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“Jacques Secrétin thought and acted like a pop philosopher”

Tribune. The oldest among table tennis players may remember a ball marketed under the name “pop”, both heavy and imperfectly round. Pop was the trace of two separate camps, duly cut off from each other by a deep lexical trench. The pop camp played ping in the campsites, while the real sportsmen played table tennis in the gyms. Pop people against the antipop elite.

Read also The death of Jacques Secrétin, former world number 2 in table tennis

At the top of the elite, Jacques Secrétin’s longevity is unmatched. Seventeen times French champion, European champion, multiple winner of prestigious competitions, he is clearly the best French table tennis player in the XXe century. But if he certainly didn’t play pop, he lived his sport well in the pop spirit, without a break, spending his time destroying this false dualism. His excellence was made up of humor, attention and solidarity. And the people have returned their concern for the other. Much to the chagrin of the narrow institutional elite of his sport, but like the Harlem Globetrotters in basketball, Secrétin toured the planet and television sets several times for thirty-five years. He and his friends at the time chained jokes, mixing high level, technique and clowning, plunging the audience into an admiring laugh.

Later, far from the spotlight this time, but always closer to those who are suffering, Secrétin gave of his person to lead workshops on the prevention of juvenile delinquency and reintegration into prison. No break between the worlds, no schism between the elite and the people, but the obsession to weave the link, to sew in a demanding and generous way, between exploit and gag, competition and solidarity.

Deleuze and Guattari dreamed of it

At the very moment when Deleuze and Guattari were dreaming of a pop philosophy, that is to say of a philosophy as accessible as pop music, Secrétin practiced it with brio, body and soul. Like other sportsmen, dancers, actors, craftsmen, cooks, peasants or famous workers, Secrétin has become a pop star because he thought and acted like a pop philosopher. And if he put so much energy into popularizing high-level ping-pong, in sometimes spectacular and playful forms, sometimes in solidarity and empathy, it was to better share his passionate philosophy.

His autobiographical book, I am a child of the ball (Jacob-Duvernet, 2007), allows to reconstruct the pop philosophy of Jacques. The central leitmotif of his thought – but should we be surprised? – is the exchange. From his father, a teacher, who already applied the Freinet method, the adolescent retains the desire for this permanent and sincere exchange. But the exchange supposes reciprocity, dialogue, the transformation of what one accepts to be transformed. Quite the opposite of the authoritarianism of the overhanging rule. Jacques’ question is very practical: how to train? How to learn without repeating the pre-established standard?

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