Monologic, Dialogic, Severalogic, Technologic: On Blogging as Method

(to be presented by sean smith at the 2009 north american society for sport sociology conference in ottawa, can)

Courtesy of Ryan King

Taking Vilém Flusser's distinction between dialogue and discourse as an entry point into the surfed waves of networked communications, this paper reflects upon my eight years of maintaining a blog for the purposes of critical sport research and creative expression. In laying bare the writing project and identity that is sportsBabel (, I will discuss questions of voice, number, relationality, technology, noise and public assembly. Each of these issues inform my ongoing attempt as a critical theorist to engage what is described by Paul Virilio as "speed writing", Hélène Cixous as "écriture féminine", and Giorgio Agamben as a "form-of-life" while thought is still in my body.

Monologic, Dialogic, Severalogic … Technologic

(a short note on blogging as method, work in progress towards the 2009 north american society for sport sociology conference in ottawa, canada)

Discourse vs. Dialogue
In Writings, a collection of Vilém Flusser's essays, editor Andreas Ströhl suggests that Flusser sought throughout his career to rescue dialogue from the discourse networks that primarily inform and constrain us in an aesthetic and political sense. For Flusser, discourse primarily constitutes a one-way flow of information, albeit one whose flow is ultimately propagated forward in the discursive network by all actors — "creators," "distributors" and "audience members" alike. This is fundamentally different from the role dialogue plays in creating our political situation, though Flusser would frame it less an issue of politics than one of existential contemplation about being and mortality. Nonetheless, Flusser notes that dialogic techniques — with the possible exception of the telephone — have remained largely unchanged since the Greek age, and have essentially lagged far behind (or surrendered to) discourse networks in engaging most advances in communication technology.

So, how do we contemporize dialogue for postmodern media society? The following constitutes a short note on blogging as a dialogic method, in which we shall suggest it is both more and less than what Flusser set out to achieve.

buy it, use it, break it, fix it, trash it, change it, melt, upgrade it
charge it, point it, zoom it, press it, snap it, work it, quick erase it

Monologue, Dialogue, Severalogue
The blog (or at least sportsBabel) is, first and foremost, monologic. I write sportsbabel as a conversation to and with myself. This conversation has many voices and styles: academic, pedagogical, artistic and poetic, of varying degrees of creativity and criticality. In other words, I use multiple identities to express my theory, perhaps Deleuze and Guattari's schizoanalysis writ amateur philosopher.

But this monologue is not simply one person looking in the mirror and discussing ideas with the wizening visage staring back. It is rather a two-way mirror, at once pure monologue and pure performance for any other person who wants to stare through the silvered glass or otherwise treat it as a screen to be watched. ("Narcissus never suspected that Echo was swimming below the surface of the pool, but we know better.")

This latter opens the potential for dialogue to take place in and through sportsBabel. It does so in at least three ways. First, I dialogue with those individuals who comment on selected posts. I don't have very many people in my audience, so I may dialogue to a certain level of robustness with almost everyone who cares to, the rhythms of the network intuiting when any particular thread of dialogue is over. Second, I dialogue with those I meet at academic conferences to whom I am presenting material that is freshly published on the blog. In these cases a business card might suggest a resource that may be consulted in further depth at some future date. Finally, it is dialogue in those instances when I meet someone new who has already read some of the blog. This is admittedly a much smaller number of people, but those rare occasions have often launched quite intimate dialogues and relationships.

These intimacies are often at the heart of a third style of logos, that of severalogue. As these relations flip to the now of the network after our personal encounter, they may link to my work and share with their friends or I may link to their work and share with my friends. A small network cluster thus temporarily emerges for the purposes of articulating, critiquing, debating, strategizing and thinking through on a more or less focused topic of interest. What becomes important here is not me talking to myself, nor me talking with another, but others talking among themselves through me. Relational thinking becomes most evident at the level of severality.

write it, cut it, paste it, save it, load it, check it, quick rewrite it
plug it, play it, burn it, rip it, drag it, drop it, zip - unzip it

Discourse vs. Technologic
While I am able to carry on dialogues at various conversational scales of number (one, two, several, never many), I remain intimately bound to the networks of discourse, albeit in a way that allows me a far greater degree of agency in the transaction. I engage with the discourse networks when I link to ESPN or when I copy images from Nike's web site for critique on my own. I engage with the discourse networks when I ping aggregation services like Technorati or send my syndication feed to Twitter and Facebook. I engage with the discourse networks when my site is indexed for search by the spiders of Google and Yahoo!.

These, in turn, open new opportunities to dialogue and severalogue through found signal or serendipitous noise, or perhaps simply for one to look through the screen-as-mirror on time scales more or less approximating the contemporary moment.

lock it, fill it, call it, find it, view it, code it, jam, unlock it
surf it, scroll it, pause it, click it, cross it, crack it, twitch, update it

Linguistics, Relationality
So what is the difference between dialogue and discourse, then, given that sportsBabel is entwined with both? My hyperlinks make possible associations between various forms of immaterial communication in our media ecology, but linguistically they are exactly the same insofar as the technology that creates the relation: [a href="http://.../"] … [/a]. The difference must be located elsewhere than in this strict act of inscription within my blog.


The relation itself is what is different: both spatiotemporally in terms of location address on the network, its server speed and corresponding access to information, but also in terms of affective resonance that the relation itself embodies and makes embodied. This relation may be embodied in a one-to-one sense, through the network where both parties have an embodied relationship with a mutual third party, and sometimes — though less often than techno-enthusiasts might suggest — strictly through the network.

name it, read it, tune it, print it, scan it, send it, fax, rename it
touch it, bring it, pay it, watch it, turn it, leave it, stop, format it (daft punk, "technologic")

A Postscript on Noise
Do not underestimate the role of noise in this total communication system of dialogue and discourse. On the one hand it can be very productive, for rhizomes often emerge from noise rather than signal (the latter of which may tend to Chomsky's linguistic trees and their arborescent hierarchical structure, cf. D+G). As simple examples consider a few Google keyword searches to sportsBabel, apparently looking for something else, and the number of pages the agent subsequently stayed to read:

nude female game characters: 17.00
what itch needs scratching?: 12.00
warfare perturbation+rain storm observer: 7.00

This does not even take into consideration the hundreds of missed searches in which people come and stay for only one or two pages. In each case, however, the surfing agent was most likely seeking something beyond the topical matter provided at sportsBabel (debates about intentionality set aside for the moment), yet there was sufficient resonance between the agent, the blog post or series of blog posts (which together on the same archive page can create wonderful noise patterns), and the Google search engine algorithms for a rhizome to emerge and a dialogue-in-potential to form.

On the other hand, noise offers its own particular perils to the various quantitative levels of dialogue in technologic society. Ultimately, I consider my notebook my most intimate and bodily technology of inscription and expression. When I take ideas from my notebook and refashion them for the blog it is as though I am now sharing my body with the network. But it can be argued that blogs — and most text-based internet communication, for that matter — are very low definition media. We have all encountered experiences in which a message that we communicated as clearly as possible was misinterpreted by the other party, hindering our dialogue in the process.

The high definition transaction of presence, on the other hand, falls prey to such problems less often, specifically because body language, gesture and the affective tonality (cf. Manning; Massumi) of the co-presenced other may communicate a relation far more clearly than electronic text and its substitutes like netspeak or emoticon, despite the absences that still remain. The flesh is the hyperlink of presencing.

Hence, to minimize these negative potentials of noise, the relation (even if primarily one of data intimacy) must continually endeavour to speak in the presenced flesh such that the dialogue retains its origins in embodiment and the virtuosity of the speaker's utterance.

In other words, a blog should not be a pure substitute for the presencing of dialogue. A blog should not be an instrument for the many and its resultant potential for fame. And if such fame occurs nonetheless, one should then understand the celebrity figure as yet another form of agent, as a new relation or passage in holey space between discourse and dialogue, always returning through virtuosity.

A Debriefing

On Performing the University of Disaster, Part One

When one considers the notion of dramatic performance, one is normally drawn immediately to the actor, the one who is capable of shape-shifting identity, the one who infuses a role with a spirit and intelligence and physicality that brings the character to life and makes us believe. But, to borrow from Bachelard, some characters have a destiny of enlargement: they have become bigger than any individual actor who may play the role. These are characters who enact a kind of meta-performance, who perform themselves at the moment the actor is also performing the character into life.

James Bond is such a character. Savvy, sexy, smart, Bond performs a smouldering masculinity in the name of Queen Mother and world stability, in the name of State and Empire. But he also performs the role of himself as spy in both its libidinal and strategic forms. Most important to the latter is the role of translator, fluently switching from English to French to Italian to German to Russian and perhaps Chinese. He switches from tuxedoed gentleman to bloodied rogue. He is a maker of deals, an agent, and secretly so. He knows how to exist within a matrix of surveillance and also how to escape its gaze, how to find smooth, dark space within which to maneuver in an ethical fashion uniquely his.

He infects me with his style.

So does Paul Virilio, the theorist of speed. His style infuses all of his thought, his practice a form of rapid writing that returns to the same themes over and over again, full of wordplay, undulating, ripe with repetition and difference. He paints in broad strokes — the stained glass artist with his painted light — to understand with vision and passion rather than with a determined clinical pursuit for "truth".

I am in shared space with this theorist of the vision machine. Sit as far away as possible and gaze. Remix the perspectives of Quattrocento, Panopticon and Photograph into pedagogical opportunity. Maintain a line of sight at all times — logistics of perception! — and take the measure of the man.

Make eye contact.

For a supposed pessimist of technology, to have such warmth and optimism and energy! For such a grave theoretical position, to live a politics both ludic and joyful! For one so weathered by experience, to invest his whole mind and body in the performance of thought!

Everyone performs at the University of Disaster. Homo Generator plays a lead role, the agent provocateur, challenging Virilio, challenging the translators, challenging the audience, poking relations and prodding relationships, dragging students off the street to spend precious minutes longer with the master, l'un des astres. Others play different roles, questioning, answering, listening, negotiating. They perform potluck-style, through food and drink and fashion and music. They perform through love and like and theory.

Everyone performs.

As they perform for others, they are themselves performed for, this co-emergence of the network as different to each person as there are people in attendance. Power laws of face time, smiles and discourse. Attractions of mind and body rekindled and kindled anew. Asymmetrical to be sure, but one hopes not overly so.

This group or community is a pregnant number, swelling from one to two to several to full complement. Afterward, as the seminar ends and the hangovers subside and the train rides begin, it similarly recedes to several to two to one. An intimacy of engagement and disengagement. A micropolitics of community emerging from holey to smooth space and back again.
LikeSean Smith likes this.
But the narrative is only partly complete. Disengaging intimately with friends at Montparnasse, our number is five to enter the pedestrian throngs of Paris, home of Napoleon and Picasso and de Gaulle and French Theory. We are Space Invaders. Coming from the sleepy seaside community of La Rochelle we are jacked into the hum and throb, the hic et nunc of Parisien life.


Jean-Christophe is ill and burdened with an impending thesis (closed document!) and is unable to join us save for social time on a terrace or over the dinner table. But he intimately engages nonetheless, creating a space for us, sending us to a mixtape of neighbourhoods and locations around the city: Centre Pompidou, Montmartre, Palais de Tokyo, Sorbonne, Clichy; bookstores and restaurants and cafes; by foot or train or image.

He is also a performer in this production, playing the role of Paris, or at least living his theory in the sense of performed cartography, only some of which formally intersects with maps (Metro stations, tourist maps of city arrondissements, gallery diagrams), the rest of which is an embodiment of lived experience (the walking, mobile, social subject). In this we see the affect of the nomad at a moment of intersection with the cartographic form of the state apparatus, a moment freely entered into by each one of our several.

There is no on-off for this pedagogical experience and its intensity. Rather, the tide subsides and we pass through a threshold, the switch point of which occurs as one walks through the door, solitary, belongings in all senses of the word carried on the body to re-enter the conduits of public transit and state biological flow. This is a gradual becoming: we are already disengaging via the network before we depart, and we continually re-engage via the network after leaving. But a flip has taken place, like a moebius strip. Here and now have become now and here, our stereoreality reversed. We surf this flip of moebius strip at the break points of holey space on our return to the state, the nomads with whom we have just taken flight beginning their slow fade to network black.

They will be back, however. They will be here once again.

A debriefing takes place upon my return. Colonel Fornssler handles the duties. Intelligence to be passed to the strategic minds at the University of Disaster, no doubt. Techniques of the military apparatus reappropriated, deterritorialized. I'm exhausted, but Switch is relentless in this performance of the play's final character, that of State.

Babbling. Babeling. Returning to the notebook. What do you recall from your mission, Brown?

Scopolamine or tetrahydrocannabinol? I tell all.

Or do I?

* * *


Whispering through the network, she names me Spy. I perform thusly.

(for the stereoscopic several of la rochelle 2009, those present in space and/or time)

désastre, des astres

"Come," they said, "let us build ourselves a town and a tower with its top reaching heaven."

– Genesis 11:4

"The university of disaster will be founded not upon knowledge, but on non-knowledge, on the poverty of knowledge and the humility of truth."

– Paul Virilio, La Rochelle, April 2009
* * *

Virilio Note



[Aside] A thesis: It takes greater discipline of thought to write theory with brevity, as with, for example, the blog post, aphorism or status update. With these constraints in place, the act of communicating itself is more presently at stake. The downfall of the traditional academy will be bound in no small part with its failure to respond adequately to this emerging reality of the electric age, its failure to understand the very act of communicating itself. Crepuscular dawn.

(Having a Daft Punk kind of afternoon. See "Short Circuit" from the Discovery album for further information.)


Emergence of the Switch

Ithaca poster

"It may seem odd to insist that a relation has an ontological status separate from the terms of the relation. But, as the work of Gilles Deleuze repeatedly emphasizes, it is in fact an indispensable step toward conceptualizing change as anything more or other than a negation, deviation, rupture, or subversion" (Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, p.70).

Barb - Ithaca

(congratulations to barb fornssler on her successful introduction to the academic conference circuit)