One and Many Basketball Players

In our efforts to articulate the emergence of a sporting multitude, once again we turn to the work of Paolo Virno and a short piece titled "One and Many," in which he attempts to highlight differences between the "people" and the "multitude" as they relate to processes of individuation.

The One toward which the people gravitates is the State, the sovereign, the general will; the One that is behind the multitude, on the contrary, consists of language, of the intellect as a public or interpsychic resource and of the generic faculties of the species. If the multitude shuns statist unity it is only because it is related to a very different One, that is preliminary rather than conclusive. This relationship should be interrogated. An important contribution is offered by Gilbert Simondon, a philosopher very dear to Gilles Deleuze, little known outside of France until now. His reflections turn upon the processes of individuation. Individuation, i.e. the passage from the generic psychosomatic endowment of the human animal to the configuration of an irrepeatible singularity, is perhaps the category that, more than any other, is inherent in the multitude. At a closer glance, the category of the people applies to a myriad of non-individuated individuals, understood as simple substances or solipsistic atoms.

Does a networked meta-event such as Global Village Basketball reproduce the "unity/universality procured by the statist apparatus," albeit in the meshwork form characteristic of the emerging sporting Empire? It might seem that way if we simply refer to individuation as a process at the level of the human animal. But no (hu)man is an island: those individuated animals will eventually assemble in some fashion for survival, work, play or love.

The question becomes how the individuation of the individual is respected within the temporary sporting community of Global Village Basketball, as well as how the community itself becomes individuated at its own level of assemblage relative to other communities.

With regard to the former, this networked meta-event attempts to remove certain elements that contribute to what is actually the deindividuation of the human animal within sporting communities. First, the elimination of team uniforms. While it is true that GVB features the binary opposition of a Red team versus a Blue team, the actual identification of these teams by each local node in the networked game is not subject to an overall homogenized uniformity of the singular skin. Players may choose to wear some element of red or blue, or dispense with colours altogether and simply declare one side to be playing as Red and one as Blue. That a player may in fact play for both sides during the course of the pickup session makes such flexibility even more important.

In eliminating uniforms we also eliminate uniform numbers, those signifiers that identify and subsume the individual to the athletic collective of the team, a process unique neither to socialist or capitalist endeavours. Uniform numbers also index the individual to the administrative apparatus, to the table or the ledger or the boxscore or the scoresheet or the database. Breaking this indexical link either forces the administrator to know the identity of each individual present at the game, or else frustrates the alphanumeric archive altogether as a technique of individuation.

As such, we further eliminate the potential for the database to come into being and contribute to an econometrics of sporting production that improves the output of scored baskets. And when we further remove the "expert" authority of coaches and the police+judiciary system of referees, we free the athletic bodies in motion from a particular mandate for productivity. Put differently, we establish that pickup basketball is not a degraded form of the league and tournament basketball that yields to the hierarchies of world championships, but rather that it is the same sport in differential political form.

This is why it is so important for us to understand basketball in its linguistic sense. By placing the emphasis on baskets scored, on statistics and the other rationalizations of the spatiotemporal parameters for this sporting space, the focus remains on the capitalist accumulation of produced output. By instead removing much of those political constraints and instead focusing on the affect of the basketball bodies unfolding athletic poiesis from the foldings of potential in the realm of the virtual, we retrieve an emphasis on the virtuosity of this sporting labour from which capitalist relations are derived, but also from which the multitude comes into being.

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  1. sportsBabel » Collective Forgetting says:

    [...] is professional basketball. But it is far more pronounced in the pickup version of the game, when all participants are in the process of playing and there is no external governing authority responsible for the role [...]

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