Dans le cadre du projet Graines de Critiques Littéraires, les élèves de la terminale L du lycée Saint-Paul (Roanne) ont lu Barbarian Days: A surfing life de William Finnegan. Ils proposent un retour critique en anglais de leur lecture orienté autour d’un mot-clef. Voici les contribution n°1 et n°2 sur le thème de la « Passion ».
I read « Barbarians Days » written by William Finnegan. In this book, the author focuses on his passion: surfing. We saw all along the book that this extreme sport is not only a passion that you do during your free time. It is more than that. For him surfing represents his whole life, it is everything for him. There is no real and right word to express that. Maybe, we can say that surfing is his oxygen. Always looking for the greatest and most beautiful wave, he dedicates all his life and time to his sport leaving aside family and love life. We can think it is so extreme and unreal to be addicted to a sport. Indeed, we can say it is an addiction. Surfing is like a drug. The more you surf and the more you want to surf. If you can’t surf you are bad, depressed. William Finnegan is not a special case. There is a handful of people men and woman addicted to extreme sports and who challenge, defy the death each day for sensations. So, we can ask ourselves why some people are in fond of extreme sports?
Firstly, I will see what is an extreme sport. We can define this term by any athletic endeavor considered more dangerous than others, such as bungee jumping, snowboarding or action sports. It is a combination of speed, height, danger and spectacular stunts. There is a lot of extreme sports like snowboarding, surfing, riding a motorbike, mountain bike slope style, wingsuit flying, body board, skysurfing or jumping and the list can be longer. The aim of an extreme sport is to push the limits of the sport. For example, everybody knows and can surf, you just need lessons like anybody. But people who surf as an extreme sport do not just surf they do stunts they call « tricks » and it is spectacular and also dangerous. Doing an extreme sport does not concern everybody. You have to be strong and positive, have good physical condition but also you should be brave, courageous, fearless, daredevil and close to nature. Most of the time people who practice extreme sports start very young. A lot start it because their parents themselves practice an extreme sport. Sometimes they start later, while they are teenager. But when they start they never stop. We can see a lot of example of children surfing or riding a bike with their father. When they grow up they are pro surfer or professional motorbike rider or pilots. They cross the world in order to find the best « spot» (spot : the best place to do their sport) it could be a wave in Honolulu for a surfer and a mountain or a desert like in Zion park for free riders.
Then we are going to talk about the effect of this sport on people who don’t practice it. Extreme sports have two impacts on people like me. They are scary but spectacular and showy at the same time. A lot of competitions also called « contest » take place each year all around the world, most of the time in dreamy places and countries such as Costa Rica for motor freestyle or in the beautiful town of Polignano de Mare in Italy for cliff diving. Our country, France also welcomes each year a lot of extreme sports competitions such as surf contest in Hossegor’s beach or cliff diving contest in La Rochelle. Contests attract a lot of curious or passionate spectators. Indeed, even if you do not like sports, generally you are quickly fascinated by the show these people do. You have the impression that time stops when you see a man in the air with his motorbike. You think it is a perpetual control on the elements. As for a surfer, when he does a trick, it is as if he was taming waves. Extremes sports are extreme for the ones who practice but also for the one who watch; especially for those who are in front of the scene. You know when you are watching someone defying elements and playing with life you are shared between lots of sensations. It starts with fear and stress, then fear grows up and you are full of adrenalin and finally you feel relieved and also plenty of admiration. How cannot we admire people who risk their lives for sensations?
Some of us may think that they are crazy or totally insane, others can presume they are a kind of heroes. In reality they just chose to live their life deeply.
Finally, I am going to focus on those people who dedicate their life to extreme sports. As I said before, there is a handful of men and women who risks their lives and brush with death the danger every day. Most of the time, they have an unusual way of life. They are ready to travel all around the world for a contest. They leave their family and their friends. They don’t have a job like each other. The luckiest have sponsors and are famous. The others live with nothing except money from odd jobs like William Finnegan in his book. They are all the time looking for more sensations, more dangers. I assume that we can compare those athletes with artists. Both are looking for something spiritual, for something spectacular, for sensations and feelings, just to find something conducive to them. They have a sort of spiritual link with nature and with their sports. They are not afraid of death. It is very difficult to understand for people like us who don’t do it. We are so attached to life. Maybe we are so afraid of death that we do not do something in life because we are too scared of death. Indeed, they overcome their limits. For sportsmen and women, it is a reason to be. They need adrenalin rush to live and to feel themselves. If we asked one of them, they would say that they couldn’t describe their feelings and sensations when they surf a dangerous wave or ride a mountain. Personally, I admire people who practice extreme sports because they are free so free! They live for themselves and for what they want.
They are brave and do not think about death or accident. I love the kind of pure madness they have. They are strong, eager and example for everybody. Indeed, everybody should live their life the way they want without paying attention to society. We do not have to follow the society codes to be happy. The only thing is to feel free. All of those athletes are themselves in what they do. It is a need. Sometimes, those sports people die while practicing their favorite sport. It‘s probably a sort of ‘perfect’ death.
As a conclusion, we we can say that extreme sports are not practiced by everybody. Even if nowadays, more and more people practice dangerous sports, it is still rare. Those people are passionate, brave and daredevil. They are not afraid of death. The most important thing is that they live the way they want. Even if most of the time their lifestyle is weird, they feel happy with this lifestyle. They also need this adrenalin to be good and feel alive.
In “Barbarian Days”, William Finnegan tells us about his obsession with surfing. Can we say that surfing has become a passion rather than an obsession for the author? This beautiful addiction is omnipresent in his life. Passion is really subjective. On the one hand, it deprives us of our the reality, the truth. On the other hand, passion intensifies life and is synonymous of liberation of the spirit and the soul. In all cases, passion is a very violent, oppressive and dynamic feeling. Surfing is for William Finnegan, the root of his existence and it has made him his key interest.
In literature, passion can also be positive and negative. “The portrait of Dorian Gray” shows the bad sight of a human-being, when he meets passion. Dorian Grey developed a true passion for himself, for his appearance, his beauty thought and object. It highlights all his worst vices : from superficiality, egotism, hypocrisy, narcissism to cruelty, paranoia, hallucinations and ill-being. He was devoured by his passions (egoism, greed, narcissism) and in this sense, they eventually controlled him. It started from a painting, something inert which began to move and evolve. We can imagine that it is when Dorian Gray lost control that his passion appeared. The painting released itself from its inert form act as it pleases. We recognize with this novel that passion enslaved the character of a painting. It took him away from reality.
Then, “Phedre” by Racine tells the tragic story of a woman who burned by her passion for her son-in-law. She prefered passion to silence. We can observe that passion has this controversial aspect : Dorian Gray, Phedre, Finnegan are overwhelmed by their passions but, they feel a lot safer living with rather than looping their dynamic of life.
Finally, we can say that the positive aspect of passion is just under the negative one. I mean, maybe passion is a blessing in disguise. Maybe pain is the essence of passion, as its etymology indicates it : “passion” of the latin “patir” means suffering. We can imagine that when we are passionate by an activity, a person or a sport like Finnegan with surfing, nothing matters anymore and we are ready to overcome obstacles. In this point of view, passion appears as a true, unique and sincere feeling. Maybe it is dangerous but we can say that it is for this reason that “passion is passion”.
William Finnegan risks his life everyday and lives it intensely at the same time. I think, it corresponds to his way of life described in his book. So, we can say, that surfing represents a true passion for Finnegan. Even if it sometimes isolates him “Yes, I got sick sometimes of being an expatriate, always ignorant, on the outside of things, but I didn’t feel ready for domestic life, for seeing the same people, the same places, thinking more or less the same thoughts, each day. I liked surrendering to the onrush, the uncertainty, the serendipity of the road.” Finally, passion can be associated with a form of art, of purity. “That wave is so much bigger and stronger than you. You’re always outnumbered. They always can crush you. And yet you’re going to accept that and turn it into a little, brief, meaningless art form.”