Jean Cléder, the Merckxian obsession of an intellectual

With “Eddy M. 1975”, Jean Cléder analyzes and reinvents the end of the Cannibal’s career. He also pursues the rehabilitation of this surprisingly sophisticated popular culture that is cycling literature.

Cycling is known to have always generated this ocean of writing, from which some literary peaks emerge. After Blondin, after Chany, after Bordas, cycling literature is no longer to be surpassed, it is to be renewed. This is what Jean Cléder, a tireless researcher of form, is committed to, whose Merckxian obsession has earned us a new and incomparable work: “Eddy M. 1975”, published by Louis de Mareuil.

The cycling press: a sophisticated literature

Associate of letters, HDR lecturer in general and comparative literature at the University of Rennes 2, the author has always been committed to the study of the relationship between the arts, and particularly to the links between literature and cinema. However, if we are not surprised that the text-image articulation summons the figures of Duras, Godard or Rohmer, we expect it less to nourish the epic of Hinault or Merckx. We are wrong.

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Jean Cléder, who was a child and a teenager before becoming a scientist, practiced competitive judo and solo cycling. The regulated practice of the first seemed to suffice unto itself, but the second gave rise to a whole literature which he enjoyed. ” For me, says the university, the history of judo remained silent, but I knew everything about cycling, thanks to L’Équipe or Miroir du Cyclisme. So I discovered the bicycle through its style: that of its actors and its historiographers. Over the past ten years, I have been rediscovering all these writings more or less despised by the culture of the elites. However, these were very constructed stories, very sophisticated, very thought out. And the intellectual level of these magazines is very amazing. In the capo of a report on Moser, dated 1975, there is a quote in Latin: Quo non ascendam? (how far shall I not climb?)”

This press, which would be put away – or which is put away? – today in the leisure category but of which he affirms that through the multiplicity of angles chosen, it “ constituted a vision of the world Jean Cléder decides to rehabilitate it as a “serious” object of study.

This is how in 2015 he published “Petit Éloge de la Course Cycliste” (François Bourrin editions), then undertook a very sophisticated approach with Bernard Hinault consisting not of asking him to tell his story, but to confront it with the literature and documentation that they generated – in other words, it was a question of the Badger commenting on the “staging” of his career. Thus appeared “Bernard facing Hinault, analysis of a legend” (a sort of “Rousseau judge of Jean-Jacques”!)

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From Eddy Merckx to Eddy M.: remaking history

This time, the investigation – and it is the second that Cléder devotes to it – is interested in Merckx. The Cannibal himself being not very voluble, the author entrusts the floor to a narrator, a kind of crazy and very educated supporter, which places the language ” not on the side of cold analysis, but on that of enthusiasm and the corporeal ». Sans spoiler the text, we can say a word about its principle, articulating the exposition of proven and documented facts (the current text doubles as a device of notes), and the fantasy of the narrator.

Jean Cléder remained fascinated by the images of the 1975 Tour and, more specifically, by their sudden disappearance during the Pra-Loup stage. ” Merckx is in the lead, he makes a dizzying, crazy descent. But, suddenly: beam break. We therefore find ourselves in front of a screen streaked with colors, a sort of abstract image à la Rothko. For long minutes, the commentators embroider quite brilliant rhetoric on what we imagine to be his sixth victory in the Tour. But when the picture reappears, Merckx is in trouble. What nobody is prepared for, to the point that, first, the camera passes next to him without seeing him! »

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On the basis of this disappearance, Jean Cléder therefore played the fantasy, creating a kind of “anomaly”, and reinterprets the facts in favor of a sixth victory for Merckx. The book therefore recounts the whole of 1975, and the sequence that led Eddy Merckx to defeat – but Eddy M. to his sixth victory.

Merckx, Mallarme, Spinoza

It is a brilliant and exciting exercise. The discrepancy and the imperfect superposition between the Eddy Merckx, as he is named in the notes, and the Eddy M. of the narration, is the subject of a subtle interrogation on what, failing to link them, articulates the sequence of events in the champion’s career.

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It is, finally, the opportunity for Jean Cléder to reconcile popular culture and scholarly culture through tasty imaginations. We see an Eddy M. inspired by the reading of Mallarmé or Spinoza. “ Of course, it amuses me. But it is also perfectly plausible. Poetry is not reserved for scholarly studies. A beautiful poem, it can help to see the world differently, period. It makes real sense to use high culture like that, because I think that physical effort is embodied thought. ” What, by the wayis completely Spinozist.

For those who claim to be interested in this sport beyond the anecdote and the rankings, the strange “Eddy M. 1975” is therefore essential reading.



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