The Principle of „Perfection“


In the philosophy of sport „perfection“ is proclaimed the highest esthetic challenge. This is also indicated by Coubertin in his „Sports pedagogy“ : „Sport is a voluntary and regular cult of intensive muscular exercises motivated by a desire for progress and which is not afraid of risk. So, five concepts: initiative, persistence, intensity, pursuit of perfection (recherche du perfectionnement), acceptance of possible risks. These five concepts are crucial and basic.“ (5) In antiquity, „perfectioning“ involves the harmonization of man with the divine order which represents the unattainable ideal of (cosmic) perfection. Since the earthly world is doomed to perish, a pursuit of perfection does not involve the struggle to preserve the already existing world, especially not to create a new world, but to do such acts which will bring man closer to the cosmic perfection. At the same time, man looks back at the past as, according to the ancient view, people are less and less perfect as they move further away from their (divine) pre-being. In the original (ancient) Olympic doctrine, „perfection“ does not have a productivistic and progressistic, but a spiritual character, and is the climax of man’s complete (religious) incorporation into the established world according to the principle gnothi seauton, which means as the „Gods’ toy“.

The „pursuit of perfection“ is actually the imitation of the given model of behaviour. Man is degraded as an individual if he accepts the given model of play which becomes the basic value-related challenge. Spiritual, emotional and creative impoverishment is conditio sine qua non of „perfection“ in sport and the bourgeois physical culture. It becomes man’s „supreme“ alienation from himself as the playing being. „Victory“, „honour“, „beauty“, „happiness“, „observation of the established rules“, „pursuit of perfection“ and „mastery“ – all these terms are used to disguise the practice of dealing with man’s libertarian aspirations. What appears as „human“ is man’s endeavour to „accept the given role“ and thus give the human content to the model to which he must submit. Play before an audience becomes a behaviour in which man (hopelessly) tries to find a compensation for lack of humanity. Play is not the expression of freedom; it is the spasm of a desperate man who invested in it the last human element in him in order to get the applause from the audience. Self-valuation is not achieved through the development of playing skills, but through the (public) effect produced by the sports technique. The „greatness of a sports success“ becomes the measure of human degradation.

In sport, a „pursuit of perfection“ becomes an esthetic disguise for „progress“ based on the achievement of results (records) which have an „objective“ quantitative measure and involve the absolutized principle of performance: „modern“ sport deals with man’s erotic, ethical and esthetic being. „Perfection“ symbolizes the final world that can be „perfected“ according to the criteria of the given value model as the ideal incarnation of the basic principles of the ruling order. „Pursuit of perfection“ is not mediated by a natural movement or esthetics, but by technique. In the past, the animal body and movement were the most important challenge for achieving „perfection“. Today, „perfection“ is achieved through the fundamental principles of „technical civilization“, the emphasis being given on technical precision, efficiency, robotized mimesis… Sport is dominated by unity and quantity, which means a positive one-mindedness and confrontation with the creative personality. Instead of the principles of universal development of human powers and, in that context, man’s perfectioning as the universal creative being, the highest challenge becomes a fanatical dedication to a particular sport. „Perfection“ of a particular sporting activity is achieved by man’s mutilation, especially in bloody sports as well as in sports dominated by speed, strength and stamina. That the principle of „perfection“ is but an abstract requirement and thus a way for obtaining an „artistic“ cover for sport is seen from the fact that there are no medals for the „perfectioning“ of play and physical exercises, but for the victory and records. Even in the events where the artistic expression could be important, as in gymnastics, the criteria of measurement („assessment“) destroy the specific and unique playing expression. What is particularly significant is that, in sport, specialization is becoming increasingly narrow, which is totally opposed to the physical culture ruled by the principle of a harmonized and universal development of man as a unified physical and spiritual being – which prevailed in the civil education of ancient Hellas and which is the basis of ancient paideia. It is corresponded by the principle of optimum effort which is of individual character, and is opposed to the principle of „greater effort“ (Coubertin) dominant in sport. Unlike the ancient principle of perfection – which had a cosmic essence and characterized the divine world which was of a holistic character, the modern principle of „perfection“ has a fragmentizing character corresponding to the division of labour and specialization. The „ideal of reaching human perfection“ which, according to Diem, is the highest goal of Coubertin’s Olympism, deals with the ideal of the development of man’s universal creative powers, and this means with man as the creator of his own world and with the open horizon of the future. „Perfection“ is the end of history. In the modern Olympic philosophy, the ideal of „perfection“, which man should unquestioningly strive for, was already created in ancient Greece. Instead of the idea of future and struggle for a human world, it offers a romanticized picture of the ancient world. The „perfect world“ is not the matter of man’s free choice and the result of his creative practice, it is the given which appears in the form of an idealized picture of the Hellenic world which achieved everything modern man should and can strive for. It becomes the incarnation of the ideal of a harmonized world in which mankind „was able to smile“ and where people „died happily“ (Coubertin). It was the time when demos had not yet appeared on the political scene of the polis and before the self-will of the ruling aristocracy had to face the universal principle of humanity which applies to free people (Hellenes) and was to acquire its highest form in Socrates’s moral philosophy, while in modern times it was to be turned into Kant’s „categorical imperative“. Coubertin sees in the ruling bourgeois „elite“ the „master race“ capable of returning mankind to the way it had left back in the ancient times, and this will be achieved by the final struggle with the emancipatory heritage of mankind and the idea of future. The restoration of the „holy“ Olympic measurement of time serves to return mankind to this „right way“. Future does not appear as a step out of the existing world and the creation of novum, but as a continuous development of the existing world and its „perfectioning“. In its original Olympic doctrine, Coubertin sees in sport an area in which the „best representatives“ of the white race, as representatives of their nations, fight for primacy – which leads to the development of their conquering-oppressive character and thus to the „perfectioning“ of the white race. At the same time, „perfectioning of the world“ involves the destruction of the critical mind and pacification of workers: the public (political) sphere is the privilege of the ruling „elite“. Sport becomes the chief political means of the ruling class for depolitization of „masses“ and for turning man into the objects of the ruling political will and „sheer“ working force. The fight for „perfectioning“ of society is reduced to a pedagogical reform which will lead to the creation of a uniform character of people and a uniform worldview. Physical exercises and sport become a means for cloning people’s character and spirit. The ultimate end of „perfectioning“ is to eliminate the critical and change-oriented conscious and the idea of future and to realize the idea of „order“ and „progress“ – the establishment of the total and final rule of capital over mankind and planet as the source of energy and raw material. As far as the ancient world is concerned, ancient society itself dethroned the aristocratic values from which the modern sports theory (especially Coubertin’s Olympic philosophy) tries to create an indisputable suprahistorical ideal of man, who appears in the form of slave-owning, aristocratic and bourgeois „master race“.

The demand for „perfection“ involves „harmony“. In antiquity, harmony means a harmonious development of human powers and the body based on the principles „know yourself“ (gnothi seauton), „measure is the best“ (metron ariston) and „beautiful and good“ (kalokagathia) – which involves arete mousike and arete gymnastike. The unity of man and cosmic order, incarnated in the Olympic gods, is the highest challenge (eurythmos). The demand for „harmony“ is actually an expression of the endeavour to prevent the conflict between gods, which is fatal for people, and ensure a harmonious functioning of the divine world. In ancient art, man is an anthropological manifestation of the ruling order. When we analyze Myron’s Diskobolos, we notice the ideal proportions, harmonious movement and unity of parts and the whole. Ears are almost blended with the head so as not to spoil the harmony of the whole. The body does not express the motion of an athlete who seeks to throw the discus as far as possible and win, but an (idealized) Hellene who seeks to perform the act in a way which would not destroy the harmony of his body and thus the geometrically constructed cosmos – whose (anthropological) form he is. The body, bodily posture and expression on his face emanate an erotic charge, more noble than aggressive, which expresses the innocence of youth and corresponds to a paedophilic erotic vision. Diskobolos does not have a look in his eyes but it is hardly noticeable as his whole spiritual expression is given in his face and body. His face does not show a competitive urge, but spiritual blessedness. The body is not tense: it does not emanate a victorious will, but spiritual meekness. His figure is the incarnation of Plato’s view that a strong body cannot make the mind noble, but a noble mind can make the body noble, as well as of Aristotle’s idea of a „spirited body“.

In modern society, the demand for „harmony“ becomes the demand for a harmonious functioning of the existing world, which is similar to the aristocratic „order and measure“ (order et measure) as the criterion of measure is the extent to which man fits into the existing world. The harmony of the manifest form by suppressing the human becomes the basis of „beauty“ – which becomes a mask for the monstrous life produced by the ruling order. „Perfection“, „mastery“, „creativity“, „beauty“ – all these are parts of a mosaic which covers up the destructive capitalist nothingness. Instead of creating a human world, the prevailing tendency is to immortalize the existing world. „Harmony“ becomes the esthetic way of creating an apparent „order“ in the chaos of everyday life. It involves the acceptance of the established world and an endeavour to create a picture of „harmony“ in which man will find compensation („peace of mind“) for the horrors of his life. „Harmony“ obtains a prophylactic and therapeutic dimension: it becomes a spiritual drug. The demand for „harmony“ in sport has a positivistic character: it is reduced to the destruction of the critical and change-oriented relation to the existing world. It is an esthetic form expressing the basic political principle which strives to prevent social (class) conflicts that offer a possibility for creating a new world: harmony is the „sister of order“ (Coubertin). According to Coubertin, the basic purpose of Olympism is to bring order in people’s heads and give life a meaning – to which corresponds the „holy rhythm“ of the Olympic Games which by no means must be interrupted. The Olympic harmony deals with humanistic harmony, which means with harmonious interpersonal relations based on the guiding principles of the French Revolution, with a harmonious development of physical and spiritual powers, with a harmonious relation to nature… In sport, man is hermetically closed: the world develops according to the laws of „progress“, while man is but a means with which the ruling order is to enable its free development. The demand for „perfection“ and „harmony“ deals with the dialectic of history, which means with disharmony which is the basis of dynamics of the historical process and the basic presupposition for the creation of future. There are no leaps, there is no change-oriented practice which crushes the ramparts of the ruling order and opens new horizons. The libertarian physical motion expresses man’s disharmony with the existing world, it is a form of not resigning to the „destiny“ determined by the process of capitalist reproduction. Imperfection, openness, uncertainty in terms of possibilities and their creation, right to illusion and mistake – all these are challenges that man cannot avoid on the road to future. As Goethe says in „Faust“: „Man makes mistakes as long as he strives to something higher“ („Es irrt der Mensch, solang’ er strebt”), but „a good man in his vague impulse is well aware of the right way“ („Ein guter Mensch in seinem dunklen Drange/ Ist sich des rechten Weges wohl bewusst”).

The claim that „top sport creates new esthetic values“ (Matveev) is based on the identification of the achievement of higher results (records) and the achievement of higher (human) values. „New“ has a quantitative and not a qualitative (historical, cultural, libertarian, visionary) dimension. A better result in sport is not a more cultural and thus a more valuable form of human practice. „Top play“ deals with man’s ability to create a true play which will help him realize his creative being: in football, kicks to the goal are variations of the model of movement given by the nature of football as an institutionalized repression which appears in the „playing“ robe. As far as man’s legitimate need to achieve the „unachievable“ is concerned, it is in sports theory used as a proof that in sport, in spite of all „bad“ things, prevail „true“ human challenges. There is no doubt that man’s pursuit of self-assertion by achieving the „unachievable“ is that „natural“ stake with which man enters sport and which remains as a motivation throughout one’s sports career. However, to „overcome the horizon of the possible“ refers exclusively to quantitative shifts on the basis and within the framework of the ruling order, and not to the opening of a new horizon which will go beyond the existing world. A confirmation in terms of values („Supreme!“) is given only to the performance that confirms the developing power of the ruling order (a „Fantastic record!“), while the true meaning of the record-mania is a mindless and fatalist submission of man to the existing „rules of the game“. The development of sport does not follow a particular esthetic pattern: the road to „perfection“ is cobbled with victories and records. Sport is not ruled by taste, which is subjective, but by quantitative indicators with an „objective“ value, which express the fatal pace of capitalist „progress“. Mimetic impulses do not spring from nature or art, but from technical processes. A robotized body represents the highest esthetic model. The final result of „perfection“ is a dehumanized and denaturalized „man“, the Olympic zombie, devoid of reason, libertarian dignity, Eros, the creative, imagination, nobleness… By focusing all his ambition on becoming „someone“ by way of sport, man inevitably becomes the slave of sport, which means that he fits into the ruthlessly grinding machine designed for achieving „top results“. If we bear in mind the limited capabilities of the human organism, it is clear that the absolutization of the principle of performance leads to man’s destruction.

Sports play is only apparently dominated by uncertainty, which is one of the conditions of freedom, in which the most important moment is coincidence. Every action has a number of alternatives. In fact, they are necessary accidents. „Uncertainty“ is conditioned by the very nature of sport as the incarnation of the ruling relations and values and it is reduced to the question: who will win and what will be the result? Basically, it is about an apparent uncertainty, and thus an apparent freedom: the winner is always the ruling order – man is always the loser. In sport, man produces chains with which he is pinned down to the existing world. Sport deals with the visionary conscious and aspirations to create a new world. Sports play is, like the ancient drama, the enactment of everything that has already been acted and in that sense it is the copy of copy ad infinitum. In spite of insisting on „progress“, philosophy of sport discards the idea of future. The orientation towards an idealized past becomes the source of „true“ and „eternal“ values symbolized by the flame of the Olympic torch which „can never be extinguished“ (Hitler).

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