Monday, 12 July 2010

It’s Not Over: The World Cup Dromenon

Philosopher Robert Pfaller suggested that the anxiety displayed by onlookers of a football match (agitated, aggressive, mumbling, shouting commands as if ‘“they” can hear him etc.) is due to an interpassive phenomenon. He refers to the term "dromenon" as used by the Dutch philosopher Johan Huizinga in his ‘proeve’ of 1938. Dromenon connotates an action, ‘something that is being done’ or more succinctly the ‘thing-done’ and is used by Huizinga to explain the gamic or ludic element within rituals or rites, in particular their ‘seriousness’, what Huizinga calls ‘sacred seriousness’. What differentiates a rite from a common everyday action is that when we perform a rite we are not simply mimetically copying some remotely enacted action. Instead, according to Huizinga, we are ‘helping-out’ the action by performing the rite. ‘They do no know it, but they are doing it’, wrote Marx and the same goes for our football watcher. By partaking in the ritual, the dromenon, the participant finds a way to enter into the action; a way to ‘help’ out. Or so he believes.

In any case, in our contemporary society of the spectacle the substitution of course has become foregrounded. In the original Spring Dromenon or Festival of Ancient Greece, a recurring ritualistic event, there were no spectators. Everyone participated in the "orkestra" (i.e a dancing-place). When the festival moved from the orchestra towards the theatre the ‘thing-done’ becomes drama; i.e. it is still something-done but not by you as participant, it is something-done by something or someone else. However the basic need to participate remains. Just like that other element of the Dionysian rite, what Pfaller calls Selbstvergessenheit. The dromenon takes care of the action for us, it is a medium/device (a television, screen, prayer wheel etc) through which we, the onlookers, can forget that we are enacting an ‘identification compensatrice’ (Huizinga’s term), that is, that we are compensating our lack of real participation by fetishistically identifying with the dromenon. This is what Selbstvergessenheit means: to forget one’s self by temporarily replacing it, in this case by the dromenon.

Last night we witnessed the Mother of All Anxiety Generating Dromena: the final battle between Spain and the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, Museumplein was transformed into an Ancient Greek theatre of some sort. Thousands of people gathered. In order for all of them to be shielded from the true source of their anxiety, the dromenon supplied must be huge. And for sure, the screens in Amsterdam and Madrid, gathering onto them the collective anxiety of at least two generations of football supporters - one half traumatized by Munich 1974, the other by Madrid 1982 - certainly were massive.

Whichever side we take, either the side of those who believe the above is a fetishistic disavowal or those who believe we are dealing with a methectic participation (i.e. affective-somatically and kinetically helping the action out) as Huizinga did, the real battle did not take place in Soccer City. That battle took place in the streets of Madrid and Amsterdam. Those who were able to attach themselves in the most fluent way to the dromenon, those who became the most ‘dromonautic’, won. Only they were able to properly work through the trauma, to forget their selves most adequately. Fortunately (or not), a dromenon and thus the Worldcup is a recurring event, and in this way a "perpetuum mobile": the Dutch will have their chance again. For now though, the best fetishist won. Kudos Spain, well done.


  1. I was sorry when they sent Huizinga off. Other players had deserved it more.

  2. I would be interested to discuss methectic/dromenon in the context of play therapy