On Massumi's Logic of Relation: Players

In the last section of our analysis on Brian Massumi's logic of relation he asks us to consider the ball as a part-subject that catalyzes the vast field of potential that is the soccer pitch. It is the ball that reconfigures the field of potential while movement plays out or unfolds, since the players continuously move in response to its displacements. Susken Rosenthal's pencil drawings are interesting in that they make the autonomous agency of the ball explicit by tracing its movements around the pitch during the course of a soccer match. One notices the relatively straight lines that collectively express the displacements of the ball, but also the quite angular vertices showing where the ball changed direction with a well-placed kick.

Courtesy of Susken Rosenthal

susken rosenthal
germany vs. romania
from the complete series "em 1984"
n.8 of 17 pencil drawings
1984

As Deleuze and Guattari suggest, we must put the tracing back onto a map: Rosenthal helps us imagine, in other words, precisely how the vectoral movement of each linear segment reconstitutes the entire field of potential by catalyzing the rearrangement of the twenty-two other athletes on the pitch as ball and player come together in relation to change once again. But Rosenthal's sketches take the perspective of the remote gaze: where is the affective body to be found? One presumes down at the surface of play, though it is not clear from Massumi's analysis:

If the ball is a part-subject, each player is its part-object. The ball does not address the player as a whole. It addresses the player's eyes, ears, and touch through separate sensory channels. These separate sensory impressions are synthesized not into a subjective whole but into a state of intensive readiness for reflex response: they are synthesized into an actionability. The response is expressed through a particular body part — in the case of soccer, the foot. The ball addresses the player in a limited way, as a specific kind of actionability flowing through the player's body and following very particular channels. The kick is indeed an expression, but not of the player. It is an "ex-pression" of the ball, in the etymological sense, since the ball's catalysis "draws out" the kick from the player's body and defines its expressive effect on the globality of the game. The player's body is a node of expression, not a subject of the play but a material channel for the catalysis of an event affecting the global state of the game. While the ball is a catalyzer and the goals are inducers, the node of expression is a transducer: a channel for the transformation of a local physical movement into another energetic mode, that of potential energy. Through the kick, human physicality transduces into the insubstantiality of an event, releasing a potential that reorganizes the entire field of potential movement (Parables for the Virtual, p.73).

The separate sensory impressions an athlete perceives are not synthesized into a subjective whole, true, yet Massumi seems willing to suggest just such a reductive approach for the actionable body from which these sensations are produced in the first place. At best for him, a player's response "is expressed through a particular body part," and at worst the player becomes an intensive "node of expression" or point that moves about the pitch, perhaps no better than what we might find in Rosenthal's drawings or in 3D visualization and match analysis systems such as TRACAB (with its military genealogy).

Courtesy of Paul Pfeiffer

paul pfeiffer
four horsemen of the apocalypse (6)
2001
digital duraflex print

Expression cannot be considered simply the point of contact a player makes with the ball, a point that Paul Pfeiffer's image from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse series helps make explicit. By digitally removing the ball and other players from an archival photo, we see that expression is not simply in the hand that may or may not defensively reject the ball from finding the goal. It is also in the line that runs from left wrist down through the armpit and to the left waist. It is in the left leg lifted slightly higher to compensate in balance for the weight that has shifted to the right side. It is in the absolute fullest possible extension of a body whose everyday being-in-the-world is normally folded in some way (by sitting in a chair, driving a car, operating a machine, or slouching in gait). In short, expression is to be found in the entire range of contours seen from the body that collectively make contact with the ball.

(As an aside, this bodily expression need not "fulfill" a biomechanical function for it to modify the field of potential. When Michael Jordan's tongue would involuntarily hang lolling from his mouth during a foray to the basket, one knew some bad-ass shit was in the process of unfolding.)

It is the ball that draws out an expression from the performing body, perhaps, but does the performing body not also draw out an expression from the ball? Or can we at least suggest that the virtuosity of the player's expression remains incomplete if the ball does not in some way fulfill the expression initiated?

Returning to soccer, consider the infamous "scorpion kick" performed by Colombian goaltender RenĂ© Higuita in an international friendly match against England. A shot is arched towards the goal, which Higuita sends away by falling forward, arching his back, and kicking his legs over his head as if describing a scorpion's tail. Kalle Jonasson describes this in a trajectory of becoming-minor or deterritorialization, but can we not be more precise with Deleuze and Guattari's concepts and refer to this as a becoming-animal? And not simply because of mimicry — after all, no scorpion jumps in the air to sting its prey — but because of the deterritorialized body codes of the soccer goaltender to which Jonasson refers.

Courtesy of Google

The goaltender is the only one who is actually allowed to use his hands during the game, and yet Higuita chooses to clear the ball with his feet — in other words, to opt for contact rather than grip. And we are not describing a straightforward kick, either, but rather a blind kick in which the legs arch backward over the head to redirect the ball with the heels. This entire gesture begins with the deterritorialization of the game rules and generally accepted codes of conduct, only becoming scorpion through the entire body at the moment of contact with the ball.

The gestural contours of the body are so striking, however, precisely because of the expression they collectively draw from the ball: a perfectly arcing volley extending the sting of the tail out past the penalty area. Higuita's becoming-scorpion is only completed with the expression of the ball. If the ball's expression had been any different, if it had glanced off the side of Higuita's foot and trickled to the corner or, heaven forbid, gone backwards into the net for an own goal — anything but the perfectly symmetrical arcing volley — then the scorpion gesture would have remained incomplete and looked foolish in the world of men.

But because the ball's expression was so virtuous in its own right, because its flight was so true, we can suggest that this "minor literature" of the gestural language was that of a becoming-animal. And with this gesture comes a small moment of rupture in which the other part-object players on the field split their attention, pausing ever-so-imperceptibly to bear witness to this unusual act of creation before tracking the displacement of the ball once again.

The ball's part-subjectivity seems to exist as a valence that fluctuates given the relative distance from any particular player at any moment in time during the game. As that distance closes, subjectivity momentarily flips to the player in question before the ball is redirected and its agency restored. There is a difference between the two, however: the poiesis of the athlete lies in the intellect of the gesture and its expression through the entire body, while that of the ball is purely a servomechanistic expression of work or produced force and a semiosis of sponsored product design.

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4 responses to On Massumi's Logic of Relation: Players

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  1. Kalle Jonasson says:

    Hi Sean,

    nice unfolding of the scorpion concept!! I don't know if you read their Kafka, but they make a great deal of animal-becomings in his letters, stories and novels.

  2. On Massumi’s Logic of Relation: Players « Scissors Kick says:

    [...] On Massumi's Logic of Relation: Players "In the last section of our analysis on Brian Massumi's logic of relation he asks us to consider the ball as a part-subject that catalyzes the vast field of potential that is the soccer pitch. It is the ball that reconfigures the field of potential while movement plays out or unfolds, since the players continuously move in response to its displacements. Susken Rosenthal's pencil drawings are interesting in that they make the autonomous agency of the ball explicit by tracing its movements around the pitch during the course of a soccer match. One notices the relatively straight lines that collectively express the displacements of the ball, but also the quite angular vertices showing where the ball changed direction with a well-placed kick." (Sport Babal) [...]

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