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Zidane: silent and Shakespearean

Writing in Le Figaro, lawyer and writer François Sureau celebrates Zinedine Zidane’s final act in the World Cup. It’s very French, as you can tell even from my translation:

I salute Zidane for the headbutt for which a country with no head seems to blame him. […] We’re not a sporting people but a people obsessed with legality and regulation: we value “good conduct” over honour, and maybe even over the truth of a man. […]

I salute Zidane for having chosen his destiny. A hero can’t let the arbitrary mechanics of sport decide his place. He had to leave this uncertain and, in the end, insignificant match. He wanted to go when his shoulder was injured. But he chose another opportunity, which I like more. He chose the opportunity of another injury, much more serious than the first. He reacted to it with a gesture that I understand. Racism, everywhere under the surface in this World Cup, here got its just deserts. […]

I saulte Zidane for having given us back our beautiful reputation for insolence. […] Thanks to Zidane, I see the victory of a certain national spirit. It made me think of an old story. In the 17th century, a French officer disguised as a beggar was spying on an enemy camp. He saw a woman slip getting out of her coach, so he gave her his arm. His cover was blown. They took him and shot him. As he fell, someone said: “Superficial Frenchman”. Today I seem to hear that voice once more, and I prefer Zidane’s silence.

It’s a marvellous oration. But is a headbutt really “insolent”?

Insolence is normally understood to be verbal, or at least silent but non-physical. The word conveys arrogance or contempt for authority. It comes from the Latin for “unusual”, though headbutting isn’t particularly unusual in football, as fans of Luis Figo know. Perhaps Sureau means that Zidane expressed contempt for the referee’s authority, or for the right of the arbitrary mechanics of football to rein in his truth as a man. Still, to express that contempt with a headbutt may deserve a stronger word than “insolence”.

On the other hand, talking about the incident on French television, Zidane said that Materazzi’s insults – to, apparently, his mother and sister – were so insufferable that they were worse than an ordinary act of violence. “I’d rather be punched in the face than hear that,” he said.

If you verbally threaten someone, that can be a crime of assault in English law. So sometimes, speech can be violence. If Materazzi’s speech was such, it follows that Zidane was only responding in kind. And it’s true, as Sureau writes, that Zidane had evidently decided the time for words was over, that his act was a kind of “silence”. Still, the crime of “dumb insolence” in British military law, for example, consists in a refusal to answer questions, not in actually attacking your superior officer.

On TV, Zidane apologised to the nation’s children for his “inexcusable” behaviour. But, he said, “I cannot regret this act.” The real guilty party, he said, was Materazzi. I am reminded of another famously “insolent” hero, Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, who refuses to explain or apologise for his actions. Zidane, in the perfect “silence” of his physical assault, and in his frankly unapologetic apology to France, is perhaps the Coriolanus of football.

  1. 1  SW  July 14, 2006, 9:22 pm 

    If Msr. Sureau thinks that the French had lost their reputation for insolence, he has evidently steered well clear of any discussions of the French character in many contemporary English and American newspapers.

    Sureau seems to ignore the bullish violence and the almost balletic beauty of Zidane’s attack: the long strides forward, the turn, Zidane lowering his head, the forceful darting – the collapse of the Italian, his shirt rippling over his chest from the force. It is one of the few times an Italian hit the ground in the entire tournament because of an actual foul. The comparison to Corialanus is more apt than Hamlet references, with their equivocating anguish: this was an act of stunning physical moment. A comparison to the most insolent and physically beautiful of athletes, Muhammed Ali, might be more apt – with a slight nod to Mike Tyson. But Sureau strives to interpret a man of action’s action, and so he takes the obvious route: make the man’s actions a symbol of national character. Forget the physicality, the movement, even the animality, and turn it into something reflecting the most base and easily-conjured reference: the national character.

    It is peculiar that Sureau should bring up racism the way he does. Zidane’s action is described as a “gesture” – a signifying movement, often an instruction or a response. Sureau then comments, “Racism, everywhere under the surface in this World Cup, here got its just deserts.” Zidane’s violent assault becomes a “gesture” as a response to “Racism”. Perhaps. But Materazzi has denied the allegations of racism as well as the claim that he called Zidane a “terrorist” (in a most peculiar way: “It is absolutely not true, I did not call him a terrorist. I’m ignorant. I don’t even know what the word means.” As reported on the bbc website.)

    Sureau ignores that. Instead, he characterises Zidane’s response to (a possibly imagined) Racism as a recovery of French heroism, gallantry and “national spirit”. One may argue that such rhetorical nationalism is, if not a type of racism, a close cousin to it; one may argue that the whitewashing of Zidane’s non-Frenchness, as an outsider, to make him a symbol of French anti-Racism is a bit rich. But certainly, there is an insolence, in Sureau’s arrogant assumption that he can so easily explain Zidane the hero and Sureau’s contemptuous appropriation of Zidane the man as a figure of French martyrdom.

    When I read Sureau’s article, I think “Superficial Frenchman”, and prefer Zidane’s silence.

  2. 2  Steven Poole  July 14, 2006, 9:53 pm 

    If Msr. Sureau thinks that the French had lost their reputation for insolence, he has evidently steered well clear of any discussions of the French character in many contemporary English and American newspapers.

    He has done well to do so, I should think.

    I like your comparison to Muhammad Ali; though Zidane is famously reticent, whereas Ali was famously loquacious.

    However, when you say:

    one may argue that the whitewashing of Zidane’s non-Frenchness, as an outsider, to make him a symbol of French anti-Racism is a bit rich.

    I fear you do the French conception of citizenship a great disservice. What is Zidane’s “non-Frenchness”? You would not call the child of Indian immigrants to the US “non-American”. Zidane is, and is widely considered, as French as any other French citizen, and he has indeed long been a symbol of French anti-racism. There is, therefore, nothing to “whitewash”.

  3. 3  SW  July 14, 2006, 10:07 pm 

    I quite agree that Sureau has lost little by ignoring certain American and British conceptions of the French, but the idea that the French have lost their “insolence” remains a touch quaint.

    And yes, sure. I quite see what you are saying – had I more time and more energy, I would have unpacked that a bit. Nevertheless, Zidane, like most of the French national team, is clearly, physically, obviously representative of certain French demographics, people who may be “French” but who are not infrequently the target of French xenophobes, who indubitably call into question their Frenchness: by way of language, dress, etc. In fact, the same markers by which Indian Americans, or Mexican Americans, have their own “Americanness” challenged. Sureau conveniently ignores this. Is he right to assume that Zidane is fully and entirely “French”? Yes, sure, I like that assumption. But in an article that looks at Zidane’s act through the prism of Racism and the French Character, his wilfull ommision is like leaving the eggs out of a quiche.

  4. 4  SW  July 14, 2006, 10:12 pm 

    By the way, the historical of racist exceptionalism has long allowed virulent racists to support and cheer on athletes who represent their nation, while insisting that the athletes drink at separate fountains, don’t marry their white women, etc. I’m not saying that is what Sureau is doing – I’m merely pointing out that, as above, the conception of race and nationalism cannot be so blithely referenced.

    The French have every right to be proud of their ethnically-diverse team, and I don’t want to impugn the French or deny that Zidane is considered by many to be a perfect Frenchman. He happens to be my favourite Frenchman.

  5. 5  Steven Poole  July 14, 2006, 10:22 pm 

    Well, you are right that it is people like Le Pen who harp on Zidane’s Algerian ancestry. I just think that to refuse to harp on, or rather not even to consider harping on, Zidane’s Algerian ancestry can hardly be called a “whitewash”, however much you dislike whatever else Sureau is saying. You say he “conveniently ignores” the issue of French racism – by refusing to emphasize Zidane’s “race”! And yet Sureau does in fact cheer on Zidane’s “gesture” (I should point out the French can mean “gesture” or merely “act”) as the just retribution for racism – the alleged racism of an Italian, certainly, but surely by implication all racism. I still don’t see where Sureau is “whitewashing” anything, or what else he should have said to make clear his righteous credentials.

    Is he right to assume that Zidane is fully and entirely “French”? Yes, sure, I like that assumption.

    It’s not an assumption; it’s the law.

  6. 6  DF  July 18, 2006, 1:09 am 

    “Racism, everywhere under the surface in this World Cup”. And, also, perhaps (say it very quietly) under the surface of some of the commentators, who leapt to the assumption (false) that Materazzi had made a racist comment. Ah yes, those diving, cheating, racist Italians.

    The BBC reported this alternative view (which seems to me to be free from the special pleading that characterises Sureau) of the TV non-apology by Zidane (whom I greatly admire, as it happens):

    ‘The left-wing daily Liberation offers a rare voice of dissent to the chorus of approval for Zidane’s [television] appearance.

    However deplorable, it notes, insults on the football pitch have always existed.

    The astonishing thing was that at 34 years old, Real Madrid’s former playmaker had fallen for what his team-mate Lilian Thuram described as an “Italian trap”.

    The paper goes on to compare Zidane’s sending-off with that of David Beckham in the 1998 World Cup against Argentina.

    Then, the reaction of the 23-year-old Englishman was contrite, recognising that he had damaged his team.

    “Zidane did no such thing yesterday,” says Liberation. “He did not have a word for his team-mates, whom he perhaps cost the World Cup.” ‘

    But, of course, where Zidane has been perversely hailed for letting down his country, Beckham was hung in effigy.

  7. 7  Steven Poole  July 18, 2006, 1:18 am 

    some of the commentators, who leapt to the assumption (false) that Materazzi had made a racist comment

    A good point. The assumption seems to be unfounded, though I am unaware that it has been proven false.

    Beckham’s crime was far more trivial than Zidane’s. Perhaps the more disgraceful the act, the more unapologetic you need to be?

  8. 8  SW  July 18, 2006, 5:15 am 

    Unless you are a better lipreader than those hired by television stations to interpret Materazzi’s Italian cupid-bow lips, you will never know for sure – much less prove or disprove – what Materazzi said. He and Zidane are bound by the footballer’s law of omerta: nipple-twist or not, you remain silent.

    Zindane gets a mention in this week’s New Yorker for his headbutting. What I have not heard floated is the saddest and – yes – most tragic explanation. Zidane knew his team would not break through the Italian defence; he was injured, sore, impotent; he knew the Italians were ready for penalties and his team was not. He could not bear for his last game to be a loss in what was a rather dull, rather ugly game, a very disappointing final. He could not bear not to be the centre of attention, for his last bow to be overshadowed by Italian celebrations. So he committed a violent, ugly act – one that was, in a way, a perverse bow. It was conscious and intentional, but cerebral only insofar as he literally used his head. It was not a response to Italian racism; it was not a response to French racism. It was not an act of balletic athleticism akin to Ali, or even like an act of exuberant stupidity by an immature Beckham. He took the smallest of excuses – some trash-talking between athletes – and turned it into an international incident, perhaps even aware that his assault would implicate everybody: the Italians, with their reputation for diving and dirty play; the referees and their failure during the world cup to discern accurately the real fouls from the flamboyant flops; his apologists, who would project their own racist assumptions onto the Italian player. He lived Wilde’s conceit: the only worse thing than being talked about is not being talked about – he ensured that even if he was hanging up his cleats for the last time while the photographers snapped shots of the Italians popping bottles of Champagne and holding aloft the trophy, everybody would be talking about Zidane.

  9. 9  Steven Poole  July 18, 2006, 7:41 am 

    To be fair, the Italians were quite spectacular divers. Particularly impressive was their signature “defensive dive”, whereby a defender fairly beaten by an attacker would regularly dive in the hope of having a foul called.

    That said, they were not as bad as the Portuguese.

    Update: perhaps we can all better understand Zidane’s predicament through the gift of interactivity:

  10. 10  SW  July 18, 2006, 3:05 pm 

    So are you suggesting that Zidane’s act was proportionate?

  11. 11  DF  July 18, 2006, 5:15 pm 

    It is interesting how reluctant people seem to be to let go of the theory that the Italian player must have said something racist. He has denied making racist comments. Zidane has said that he heard no racist comments. There is no other evidence that he made racist comments. And yet, for some, Materazzi has clearly yet to prove his innocence of this charge. Upon what, precisely, is even mere suspicion now founded?

    When it comes to diving, no sight was quite as depressing to me as that of Thierry Henry, in the game against Spain, clutching his face (which had never been touched) in faked agony. He won a freekick, from which France won the match. It was upsetting because Henry is not only a genuinely great player, but one with no reputation for diving (like Ronaldo) or fouling (like Zidane).

    Was any Italian dive more “spectacular”? Certainly none had so direct an outcome on the tournament. But why over-complicate things?

  12. 12  Steven Poole  July 18, 2006, 5:30 pm 

    Why complicate them indeed? It’s much more reassuringly righteous to say that one (depressing indeed) dive by Henri was more egregious than the systematically cynical diving all over the field by the entire Italian double-tuck-springboard-champion team, against Australia as well as France. I agree we should keep it nice and simple.

    Zidane has said that he heard no racist comments.

    Oh, I’m afraid I hadn’t seen that. He doesn’t say anything of the sort on the transcript of his interview on Canal+. Perhaps you can let me know where it is reported that he said this?

  13. 13  DF  July 18, 2006, 5:59 pm 

    You’re absolutely right. Zidane did not explicitly say that there were no comments about race. I was wrong to give that impression. However, he did confirm what the comments were about: “his mother and sister”. Materazzi has accepted the sister bit, not the mother bit. One starts to get the general idea. On what we know, to repeat my question, why should even the suspicion of a racist comment still arise?

    We have heard a lot about the supposed Italian propensity for cheating on this blog already. But I thought Henry (he prefers the English spelling for some reason) should get a look-in as well.

  14. 14  Steven Poole  July 18, 2006, 6:10 pm 

    I’m not endorsing any accusations of racism, merely pointing out that the thing you peremptorily judged “false” hasn’t, in fact, been proven false any more than it has been proven true. And that, indeed, Zidane refused explicitly to deny a thing he knew everyone was speculating about. I make no further judgments.

    Meanwhile, you appear to be confusing my precise sporting analysis of the reverse-pike-somersaultin’ Italian team of diving footballers with a claim you insinuate I am making about some general “Italian propensity for cheating”. I submit that you have no basis on which to make this wild allegation.

  15. 15  DF  July 18, 2006, 6:28 pm 

    Another theory: Zidane’s silence on that point may be because he knows it will permit others to repeat an allegation that he realises is false, and that he dares not make himself. Who knows?

    What we do know is this. No-one who heard the comments is saying they were racist. There is no evidence, simply none, at this time, that Mazeratti made a racist comment. There may never be.

    Where an allegation of such gravity is made, fairness, even in the media, requires some minimal presumption of innocence. Otherwise you could write in this blog that I have failed to prove that I did not shout racist insults at the bus stop this morning, even though no-one who was at the bus-stop is saying I did, and I am sure as hell saying I didn’t.

  16. 16  SW  July 18, 2006, 6:39 pm 

    I already suggested why the – excuse me – race card has been played: it is a projection of anxiety about Zidane as a racially-conflicted figure (not necessarily, though, as a racially-conflicted person; I don’t know about that). The racist sentiments, or anti-racist sentiments, were projected onto the Italian. All by way of the assumption that he must have said something racist.

    Zidane’s silence, his fidelity to footballing omerta, permits this to be perpetuated. You might criticise him for that. On the other hand, if you are really going to be silent about something, you really can neither confirm or deny it. Otherwise it might go something like this:

    Q: Did Materazzi call you a terrorist?
    Z: Non.
    Q: Did he mention your mother?
    Z: I cannot say.
    Q: Did he mention having sex with your mother?
    Z: Non.
    Q: Did he mention you having sex with your mother?
    Z: Non.
    Q: Did he mention a goat having sex with your mother?
    Z: I cannot say.

  17. 17  Steven Poole  July 18, 2006, 6:40 pm 

    DF: quite so: as I have already said, I am not endorsing any assumptions of racism, and I make no further judgments, since the evidence on which to make further judgments is lacking. Just as you do not, no doubt, by your last comment actually mean to accuse Zidane of vicious and cowardly dishonesty. By simply floating your “theory” you of course in no wise do harm to any presumption of his innocence. Simply, it is as you say: “Who knows?”

    Was there video made of you at the bus-stop, subsequently subjected to soi-disant “analysis” by a self-appointed cadre of highly amateur lipreaders? I only ask so as to form for myself a better and more entertaining picture.

    SW: that seems quite plausible, in a folk-psychological sort of way.

  18. 18  SW  July 18, 2006, 10:14 pm 

    Folk-psychology is usually quite plausible – that’s why it’s usually bullshit.

    And frankly, at the end of the day, I thought the Italians had it coming. It wasn’t about race, it wasn’t about nationalism, it wasn’t even about football. It was about masculinity. Not masculinity versus feminity, but different types of masculinity coming into conflict. On the one hand, you had the reedy, weedy simpering masculinity of the Italian, flirtatious with his nipple-twisting and very loquacious with his provocations; on the other, the thrusting virility of quiet, reticent maleness, a man disciplined not so much to keep his aggression under control but so as to channel it, focus it, the way he shot those balls around keepers. And then these two masculinities collided.

  19. 19  Jason Thompson  July 18, 2006, 11:24 pm 

    I was initially saddened by Zidane’s apparently thuggish farewell to international football which, in its seeming brutality, appeared to deprive France of a legend by demoting Zidane from untouchable genius to all-too-human player. But upon reflection, I wonder if this shocking valediction may ultimately end up sealing his legendary status in a way that even Pele-like virtuosity never could. As a Thai friend of mine observed, this is the act for which even non-soccer fans will remember Zidane; his momentary “Rumble in the Jungle.” Still, I find it hard to believe that this result was conscious. While one can be forgiven for imagining in retrospect, watching the action replay of Zidane’s walk away from the Italian, followed by his calculated volte-face and the assault, that as Sureau suggests, Z “chose his destiny,” I do not believe that his action was a matter of deliberate choice. What occurred in that split-second before the volte-face was Zidane, the national captain, overtaken by Zidane the man, his unconscious anger overruling his conscious regard for the duties imposed upon him by the captain’s role. Similarly, one can speculate that, if legends are borne from deep sources within the collective conscious, this split-second impetuosity and its consequent head-butt are the moment upon which the zeitgeist will seize in its manufacture of postmodern demi-gods. The head-butt was not literally inevitable. But in the atemporal zone of the mythopoetic, the eternal Form of his fateful act lay in place before Zidane even strode upon the pitch, and we can thus be saddened by the nature of his departure only to the same extent that we can lament the death of King Arthur in a medieval epic poem. Maybe this sounds like Jungian bullshit. But I sense that, in striving to articulate the cultural meaning of an event observed by a quarter of the Earth’s population – what one might describe as a planetary event – we are missing something if we reduce it to a ball game. An event of this magnitude cannot occur without subsuming archetypical energies. Zinidine the man is hanging up his French national boots; Zidane the legend is timeless. Hail him.

  20. 20  DF  July 21, 2006, 3:53 pm 

    So Zidane has finally confirmed what I mistakenly thought he had had the decency to confirm last week, namely that there was no racist provocation. Doubtless for some, however, the jury is _still_ out on this. Perhaps his latest statement will be put down to the hitherto unknown concept of “football omerta”. Or maybe to mafia activities, I don’t know.

  21. 21  SW  July 21, 2006, 4:58 pm 

    DF, you will be utterly delighted to find out that this topic has again been broached, in the comments on “disproportionate”.

    Unfortunately, the jury will always be out, insofar as the case has been tried through the always unreliable spectacle of televised confession (so unreliable that Zidane’s apology was not even an apology) and the secretive FIFA Kangaroo court, neither of which system makes use of a jury. The only way we will ever know for sure is if Canal Plus hires better lipreaders.

  22. 22  DF  July 21, 2006, 7:54 pm 

    You’re just twisting our nipples now.

  23. 23  SW  July 21, 2006, 7:58 pm 

    I only twist nipples while gently cooing into my lover’s ear, “Your mother, she fucksa the goats, and the goats – theya don’ta like it.”

  24. 24  nana_karina  July 29, 2006, 2:47 am 

    With regard to the issue of Zidane’s “Frenchness,” I have read in the past — and I don’t know if it is true — that the French government only granted him and his family citizenship when it realized it could use them to political ends. Apparently it is because of the great number of people of all political stripes that want to exploit him (“sharks” his brother calls them) that Zidane keeps a very low profile politically.

    Zidane–along with Godard–is my favorite Frenchman as well (I guess Godard is strictly Swiss), and there was something mad and visceral and immediate about le coupe de boule that I couldn’t help but admire–though at the moment my heart sank because it truly turned Les Bleus’ fortune.

    But many of Zidane’s admirers seem to disregard the fact that he has a history of this kind of violence–14 red cards, his second during a World Cup. And often at critical moments–although none so critical as this. I don’t think you can separate Zidane’s propensity for violence with his brilliance. He is a violent player, a violent tackler, always playing on the edge of the possible, at the edge of danger. Look at the photos of him on the pitch–always howling in rage.

    In terms of analyses, I think the brilliant save by Buffon minutes before, the defensive strategy of Coach Domenech which stymied the creativity of the French team and frustrated their offense, had as much to do with Zidane’s crack up as any slur uttered on the field.

  25. 25  sw  July 30, 2006, 12:17 am 

    Well, you _may_ be on the right track, but it sounds as though you are a bit focused on “football”. Any discussion of Zidane, and certainly discussion of his attack on Materazzi, that does not reference the balletic nature of violence, Shakespeare, the 17th Century or Jung is bound to be insufficient. ;)

  26. 26  nana_karina  August 2, 2006, 3:44 pm 

    Am I still thinking about this? I can’t believe I am still thinking about this. But maybe it’s because Zidane has revealed himself to be as “round,” and ambiguous a character as anything Shakespeare dreamt up, and as immense as a Sophoclean hero.

    Certainly the comparison with Corialanus is apt: I’m surprised that noone from the chattering masses has mentioned the way that Zidane was trotted out by his handlers for his Canal + interview like a returning war hero, a khaki military coat draped over his shoulders. (In fact, it reminded me of nothing so much as the Almeida Theater staging of Coriolanus starring Ralph Fiennes that I saw at BAM a few years ago.)

    Jungian interpretations aside, this is still my favorite take on the whole thing:

  27. 27  mark  August 14, 2006, 11:43 pm 

    For those who still think Materazzi used racist words against Zidane, here is the FIFA press realese of 20 july where it’s clearly stated that Zidane declared Materazzi did not use words of racist nature, you can find it on the FIFA official site:

    Zidane/Materazzi disciplinary proceedings: suspensions, fines, community service and regret

    Zurich, 20 July 2006 – Suspensions and fines were the sanctions pronounced by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee at its meeting today (Thursday, 20 July 2006) as part of the disciplinary proceedings opened against Zinedine Zidane (France) and Marco Materazzi (Italy) after their clash during the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ final in Berlin on 9 July. Zinedine Zidane has also agreed to do community service work with children and youngsters. Meeting under the chairmanship of Marcel Mathier (Switzerland), the five-man FIFA Disciplinary Committee imposed a three-match ban and a fine of CHF 7,500 on Zinedine Zidane on account of his head-butt to Materazzi’s chest. As Zidane has now retired from international football, the committee took note of Zidane’s pledge to do three days of community service work with children and youngsters as part of FIFA’s humanitarian activities. Materazzi was suspended for two official matches of the Italian national team and fined the sum of CHF 5,000 for repeatedly provoking Zidane.

    FIFA gave both players the right to be heard in accordance with the FIFA Disciplinary Code. The hearing with Marco Materazzi was held at FIFA headquarters on 14 July, with Zinedine Zidane questioned during today’s meeting. **********In their statements, *****both players stressed***** that Materazzi’s comments had been defamatory but not of a racist nature.********** During the course of their hearings, both players also apologised to FIFA for their inappropriate behaviour and expressed their regret at the incident.

    Referee Horacio Elizondo (Argentina) sent Zidane off in the 110th minute of the World Cup final after his clash with Materazzi. The incident had been directly observed from his position at the pitchside without the use of a monitor by the fourth official, Luis Medina Cantalejo (ESP), who informed the referee and his assistants through the communications system. Both match officials were also invited to attend the meeting. According to the regulations, the fourth official must inform the referee if any acts of violent conduct are committed out of sight of the referee and his assistants.

    Further information from: FIFA Media Department

  28. 28  VC  August 17, 2006, 12:08 am 

    In passing…

    Sorry it’s a bit late in the day for this particular thread; I haven’t looked at this site before. Interesting racial notions aside, I am wondering exactly what a man of your linguistic nicety means by an “unapologetic apology”. DF calls it a “non-apology”, and SW “a televised confession so unreliable that Zidane’s apology was not even an apology”.
    Why, then, are any of you using the word “apology” at all? If it wasn’t apologetic, then it wasn’t an apology. He was just talking. That isn’t the same as “not apologising”. And if it wasn’t an apology, then pointing out that it wasn’t an apology is surely committing yourself to the presumption of guilt on his side. You wouldn’t say, for example, that you brushed your hair this morning in a manner so unapologetic that it wasn’t an apology. OR WOULD YOU…? I find this interesting in the light of what I’m sure we all enjoyed this week: P Diddy’s interview with Hello magazine, where he says “I am unapologetic in what I am and what I represent. You can’t forgive someone who’s not apologising for what they stand for”. I had previously failed to notice P Diddy’s unapologeticness, since it hadn’t occurred to me that he had anything to apologise for. When did “unapologetic” come to mean the same thing as simply not being in a state of apologising for anything? They always used to have different implications. IS IT ALL A SECRET PLAN TO DEVALUE PUBLIC STATEMENTS OF REGRET? Or perhaps the opposite: if the word “unapologetic” may now be used freely every time anybody happens not to be apologising at any given moment, just THINK of the slant that could be put on political acts by newspapers.
    I myself, for example, don’t think I did anything wrong today, and I didn’t apologise to anyone. I brushed my teeth, had some breakfast, wrote some stuff, got dressed, unpacked a suitcase, and had dinner with DF. And I did none of it apologetically. Did I do it all, therefore, *unapologetically* ? And, if so, does that not (despite being superficially a statement of simple fact) make me immediately appear to be a worse, guiltier and more suspicious person? (And by P Diddy’s reckoning, an unforgivable person at that). BUT I WAS JUST HAVING A NORMAL DAY! And now my name is mud. Damn it.

  29. 29  Steven Poole  August 17, 2006, 7:59 am 

    Er, but he was apologising, at least to some people. In the interview transcript I linked to, Zidane says: “I apologise to the millions of children who saw this … But I can’t regret it … the one to blame is the one who provoked me.” Hence, unapologetic apology.

  30. 30  DF  August 17, 2006, 5:56 pm 

    I suppose some people – pedants, nitpickers, you know who you are – might ask whether saying “I apologise, but the blame does not lie with me in the slightest but entirely with someone else, and I don’t regret what I did in the least” constitutes an apology of any kind, even an “unapologetic” one, notwithstanding the use of the phrase “I apologise”.

    He felt bad for the kiddies though, which is nice. Everyone knows that’s the very worst thing you can do in front of an infant, be head-butted.

  31. 31  Steven Poole  August 17, 2006, 6:16 pm 

    Well, VC expressed confusion about why any of us was using the word “apology” at all. I merely pointed out that it was because Zidane actually said “I apologise” (“Je m’excuse”), before more or less taking it back. If Zidane had not said “I apologise”, then VC would have had a point with the analogy about “unapologetic” hairbrushing, having-dinner-with-DF and so on. As it is, though “unapologetic apology” may not be the most brilliant phrase ever to appear beneath my fingers, I continue to believe it quite apt.

  32. 32  VC  August 17, 2006, 6:45 pm 

    Linguistic pedantry, as I realized when writing my 8000th letter back to viewers of BBC2’s excellent Balderdash & Piffle, is terribly catching. Does “unapologetic apology” not have something in common with “unsustainable ceasefire” ? If a ceasefire is by its nature temporary, then it cannot both exist and be unsustainable. Similarly…

  33. 33  Steven Poole  August 17, 2006, 7:11 pm 

    It is delightful, VC, that you live in a world where apologies are only ever heartfelt, and have never received or made an insincere (or, as one might say, “unapologetic”) one. It is my understanding that such things do nonetheless exist.

  34. 34  VC  August 17, 2006, 8:05 pm 

    I have never given anyone an unsmiling smile. I’ve never felt an unemotional emotion. I have never nursed an unhopeful hope.
    And I’ve certainly made insincere apologies, but never unapologetic ones. We’ll have to agree to differ. Sorry….. ;-)

  35. 35  DF  August 17, 2006, 8:15 pm 

    VC – I’m not sure I agree with you that the phrase “unapologetic apology” is necessarily completely meaningless.

    Perhaps the position is this.

    For me, Zidane’s apparently apologetic words were, in the same breath, retracted utterly and completely. Personally, I cannot see how they could have been more fully retracted, in that, i) he said he was not in the least to blame, ii) he said that all the blame lay with another, and iii) he said that he did not regret what he had done.

    That’s my view of it. For Steve, on the other hand, Zidane only “more or less” took back what he said.

    I think that an apology which you make and then “more or less” retract could fairly be described as an insincere, or even an “unapologetic” apology.

    But where the retraction has been immediate, unequivocal and complete, then no apology is left standing at all.

    By the way, welcome to the site!

  36. 36  Steven Poole  August 17, 2006, 9:14 pm 

    Zidane did not retract the part of his apology that went out to The Kids, so I take it that his apology was not entirely retracted – though even if it had been, an “unapologetic apology” would still not be a meaningless thing to call it.

    VC’s position appears to have shifted slyly from denying that it was an “apology” in any respect to arguing that the phrase “unapologetic apology” is meaningless. Well, let us consider two possible sets of criteria for calling something an apology.

    1) it is an apology if it fits a socially agreed form of words and context, so that saying “I’m sorry” in this context is already by definition (by the rules of this language-game, as we good Wittgensteinians all say) an apology of some kind.

    2) it is (really) an apology if, adducing other evidence, such as what the speaker goes on to say, or what perhaps we glean from peering into the speaker’s heart, we find a satisfactory fit between the sorry-phrase and its subsequent elaboration, or the speaker’s presumed intention.

    I begin with the former view, viz., that Zidane’s saying “I’m sorry” meant that he was already performing an apology of some kind. It rests for us to decide what kind of apology it was, adducing in evidence the rest of what he said. Plainly Zidane’s posture of apology was indeed either partly or wholly (in DF’s view) self-negating. Therefore, though there was an apology in linguistic form (sense 1), it wasn’t really an apology (sense 2): he didn’t really mean it. He was, if you will, unapologetic.

    So, as I had imagined was obvious, the little phrase “unapologetic apology” merely avails itself of both senses to make the point. It’s quite elementary.

    DF, you characterise Zidane’s statements thus:

    i) he said he was not in the least to blame, ii) he said that all the blame lay with another, and iii) he said that he did not regret what he had done.

    No. He said Materazzi was the one “really to blame”. (I forgot the “really” at #29 above.) This is not the same, you will appreciate, as saying both i) and ii); particularly if you add what you have accidentally left out: 0) he said that his act was “unforgivable”. I suppose it might help if I translated the entire transcript, but I can’t be bothered.

  37. 37  DF  August 17, 2006, 10:03 pm 

    I relied on your summary of his words, which included neither the “really to blame” phrase, nor the “unforgiveable” bit. Silly me.

    But actually, I don’t think they affect the fairness of my precis of his statement.

  38. 38  Steven Poole  August 17, 2006, 11:29 pm 

    Uh, the last paragraph of the original post noted both the unforgiveable/inexcusable and really to blame concepts. Must I type the whole speech out every time to save you the exertion of referring to what I originally wrote?

    If you really cannot see a difference between saying 1) my behaviour is unforgiveable, though he is “really to blame”; and saying 2) I am “not in the least to blame” and “all the blame lies with” him, then I fear your analysis in such matters is defective.

    Meanwhile you have gone strangely silent on the matter of unapologetic apologies. I suppose I needn’t have bothered explaining myself.

  39. 39  VC  August 18, 2006, 12:17 am 

    “VC’s position appears to have shifted slyly from denying that it was an “apology” in any respect to arguing that the phrase “unapologetic apology” is meaningless.”

    Not at all. I never denied that it was an apology; I didn’t hear it. You described Zidane having made an “unapologetic apology”; I simply asked the question, if it was unapologetic, why do you call it an apology at all? If it was unapologetic then it wasn’t an apology. You replied that it had begun “I apologise…”. In that case it IS an apology. And it is therefore apologetic. I never made any claims for what Zidane was or wasn’t doing. I was just asking what you meant by what appeared to be an oxymoron.
    I have no problem with you calling it a self-negating apology, a an insincere apology, a grudging apology, a part-apology, an ironic apology or indeed an insulting apology. Just not an unapologetic one. Like you can have a faint hope, a vain hope, a doomed hope or a pessimistic hope, but not an unhopeful one.
    Don’t forget, I was also attempting to broaden it out into what P Diddy can have meant when he told Hello magazine that he was constantly unapologetic, and whether he was doing something philosophically revolutionary in creating an eternal presence out of something one might traditionally consider to be an absence (or perhaps he forged a beautiful new linguistic riddle, as when TS Eliot says “On Margate Sands I can connect nothing with nothing” – is this a positive statement of doing something, or a negative statement of failing to do something?).
    And P Diddy is a man who reels around the place in a white fur coat with a gold-topped walking stick, having his picture taken with the Duchess of York. So you needn’t be quite so ratty about the whole thing. There’s a possibility I’m not being 100% serious…..

  40. 40  Steven Poole  August 18, 2006, 12:25 am 

    Is P Diddy more urban than Craig David?

    I only ask because my comment #36 is apparently illegible or incomprehensible, so there is obviously little point pursuing those arguments.

  41. 41  sw  August 18, 2006, 12:27 am 

    I’m sorry I’ve missed so much of this thrilling debate and I’m sorry to say that you are all very much mistaken. (Two apologies of sorts that are said with what must be an unmistakeably unapologetic air.)

    The point I want to make is about VC’s brilliant riff on the unapologetic life. It is a wonderful point, but the very failure of the argument rests on what VC chooses to dismiss at the outset: “Interesting racial notions aside, I am wondering exactly what a man of your linguistic nicety . . .” VC goes on to talk about P Diddy’s “unapologeticness”. Why, VC might ask, does P Diddy conceive of himself as needing to apologise? After all, “it hadn’t occurred to [VC] that he had anything to apologise for.” And therefore, VC asks, “When did “unapologetic” come to mean the same thing as simply not being in a state of apologising for anything?”

    Re-introduce racial notions and you might have an answer. According to one logic, Black Americans are _not supposed_ to be successful, or as successful as P Diddy is – and when we do something we are not supposed to do, we often apologise. P Diddy may be alluding here to the guilt of Black success; his refusal to apologise is an overt refusal to acknowledge such a guilt. He is saying that his success, and his enjoyment of it, will not be tainted by the need to apologise for it, and so he asserts that he lives without apology.

    And yet, he remains haunted by this need to apologise, this guilt, and so tries to undo it or invalidate it by asserting its opposite. Perhaps those of us who are not beset by such a constant doubt and guilt cannot imagine what it is like trying to live the unapologetic life and the horrible paradox that entails.

    Now, this need not only be a racial issue, and as far as P Diddy is concerned, it may not be a racial issue (it is only a presumption on my part that that is what he is referring to – I haven’t got my copy of Hello! yet). But if it is not racial, then there may well be some other dimension. And perhaps when VC and DF had supper together, and brushed their teeth, and that sort of thing, and did so unapologetically, it is because society has never told them that what they were doing was wrong, or impossible, or something their friends cannot do, and so apology never even occurred to them.

    How come I never got a “welcome to the site” message from anybody?

  42. 42  Steven Poole  August 18, 2006, 12:29 am 

    Welcome to the site, SW!

  43. 43  sw  August 18, 2006, 12:32 am 

    About bloody time.

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