A New Form of Voluntary Servitude

‘Coubertin’s athlete though was born of a romantic, idealistic inclination, and represented the consummation of a life based on a commitment to the highest virtues of nobility, unselfishness and community. For Montherlant on the other hand, the athlete became the personification of an atheistic nihilism, the expression of a life of “service inutile,” a self-centered ideal that posited that the only choice individuals have to create any sense of a meaningful existence is to commit to a purpose, a cause, knowing at the same time that any purpose or cause is merely a chimera. For Coubertin, the athlete represented a knighthood of purpose; for Montherlant a “knighthood of nothingness.”’

Jeffrey O. Segrave, ‘Chevalerie du néant’ (“the knighthood of nothingness”): Henry de Montherlant and the Olympic Games Movement. 

‘You stop a horse that is bolting. You do not stop a jogger who is jogging. Foaming at the mouth, his mind riveted on the inner countdown to the moment when he will achieve a higher plane of consciousness, he is not to be stopped… What the third-century Stylite sought in self-privation and proud stillness he is seeking through the muscular exhaustion of his body. He is the brother in mortification of those who conscientiously exhaust themselves in the body-building studios in complicated machines with chrome pulleys and on terrifying medical contraptions… Like dieting, body-building, and so many other things, jogging is a new form of voluntary servitude… Nothing evokes the end of the world more than a man running straight ahead on a beach, swathed in the sounds of his walkman, cocooned in the solitary sacrifice of his energy, indifferent even to catastrophes since he expects destruction to come only as the fruit of his own efforts, from exhausting the energy of a body that in his own eyes has become useless. Primitives, when in despair, would commit suicide by swimming out to sea until they could swim no longer. The jogger commits suicide by running up and down the beach.’

Jean Baudrillard, America, translated by Chris Turner.


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