American Zoe Trope

It has been recently reported that Major League Baseball is conducting genetic tests on certain young Latin American baseball prospects and their parents, in response to cases of identity and age falsification. Naturally, the bioethics and privacy issues involved in such practice immediately come to the fore:

Many experts in genetics consider such testing a violation of personal privacy. Federal legislation, signed into law last year and scheduled to take effect Nov. 21, prohibits companies based in the United States from asking an employee, a potential employee or a family member of an employee for a sample of their DNA.

. . .

The federal bill forbids an employer from asking for DNA or to hire, fire or compensate based on a person’s DNA or any family member’s DNA. The employee or family member of the employee does not have to be a citizen of the United States.

Because the law is not yet in effect and has not been enforced, it is unclear how it will apply to cases in which American companies conduct DNA tests abroad on citizens of other countries.

We might also examine the situation from the perspective of Giorgio Agamben's politics. The birth certificate is one's original claim to citizenship in a state apparatus, without which one essentially becomes stateless, a sort of refugee whose tethers to citizenship are deeply frayed at best. In voluntarily obscuring the significance of the birth certificate, Latin American baseball players have been able to negotiate a cloud of ambiguity to obscure their ages and identities, thereby making themselves seem more talented prospects at a younger age and thus more attractive to major league franchises in the United States.

"The refugee should be considered for what it is, namely, nothing less than a limit-concept that at once brings a radical crisis to the principles of the nation-state and clears the way for a renewal of categories that can no longer be delayed" (Agamben, Means Without End: Notes on Politics, p. 22).

We witness spectacular capitalism and the specific meshworks of sporting Empire respond in turn, however, not by reassigning the bios that is the political life of the citizen, but rather by having the zoe that is one's naked existence as a living being speak to the models of truth it proposes.

Remixed Signals

On Performing the University of Disaster, Part Three

James Bond does not exercise. And frankly, if one was an image why bother? There is no sense in doing so, no sense in maintaining one's structures ossiferous and muscular, no sense in engaging the productive and sensual pleasures of the lipidinal and libidinal.

But this feels wrong. And so the Spy plans to write a brief to the Colonel.

He wants to file it "09-10-09: Mixed Signals from the Other."

Table Tennis

He wants to let the Colonel know that the University of Disaster does not have an athletic department. No rowing crew, no football team, no cheerleading squad. He wants to write that this is not to suggest an absence of physical culture, nor even sporting culture for that matter. There is swimming and hiking and running and cycling. There is sauna and yoga and chess. There is eating and drinking and dancing and sexing, each in portions of one, two or several. There is slacklining and hacky sack and table tennis and riding the craziest swingset in the world, poised on a precipice of nothingness in the cool sunshine of the Alpine mountains.

There is the artful inspiring of breath these mountains enable.

And then there are the toxins in the air. The contagions. The signifiers.

Mixed signals, indeed, but embodied nonetheless.

He wants to write about physical culture at the University of Disaster as that most Sisyphean quest for knowledge! Imagine oneself as both force and counterforce, a body-rock continually pushing and being pushed up a hill, beginning to breathe heavily, starting to perspire slightly, leaning into the grade of the slope, turning a sharp angle, deepening into a full pant, breaking into a full sweat, being mocked by the steep mountain backdrops … and all of sudden coming around a corner to lay eyes on one's colleagues and co-conspirators.

(deep breath…)

Before rolling back down once again.

He wants to write that there are even sports at the University of Disaster, a little basketball here or some futbol over there in the giardini. They appear to be gendered events, though perhaps tentatively approaching passage through those decrepit borders of normativity. At any rate, the altitude is punishing. And most amazingly (intelligence!), these student-athletes play without a referee, without a league, without cameras, without an archive, without representation or legitimation.

They compete!

EGS Futbal

He wants to seal the brief as classified intelligence with the caption Eyes Only.

But Agent 99 grasps his hand, gently.

suddenly, to know that you're there, you need an echo. …
you need an echo.

She teaches him that we have never been separate from our technologies: they have always been us from the beginning, or at least from the beginning of our language and logos. There is no antagonism to speak of between "man" and "machine", but only a humanity that continually generates itself through its techniques of living. This includes those things to which we give the label "machines", a relationality of both-and that frustrates any attempt at dialectical thought positing and perpetuating man versus machine or body versus tool.

In other words, she teaches him that the camera and the archive are part of his body. Revisioning versus. Eye knowing.

there was a young man who said
"though it seems that i know that i know,
what i would like to see
is the i that knows me
when i know that i know that i know."
(capsula, "i know that i know")

She teaches him that the "eye knows" and the "I knows" want to multiply, serially, as if a work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. And as each term is added to the preceding one the possibilities of the relational are changed as well, from a knowledge of self and being-in-the-world to an epistemology of the rational mind to an ontology of metaphysical Being. Aura, not to mention authority, fades like a satellite transmission choked off by high altitude and a strange crepuscular dawn.

But she also teaches him that once the "I knows" reach a certain threshold they cease to be additive and instead become recursive. Non-dialectical. There is a folding, an infinite telescoping of these I-knows into the You-know, of the self into the other, of the singular into the plural.

She calls this the flesh.

She teaches him that the body is insistent and relentlessly present at the University of Disaster because it offers its students and spies a different locus of knowing to complement the equally relentless drives for rational thought, inscription and the skin. This locus should not be mistaken as a singular corporeal punctum, however, since the flesh and its somatic way of knowing is more diffuse, unfettered by the skin, relational and multiple.

This is why the futbol athletes are able to play without referees, without representation or legitimation. Speaking in the voice of Avital Ronell, she teaches him that authority is stronger than force, that the authority of the futbal players emanates from the flesh and that this flesh is stronger than the remote gaze and force of the referee. The authority of this temporary futbal community is made possible by both a self-discipline of the body and a respect for relation. Or, speaking now for Agamben, a gesture.

She teaches him that embodiment-as-process is not a productive resource nor a standing reserve. It is rather a gift, and not one to be taken for granted. For at any moment a spasm in our singular-plurality can abscond with it, rob us of it — not in the sense of a numbing or as with the narcosis of Narcissus, but in the sense of being violently and perpetually detached from one's being-in-the-world and thus always in the process of catching up to one's flesh.

She teaches him that there can be intimacy and empathy through our techniques and technologies, both hardwire and softdata, for they spring forth from and return back to the flesh. There is always a distance between us in our touching, though, and so the intimacy and empathy will always be incomplete. The trauma will remain open-ended.

But she speaks for Ronell again and teaches him that trauma is what structures us. Not determines, but structures. She teaches him that the camera always stops rolling before Bond returns home to face his trauma.

Remix

Traumatized, structured, remixed, the Spy crumples his unfinished brief to the Colonel and burns it to ashes. He picks up his notebook instead, burdened by the high altitude and strange crepuscular dawn that is his flesh, and tries to scribble his thoughts in poetic verse. The ash on his fingers smudges the lined paper, as if grasping.

He leaves the camera rolling.

I tell all. Or do I?

No. The flesh never reveals all of its secrets.

* * *

(for dr. no and all the other egs villains recently convocated upon the world.)

aufgabe

Monologic, Dialogic, Severalogic, Technologic: On Blogging as Method

(to be presented by sean smith at the 2009 north american society for sport sociology conference in ottawa, can)

Courtesy of Ryan King

Taking Vilém Flusser's distinction between dialogue and discourse as an entry point into the surfed waves of networked communications, this paper reflects upon my eight years of maintaining a blog for the purposes of critical sport research and creative expression. In laying bare the writing project and identity that is sportsBabel (www.sportsbabel.net), I will discuss questions of voice, number, relationality, technology, noise and public assembly. Each of these issues inform my ongoing attempt as a critical theorist to engage what is described by Paul Virilio as "speed writing", Hélène Cixous as "écriture féminine", and Giorgio Agamben as a "form-of-life" while thought is still in my body.

touching (sb radio edit)

"the gesture is, in this sense, communication of a communicability. it has precisely nothing to say because what it shows is the being-in-language of human beings as pure mediality." — giorgio agamben, means without end, p.59

"what is it to touch one's own limit thus? it is also not to touch, not to touch oneself enough, to touch oneself too much: impossible sublimity of tact, the diabolical machination of love when it dictates infinite renunciation." — jacques derrida, on touching — jean-luc nancy, p.111

"from one singular to another, there is contiguity but not continuity. there is proximity, but only to the extent that extreme closeness emphasizes the distancing it opens up. all of being is in touch with all of being, but the law of touching is separation; moreover, it is the heterogeneity of surfaces that touch each other." — jean-luc nancy, being singular plural, p.5

"can i touch without violence? can i think of transformation without being jolted by the violence of change? can i even consider the reciprocal relationship that exists when i reach out to touch you (when i become other through touch) without being aware of the violence induced by my recognition of myself as other?" — erin manning, politics of touch, p.50

* * *

in pickup basketball there is one gesture that stands above all others. whether one wants to acknowledge a great play, send encouragement, demand hustle, give thanks for a pass received, apologize to a teammate for making a mistake or to an opponent for poor sportsmanship, the gesture in question is a touching of hands.

we are not describing here the complex signifiers of the handshake, those scripted patterns of digit and movement that serve on the one hand to create a linguistic exterior, and on the other to provide a password for passage.

rather, we want to articulate a simple touch — a pat, really — just enough to be felt given and received by both individuals. this one form of content (or contact) may communicate many things given the proper context, perhaps while looking in the other's eyes, or perhaps not.

(oh, sweaty palms!)

of course, when we play pickup basketball (or any other form of physical culture, for that matter), we sweat. this is the fact of our very being-in-the-world as athletic bodies.

sweat bears a paradox, though: it is at once a positive form of olfactory writing or inscription that signifies our athletic poiesis, and a liquid-haptic vector of waste, filth, toxin, or contagion.

this does not prevent us from touching the other, however, in our sweaty athletic-becoming. the abjection secreted by this paradox commingles-with and washes-through those bodies one comes into contact with during production and passage. so long as both of us are sweaty, it doesn't matter. this is as true in sport as it is in labour as it is in sex.

but what if one's hand was dry? would the desire to touch the other player's sweaty palm remain?

would such a gesture be an act of love?

or, difference and repetition, would such an act be a gesture of love?

or would it be a gift of power-burden, a risk taken but in the absence of an appropriate negotiation and approximation?

or is the metaphor just slightly out of reach, proximal yet distant?

Collective Forgetting

In a normal basketball game, score is a marker of difference. It provides a purportedly objective measure of which team was better able to meet the primary goal of the game, namely to score more baskets than one's opponent.

GVB Eq.1

As such, score has a subtractive aspect to it, in which the difference between the scores of the two teams, a and b, becomes a margin of victory c (and we must remember that in almost all North American team sports c cannot equal 0, for tie scores are anathema). In professional contexts this value c is then compared to Vegas point spreads to determine an even more "authentic" victor, one determined by the logic of the market.

The inaugural Global Village Basketball event treated score in a slightly different manner. While Red and Blue teams were indeed competing against one another on a local basis in six countries around the world, and as such followed the formula outlined above, score was also used as a means of linking the various games together into one meta-game. In this sense score became additive, with the goal to collectively score as many baskets together worldwide as possible.

GVB Eq.2

In other words, we may describe an aggregated score d that adds together the Red score and Blue score to show the collective production of those around the world who played in the game.

Of course, d isn't simply a singular Red score added to a singular Blue score, but rather the sum of all local game scores and their additive characteristics:

GVB Eq.3

But even this formula doesn't tell the whole story, for there is an error coefficient that exists at each local game event that accumulates across the network. As we know, this error exists even in the most carefully constructed apparatus of truth that 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 of archon and the accorded hermeneutic right to interpret the archive, or scoresheet (cf. Derrida).

GVB Eq.4

Let us say, for example, that a game of pickup basketball is played in which the first team to seven baskets is declared the winner. The game begins, the action moves up and down the floor, always in flux, and baskets are scored. After a while one of the players shouts out the query: "Score?"

"4-2," someone responds.

"Oh no, it's only 3-2," counters an opponent.

A dispute arises, however banal, and play temporarily comes to a halt.

Everyone plays, everyone performs. In their running and passing and shooting and sweating everyone participates in a collective act of forgetting. What ensues in the absence of an external governing authority granted the "hermeneutic right" to maintain and interpret the archive is a local oral micro-history of the game. Rather than an archive, the memory of score becomes a distributed, communitarian process of orality and embodiment.

GVB-Beijing

This is not as trivial as it seems. Once such a rupture in basketball-flux arises, there is no external referent from which the assembled athletes may regain their bearings. In practice, it might play out something like the following. The opponent says, "OK, who scored your 4 baskets then?" Since both sides agreed that at least 3 baskets had been scored, the group quickly identifies who had scored those.

But the fourth basket proves surprisingly elusive. Someone suggests that Brown scored the fourth on a slashing drive to the hoop. And here is where we find the greatest moment of contrast between the archive and the attempt to overcome collective forgetting. In the former instance, we have a remote locus of surveillant optics as with the Foucauldian disciplinary diagram, which gives us the official basketball scoresheet. In the latter, the perspective-as-memory is fragmented and scattered around the court, with each part-locus of the collective gaze turned toward the path or trajectory through which Brown allegedly passed to score the basket.

This is not simply an optic phenomenon. Each person who may have witnessed the basket taking place actually retrieves in an embodied sense one's memory of self located where they were at the moment of the drive and shot attempt, rhythmically relative to Brown and each of the other bodies on the court. The "visual" memory of the basket does not take place without this somatic relocation in memory. As Brian Massumi suggests, "Where we go to find ourselves when we are lost is where the senses fold into and out of each. We always find ourselves in this fold in experience" (PftV, p. 182, emphasis in original).

In this case, however, the fold is not an individual experience but one that is collective and relational. And it is not perfect, but fuzzy. If enough players on both teams are able to retrieve from this folding of sense-dimensions a memory of the basket, then the group agrees to count it towards the score — or, put differently, to treat it as a knowable object of truth.

And the game goes on.

* * *

GVB Eq.4

As a mathematical-linguistic construct, the last equation shown best describes the structural form of score as it is used in the Global Village Basketball game: what DeLanda describes as an intercalary element that condenses the gaseous particles of pickup sport into liquid form. But the epsilon that signifies error in the model should also at once signify embodiment. For the flesh as a way of knowing always contains a zone of error, negotiation and approximation. It is decidedly imperfect in a positivist sense yet often good enough to reach compromise or agreement, and for that very reason should be embraced in those nebulous arrangements we call community.