comma, garçon

Pain and intensity

One of the most important components of sport and physical culture, yet continuously one of the least considered, is the pain one experiences both during and after the embodied becoming of athletic poiesis. To some degree, however small, participating will always hurt. Degree, or intensity, is important here: this pain should be considered on a spectrum from the simple lactic acid soreness one gets from overly taxing the muscles during a workout, to the small tears that appear in muscle fibres from stretching them beyond their current state of elasticity, to the bruises resulting from elbows and other sundry collisions in a basketball game, to the more acute injuries such as sprained ankles or dislocated fingers or broken bones, to the severest sporting traumas requiring surgical intervention.

adidas, threshold

Wherever it may be located on the spectrum, this pain may be variably distasteful or pleasurable, depending upon the context and the relation. But the intensity makes itself present nonetheless, periodically returning as if an old friend or a musical motif that weaves into the soundtrack of one's life. Make no doubt: pain is a marker of memory.

Pain remembers pain.

The anesthesia of telesthesia

At what point does capital enter or infuse this spectrum of pain? There is certainly a qualitative difference between the pain of lifting weights at the gym or a yoga class, on the one hand, and the ruptured ACL of a professional football quarterback that requires surgical intervention on the other. Generally speaking, this difference in the quality of intensity emerges as a question of scale in the assemblage that is the body athletic: have the fibres and connective tissues been severed or ruptured at a microcellular level or at a more complex macro-scale?

But there is also a structural difference between the conditions that led to the pain and the forms of intervention (rest, surgery) required to heal the injured parts of the body. We witness a capitalist imperative in football, for example, that yields to increased speed and size in players, more violent collisions and subsequent injuries, and the becoming-commonplace of surgical interventions to return the cyborg athletes to full operational status as soon as possible — such that an asset does not become unprofitable or a labourer does not risk losing a job.

Saved By Technology

The athletic subject undergoing a surgical procedure is administered an anaesthetic before the operation such that the pain cannot be felt, for once a threshold of intensity is crossed on the spectrum of pain, any sort of pleasure leads to pure agony and trauma. (Is this commensurate with the risks of absolute deterritorialization that Deleuze and Guattari warn against?) One does not even want to approach such a threshold again and the narcosis must be welcomed. In doing so, however, one also opens up the possibility for another (the administrator of the medical gaze) to cut, sever and otherwise realign the structural fibres and relational flows of one's animal body.

Is this so unlike the narcosis that the sports fan embodies when integrated with the networked media-entertainment apparatus? Archives of statistical data, the tracking-images of surveillance and spectacle, and the algorithmic engines of machinic intelligence form a different assemblage with the professional athlete, one that allows a vicarious participation rather than an inert spectatorship. Sports television and videogames are crucially founded upon this principle: if one has experienced at some point the pain of athletic poiesis then the simulation becomes acceptable insofar as its non-touch may represent some never-felt new pain.

Put differently, nostalgia in sport assumes a different meaning as it becomes less about experiencing an idyllic past that has been lost to progress and rather about allowing us to remember a history of our own pain without actually having to submit to its intensity once again. We allow a class of worker-athletes to experience the touch of pain for us instead, which we then consume in mediated and narcotic form. We cut, sever and otherwise realign the structures and flows of this singular-plural body in the process. Flesh intimacy yields to data intimacy, never to return.

Pain remembers pain, then, but perhaps memory hurts memory as well.

Touch and its return

What are the structural conditions of possibility governing memory? This very contemporary question seems to be a matter of determining what technical apparatus is both generated by and interfaced with the human body, does it not? But it is also a matter of the flesh. Where do technical apparatus and flesh meet on Chris Marker's sunless visual horizon? Where do they meet Jonathan Crary's ruminations on the struggle between the collective flesh of the multitude and military-techno-capital over the right to sleep and dream?

Threat Alert Graffiti, NYC

unknown artist
street mural, lower east side, new york city
november, 2009

How long does the perfume linger on the lapel of a man's wool jacket? How long does an image from the eye of Marker's camera flicker in the eye of that same man's memory? How does Marker's Sans Soleil resonate with Crary's reflections on sleep, capital, and the sensations of always-on digitality? As pain and memory most assuredly weave into one another in a very fleshy or visceral way, we might also reconsider how it is that we dream in and of the flesh in the age of ubiquitous data and light-networks.

For what if it was all a dream sequence, anyways? Or what if the whole thing was digital and the perfume was but a simulacrum fashioned from the archival bits of a hundred late-night B-movies and a thousand trendy style magazines scattered across the subway stations of Tokyo?

Digital, touching: will flesh intimacy return? Erin Manning writes:

My gesture toward you is a momentary one. There is no touch that can last beyond the first moment of contact. To touch longer, I must touch again: as my focus shifts elsewhere, my skin soon forgets to acknowledge yours. To touch me, you must return the touch to and from yourself in an ongoing process of exchange. Because it is temporary and immediate, the gesture is never more than momentary. This is a political moment in the most ethical sense, for it demands a continual re-articulation rather than a subsuming into the same. If I attempt to subsume you through touch, I will not reach you. Instead, I will inflict the worst kind of violence upon your body: your body will act only as the recipient of my directionality. Your body will become prey. If, instead, I acknowledge the ephemerality of the gesture, I risk an opening toward [what Agamben refers to as] "the sphere of ethos of the most proper sphere of that which is human" (Politics of Touch, p. 60).

The layout of this particular photo spread appears hip, gritty, underground chic. As they have faced each other in the past across the basketball court or over the dinner table, so too do photographer and model face each other now, standing on opposite platforms of the subway, she to take the A train uptown while he will hop the southbound line to Kreuzberg. But this time the vector of becoming is important: the two train lines are headed in opposite directions. Antagonism and relational aesthetics and an eerie silence. One cannot help but laugh at what is either the cheapest of metaphors or perhaps the formulaic ending to this particular B-movie.

Medusa laughs, at any rate. Or is it Capital? The hour is late, too late, it has been statistically determined, to run frequent and profitable service on these particular public transit lines: there are no trains on the horizon. The two stare at each other across the empty tracks. Their gaze lingers, lingers for too long and then some, lingers for what becomes an uncomfortably interminable period of time. Where is the goddamned train?

The banality of this moment has become spectacular! Or, maybe the cinematic spectacle has been rendered banal by the rhythms and perturbations of capital in flux. He cannot be certain either way.

But certainly a space has been opened by this uncomfortable duration, a space in which the relational fibres come to the fore as units of analysis once again, as with the embodiment of athletic poiesis discussed at the outset of this memoir. Though we are describing here a micropolitics of intersubjectivity, as with before this "micro" begs the question of scale: At what level of embodiment does the trauma appear? Have the relational fibres been stretched, bruised, or severed? Will they be subsumed within the worst kind of violence inflicted upon a body? How will they heal?

Once again he cannot be certain. After all, pain remembers pain.


June, 2007: The sleep comes, but it is the fragmented, delirious sleep of a man with dengue fever. Tortured sleep. Rivulets of sweat flow into tributaries of liquid linen. Shards of disconnected thought mosaic the global electronic conscious and the matrix of the unconscious. Material and immaterial bridge centuries of temporality. Experiences gained and lost.


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