Building upon the work of Varro and Aristotle, the central thesis of Giorgio Agamben's essay "Notes on Gesture" is that gesture — a means without an end — stands separate from production or poiesis (a means to an end) and action or praxis (an end without a means), and in the process opens a new dimension of the political. This is no trivial observation for Agamben: "means without end" serves as the title of the book in which the essay appears, both in its English translation and the original Italian ("mezzi senza fine"). Clearly this idea of the "being-in-language" that is gesture is somewhere near the crux of his political thought.
Nothing is more misleading for an understanding of gesture, therefore, than representing, on the one hand, a sphere of means as addressing a goal (for example, marching seen as a means of moving the body from point A to point B) and, on the other hand, a separate and superior sphere of gesture as a movement that has its end in itself (for example, dance seen as an aesthetic dimension). Finality without means is just as alienating as mediality that has meaning only with respect to an end. If dance is gesture, it is so, rather, because it is nothing more than the endurance and the exhibition of the media character of corporal movements. The gesture is the exhibition of a mediality: it is the process of making a means visible as such (p.58, emphasis in original).
It behooves us to consider Agamben's thesis in resonance with Paolo Virno's A Grammar of the Multitude. In the second day of the seminar that constitutes the basis of the book, Virno outlines a similar triad that informs his potential politics: labour, action and intellect.
Let us consider carefully what defines the activity of virtuosos, of performing artists. First of all, theirs is an activity which finds its own fulfillment (that is, its own purpose) in itself, without objectifying itself into an end product, without settling into a "finished product," or into an object which would survive the performance. Secondly, it is an activity which requires the presence of others, which exists only in the presence of an audience (p.52, emphasis in original).
The two analyses, which do not refer to each other in any way (Agamben's original appeared in 1996, while Virno's seminar took place in 2001), are in fact so remarkably similar that I feel a need to address the following questions in the context of Global Village Basketball and any project of sporting multitude:
- how does gesture relate to intellect?
- how does Virno's hybridization of labour and political action in the post-fordist age complicate Agamben's analysis?
- how do we locate virtuosity relative to the sphere of gesture?
- is Virno's language and virtuosity of the speaker actually commensurate with Agamben's pure mediality and being-in-language of gesture?
- can networked pickup basketball realize both Agamben's and Virno's politics insofar as the emergence of a sporting multitude is concerned?
(a work-in-process between elaine w. ho and sean smith towards "unlayering the relational: microaesthetics and micropolitics," a text for the mediamodes art and technology conference in new york)