The Incipience of a Thought

An aging basketball player (or perhaps a dancer) attempts to execute a skill on the court made countless times in the past. Perhaps a feint with the dribble in hand, perhaps a lunge into the passing lane on defence. Whatever the move in question, the basketball player's age and lack of practice are such that the final biomechanical outcome in terms of displacement is blunted and awkward, despite the fact that he senses the intent towards the more highly skilled action. In other words, in attempting to execute the skill the basketball player is confronted by a split in his subjectivity: the intent for the body to move in a particular fashion standing against the approximation of that same intent in the actual body displacement that occurs.

The split is made perceptible by the relatively rapid decline in skilled motion and the intensity of responding instinctively to the unfoldings of play. It is this split-made-perceptible that offers the basketball player an embodied way of understanding Erin Manning's concept of preacceleration: the intent to a particular body movement that is the incipience towards its eventual realization in motion, "the ways in which movement is always on the verge of expression" (Relationscapes, p.14).

So which one constitutes gesture?

Is it the intent toward the more skilled movement, or the corporeal displacement that eventually follows? Often the latter occurs in such rapid succession and with such high fidelity relative to the former that one does not notice they are distinct, but the basketball player would argue this is precisely the case. And given the political significance that Manning, Giorgio Agamben and others ascribe to gesture, which one of the two elements we decide to label as such — or indeed, if we decide to take them both together as mutually reinforcing terms in relation — is a question that seems to merit closer attention.


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