On Massumi's Logic of Relation: A Preface

In Movement

Brian Massumi's ball. A soccer ball. Icon of the beautiful game and part-subject in the relation.

An example: Michel Serres's ball. A soccer ball. Bruno Latour is well known for taking up Serres's concept of the quasi-object, introduced through the example of a ball in a sports game. Serres and Latour used it to rethink the relation between the subject and the object. More recently, Pierre Lévy has used the same example to redeploy the relation between the individual and the collectivity. What follows flows from Lévy, moving toward a notion of collective individuation around a catalyzing point. Here, that point will be called not a quasi object but a part-subject (Parables for the Virtual, p.71).

But not a basketball.

Do we really need to translate Massumi's analysis of the ball as part-subject and the corresponding logic of relation it facilitates to every single other sport that exists? Perhaps not, though even in the shift from soccer to basketball, both relatively open-ended, flowing sports, we witness differences in the emergence of relationality, due to the different material and immaterial codings that frame the space and time of play.

The following series constitutes an attempt to engage these differences through a reading of Massumi's political economy of belonging and the logic of relation, shifting the locus of analysis from grass pitch to hardwood floor. In the process we will try to gauge the potential for sameness, difference and indeterminacy across these gamespaces and times, and perhaps also better understand its relational consequences for the moving human body.


7 responses to On Massumi's Logic of Relation: A Preface

- rss feed for this comment thread
  1. Kalle Jonasson says:

    According to the English translation of Eclaircissements (Conversations on Science time and Culture by Serres and Latour) the game in question is Rugby. This is probably the passage which Massumi is referring to:

    BL: Is it like comparing passes in rugby? I mean the ways of passing and not the configurations of players?

    MS: Configurations or fixed places are important when the players don't move — just before the game begins, or when ceratin established positions are called out for various points in the game — scrimmages and line-outs. They begin to fluctuate as soon as the game begins, and the multiple and fluctuating ways of passing the ball are traced out. The ball is played, and the teams place themselves in relation to it, not vice versa. As a quasi object, the ball is the true subject of the game. It is like a tracker of the relations in fluctuating collectivity around it. The same analysis is valid for the individual: the clumsy player plays with the ball and makes it gravitate around himself; the mean player imagines himself to be a subject by imagining the ball to be an object – the sign of a bad philosopher. On the contrary the skilled player knows that the ball plays with him or plays off him, in such a way that he gravitates around it and fluidly follows the positions it takes, but especially the relations it spawns.

    BL: So your synthesis would come about in the area of the passes, of movement, and not in the area of the objects? (P. 108).

  2. sportsbabel says:

    Oh sweet! Thank you Kalle!

    So now we have a translation to basketball by way of soccer by way of rugby? Ouch, my head hurts. But hopefully, we are attempting to "relate" to similar ideas even if the sports are different (though all open-ended, dunno if you can make the same claims right off the bat for, say, baseball and gridiron football). Cheers!

  3. Kalle Jonasson says:

    Well, i guess Massumis analysis could be valid even if his entry has its flaws. Your grass pitch to hardwood shift still works, so keep on with this tread, you still have my ear!

  4. sportsbabel says:

    Actually, re-reading the endnote from Massumi's blockquote above, he is drawing from Serres' "The Parasite" (pp.224-34); Latour's "We Have Never Been Modern" (pp.50-55); and Lévy's "Becoming Virtual" (pp.151-53).

    I don't have those books at home, so haven't gone and checked the sources, but now I am curious why Serres and Latour "switched sports", so to speak?

  5. Kalle Jonasson says:

    Hmmm, the plot thickens… Regarding Serres and Lévys books, i haven't read them. Latours funny little treatise on the other hand was an eye-opener for me. Pages 50-55, though, do not mention any sort of sport. Strange indeed. Could it be that rugby sucks? Or, more likely, that the literally grounded play of soccer more accurately resembles the myopic, flat, ontologies of Actor-network theory? Soccer as the laboratory of social sciences.

    I could go on all night circulating this most pleasant little mystery, but the sad answer is probably — at least according to my fresh licentiate thesis! — that the tension between modernist concepts as agency and structure, individual and collective almost perfectly is reproduced/shown/duplicated in the game of soccer. "The beautiful game" is the very activty-pattern which Norbert Elias and Eric Dunning weave their figurational sociology around (in a striated warp and woof kind of way rather than than in smooth felt-style of course). As poststructuralistic and amodernistic as Latour claims himself to be, he cannot resist modern sports.

    Forgive me for babbling, but the use of sport metaphors in sociology and philosophy (gotta catch'em all) happens to be one of my favourite topics. Lets get together to change cards sometime!

  6. sportsBabel » Somatic Flux, Tactile Burden says:

    [...] grass at the park. Humming streets. Golf course turf. Designer architecture. Chipped concrete curbs and [...]

  7. sportsBabel » On Massumi's Logic of Relation: Field says:

    [...] our translation of Massumi's soccer ball to sportsbabel's basketball with a brief discussion of the space [...]