Technically Speaking


A basketball player gets whistled for a technical foul and a free throw is awarded to the other team as a penalty. Almost always outside the normative range of what constitutes a foul in the game — actually making bodily contact with an athlete on the opposing team — the technical is precisely what it says it is: a technicality that has been broken in the juridical structure that is the basketball league proper, most often a behavioural infraction against what is considered good sportsmanship. Some of these juridical prohibitions are universal across leagues, while some are unique to the league itself.

(Usually in the courts of mainstream civil society, it is one who is declared not guilty who gets off on a technicality. Not so in basketball, in which the technicality is always on, always assigned as a penalty against which there is next to no opportunity for recourse or exoneration.)

A basketball player steps up to the line to shoot the free throw. Though it is meant to be an award or restitution for the technicality that has been broken, it is actually quite a difficult shot. This is because the restitution exists somehow outside the normal context of play: the shooter goes to the line alone while the rest of the players must stand and watch out at midcourt, unlike the regular free throw situation in which players from each team line up in staggered formation along both sides of the painted key to rebound the potentially missed shot.

But there is no rebound to be had with the technicality. Again it exists outside of game play, which is to say it exists outside of the game's historical time. And further, it exists outside of its usual relations: while not having the players line up for a rebound is meant to be less distracting for the shooter, their absence is actually quite viscerally felt, a denuding of the multiple body's co-composition that leaves the one shooting very naked and alone.

So on the one hand a player gets whistled for a technicality, but it is paradoxically the one who has been offended (or their agent) who will face the intensity of exposure in exacting a restitution. And the purportedly cybernetic technique of shooting free throws reveals its limits in turn: it is the messiness and chaos of co-present bodies — even if they are competitors — that lubricates this technical machine towards its successful realization.


Chicago Pile-1

We have discussed earlier that the squash court at the University of Chicago offered the site of the first successful critical nuclear reaction in 1942 — thus implying a genealogical link between the material specificity of a sporting space and that required for this most uncertain of laboratory experiments. Chicago Pile-1, the mound of graphite bricks and wooden timbers that constituted the first nuclear reactor, found itself nested neatly within the squash court, the only place on campus with thick enough walls and a sufficiently elevated ceiling to house the experiment.

But it bears keeping in mind that a second architectural nesting takes place, the squash court proper being located underneath the bleachers at Stagg Field football stadium. In other words, the form of the stadium offered the space for a squash court, which thereafter offered space for Enrico Fermi and the Manhattan Project team members.

Put differently, a particular energetic system that is the football game becomes sufficiently popular when "converted" to or "expressed" as a semiosis that there is sufficient demand for larger-scale bleacher seating to be constructed. A new self-contained energetic system emerges in this fold: two bodies orbiting around a tiny rubber part-subject that pings around the concrete bunker, perhaps an allegorical metastability for the rupture that is to come.

Chicago Pile-1

Light Cycle Inscription

spectacle bank

The marathon course is drawn, inscribed within the established grids of an urban core. New barriers are created, temporarily cutting off certain flows (cars, bicycles, pedestrians) in order to facilitate others: a gated conduit for the gaited competitors who will run on this crisp gray morning.

This cut creates a new surface, or perhaps we can say it multiplies surfaces — it is surfacing, actively producing itself in the proliferating striations of the new territory. Perhaps we can say it is for security, or perhaps we can say that security offers the alibi for a folding of spectacle upon itself, the intestinal guts of vectoral capitalism turned outwards as if Lyotard's great ephemeral skin revealing the shit that really makes the machinery slicken.

Glide then, runners: extend your energetics into this libidinal surface as you race to that cloaca called a finish line. The light cycles of sponsorship precede your motorcade at the flanks, both shiny and festering with their spectacular repetition and insatiable appetite. But remember this digestive cookie from Guattari as footstep and breath connect to eyes and stomach: "It's on this level of investments of desire that there are reserves of capacity to express the revolt."

detailing, digits, painting the corners


"Of course he and she can as easily be she and he (and everything in between). The point is not so much the singular biological body that performs the role of catcher, but rather the catcher's affective modulation of pitching, hitting and adjudicating bodies through a proximity of flesh resonance that we have come to identify as the feminine — expressed in the signal of the called pitch. Ronell's figure of the switchboard operator looms present in this context, though the linguistic signals of telecommunication have been replaced, at least in part, by a more subtle consideration of co-resonance with these three other performing bodies."

(sportsbabel, march 2010)


"Of course, the direct human agency involved to trigger the commands and activate the card stunt emerges as a fourth required element to follow the first three, which during the history of college football is a responsibility that has fallen to the cheerleading corps. Given the gendered histories of cheerleading in football, we might inquire into the specific ways that women were involved with triggering these program activation commands. It seems not a stretch to read the figure of the card stunt leader in resonance with both Kittler's figure of the typist and Ronell's figure of the switchboard operator — that is, one (woman) who can both inscribe a new flow of coded data as well as one who can connect an existing flow-in-potential, suggesting further that the history of technotext is always already a feminist one."

(sportsbabel, february 2010)

Injection Moulding

injection moulding

We speak often of the relative rigidity of late modern sports, of the hard lines that constitute their disciplinary diagrams and rigorous production of athletic bodies and somewhat statistically-determinate "uncertain" outcomes. We are aware that these lines are in fact legislated as planes and that the sporting space is usually regulated as a volume rather than strictly a spectacular surface.

But it bears remembering that if the stadium is the factory of postmodern sporting production, then it is a certain plasticity which allows one form of assembly to substitute for another on the production line. Put differently, if the NFL is so easily able to transfer production to Wembley Stadium in London, or the FA is likewise able to travel to Washington for production at RFK, it is not only due to a relative congruity or topology between the rectangles that constitute gridiron and association football codes, respectively, but also to certain malleabilities in material and discursive space.

That turfgrass grows sufficiently long for it to be mowed and erase the very "painterly" conditions that govern production in other forms of sporting assembly, for example, is highly relevant to this modularity — an artificial green ecology in the service of a plastic injection moulding called sporting spectacle. And the televisual possibilities of programmed camera angles, intensive lighting, overlay graphics and audio commentary to constitute a coherent and consistent sporting narrative from anywhere in the world only adds to this plastic capability.

Indeed, what is most potentially intractable in this calculation of malleability is the plasticity of the live crowd in attendance at the factory. To what degree can this fleshy thirdness between sporting capital and televisual spectator mediate and suture together the filaments of an experience both synthetically fibrous and viscerally empirical? This is what is at stake in the economic decision to produce or shut down in non-local contexts under the contemporary conditions of plasticity.


(thank you to amy for reminding me about "craptacular" or substandard production under certain plastic conditions. ;)

Accelerata: Sixteen Theses

The Acceleration Tour

1. Whether or not one understands time as unfolding in a linear fashion is immaterial; what matters is that experience and connectedness unfold along multiple and interweaving time signatures.

2. It is the time signature which produces affects, not time itself.

3. A collective energetics remains unevenly distributed. Nonetheless, its collectiveness always remains impressive, inspiring and humbling.

4. Dehabituated rhythms and changed or differential spatial parameters offer an invitation for novel gestural responses to the artwork.

5. When movement moves its way into the "aesthetic experience" proper, it continues to want to move, this time with the artwork, co-composing with it, contouring and creating with it.

6. It is not so much fatigue that one initially notices upon arrival at an artwork, but rather an interference of rhythms between runner and work, which thereafter gradually begin to harmonize or compromise. These resonances are of immediate interest in an aesthetico-ethical sense.

7. Habit can have unrefined pathways; one of these concerns its tempo.

8. Bodies are not "ideal", and thus neither should goals be. We understand these both in an affirmative sense.

9. The outwardly prosthetic body only makes evident and explicit the co-composition of all bodies.

10. A familiar gesture, machined differently, can be more more useful than a complex gesture known only to a few.

11. We are describing here an unhygienic experience (sweat, snot, traffic, noise, topography). Which is also in some ways to remind that we have been removed from the laboratory.

12. Speed only demands a greater adeptness with contingency and the aesthetics of failure.

13. There are both inner and outer accelerations that need to be considered in developing and evaluating the program.

14. If one seeks to create a nuclear or exponential energy field, one cannot initiate the reaction at maximum capacity. Rather, the intensity must be slowly increased to avoid the risk of rupture in a very real material sense.

15. The event itself is a collective enunciation — of gesture and energy. But so long as we remain bound to the particulars of language and its transmission, this collective enunciation must retain a spoken or written dimension as well. Breath must become metric rather than simply serving to inspire and expire.

16. Theses are exhausted and replenished much like mitochondrial reactors and muscular fibres. To elaborate: they, too, have relative catalytic points, elasticities and failure thresholds in the generation of things. And they, too, may also become fuel or worm food for future becomings . . .