The Nuclear Outcome(s)

Friedrich Kittler begins Gramophone, Film, Typewriter by pointing out that what we have referred to here as the military-industrial-entertainment complex is currently in the process of laying millions of feet of fibre optic cable, for it is the communication technology best capable of withstanding (unlike copper wire) the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear bomb.

Optical fiber networks. People will be hooked to an information channel that can be used for any medium — for the first time in history, or for its end. Once movies and music, phone calls and texts reach households via optical fiber cables, the formerly distinct media of television, radio, telephone, and mail converge, standardized by transmission frequencies and bit format. The optoelectronic channel in particular will be immune to disturbances that might randomize the pretty bit patterns behind the images and sounds. Immune, that is, to the bomb. As is well known, nuclear blasts send an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) through the usual copper cables, which would infect all connected computers.

The Pentagon is engaged in farsighted planning: only the substitution of optical fibers for metal cables can accommodate the enormous rates and volumes of bits required, spent, and celebrated by electronic warfare. All early warning systems, radar installations, missile bases, and army staffs in Europe, the opposite coast, finally will be connected to computers safe from EMP and thus will remain operational in wartime. In the meantime, pleasure is produced as a by-product: people are free to channel-surf among entertainment media. After all, fiber optics transmit all messages imaginable save for the one that counts — the bomb (p. 1).

Meanwhile, the threat of nuclear escalation and the resultant doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction also ensured that real warfare would morph into a cultural parallel. Numerous sports scholars (for example, Rob Beamish and Ian Ritchie) have detailed an overall Cold War conflict by sporting proxy and the concomitant rise of state-sponsored doping programs to technologize these warrior-athletes. The Olympic Games provided the operational theatre for this proxy war: capitalism versus communism, live on television.

We might locate the symbolic climax of the modern sport project in the two Summer Olympic Games that took place in Moscow (1980) and Los Angeles (1984). Not only did these games augur the eventual dissolution of the superpower binary with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, but they also marked the introduction of the truly corporate Olympics, with the Los Angeles Organizing Committee fully showcasing the spectacular potential of the Olympics as a cultural property sponsored by transnational capital. And from this backdrop of Cold War sport and state-sponsored doping programs emerged Ben Johnson in 1988 and the subsequent formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

We are reminded of Deleuze and Guattari's formula for the State capturing the nomadic war machine for its own purposes: "The State has no war machine of its own; it can only appropriate one in the form of a military institution, one that will continually cause it problems" (A Thousand Plateaus, p. 355). But then as the athletic bodies deterritorialize post-Cold War to seek the newfound Olympic riches, and the nation-state formation yields to Empire, the stakes change and restricting speed or circulation of movement becomes of central importance.

It is ironic that the nuclear bomb, in its undetonated form, yields the technological lineage most responsible for the dematerialization of the human body as well as the lineage most responsible for its material recombination in the name of speed (which may be one and the same thing when viewed as a problem of semiotics). Further still, we should note that these (binary) strategies of nuclear deterrence are ultimately reduced to a universal system of security and control over the interior and exterior spaces of said bodies.

Perfect Day

"Muscle does not make the sport … . Muscle, however precious, is never anything more than raw material. It is not muscle that wins. What wins is a certain idea of man and of the world, of man in the world. This idea is that man is fully defined by his action, and man's action is not to dominate other men, it is to dominate things." — Roland Barthes

The 100-metre sprint: crown jewel in the sport and science of human performance. National track and field championships. Eight bodies coil at one end of a corridor to glory. A stillness overcomes the crowd, as if a herd anticipates some furious storm is about to be unleashed.
 

. . .

 

. .

 

.

 

A pistol report shatters the electric anticipation.

Eight bodies explode into motion.

Racing spikes pierce synthetic flesh. (The old familiar sting.) The crowd recedes in an aftward directional blur. Over one hundred metres, the fastest men in the world are on the quicksilver side of ten metres per second; his time, 10.07 seconds, leaves him in seventh position, failing to qualify for Beijing.

The bright green LEDs providing stark relief from the black scoreboard, his finishing time looks so radically different than those of the qualifiers despite the few hundredths of a second that separate them. The extra digit tacked on to his outcome, scourge of a prefix, hovering there like a skinny awkward girl at the periphery of a grade school social clique.

They wouldn't even ask him to piss in a bottle.

In that moment of realization comes a dilation of time and a shower of thought fragments siphoned from past and future. Thousands of kilometres accumulated in the databanks of muscle memory. Years of linearity. Fibres and bundles and striations, all aligned to twitch in concert and exert maximal force. Progress.

10 INPUT "How many reps? ", R$
20 PRINT "Okay "; R$; "reps."
30 INPUT "What distance should I run? ", N$
40 PRINT "Okay "; N$; "metres per rep."
50 R = R$
60 N = N$
70 FOR I = 1 TO R
80 SPRINT N
90 NEXT I
100 END

Endless practice repetitions and loops, distinguishable only by minor perturbations in heart rate, lactic acid formation and related physiologica. The familiar laying of hands over thousands of hours — productive, not libidinal — to keep those muscles in a continuous state of supple potential. He knew as much of veal as he did of commercial grade steer.

And what now? What of other use-values for the body athletic? Would he coach? Could he create shadows of his legacy from the fading twilight of his career? Or could he reinvent his running (and his body)? He was, after all, only thirty!

Rhizome: "Giorgio Agamben claims that the most important political goal is to find new ways to make the human body inoperative, in the sense that poetry makes language inoperative, to find new uses for the human body."

Unshackled from the prison of measured time, where does the newly free man wander? Anywhere but along the straight path, no? Could his muscles propel him forward in curves and skips and bends and leaps and mellifluous rhythms? Could his running body caress the objects around him as it moved through space? Remixing one's Self, could he run in communion with a multitude of bodies, moving with them in unison if not in reason?

He imagined he could, but a thought and a body are often irreconcilable by their very intimacy.

(Gone, gone, the damage done.)

A few words announcing the obvious to the chattering classes. The klieg lights dim. The cameras go dark. The gaze goes cold.