Discipline :: Topology :: Control

Since Deleuze introduced the concept of the control society, thinkers have tried to gauge its precise character and sportsBabel has worked to make a contribution to that end. But we must keep in mind that the original title has "sociétés de contrôle" in the plural. That is, Deleuze suggests there are multiple societies of control, each effecting its own intensive modulation of subjects as its disciplinary apparatus and spaces of enclosure are in decline or crisis. Each of these is interconnected by other modulations at different levels of assembly (cf. DeLanda).

Panhapticism in Ljubljana

panhapticism as graffiti in ljubljana:
vision and touch intersect at the nexus of control

Do not mix models, Deleuze and Guattari remind us: sport will have its own modulations, its own relations with and passages between striated and smooth, optic and haptic, and back again.

But with sport, at least, the disciplinary spaces of enclosure do not appear to be in crisis. Rather, they appear to exist as moments within a larger sportocratic trajectory. Brian Massumi offers us guidance towards understanding this trajectory — or rather transformation — by asking us to consider architecture topologically, in which Euclidean space is an instance, a point in time raised to the level of the three-dimensional — in short, a metric moment of a topological transformation or process.

The distinction that is most relevant here is between topological transformation and static geometric figure: between the process of arriving at a form through continuous deformation and the determinate form arrived at when the process stops. An infinite number of static figures may be extracted from a single topological transformation. The transformation is a kind of superfigure that is defined not by invariant formal properties but by continuity of transformation. … Anything left standing when the deformation is stopped at any moment, in its passage through any point in between, also belongs to their shared figure. The overall topological figure is continuous and multiple. As a transformation, it is defined by vectors rather than coordinate points. A vector is transpositional: a moving-through points. Because of its vectorial nature, the geometry of the topological superfigure cannot be separated from its duration. The figure is what runs through an infinity of static figures. It is not itself determinate, but determinable. Each static figure stands for its determination but does not exhaust it (Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, p. 184).

In this case, Massumi is discussing the challenge for architecture to respond to topology as the experiential condition of individual human beings. In his view, our being-in-the-world as sensing subjects involves a "synesthetic cooperation" between exoreferential fixed visual perception and self-referentially dynamic internal proprioception as they fold forward and back into one another. But what if we are talking about the administrative apparatus instead, the architecture that adjudicates the social body as well as the individual body?

In its high performance sporting sense, the moment (or static figure) at which the topological superfigure comes to rest is the space and time that we traditionally understand as the site of athletic competition. It was John Bale who first explicitly formalized the sport stadium in these terms, but the stadium's disciplinary character was already understood implicitly by the sociologist Jean-Marie Brohm with his "prison of measured time," and even earlier in George Perec's novel W ou le souvenir d'enfance, which juxtaposes a narrative set in the stadium against one set in the concentration camp.

At this particular level of assemblage the stadium is a Euclidean space: enclosed, partitioned, and adjudicated with a perspectival optic gaze. The athletes, support personnel and spectators become objects of information within this sporting apparatus, numerically inscribed and tracked at various checkpoints. They each become part of an archive-creation process as well as an atomized element against which archives are tested.

Only thereafter, when the competition nominally ends, does the topology become apparent. Specimen samples are withdrawn from the athletic body for anti-doping testing procedures. While authorities originally captured the "waste" byproduct of urine for testing, today the range of signifying vectors has expanded to include blood and DNA, which are effectively "living tissue" insofar as they contain the biological code to recreate human life. To counter against doping procedures or drug technologies in use today but in the absence of a feasible test to ferret them out, the World Anti-Doping Agency has instituted an 8-year statute of limitations within which newly-discovered tests may be retroactively applied to old samples and results changed. In other words, the competition still continues for eight years after the interim winners have been announced.

As such, the samples of "living tissue" that leave the disciplinary spaces of sport are themselves part of the space of competition. Wherever they travel — by vehicle to some laboratory or by telecommunication channel to some database — the site of competition topologically transforms to match this space. Massumi, once again (in repetition and difference): Because of its vectorial nature, the geometry of the topological superfigure cannot be separated from its duration.

Rather than modern sport being a disciplinary institution in "crisis" yielding to an institution of control, then, it appears that its disciplinary spaces continue to exist albeit as discrete moments or static figures in the overall topology of high performance athletic competition. The topological superfigure itself — the vectorial transformation — is what we understand today as the crisis: a smooth space of intensities that the institution of control attempts to administer by riding and arresting the flow, what Deleuze and Guattari describe as an effort to "utilize smooth spaces as a means of communication in the service of striated space" (A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, p. 385). Instead of the panoptic gaze taking measure within a static figure, the panhaptic touch-sense modulates within the transformation to render it optic at every possible moment: a tactile, digital interplay between the senses, a haptic-made-optic.


4 responses to Discipline :: Topology :: Control

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  1. Kalle Jonasson says:

    Nice! The eight year competition remark was hilarious. Michel Serres has also a nice way to illustrate topology:

    If you take a handkerchief and spread it out in order to iron it, you can see in it certain fixed distances and proximities. If you sketch a circle in one area, you can mark out nearby points and measure far-off distances. Then take the same handkerchief and crumple it, by putting in your pocket. Two distant points suddenly are close, even superimposed. If, further, you tear it in certain places, two points that were very close can become very distant. The science of nearness and rifts is called topology, while the science of stable and well-defined distances is called metrical geometry

    (Serres & Latour, 1995, conversations on science, time and culture, s. 60).

  2. sportsbabel says:

    Kalle: Thanks for the note! You are another one of many who is pointing me in the direction of Serres, so I guess I'd better get there soon! Glad you enjoyed, please keep in dialogue….

  3. sportsBabel » Somatic Flux, Tactile Burden says:

    [...] grass at the park. Humming streets. Golf course turf. Designer architecture. Chipped concrete curbs and asphault blacktop. Abandoned lots. Thatch and decomposing undergrowth. [...]

  4. sportsBabel » Pixel to Pellicule to Projection says:

    [...] of the stadium, the serialization of spectators and inscription of athletes within, and the topological transformation of the space to police performance enhancing substances and methods all constitute a particular state of exception that we might describe under the broad emerging [...]