Sorbonne Conference Abstracts





The abstracts are listed in the order of the programme.

Les résumés sont donnés dans l’ordre du programme.


Zinon Papakonstantinou : ‘The Athletic Body and the Body Politic in Classical Athens: Literary and Historical Perspectives’

This paper explores representations of the athletic body in classical Athenian literature (c. 480-330 BCE) and their implications for understanding the role of sport in ancient Athens during the period in question. In classical Athenian literature and plastic arts the male athletic body was frequently stereotyped as a token of physical and moral superiority and as a central attribute of manliness. Yet many of these depictions of the athletic body can be ultimately attributed to the athletes themselves and their milieu. There also existed a different strand, visible in genres such as comedy and medical literature, which viewed the athletic body as food-devouring, over-trained and muscularly disfigured. It is argued that this deviant image of the athletic body is part of a wider discourse that contrasts professional athletes and their bodies to the model of the adequately trained, militarily efficient and politically involved body of the ideal citizen. In other words, in some quarters in classical Athens the physically transgressive athletic body partly embodied the qualities of the anti-citizen.

Bob Cottrell : ‘Writers and America’s National Pastime’

Since its supposed origins during the first half of the nineteenth century, baseball has captured the imagination of some of the finest writers in the United States. Walt Whitman exclaimed, “It’s our game: that’s the chief fact in connection with it: America’s game: has the snap, go fling, of the American atmosphere — belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly, as our constitutions, laws: is just as important in the sum total of our historic life.”  Zane Grey, Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice, Damon Runyon, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Bernard Malamud, and Philip Roth are among the noted American writers who have featured baseball in some of their most celebrated works. Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby plays off the “Black Sox” scandal involving the throwing of the 1919 World Series, while Roth’s The Great American Novel explores baseball as a means to trace the anti-communist fixation that enveloped the United States following World War II. Malamud’s The Natural uses baseball as a metaphor for the loss of American innocence during the early Cold War era, while Valentine Davis’s It Happens Every Spring and Douglas Wallop’s The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant more innocently convey American writers’ fascination with baseball. While other sports have surpassed baseball in popularity in the United States, baseball remains the favorite of writers, whether famed novelists like John Updike or celebrated journalists on the order of David Halberstam and George Plimpton. In “Writers and America’s National Pastime,” I will explore some of the most significant works, from the iconic “Casey at the Bat,” to Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, which began to unpeel something of the romantic façade away from baseball’s romantic image. My presentation will focus on writing and the national pastime through the middle of the 1950s, when baseball remained America’s dominant sport.

Flore Coulouma : ‘Cycling in circles: Flann O’Brien’s free-wheeling stories in The Third Policeman

Flann O’Brien’s stories always feature bicycles as the unavoidable props in his stereotypical Irish landscapes. In his novel The Third Policeman, bicycles are comically upgraded to full-blown characters and provide a recurring theme lending linear consistency to an otherwise convoluted narrative. In Ireland, the – very real – national interest for bikes originally derives from necessity rather than sports; thus bicycles are a reminder of the simple life in rural Ireland as much as a source of pride and joy when they betray their owner’s skills as a mechanics and sportsman. In O’Brien’s caricature, bicycles become an obsession, and the bicyclist’s relationship with his machine, a comically improbable love-story.

The aim of my paper will be to analyse the role of bicycles in the novel, both as a symbolic representation of the Irish common man and as a structural device in the narrative. As a man-made device, the bicycle is a direct application of mechanical science; the relationship between man and machine thus reflects the mystery of creation, in a parody of the Great Clockmaker. O’Brien also makes fun of the national vehicle and its users to remind us that cycling round and round is a dubious sporting feat. His characters talk about bicycles much more than they ride them: talking becomes a sport as cycling embodies the unfolding of narratives. The wandering bicycle finally represents O’Brien’s digressive story-telling in the oral Irish tradition, and its aimless, leisurely activity remind us that ultimately, stories are like bicycles: all for sports.

Sébastien Darbon : ‘Un genre hybride : l’autobiographie fictive. Réflexions sur l’écriture en anthropologie du sport’

Si écrire un texte anthropologique est avant tout écrire un texte, quelle peut être la forme de cette écriture ? Y a-t-il place, au delà de la modalité classique de l’ouvrage académique répondant à des critères « scientifiques », pour des productions résolument littéraires visant à traduire de manière concrète (sensible, « vécue ») des formes d’organisation sociales et culturelles complexes, surtout quand elles sont inscrites dans le passé ? A quelles contraintes de rigueur intellectuelle doivent être soumises ces tentatives afin de respecter la réalité des contextes spatio-temporels abordés ? A partir de l’écriture d’une autobiographie fictive (en l’occurrence celle d’un personnage imaginaire – un Anglais né au milieu du 19e siècle, grand sportif formé à Eton/Cambridge qui a connu une brillante carrière d’administrateur colonial – dont les supposées « Mémoires » constituent une illustration sensible des processus de naissance, puis de diffusion des sports), cette communication aborde les questions scientifiques et épistémologiques qui découlent de la mise en œuvre d’un tel procédé.

Abhijit Gupta : ‘A Bengali in Paris: Gobor Guha vs Jack Johnson, c1913’

This paper proposes to survey the career of Jatindracharan Guha (1892-1972)—better known as Gobor Guha—who was perhaps the most charismatic Indian wrestler after the great Gama. But while Gama’s career has been extensively researched and written upon, there has been little work on Guha, which is surprising given that Guha was not just a wrestler but a man of letters and an amateur musician, often acting as a kind of cultural ambassador on his many trips to Europe and North America. Guha came from a family who took wrestling seriously and had a gymnasium at home (which is still active), and his career coincided with the rise of a muscular nationalism in Bengal, which laid great stress on the cultivation of a healthy body, and actively sought to dispel the British-propagated stereotype of the Bengali as a frail and effeminate people. Thus the turn of the 19th century saw participation on part of both Bengali men and women in various kinds of martial arts involving sticks and knives among others; at the same time, there were large fan followings for wrestlers and weightlifters like Shaymakanta, Bhim-bhabani and Prof. Rammurthy, the last two legendary for their ability to support elephants on their chest.

In this paper, I wish to concentrate on second Guha’s trip to Europe in 1912, the same year in which Rabindranath Tagore also went to England. During his three-year trip, Guha fought with and defeated many European wrestlers but his most curious encounter probably took place with Jack Johnson—the first-ever  black world heavyweight boxing champion — at a wrestling tournament in Paris. Johnson was then a fugitive from justice in America, having skipped bail after being sentenced on a charge of immoral trafficking, and was having to make a living from participating in cross-genre martial arts tournament. Guha’s bout with Johnson has almost passed into folklore in Bengal and this paper will try to recapture its circumstances and  significance.

John McLeod: ‘Cricketing Multiculturalism: Caryl Phillips’s Playing Away’

“In recent decades, sport has often been considered as a major crucible for the negotiation of a multicultural British future, especially by those keen to promote images of a nation at ease with its colonial past and postcolonial present (one thinks of the recent successful campaign to host the 2012 Olympics in London).  More sceptical views have called attention to the exceptionality of sport and sporting events as confecting a licensed space of multicultural self-regard at some remove from the realities of contemporary Britain, where convivial visions of British multiculturalism mask and distract attention from enduring problems of prejudice and inequality.  It is within the tension between sport as enabling opportunity and sport as distracting from inequity that Caryl Phillips situates his early screenplay _Playing Away_, which dramatises a charity cricket match between a English village team and a team of black Britons from Brixton as part of the village’s ‘Africa Week’ celebrations.  As I shall explore, Phillips entertains a sense of sport as exposing the contradictions and chauvenism of contemporary British life as well as affording opportunities to embrace a sense of cultural admixture as the permanent gift of sporting endeavours.  Ultimately, Phillips offers a radical re-envisioning of sport which goes far beyond the sweetening confections of officious multiculturalism (as represented by the ‘Africa Week’ initiative) and opens up new ground for reconstituing British life which takes on class, gender and racial divisions in order to win a new multicultural future of meaningful impact — where ‘playing’ with the rules might take us ‘away’ from the problems of both prejudice and its conscience-easing ‘charitable’ response.”

Mukul Kesavan : Cricket, cosmopolitanism and the nation in contemporary fiction’.

The paper will look at three novels, Romesh Gunesekara’s The Match (2008), Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland (2008) and Shehan Karunatilake’s, Chinaman (2011) to understand why cricket has recently supplied the occasion for novel-length explorations of displacement, nostalgia and identity. Since two of the novels are written by Sri Lankan writers and since Sri Lanka has been a bloody proving ground for competing ideas such as nationalism and pluralism, the paper will be centred on that country’s conflicts and the way they are illuminated by cricket. Netherland provides a counterpoint to this Sri Lankan focus. O’Neill’s novel uses the cricketing encounters of a European expat in New York with West Indian immigrants as a way of thinking about being metropolitan and ‘Western’ in a post-9/11 world.

Nicholas Attfield : ‘Music, Olympism, Fascism: Berlin, 1936’

The music played at the modern Olympic Games has received little scholarly attention. This is in spite of its centrality in the various ceremonies of the Games since their inception in 1896, and in spite of the impression that here – as elsewhere – music helps to shape a sense of national identity. In this latter respect, it is rather like sport; similarly, the historically commonplace denial that sport can have any hand in gritty political matters is also found in musical study: sport and music, two “diversions” allegedly existing outside or above the realm of the everyday.

This paper uses a case study – the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin – in order to demonstrate that music, already the most prized expression of Germany’s cultural identity, was a vital contributor to the presentation of the nation during these ‘Nazi Games’. Nonetheless, I will not follow the common line of argument that the Nazi regime simply ‘stole’ Olympic ceremony for its own nefarious ends. Rather, I will show that the aesthetic wishes of Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, had long centred on Wagner, Beethoven, and German music; accordingly, at the 1936 Games, Nazism and Olympism were brought into an uneasy aesthetic alliance – an alliance that, in the post-Second World War era, contributed both to the Games’ acceptance of their political engagement and to the reconception of their musical and ceremonial aspects.

Heinrik Meinander : ‘The Flying Finn in Print: Paavo Nurmi and the Cultural Construction of Finland’

The Finnish long distance runner Paavo Nurmi (1897-1973) was on the most famous athletes in Europe in the 1920s and arose as such to a mythical status in his home country, which as a young nation badly needed national icons with a modern and boldly physical appearance. As a consequence, the Paavo Nurmi myth began to shape in the Finnish press and literature directly after he had won his first Olympic gold medals in Antwerp 1920. Even if Nurmi was disqualified 1932 by IOC for   professionalism he maintained this role as the Finn personified on many national scenes up until the 1960s. This paper discusses how the Nurmi profile transformed in the literature between 1920 and 1970 in interaction with societal changes and the cultural construction of Finland.

Peter Horton : ‘Tumultuous Text: the imagining of Australia through Literature, Sport and Nationalism: from Colonies to the Federation’

Australia is variously characterized as: an “unlikely paradise of sport”, a land of ‘muddied clods’, the haven of “Bronzed Aussie Gods” and the home of ‘one-eyed’ sport-obsessed bigots. The accuracy of these opinions is a question of the focus of the commentators’ gaze and their perceptions and prejudices. This paper discusses a selection of creative literature and social commentary of visiting writers, permanent residents and Australian-born writers; their reflections on sporting and associated themes will be scrutinised to illustrate how they contributed to the imaging of the emerging nation. The Australian writers of this period, particularly those writing in The Bulletin, made a significant contribution to the creation of a nationalist tradition and the development of a national persona and psyche. The writing and commentary of ‘visiting’ writers such as Nat Gould and Mark Twain powerfully characterized the image of the emerging nation through the depiction of life in the bush and the themes of equestrianism and horseracing. The images such authors evoked were proliferated globally and the imaginary of Australia and its culture was mythologized.
Sport throughout Australian history has been a prevalent and powerful cultural component of national identity and a source of national pride and efficacy. It was a central element in the creation of its initial imagined community and continues to be germane to the continual re-definition of the Australian identity both in a positive and a negative representation. As Benedict Anderson famously remarked, a nation is, in the first instance an imagined community and, in the case of Australia both cultural icons of sport and literature inspired a host of constructions of the earliest image of the nation and its heroes and heroines and, in many ways they now form a core constituent of the assigned and assumed identity.

Ying Yu: ‘Beijing Olympic Games and the Advocacy of ‘Sports for All’ in China’

At the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, China claimed a record high 51 gold medals, leading the gold medal tally for the first time. However, the Beijing Olympics also brought forth the debate of whether China is a nation strong in sports or merely a nation leading in gold medals. Following the Games, criticism emerged on the official strategies and unbalanced investment in pursuit of medals; on the other hand, the discourse of ‘sports for all’ and ‘development of popular sports’ flourished. This paper will first introduce China’s state-sponsored sports regime that contributes to the monopoly of resource for glorified sports performance especially in the 2008 Olympic Games. Then it will focus on the debates and criticism in the Chinese press generated after the Olympics over the existing system and calls for serious reforms to achieve a comprehensive ‘sports power’ including participation by ordinary people as well as elite athletes. Regarding the press as a medium and the press coverage itself as a study of the literature of sport, this paper will record and analyse the role of the Chinese intellectuals, policy makers, journalists and general public in contributing to the discourse elaboration, opinions formation and policy advocacy on the development of sports for all in China.

J.A. Mangan : ‘Confronted Conformity and Outraged Orthdoxy; The Loom of Youthsuccès de scandale.

By the Edwardian era the celebrated English Public School System-  private schools for the privileged -revitalised and reinvigorated in the wake of  triumphant  imperial expansion- was widely considered to be the source of imperial control, stability – and morality :  in short, for many the reason  for imperial success.The schools were thought to be the cultural conveyor belts  with the games fields as factories for a robust, confident and decent masculinity. By the time of the Great War paeans to their virtues and values echoed throughout the Empire.Then in 1917 a nineteen year old  former public schoolboy published in  the form of a novel an indictment of the system. The response was extraordinary.; a literary volcanic eruption. Reviews were extensive and mostly shocked, abrasive and damning.’ Social ‘ blasphemy had  been committed.  These reviews are considered here in their fullness for the first time. In the main, individually, they were a personal verbal flagellation of an unredeemable social sinner; and a stark revelation of class defensiveness, cultural myopia and blinkered bias. Collectively they were for the most part an unwitting self-condemnatory commentary.  The  novel was The Loom of Youth and the author was Alec Waugh. His exposure of the system was a succes de scandale which confronted complacent conformity  and outraged embedded orthodoxy.

Sandra Collins : ‘The Imperial Sportive: Sporting Lives in the Service of Modern Japan’

Modern Japan has a long history of sports literature.  After the successful diffusion of western sport through the school system, sport literature became popular with the advent of mass culture in 1920s Japan.  In order to encourage “proper” moral associations to be made between western sport and masculinity in Japanese youth, literature about sport was actively published especially for school boys.

Various magazines and short novels focused on embodying masculinities according to values aligned with state interests.  Athletes and various western sports were glorified for Japanese youth and enabled a generation to deepen their appreciation of how hard work, industry, athletic masculinity could be trained through sport.  With the sensational performance by Japanese Olympic athletes in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games, the short novel, “Olympia no kajitsu” (The Fruits of Olympia) became an instant best seller in interwar Japan by detailing the physical and psychological Olympic journey of Japanese athletes to America.

More recently various manga (cartoon) and anime (animated cartoons) have appeared that feature various sport heroes.  As Miho Koishihara has analyzed, these visual narratives often serve as modern sport literature for contemporary Japanese youth.  In many ways, sport literature in Japan in both the 1930s and contemporary eras seek to glorify the athletic sports hero as the idealized Japanese youth who embodies values of promoted by the Japanese state.  This paper will analyze both the early 1930s Japanese sports literature and recent Japanese visual sports literature in order explore the enduring relationship of gender identity, sport and literature for the Japanese state.

Supriya Chaudhuri : ‘In the Ring: Gender, Spectatorship, and the Body’

In On Boxing (1987), Joyce Carol Oates claimed that ‘boxing is for men, and is about men, and is men.’ Paradoxically, F. X. Toole made these lines the epigraph to a collection of stories containing the unforgettable ‘Million Dollar Baby’ (later a film), about a woman boxer. Modern boxing and its modernist and postmodernist literary representations raise urgent questions about gender, the body and the cultures of spectatorship. My paper will attempt to explore some of these questions, looking at texts from Shaw and Djuna Barnes to Oates and Toole, placing them beside the histories of both men’s and women’s boxing in the modern period. I will particularly consider the emergence and the exceptional success of Indian women boxers such as M. C. Mary Kom against a background of deprivation and neglect, asking what this might reveal about the culture of the sport itself.

Alexis Tadié: ‘From supporter to reader: the fictions of football’

This paper proposes to look at a number of recent narratives about football. It will take in both French and English narrative, such as Mauvinier’s Dans la foule, Hornby’s Fever Pitch, King’s The Football Factory, etc. It will show that these works, and others, are not primarily about the game itself, but either about more or less fictional characters of the world of football (Peace’s The Damned United, Glanville’s The Dying of the Light), or about supporters. It will show how this investigation of football through literature corresponds to a desire to explore the social and cultural dimensions of the game, rather than the unfolding drama on the pitch, so that these texts become as much investigations of the workings of our modernity as narratives about football. It will try and connect the experience of spectators and supporters to the experience of reading.