Match 2 of this year’s World Cup is made slightly easier by having already picked one of the sides. France’s first appearance, however, emphasises how ridiculous a game this can be – how can you pick six ‘players’ from thousands of years of canonical literary history? How could one claim that Flaubert would make a good winger but Balzac would not? That Proust deserves a place in the team ahead of Molière? Say the single striker’s position goes to a modernish poet; Baudelaire, Verlaine, Céline or Rimbaud? And then, once the team is picked, whoever actually makes it onto the pitch is surely bound to dwarf any but the largest rival, aren’t they?
But then the phrase ‘Major Literary Power’ also rings pretty hollow. This is where I convince myself that the exercise (proving to be a fiendish work distraction) has an extra added value.
The primary fun to be had with the Literary Match Predictor is the exploration of literatures from countries with which I was previously unfamiliar. That of South Africa in the previous post is a good example and I’m excited at some of the countries to be explored later (North Korea?) But another, more difficult and certainly more subjective seam is to be mined in taking a look at the hegemony some countries seem to hold on the canon – often described as Western but I’m not sure how much use the qualification is; type ‘Eastern canon’ into your search engine and you don’t get a list of books; the 1001 Nights, Tao Te Ching, Kama Sutra or the Art of War are none of them ‘Western’ but would most likely all feature on most people’s lists.
It seems more useful to talk about the canon as a better respected version of 1000 books to read before you die, the writers and works by which other writers and works are influenced, riff on and return to: past, present and future. Under scrutiny it becomes an impermanent beast, a tortured mixture of arrogance and insecurity, wholly subjective and, like Borges’ Library of Babel, bereft of meaning.
Literature abhors a flow chart, and the canon is too often used as one. If one can learn anything from football, (and one can learn many things from football) it’s that on a given day one team always has a good chance against another.
I’ve just realised that I cheated the last time I played this with Uruguay, using seven players! So someone will have to be dropped:
Mario Benedetti; a superb command of style combined with copious life experience and courage. A marvelous example for a team playing against the odds.
Comte De Lautréamont; surely has something to prove, rumour has it that he chose to play for Uruguay amid fears that might be squeezed out of the poete maudit spot in the country where he spent most of his life. Surely has something to prove.
Eduardo Galeano, Juan Carlos Onetti; a suitably combative defensive pairing, Galeano will surely want to get something over the Europeans, whilst Onetti is one of the great unsung players of the world game.
Carmen Posadas; would seem to have the confidence and experience in the Spanish top leagues to do her team proud.
Bench: Hugo Burel, Juana De Ibarbourou, Jorge Arbeleche, Cristina Peri Rossi; each offers something different although none perhaps possessed of the game-changing qualities that the French are likely to have in droves.
Marcel Proust; not necessarily the most imposing of managers, but it’s fair to say that the game can be divided into a ‘before’ and ‘after’ Monsieur Proust – will his team have a similar effect?
Arthur Rimbaud; A flighty but brilliant striker, rumours abound that in spite of his tender age he is likely to retire after this world cup.
Voltaire, Michel de Montaigne; I like an old fashioned, reduced-nonsense defensive pairing, Jean-Jacques Rousseau might perhaps be regarded as a more natural partner for Voltaire but was in the end deemed a bit flaky. From the French point of view one hopes that they both keep their moments of introspection to a minimum.
Michel Foucault; when I mentioned to a friend that I was trying to decide on this team she said very decidedly that Foucault should go in goal. She didn’t explain any further but sometimes one just has to go with their gut instinct. Or someone else’s.
Not a single woman so far, so let’s start with Simone De Beauvoir (defence), Colette (attack) and Madame de Lafayette (midfield). Then there’s Baudelaire, Céline and Michel Houellebecq all clamouring for Rimbaud’s forward spot. I especially like the idea of the possibly distatrous partnership between Houellebecq and Rimbaud. Raymond Queneau is an obvious replacement for Robbe Grillet whilst if the midfield needs stiffening, Emile Zola and Honoré de Balzac can be brought in. Rousseau provides further defensive cover. The rules don’t have a limit on the amount of subs that are allowed but I’m beginning to feel that any more and I’m just listing names.
The early stages are bossed by Uruguay; the team is a coherent unit with a point to prove against France’s overconfidence. The match up between Quiroga and Hernández and Flaubert and Robbe-Grillet is convincingly won by the former pair: it’s as though Flaubert and Robbe-Grillet are speaking entirely different languages. Five minutes after half-time, however, a mistake by Carmen Posadas allows Rimbaud, who had always looked dangerous, a soft goal and after that the result is never in doubt. Lautréamont never looks nearly as threatening as his maudit friend and the substitution of Robbe-Grillet for Emile Zola makes for a solidly impregnable midfield. Uruguay simply don’t have the resources on the bench to counter with an injured Quiroga being replaced by Hugo Burel, and Juana de Ibarbourou coming on for the Lautréamont, to little effect. Colette appears at the end to take advantage of a tiring Uruguay side to bag a brace.