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?

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