What Is a Stadium?

In his essay "What Is a Camp?", Giorgio Agamben attempts to locate a political-juridical structure of the camp form that allowed and facilitated the atrocities and crimes against humanity committed in their spaces. But rather than a sad footnote consigned to the archives of history, he suggests, the camp endures as a diagram of the biopolitical condition located throughout the contemporary global context of what we have referred to elsewhere as Empire.

To be sure, in excavating those sites of horror such as Dachau or Auschwitz, Agamben does not mean to suggest that each of us today lives the embodied politics and naked existence of those who have ever been embroiled in the concentration camp or refugee camp. Rather, in developing earlier work by Hannah Arendt he illustrates how the camp-as-form operates "as the hidden matrix of the politics in which we still live, and we must learn to recognize it in all of its metamorphoses" (Means Without End: Notes on Politics, p. 44).

my tattoo
Tattoo on my ankle of a basketball with my university jersey number inside.

Most assuredly, the metamorphoses of which Agamben describes can and should be located on a spectrum of trauma, pain, embodiment and what he refers to as the sheer reduction to zoe or naked life. In drawing the matrixial relations between the concentration camp proper and the camp-as-form that structures other biopolitical contexts — as I will suggest, for example, with postmodern sport and the contemporary stadium — I do not mean to draw an equivalence between the Holocaust victim and the high performance athlete. Rather, I wish to identify in a non-trivial sense those structuring principles found in the most extreme version of the camp and how they, in their metamorphosis to the ludic arena, may also be found to structure and govern the biopolitics of those most purportedly noble pursuits we call sport.

(from chapter one in "body+politics: towards a sporting multitude," a work-in-progress doctoral dissertation for the european graduate school of media and communications)

Synchronicity and Failure

It is a well-worn dictum in the sciences that much discovery takes place when mistakes occur and an unplanned result emerges. But the same may be said of artistic inquiry or that nebulous zone of folding between the two that we have referred to as research-creation. Some of this failure has previously been documented on sportsBabel: for example, a failure of internet connectivity that yields to the emergence of imagined architectures; a failure of the body that leads to new insights about skin and electricity; and various failures of language that provided lessons about relationality.

More recently, as part of the Department of Biological Flow project of research-creation, we have encountered a pattern of failures centred around the problem of synchronicity. In our studies as mobile social subjects navigating public and quasi-public corporate spaces we have found achieving synchronicity to be a stumbling block three times, each in different ways. With our first study in the gait surfing series, we were frustrated in our attempts to synchronize MP3 players and create a shared acoustic space for the activity. More recently, during our first kino-gait study we found it very difficult to synchronize multiple cameras on the body to achieve the desired effect of gestural vision. Finally, given that multiple takes were required to simulate the kino-gait concept, there was a difficulty synchronizing the various visual frames in post-production to create the finished video.

seeking a retina
still attached to a person
to validate my excursion.
i'm just another incarnation of you
that's the reason we can move to this in unison
(one self, "fear the labor")

While each of these examples seems quite trivial, it is perhaps precisely because of this quality that they provide us an important lesson: namely, an experiential understanding of the capital-intensive technical infrastructure that is required to effect synchronicity — particularly with regards to perception — on a mass scale.

(Admittedly, the barriers to a wider distribution of said technical ability have dropped dramatically over the past century, as a genealogy from blitzkrieg tank warfare to contemporary flash mob makes abundantly clear. Nonetheless, questions of scalability still exist.)

But it also suggests to us deeper questions of rhythm, resonance, and the potential of the not-quite-synchronous. Put differently, what can relational bodies do when they are just out of sync?

The Politics of Memory

"Today, curiously, a growing number of adepts share the attraction of the void and the extreme sensations it offers, through bungee jumping, sky surfing, BASE jumping, and so on, as though the accelerated perspective had already won out over the passive perspective of the perspectivists. Suicidal experiments on the inertia of a body pulled by its mass without the aid of any support other than air, in the relative wind of a dizzying displacement, with no other aim than that of experiencing the heaviness of the body" (Paul Virilio, Open Sky, p. 30)

Taupo Bungee

Almost 15 years ago to this very day, I strapped a rubber band around my ankles and plunged from a platform towards a river 150 feet below. It was my first and only bungee jump, and it occurred just at that moment in life when I was first traveling around the world and spreading my wings past the nurturing nest of home to see what lay beyond. Needless to say, it was an amazing, adrenaline-filled and empowering experience, one that many others have also had the fortune to experience in various forms.

Of course, when back on the ground and bursting with neuronal potential, I was certain to pay the requisite fee to get a copy of the videotape capturing, archiving and commemorating the experience. I was handed a copy of a VHS video and off I went.

Unfortunately, the bungee jump in question was located in New Zealand, while I am born, raised and currently located in Canada. The former encodes its analogue video signal using the PAL format, while the latter encodes using the NTSC format. At a particular threshold between the material and immaterial, the skin of film (pellicule) had created a barrier, a political border that contained the representation of my memory.

I didn't realize that such a thing as regional broadcast standards even existed until I returned home from my travels months later to find I couldn't retrieve those archived memories. I was stunned. Upset. One of the most exciting events I had ever experienced had disappeared for good.

Or at least had been temporarily locked behind a wall. Later, I learned that it was possible to have one's videotape converted from PAL to NTSC format, yet I never went ahead and paid the money to have it done. The video went into one box after another over the years, accumulating dust and linear time. It remains unwatched to this day.

The television encoding standards of PAL and NTSC thus created, intentionally or no, a striation of the globally-networked information space. And this principle of striation has most certainly been intentionally encoded into DVD and Blu-ray regional schemes, which are used to segment markets, discriminate on prices, or control release dates of digital content around the world — which we should take to understand that regimes of striation do not neatly coincide with one another, that in fact they overlap in ways that might function at cross-purposes to one another. We should further understand this as part of the defining character of Empire: grids of striation that may at times oppose one another, yet still function together as a meshwork to modulate flows of goods, people, information, capital.

VHS Tape

Yes, it would still be possible to border-cross the regime of striation that encodes my memory of bungee jumping by converting my videotape from PAL to NTSC (aside: is conversion qualitatively the same as translation, or do we need to distinguish between the two?). This cracking of the code, per se, constitutes the thrust of data piracy (or the refusal of intellectual property, depending on one's perspective) and the sharing of information across the network swarm.

But does this not simply play into the hybridity that is Empire, or at the very least only effect a temporary deterritorialization that is reterritorialized as a more brutal regime in the political economy of memory?

And this question remains in the context of those digital artifacts that we collectively wish to engage. What about when the swarm numbers one? What about in the case of my bungee jump video, in which I am the only person who wishes to remember?

Is the refusal of the archive a more powerful statement in this context? Is destroying the archive of one of the most visceral, adrenaline-filled experiences of my life more subversive than acts of piracy? Will it force me to focus more intently on being-in-the-moment the next time I take the plunge?

Archival Fragments

Broken Edison

(open flatbed scan, sampled at 600dpi, downsampled to 96dpi)

"the electric light is pure information. it is a medium without a message, as it were." (mcluhan)
"the outformation age means the copies are more real than the original." (scoville)

call it (i/o)formation, then. a formation. a form.

"archivable meaning is also and in advance codetermined by the structure that archives." (derrida)

what is the formal structure of the archive in the digital age, the age of electricity and light-based fibre optics and copies proliferating to the point that file replaces filial?

what about the status of the part-copy, as with the bits of an email that travel different paths to a destination address or the various file fragments of a music torrent we will solicit from multiple peers?

is the swarm the anti-archive? (or, put differently, is it the archive?)
or is the swarm the new archon or "keeper" of the archive in its copies and part-copies?

does the "hermeneutic right" that belongs to the archon shift from one of interpreting a binary "truth" located inside or outside of the physical archive to one of interpreting a distribution curve of probabilities at event-thresholds variously located across the network?

does the swarm modulate the form of the archive from possessing a single point to multiple points of failure? if so, is there a corresponding change in power relations?

these are some of the questions that haunt memory and flow and impermanence and contemporary politics in the (i/o)formation age.

Socket

(open flatbed scan, sampled at 600dpi, downsampled to 96dpi)

dobf flux002 (kino-gait)

In The Coming Community, the Italian political theorist Giorgio Agamben suggests that "to appropriate the historic transformations of human nature that capitalism wants to limit to the spectacle, to link together image and body in a space where they can no longer be separated … this is the good that humanity must learn how to wrest from commodities in their decline" (p.50).

Kino-Gait

It is in this context, the inseparable linking together of image and body, that the Department of Biological Flow hosts its second workshop of research-creation, KINO-GAIT, on October 20 at the Lillian H. Smith Library in Toronto from 6-8pm. Please join us!

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=126682884083

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http://www.departmentofbiologicalflow.net/
twitter: #dobf

Guidance System

Courtesy of CanShare

I recently learned about a former acquaintance from basketball who has taken up distance running and ultramarathons. While this isn't very interesting in itself — after all, Baudrillard long ago suggested that many of us seek through distance running a sort of "mechanical annihilation" in response to the age of proliferating video screens — it becomes more interesting as a question of relationality. As it turns out, the individual in question not only runs and completes such grueling races, but in the case of the upcoming Sahara Desert Race, will be accompanied by a blind athlete.

A running assemblage, perhaps?

Of course, a sighted individual lending an arm to guide a blind individual is nothing new, as thousands of such pairings occur in acts of walking every day. Running, however, is a different matter, for one's gait in running is very distinct from that of walking. Not only is the heel-toe articulation different between walking and running, but the use of one's arms in propelling forward is different as well.

One can walk and not use one's arms without too much difficulty, but running while not using one's arms is quite difficult, by contrast, since the biomechanics of a running stride force one's shoulders and torso to torque back and forth as each step is taken. In other words, to deliberately abstain from using one's arm or arms while running is to intentionally operate at a sub-optimal level in that activity's emergent calculus of speed, endurance and caloric output.

We should think that efficiency would be of primary concern in an ultramarathon, particularly when running through the sun-baked sand during an event such as the Sahara Desert Race. And yet the sighted runner chooses to sub-optimize gait in order to compete with a blind runner. We cannot polarize the relation, however, by simply stating that the sighted runner bears a "handicap" in giving the "gift" of vision to the blind runner. Rather, we are describing here a more nuanced form of gestural politics.

The relation between the two runners is primarily one of touch — although peripheral vision, the aural cadence of footfalls, and the resonance of flesh would also play supporting roles. What is the quality of sensation that is exchanged in this tactile relation, which constitutes its part-subjects as runners? Does the sighted runner pass on a form of perspectival optics to the blind runner? In the relatively smooth intensive space of the desert, does the blind runner pass on a form of affective haptics in return?

Do the two runners end up matching or synchronizing gait? If so, what is the quality of this negotiation and approximation in movement? And given that gait (Agamben's exemplar of gesture) becomes converted to vision, can we describe this relational running assemblage as a form of kino-gait?