, sitting next to James Joyce and listening to Nabokov a rare reminder of those days of glory, when Hungarian teams regularly defeated everyone, usually from much larger countries,
    that challenged them in football. Thanks for the memories!

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