Body Place Existence: Phenomenology of Cristiano Ronaldo

Frontpage of the Italian sports daily Tuttosport, 17 Sep 2018.

What does the Portuguese football star Cristiano Ronaldo (CR7) have to do with concepts of place and space? A lot: specifically, I believe the examination of CR7’s gestures on a football pitch can give us some food for thought on the mutuality between ‘body, place, and existence’. Existence in place, I mean; actual, concrete, bodily existence in place, or, even better, existence as being-in-place, which subsumes the other possibility: the concrete existence of bodies, things, or objects in space. This introductory statement about the apparent dualism between place and space obliges me to make a preliminary introduction, before getting right to the point: the implacement of Cristiano Ronaldo and the analysis of his gestures on a football pitch. [1]

First of all, as I’ve already said in a preceding article, I believe place to be the realm of concrete things (‘place is the arena of things’ I have said), space a domain of thought (‘the arena of thoughts’).[2] To paraphrase an old saying by Democritus, I’d say that space exists in opinion while what really exists in actuality is place, which presents itself in different guises or states: physicochemical, biological, social and symbolic states, to begin with. In this website my scope is to reinstate the reciprocity between the two modalities of being – one concrete and placial the other abstract and spatial (or symbolic) – as a way to knowledge beyond dualism; then, I believe it is important to draw limits and boundaries between the two modalities of being in order to see differences continuities and correlations, and in order to avoid the following risks: mistaking the concrete for the abstract, and – the opposite – mistaking the abstract for the concrete. We incur the first risk when we think we live in a subjective world of concepts and symbols, representative of an external world that we consider is not directly accessible to us. The second risk regards the belief that certain abstract concepts refer to real entities, while they actually refer to abstract entities: for instance, we incur into that risk when we take space to be the token – a sign properly – for the concrete physical continuum in which we live. The latter proposition requires a clarification: even if concepts are intrinsically abstract (they are inherently abstract since they are a creation of the human mind), I believe some of them are tokens for abstract entities, while others are tokens for concrete entities. This is especially true with respect to the notions of place and space: for establishing the nature of those notions not only is intuitive reasoning and logic requested, but also the knowledge of their histories, as well as the knowledge of the terms through which those histories and meanings were narrated, are necessary. I believe we can all agree if we say that place, as well as space, are ‘just’ terms referred to concepts: nonetheless – I argue – while place can be the token for that which is concrete and/or actual (that’s why I’ve said ‘place is the arena of things’), space – if we leave aside its figurative use for a moment – is the token for that which is abstract and/or ideal (that’s why I’ve said that ‘space is the arena of thought’). And when we use an abstract concept like space to describe or represent concrete situations (that is, every time we use the term space as a metaphor or as a geometrically based concept in circumstances where the actual conflates with the ideal – for instance, this is the case when we use a common expression like ‘physical space’, which is an oxymoron in the end), even if we are conscious of its abstract character we should be conscious of the epistemological limits, the consequences and the risks that such uses of the term entail. As I wrote in the Preliminary Notes quoting a passage from Middlemarch, by George Eliot: ‘… all of us, grave or light, get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act fatally on the strength of them.’[3] That is: we live as if our bodies and not just our minds are entangled in space, when in fact our bodies-and-minds are in place, to begin with. The risk behind the use of a metaphor is to misplace the difference between the abstract and the concrete. And since what is abstract, by definition, is just a selection of some parts from a whole, we risk to misplace the parts for the whole, or to minimize the role of the parts not abstracted, as if they are not present, which can have fatal consequences. In the specific case of space, which is a notion having a dimensional nature (etimologically, space is an extension, a distance – see the article Back to the Origins of Space and Place), there can be no dimension or extension abstracted from the matter and the duration which are intrinsically connected to any dimension or extension. With space, we forget time (Einstein fixed this inconsistency) and matter, or the processes behind them. So we come back to the main theme of my research: place is concrete, space is abstract. This means that reality is a place, to begin with. Whenever the situation and the conditions of language allow, we should resist the temptation to think of and speak about real bodies as existing, living or moving in space; before all, real bodies exist, live, and move in place or from place to place.

Coming back to where we started, Cristiano Ronaldo’s concrete physical presence is in place, not in space (not even in spacetime, which is another abstract entity), since place is what really exists, while space is ‘an opinion’ (unless we believe that the actual CR7 is an opinion as well, or even a hologram and not a real person in flesh and blood). To add some flavour to this position of mine concerning the concepts of place and space, I would say that CR7 is ‘implaced’ long before being ‘spatialized’.[4] ‘Spatialization’ – an ambiguous concept, whose ambiguity I would resolve by understanding it either as the characteristic of a body to exist in space (hence an ideal body existing in an abstract space or domain – a ‘res cogitans’ to use a Cartesian terminology) or as the characteristic of a body to be spatially extended (in this case, ‘spatialization’ and the adverb ‘spatially’ would entail the metaphorical use of space to refer to the real extension of a body that exists in a real place, as a ‘res extensa’) – requires the reflective and ingenious intervention of the human mind, while for ‘implacement’ – the characteristic of a body, or an object, to be (actualized) in place – the very presence of the physical body/object is the necessary minimum requirement. As an intuitive example of ‘spatialization’ of the first case, I’ll pick up the process that CR7 was subjected to in order to become a virtual character within the digital environment of an electronic game – a space or a spatial domain, indeed.

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Image 1: Cristiano Ronaldo’s ‘spatialized’ presence within the digital environment of an electronic game; indeed, that environment can be understood as space, or even as a virtual or imaginary place.

Within that digital environment we can rightly affirm that CR7, the virtual character, is ‘in space’ (space – any typology of space as the result of the characteristic ability of the human mind to abstract and to create symbolic entities – always defines an abstract domain if not otherwise stated); alternatively, we could even say that the virtual CR7 is ‘in a virtual, imaginary, or symbolic place’ (then place can also be the token for a symbolic or imaginary realm, that is, it can have both concrete and abstract value – this is, after all, a consequence of the possibility to understand place as the resulting entity of symbolic processes – see the article What Is Place? What Is Space?). But the ‘real’ CR7 or, better, the actual CR7, the entity in flesh and blood that scores actual goals, receives actual awards and earns actual money for his performances within and without the football pitch, well, that Cristiano Ronaldo ‘is – or exists – in place’ only. Not just ‘in’ place, where that ‘in’ could respectively mean the entire stadium, as well as the football pitch, or even the team where the phenomenon – CR7 – reveals to the others his outstanding performances; CR7 himself – his very body (and obviously his mind as part of the body) – is a place: the place of his being actual, or, to quote a passage from Heidegger commented by the philosopher Edward Casey, ‘the place (Stätte) which Being requires in order to disclose itself.’[5] Then, the place of his concrete bodily presence coincides with his body as well as with his being: ‘Eu Estou Aqui’, ‘I am here’, ‘Io sono qui’, is CR7’s motto, which we could also term ‘CR7’s axiom’. Before all, ‘here’ belongs to ‘being’ as an internal, intrinsic, attribution of the body and not as the specification of an external position.  Place-and-existence, existence-and-place: I believe any other alternative (i.e. the actual existence of things in space or in spacetime) that does not take into account the primacy of place should be rejected.

After this introduction, I come to the reasons which led me to consider Cristiano Ronaldo as an example to engage with questions of place and space: in the lines that follow, I will tell you what the scrutiny of Cristiano Ronaldo’s gestures on a football pitch communicated to me. Better than by means of words, surely much better than I’m able to do, and more straightforwardly than many phenomenological accounts on space, place and existence – or experience -, I believe CR7 is able to convey, with few symbolic gestures, and in a direct and intuitive way, the full sense of what it means to be (to exist): ‘to be is to be in place’, the famous Archytian axiom says. [6] That’s the core argument of this brief article, which I hope it is not perceived as a flimsy exemplification of the previous one – The Τόπος of a Thing (Τόπος -topos- is a Greek term that literally stands for ‘whereabouts’ and is traditionally understood and translated as ‘place’; therefore, we are now speaking about ‘the place of Cristiano Ronaldo’ when, through his gestures and posture on a football pitch, he reveals to the world: ‘It’s me. I am here’; in this way, CR7 gives us a personal interpretation of that ancient axiom, a self-evident truth, which is too often forgotten, or underestimated).

I’ve always thought Cristiano Ronaldo’s physical presence on a soccer field had much to do with place and existence since the very first time he began to assume his typical stance when he was going to kick a penalty or a free kick: his way of standing still for countless instants that seem to freeze the moment in an eternal present; his static presence on the pitch before kicking the ball – legs open and arms slightly open as well, straight down to his side – reminded me of a statue; a mode of being, denoting stability, against that which is transient and uncertain all around his figure: a constant presence, something you can count on (the fact that he scores many goals when he kicks a ball is almost the execution of a sentence), something – somebody, actually – firmly put into place: something that stands out, ultimately. A physical presence which can catalyse all of the energies within and around him: not just his energies, but the energies of an entire stadium. ‘I’m here’, Cristiano Ronaldo seems to say, that is: here, in (this) place.

Image 2: CR7’s peculiar stance before kicking a penalty or a free-kick.

One of the basic points of my thinking on questions of space and place is that ‘here and being’ – the being of any thing-as-physical substance – are sympathetic to each other, like the two sides of a coin; Cristiano Ronaldo seems to know it very well, as a form of intuition. That’s why he assumes that peculiar stance and other postures through which he displays to the world the awareness of his body – the awareness of his powerful physical presence – fully immersed (mind-and-body) in a certain situation at a precise moment. ‘I am here, in this place, right now’. The ‘here’ of ‘this place’ – I argue – is an ‘extended place’, an extended field of localization where different forces act: this place is his very physical body as well as the football pitch he steps on and the stadium all around him. Through that particular stance, Cristiano Ronaldo’s body interiorizes the pitch and the entire stadium as if they were one and the same thing: a place. This is a genuine act of ‘implacement’, to use technical terminology that we have already introduced.

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Image 3: Original ‘withness’ between things: CR7’s bodily presence, the football pitch and the stadium constitute a unique entity, a composite whole, or place; as a matter of fact, the body, by means of perception, brings together the here (of the body) and the there (of the objects perceived around the body) in a unique encompassing structure: a place.

Bearing in mind Cristiano Ronaldo’s peculiar posture before kicking a free-kick, in a previous article – Back to the Origins of Space and Place – I have analysed the semantic affinity between the concept of place and many static notions, which CR7 is able to interpret by way of the peculiar stance of his body. In brief, we have seen that a web of significance between many words denoting situation, position or locale, and which have the root ‘sta’ as generator of meaning (hence terms like ‘static’, ‘standing’, ‘stance’, ‘statue’, ‘stability’, ‘constant’, through which we have just described Cristiano’s peculiar attitude before kicking a ball), converge towards the notion of place. As a matter of fact, from a linguistic perspective, we have seen that the root ‘sta’ may be connected with the Proto-Indo-European verbal root *steh2-, a root on which ‘general words for a place’ are constructed.[7] By assuming certain positions that are denoted by terms including the linguistic root ‘sta’, CR7 manifests to the world his being profoundly immersed into place – understood as precise situation and moment – with all of his body; he manifests his modality of being ‘implaced’. Then, we could even say that the first condition of existence (to exist) is to have a stance against the other (things); it means being different, appearing different, from what is all around as a kind of realisation – or actualization -, of the self as something unique and distinct, cut out from what is all around – the physical environment; a mode of standing forth, or of standing out, ultimately. CR7 is intuitively conscious about the sympathy between being, as the characteristic stance of one’s body over against what is all around (a term, stance, which is formally and semantically related to ‘existence’ and ‘essence’), and place; so that being is always being-in-place (implacement). His gestures and posture are nothing other than his nonverbal way of communicating the following truth: to exist is always to stay, and to stay is always to stay in place. ‘I am. I-am-here’ is Cristiano Ronaldo’s insightful bodily interpretation of the old Archytian axiom. However, what is truly exceptional with Cristiano Ronaldo is that, in particular circumstances, he visibly recomposes differences within unity so that the stadium, the football pitch and his very body may fuse into an encompassing whole, or ‘extended place’: with his gestures, he is able to uncover the original withness of the body with the circumambient world.[8] This is often the prelude to CR7 scoring a goal; when this happens, a genuine celebratory ritual of self-implacement begins: he starts running, pointing his fingers, at first, at his chest – ‘I am…’ (Image 4, below) -, then, at the ground – ‘… here!’ (Image 5, below).

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Image 4: CR7’s celebratory ritual after scoring a goal: ‘I am…’
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Image 5: CR7’s celebratory ritual after scoring a goal: ‘… here!’

After that, while running, he jumps high, amplifying the vertical dimension of his gestures by moving his arms up to the sky and spinning around with his body; then, he falls on his feet firmly put into place. The ground – or, better, the football pitch – is a felt pole of attraction for him: it is the primordial place to which he pays tribute by taking his straight arms down to it, with his hands wide open – open to the ground itself – in the descending phase of his action.  Finally, again, he fiercely assumes his characteristic static posture – a modern form of ‘stabilitas loci’ – with legs divaricated, firmly put into place, shoulders and arms towards the ground/pitch, attracted by the gravity that the ground (the pitch) exerts on his body (Image 6, below).

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Image 6: CR7’s celebratory ritual of ‘self-implacement’ after scoring a goal – ‘I am, here!’- could be synthesized as CR7’s axiom.

In this celebratory ritual of ‘self-implacement’, CR7’s body, the football pitch and the very stadium are one and the same thing, or the same place; for Cristiano Ronaldo – and possibly, with him, for his fans as well – it must be a genuine moment of complete fusion with what is all around – a sort of peak experience a psychologist would probably say. When I first noticed this kind of celebration in addition to the peculiar stance of his body before kicking a penalty or a free-kick, I began to think of him as a genuine interpreter of such a profound truth concealed behind the famous Archytian axiom: ‘to be is to be in place’. To adhere to Cristiano Ronaldo’s gestural and non-gestural modes of communication, that axiom could be expressed like this: ‘I am, here!’ As I have already said in the introduction, this could be synthesized as CR7’s axiom, the ultimate truth that CR7 is saying to the world with his unique way of celebrating goals and kicking free kicks. Nobody better than him, or more directly than him, is able to communicate to a big audience such a profound truth without even the necessity to say a word; his gestures are enough.

The power of Cristiano Ronaldo is the power of a body-standing-in-place, the power of his bodily presence in place: a mode of standing – the stance of his body on the pitch with-in the stadium – where the body itself and the stadium as well are the relative loci that are necessary for being genuinely in place (or implaced). He did not have to read the fragments on place attributed to Archytas of Tarentum, or to read Aristotle’s theory of place and Simplicius’s corollaries on place; or, he did not have to know Kant’s and Whitehead’s recognition of the role of the body in matters of implacement, or to know Husserl’s argumentations on the relation between kinesthesia and the near-sphere [9], or even Merleau-Ponty’s insight on the capacities of the lived body; and, finally, he did not have to read Heidegger’s belated recognition of the placial significance of Being-as-Dasein, to intuitively understand the intimate bond between body, place and existence.

So, when in the summer of 2018 CR7 moved from Real Madrid to join Juventus F.C., everybody in Italy expected Cristiano Ronaldo to score many goals since his first appearance in an official match with the new team, in the new League – Serie A. However, expectations were disappointed: not only did he miss to scoring in the opening match, but he failed to score for three matches in a row! So everybody in Italy – supporters, magazines, tabloid, newspapers, TV programs, etc. – was wondering where CR7 was (the ‘where’ is a question of place, ultimately). Was CR7 done because of his age (34) – everybody asked? The answer – or ‘CR7’s axiom’, as I have called it – was given by Cristiano Ronaldo himself and was reported in capital letters by the opening title of an Italian newspaper the day after CR7 scored his first two goals in the same match, in his new Italian campaign: ‘IO SONO QUI!’, that is: ‘I AM HERE!’, or ‘EU ESTOU AQUI!’ in Cristiano’s mother tongue (it is curious that, in this and other cases, in the Portuguese language, ‘being’ – to be – is a form of staying – e-sto-u – properly). Accordingly, for Cristiano Ronaldo in flesh and blood, the celebratory ritual of ‘self-implacement’ after scoring a goal continues with a new shirt. While his ‘spatialization’ – his existence in space within the unbounded limits of a digital environment like that of an electronic game where the past or a hypothetical future can be actualized into an eternal present – can go on and on, indefinitely (Image 7, below). The actual CR7 – the corporeal entity – is a placial entity that exists in real places only. Conversely, the ideal CR7 – a virtual entity, properly – exists in space (as a spatial entity), or in virtual and imaginary places. We – concrete, sensible, and bodily entities – live in place long before being in space; we are implaced entities long before being spatialized entities, since it is only through the creative agency of our minds that we can have access to space, or to any other abstract or hybrid domains, as highly structured symbolic and/or representational worlds; where there is no mind there is no space: space is first and foremost within our minds, a creative thought, ultimately. Conversely, place is within and without our bodies: it is the conditio sine qua non of actual existence. Like a new Archytas, Cristiano Ronaldo knows that ancient truth very well: first and foremost, to be is to be in place.

Image 7: CR7’s trademark represented on the lining of his jacket at the Golden Soccer Awards in Dubai, 2020.
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Image 8: CR7’s ‘spatialized’ presence within the digital environment of an electronic game.


[1] I have taken the term ‘implacement’ – instead of using the more common ‘emplacement’ or even ‘placement’ – from Edward Casey. According to Casey, ‘the im- of implacement stresses the action of getting in or into, and it carries connotations of immanence that are appropriate to the inhabitation of places’. See: Edward S. Casey, Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,1993), xiii, 315. I think this type of ‘active’ connotation is apt to describe what I mean for place when I say that a place is always a place of processes that cannot be severed from the entities – which are states of place – that accompany those processes; whenever processes become actual, they are actualized into entities-place or, simply, into places. I believe the term ‘implacement’ describes very well the intrinsic relation that I believe exist between processes and entities understood as places of actualization of those processes (these entities are ‘elemental thing-place’ to take another fortunate expression from Casey, ibid., p. 216).

[2] See the introductory article Preliminary Notes.

[3] George Eliot, Middlemarch (New York: Barnes and Nobles Classics, 1996), 80.

[4] For a brief account on the meaning of the term ‘implaced’ derived from ‘implacement’ see Note 1, above, and Note 5 in the article What Is Place? What Is Space?

[5] Edward S. Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), p. 261.

[6] I take the expression ‘Archytian axiom’, and its statement, from the American philosophers Edward Casey. The original statement is referred to the ancient belief of the Pythagorean thinker Archytas of Tarentum (428-347 B.C.), who wrote a lost treatise on place, of which only fragments survived; one of them is cited by Simplicius: ‘… it is obvious that one has to grant priority to place… the first of all things… since all existing things are either in place or not without place.’   Edward Casey, Getting Back into Place, p. 14. See also notes 48 and 53, page 320, in the same book. The ‘modified version’ of the original Archytian Axiom is also contained in: Edward Casey, The Fate of Place, p. 4.

[7] ‘General words for “a place” are built on the verbal root *steh2- “stand”, hence we have *ste´h2tis (e.g. Lat statio “position, station”, NE stead, Lith stacias “standing”, Grk stasis “place, setting, standing, stature”, Av staiti- “station”, Sktsthıti- “position”)’, in J. P. Mallory and D. Q. Adams, The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World (New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2006), 287, 295.

[8] I have used the expression ‘withness of the body’ – which I took from the philosopher Alfred N. Whitehead’s in Process and Reality – to point out the uninterrupted continuity between an organism (a living body) and the physical environment in which the organism lives. Actually, this continuity, or withness (etymologically, that which is ‘continuous’ is related to the Latin cum+tenere ‘to hold together with’, or ‘continere’, ‘to hang together’), is twofold: on the one hand, I am with my body (I am always with my body in any act of perception – ‘we see with our eyes… we touch with our hands…’ Whitehead says – a form of continuity that denies the division mind/body); on the other hand, and at the same time, my body is (continuous) with particular regions of the environment around me. The body with the environment constitutes a second form of continuity that denies the drastic division between the organism and the environment, which we are accustomed to. According to Whitehead, objects and body, there and here, are situated in ‘the obvious solidarity of the world’: I call that ‘solidarity of the world’ – which brings together here and there, body and objects – a place, or an extended place (see Figure 3). For a brief and penetrating analysis of the notion of ‘withness’ and of the quotations I’ve made referred to Whitehead, see also Casey’s The Fate of Place (p. 214, 215).

[9] At this regards, see Image 8 of Paragraph 1.4. – Part Four: The Reappearance of Place -, in the article Place and Space: A Philosophical History.

Works Cited

Casey, Edward S. Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.

—. The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Mallory, James P. and Adams, Douglas Q. The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2006.

Whitehead Alfred North. Process and Reality – An Essay in Cosmology. New York: The Free Press, Corrected edition, 1978.