The Phantastic Four

With the film-based photography of Benjamin's era, the technical apparatus required light-sensitive chemical reactions to take place in order for the original image to be reproduced in its negative state. To create a positive print from the negative image one would further submit the film to various chemical reactions and light sensitivities, inverting the colours and spatial coordinates in the process. To continue producing copies of the image — that is, to move from the chemical to the mechanical reproduction of which Benjamin analyzed — one must always return to the original negative print.

It should be noted that one could create a new negative from the positive, and then a positive from that new negative, and so on, but only at a substantial loss of fidelity in the process: +1, -1, (+1 * error), (-1 * error), (+1 * error^n), (-1 * error^n) … the introduction of this exponentially-increasing error coefficient (loss of fidelity, artefacts, etc.) becomes unacceptable after a certain point in the series. There is a binary value judgment introduced that privileges signal over noise. Thus, there must always be a filial relationship between the original negative and any successive print that is (mechanically) produced.

This genealogical bond is obsolesced in the age of the digital. The file replaces the filial. The technical imaging apparatus encodes and stores points of light as pixels in some compression format that tells the representing apparatus specifically how a grid was created on the plane of representation. Also included with this pixel mapping is a rich stream of meta-data about the image (eg. camera model, resolution, and increasingly, GPS coordinates). In other words, every digital photograph (and other computer file for that matter) contains within it all of the information required to make a perfect copy of itself without a loss of fidelity. A digital image is actually a precise hierarchy of languages ultimately resolvable to the ones and zeroes of binary computer bits: machine code describes these bits, the code of the file format tells how to compress these bits, human language is embedded in the file as meta-data. Many layers of representation are implied by a digital camera before the first photo is ever taken.

Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V: the new formula, not for mechanical reproduction, but for digital replication. If, for Benjamin, the cameraman was a surgeon to the painter's magician, then the digital photographer is a geneticist, detachedly creating new memes and replicating them throughout the network.

Where do we locate our ethical compass when the oedipal structure of filiation is replaced by replication? Wolfgang Schirmacher's Mother Di hybrid may be the symbolic heroin(e) of media culture (in both demagoguery and narcosis), but there are four figures that loom large as ethical models in media culture, in the age of hyper-signification, information architectures, fragmented subjectivities and contested language. These four are the real heroes, the ones who do all the "real" "work", while Mother Di replicates through the net like some campy God(dess), or perhaps Elvis. These four figures are the Translator, the DJ-Archivist, the Radical Cartographer, and the Hacker. Though each is endowed with particular superpowers, they share a similar ethic that emerges from their always-already technological. As a group these four figures span past and future, material and semiotic; in other words, they are the bubbling cauldron of resistance to a vectoral class effort to appropriate the whole potential of space and time.

Momentous: Temporality and Semi-Colons

One of the key characteristics of modern sport is its boundedness. While this usually implies a boundedness in terms of spatial parameters, it also often implies a bounded temporality as well. A game begins at a particular time and it ends at some fixed and codified time later, with all of the moments contained therein given coherence by these boundaries.

* * *


[Aside] a hesitation, as in thought, is a duration

in that, it has an alpha and omega,
though the interval between the two may be of any length

but what happens when many hesitations reach
their omega point at the same moment?

he had found such a moment
and the kaleidoscope of affect it produces

(on the scale of the familiar, the everyday and the banal)

a miniature yangtze flows through the hútòng; fava beans pace the conversation: face, masks, psychopathology of post-olympic fallout; no wasted food! hot sticky air

chilling laughter (…)(!)(?)


would that the comma were a semi-colon

(the addition of a round dot, sort of a break, linking independent though disconnected thoughts rather than listing the same, same, same)


* * *

Basketball is one such sport bounded both in space and in time. At the outset, the clock ticks down towards the final outcome. ("Nash left his heart out there on the floor tonight!") Sometimes the game goes to overtime but that, too, is bounded. A winner must be declared, after all.

Sovereignty and the Eternal Flame

When Baron Pierre de Coubertin catalyzed the modern reintroduction of the Olympic Games in 1896, he could scarcely have imagined what his project would resemble a little over a century later: laboratory proving ground for remarkable advances in the biophysical sciences; highly disciplined, surveillant, and militarized sporting landscape; and strong aggregator of global capital — all facilitated by the spectacle of global media and communications.

Given this spectacular epoxy, we might understand contemporary Olympism as a complex edifice of signification: the Olympic rings logo is one of the most recognized icons on the planet; the flags of nation-states multiply on uniforms, podiums and television screens; while the symbiotic play of measurement and metallurgy yields signs of gold, silver and bronze hue.

Essential to the character of the Olympic Games in this play of signification is the cadence of the Olympiad, the quadrennial that restores a rhythmic interval to an industrial world increasingly detached from nature and its seasonal rhythms. The Olympiad provides an historical lineage that encompasses the whole of the ancient and modern Games and is the source of the Olympic Movement's strength, the common idea that unites the entire genealogy of the Games and provides gravitas to all of the sub-units of time contained within and stitched together into an invisible architectural form — milliseconds that separate athletes into their various performance rankings; frozen moments that temporarily sediment the Olympic traveling carnival in a particular city; erasure of space over time through raw accelerating speed. Though it is speed (duration-as-reduction) that gives the Olympics its appeal as spectacle, it is the temporality of the Olympiad (duration-as-continuity) that provides its appeal as ideology.

While the Olympics are a spatially nomadic athletic carnival that breezes into town only to leave again shortly thereafter, they temporally persist even after any particular event's flame has been extinguished. Thus, there is one Olympic signifier that stands unique from the rest, and that is the Olympic Torch. In a global sporting event marked by citius, altius, fortius — the modern quest for speed in all facets of athletic endeavour — the torch is temporally distinct as a signifier of continuity, simulacrum of an eternal flame that reaches right back to Antiquity as if Prometheus himself delivered us a gesture of hope in the decorative wrap of Progress.

The Olympic host nation captures many of the signifiers mentioned earlier within its sovereign boundaries, particularly within the temporary carceral spaces of the Athletes' Village and the sporting competition sites. As Virilio (2004) notes, however, "sovereignty no longer resides in the territory itself, but in the control of the territory" (p. 132). If boundaries cease to be the determining factor, then how does one effect control? "Whoever controls the territory possesses it. Possession of a territory is not primarily about laws and contracts, but first and foremost is a matter of movement and circulation" (p. 128).

Beijing 2008 Torch

The Olympic Torch is unique again in that it offers the potential to transgress these sovereign boundaries — under a sign leased from the IOC, the host nation is able to effect a temporary colonization beyond its borders via the Olympic Torch Run. The "One World, One Dream" 2008 Olympics in Beijing recently witnessed the grandest torch run of all time, 85,000 miles of passage over 130 days and across five continents, including a politically-charged trip through Tibet to the rarefied air at the greatest altius of them all, the summit of Mount Everest. Chinese sporting legend Li Ning completed the trip with his dramatic, gravity-defying run around the upper walls of the National Stadium to light the Olympic flame.

While we should be cognizant of the material aspects of the journey and its circulating forces, we must also unpack the layers of signification contained therein. Lenovo Group Ltd., a Beijing 2008 TOP sponsor, was coincidentally chosen as the winning torch designer from among more than 300 competing designs. Notably, it was also the company that acquired the personal computer division of American computer giant IBM in 2005 for $1.75 billion

To remix Grant Farred, the Olympic Torch represents the spectral presence of Chinese capital within America. It is, precisely because of a complicated semiological heritage, a most profound threat to American empire. Duration-as-continuity merge with the flows and disconnects of global capital to create new messages that coexist with those imagined to have existed for thousands of years.


from HomeShop series number one:

Li Ning



thank you, e, it was a memory i am not soon to forget . . .

Sport ›(Peace)‹ War

In his presentation at the International Symposium for Olympic Research, entitled "The Birth of the Modern Olympic Truce," Naofumi Masumoto discusses in chronological fashion the revival of certain peaceful traditions retrieved from the ancient Olympic Games. One passage stood out for me, which he quoted from The Official Report of the Organising Committee for the XIV Olympiad:

The first runner, Corporal Dimitrelis of the Greek Army, stepped forward, clad in uniform with his rifle in hand. Laying down his arms and taking off his uniform, he appeared clad as an athlete and thus, having symbolized the tradition that war ceased during the period of the ancient Games, he lit his torch and set off on the first stage of the relay.

So as early as 1948 in the modern era there is the idea that sport (and peace) begins where war ends. This struck me greatly, as it resonated with my concept for a Peace Relay, in which the "sound of the starting gun symbolizes the violence that exists in the world, but also signifies the beginning of the Peace Relay and its embodied efforts to spread an idea." Perhaps one difference between the two is that the Olympic Torch relay, rooted in classical metaphysics, has an end point at which peace is achieved through international sporting competition, while my proposal endlessly defers the end point of the run — if it is peace that one seeks, one must continually be in its pursuit.

So what happened? How did this important symbolic moment in the genealogy of the modern Olympic Truce yield to the neocolonialism of the 2008 Olympic Torch Relay? Rather than sport (and peace) beginning where war ends, is it possible that sport and war — in their modern, binary incarnation — are in fact mutually reinforcing institutions, leaving peace out of the equation entirely?

Olympic Chicken

At Chicago O'Hare International Airport the paradoxes begin. Faced with a four-hour layover before my connecting flight to Beijing, I answer to the calls of either hunger, relentless promotion and distribution, or perhaps both. I stroll the entire length of the concourse several times, alternately fighting my inner pavlovian instinct and taking inventory of the various eateries available once I inevitably declare an uneasy truce.

Golden Arches

I see the world-famous signifier everywhere I turn as Chinese kids on their way to Shanghai hungrily clutch bags full of McDonald's — an official Olympic sponsor, no less. Hmmm. But I pass up the golden arches in favour of the food court and Manchu Wok — not an Olympic sponsor — which features "Olympic Chicken" as its August special of the month. Why not? Take the two-item platter, add some "Orange Chicken" and "Fried Rice" please, and complete the meal with a bottled water to dilute the lipids and sodium and make things more healthy. Xie xie. The nuclear family of five seated in front of me, a veritable poster for neo-aryan consumption, eats theirs with chopsticks, perhaps in search of an ever-elusive authenticity.

Buyong xie.

To whom or what may these paradoxical relations with food, culture and identity be attributed? The Olympic Games and their sponsors? The vagaries of travel and the impenetrable mysteries of the Middle Kingdom? Global capitalism? All and none.

Paradox is perhaps a poor choice of words in this context. What I am really trying to articulate is the permeability of the control society magnified, mirrored and refracted by the fluxes of global culture such that it induces a state of the unheimlich in undermining the expectations of the observer.

Olympic Chicken

Full? Satiated? Neurotransmitters switched on by marketing codes now switched off? Though the brain crackles with signal and noise, the meal itself must be considered a desultory event: once purchased only snatches of sensuality punctuate the otherwise bland fare, and one cannot help but wonder in the glycolytic afterglow if the various Olympic stakeholders would be happy with an equivalent result during the Eights.

This East-meets-West at the borderlinks of global fast food cuisine is fully consummated as the garbage from both franchises ends up on a conduit towards the same landfill, while the airport itself continues its functionary role processing objects of information to, from, and in between. I am hundreds of miles closer to and one time zone further from an accelerating present.

Beijing and its promises are still fourteen hours away.