What Is a Stadium?

In his essay "What Is a Camp?", Giorgio Agamben attempts to locate a political-juridical structure of the camp form that allowed and facilitated the atrocities and crimes against humanity committed in their spaces. But rather than a sad footnote consigned to the archives of history, he suggests, the camp endures as a diagram of the biopolitical condition located throughout the contemporary global context of what we have referred to elsewhere as Empire.

To be sure, in excavating those sites of horror such as Dachau or Auschwitz, Agamben does not mean to suggest that each of us today lives the embodied politics and naked existence of those who have ever been embroiled in the concentration camp or refugee camp. Rather, in developing earlier work by Hannah Arendt he illustrates how the camp-as-form operates "as the hidden matrix of the politics in which we still live, and we must learn to recognize it in all of its metamorphoses" (Means Without End: Notes on Politics, p. 44).

my tattoo
Tattoo on my ankle of a basketball with my university jersey number inside.

Most assuredly, the metamorphoses of which Agamben describes can and should be located on a spectrum of trauma, pain, embodiment and what he refers to as the sheer reduction to zoe or naked life. In drawing the matrixial relations between the concentration camp proper and the camp-as-form that structures other biopolitical contexts — as I will suggest, for example, with postmodern sport and the contemporary stadium — I do not mean to draw an equivalence between the Holocaust victim and the high performance athlete. Rather, I wish to identify in a non-trivial sense those structuring principles found in the most extreme version of the camp and how they, in their metamorphosis to the ludic arena, may also be found to structure and govern the biopolitics of those most purportedly noble pursuits we call sport.

(from chapter one in "body+politics: towards a sporting multitude," a work-in-progress doctoral dissertation for the european graduate school of media and communications)

Two Out, Men on First and Second

Blister Pack

Lex Sportiva and the State of Exception

At a recent conference critically reviewing Olympic reform actions over the past decade hosted by the University of Toronto, former International Olympic Committee Vice-President and World Anti-Doping Agency head Richard Pound questioned the emergence of a "lex sportiva." Such a rule of law particular to sport would govern in sporting contexts (international/global) while standing somewhat outside or at least with a very ambiguous relationship to the rule of civil law. In essence, the athlete — or at least a particular type of high performance athlete — becomes like a citizen of a particular sporting sovereignty. The figure of the athlete-citizen assumes the privileges and obligations of the lex sportiva upon entering the confines of the enclosed sports stadium.

The potential of a lex sportiva (it must be noted that its actual existence is a contested topic in the legal literature) becomes particularly interesting and important when uttered by the head of WADA, the most powerful anti-doping organization in the world and arguably the most explosive governing force of biopolitics ever created in short time. The World Anti-Doping Code outlines specific provisions for how the individual athlete may treat his or her own body in the course of preparing and training for competition. To a large degree these provisions have to do with the athletic as a distinct and discrete unitary entity: the athlete and his or her agents (coach, trainer, doctor) are by no means to transgress the boundaries of this unitary entity by adding or subtracting technological enhancements through the skin.

"The age of globalization is the age of universal contagion," contend Hardt and Negri, though in the case of contemporary high performance sport this contagion — referencing the fundamental binary of fair play — features pure bodies being contaminated by polluted bodies. The state of exception in the context of high performance sport and anti-doping may be described as WADA’s limited right to violate the sovereign organic unity of the athletic body from which the notion of fair play is partially derived. At a basic level, the relative constitution of competing athletes or teams must be based to the greatest degree possible upon symmetrical relations; any asymmetries arising in athletic competition must be grounded within the unitary athletic body in its genetic composition, refined through aptitude and hard work, and expressed through the poiesis of sporting performance. Substances, methods and other enabling technologies are permissible in this ethic of sport so long as they are supplementary to the organic unity of the athletic body and do not penetrate or pollute (Smith, 2008, "WADA as Sporting Empire: Prospects and Shadows").

The architecture of the sport stadium is no longer a discrete site of competition, however, but rather has become topological under the WADA regime. We must recognize this is because the state of exception in which the athlete-citizen stands at the fuzzy borders between lex sportiva and civil society has itself entered a transformational process in which said exceptionalism broadens to encompass all of that athlete's space and time. The state of exception becomes total, the state of competition becomes permanent. We find a resonance with the notion of exceptionalism put forward by Giorgio Agamben:

In truth, the state of exception is neither external nor internal to the juridical order, and the problem of defining it concerns precisely a threshold, or a zone of indifference, where inside and outside do not exclude each other but rather blur with each other. The suspension of the norm does not mean its abolition, and the zone of anomie that it establishes is not (or at least claims not to be) unrelated to the juridical order. Hence the interest of those theories that, like Schmitt's, complicate the topographical opposition into a more complex topological relation, in which the very limit of the juridical order is at issue. In any case, to understand the problem of the state of exception, one must first correctly determine its localization (or illocalization). As we will see, the conflict over the state of exception presents itself essentially as a dispute over its proper locus (Agamben, State of Exception, p. 23).

Agamben makes it explicit that the state of exception emerges as much a problem of language as one of political philosophy. It is an obfuscation or a location of lacunae within language that allows for the subsumption of non-traditional "threats" under the banner of exceptionalism. In the short time since its inception WADA has created a sophisticated and systematic language to govern anti-doping efforts, a newspeak bathed in science and jurisprudence that channels the parameters of discourse in such a way as to make a lex sportiva and a potentially corresponding state of exception a reality.

Where the case of anti-doping and lex sportiva differ from a strict reading of Agamben has to do with the rights of the individual under exceptionalism. In his reading, exceptionalism is that which writes or refashions language such that particular subjects stand outside of any affirmative identity positions that would grant due process or basic human right (as, for example, with the "detainees" at Guantanamo). While process and right remain intact in the case of sport (the point is not to perfectly equate "athletes" with "detainees"), identity plays a similar role in the creation of the exception, albeit in a method of abstraction rather than erasure. By vectoring into the athletic body via urine, blood and DNA signifiers the sovereignty of sport and its system of lex sportiva supersedes the sovereignty of the individual human athlete and its living tissues. In doing so it uses these biological samples as linguistic markers by which the athletic body "speaks" to the adjudicating authority.

These markers of "objectivity" are numerico-linguistic registers on a database that stand abstracted and apart from the identity of the athlete and the particular social, cultural, historical and economic processes of individuation that created the current high performance context in which he or she competes. (In "Postscript on the Societies of Control" Gilles Deleuze refers to this rather as a process of dividuation.) The abstraction or "anonymity" (and thus confidentiality) of data becomes simply a euphemism suggesting that it will take some effort to link a numerico-linguistic biological sample to a particular indexed identity, for such testing in the absence of identification would otherwise be meaningless.

But this abstraction of identity or anonymity — not unlike in the case of erasure described by Agamben — also provides a veneer of authority (scientific in this case) to the state of exception that WADA and the lex sportiva operate within. This allows WADA an endocolonial right to penetrate the sovereignty of the athletic body, to keep live samples of it incarcerated for eight years, to force all disputes to be argued in its own particular newspeak, and the list is certain to grow. Ultimately, the question is one of power and resistance.

The essence of global sports law or lex sportiva is that it is an argument for self-regulation or for a private system of governance and justice. This raises the possibility that lex sportiva as a legal concept will be used to disguise fundamental issues of regulation. Lex mercatoria is a false analogy. Lex mercatoria is ultimately justified as a private autonomous global law because it rests on contract. Lex sportiva rests on a fictitious contract. Although the relationship between an international sporting federation and an athlete is nominally said to be contractual, the sociological analysis is entirely different. The power relationship between a powerful global international sporting federation, exercising a monopoly over competitive opportunities in the sport, and a single athlete is so unbalanced as to suggest that the legal form of the relationship should not be contractual. Rather like the employment contract, a formal equality disguises a substantive inequality and a reciprocal form belies an asymmetrical relationship. This inequality makes it misleading to use lex mercatoria as an analogy for the development of ideas about lex sportiva (Foster, 2003, Entertainment and Sports Law Journal 2(1), p. 15).

Put more simply, if global high performance sport is the only game in town, and the balance of power is overwhelming in the face of the athlete-citizen, then whence the opportunity for resistance? And further, if the state of exception becomes total, can it and the lex sportiva rationalize other power imbalances that involve a governing right of endocolonial passage into the sovereign individual human body?

The Permanent State of Competition?

April 28, 2009: The IOC reanalyzed a total of 948 samples from Beijing after new lab tests for CERA and insulin became available following the Olympics. The testing began in January and focused mainly on endurance events in cycling, rowing, swimming and athletics.

"We suggest that athletes who may be tempted to cheat keep this reality in mind," WADA president John Fahey said. "We believe that retrospective testing serves as a strong deterrent."

* * *

Article 12 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights dictates that "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation." In the contemporary high performance sporting arena, however, we might justly question if these same rights of privacy are extended to the athletes themselves. To police doping practices in high performance sport, the World Anti-Doping Agency has assumed formidable powers of registration and control over competing athletes, which allow it to draw biological specimens from an athlete’s body in or out of competition with no advance notice; which require athletes to provide accurate whereabouts information at all times for said testing; which reserve the right to retroactively nullify previous results should future detection techniques be discovered within an eight-year statute of limitations; and which tracks subjects longitudinally through an "athlete passport" system. This essay suggests that the conditions have been created through which high performance sport participation is subject to continual surveillance across both space and time, and that the formerly discrete site of sporting competition has topologically transformed such that it becomes a permanent condition of athletic being.

(to be presented by s.smith at the 2009 olympic reform: a ten-year review conference in toronto)

Discipline :: Topology :: Control

Since Deleuze introduced the concept of the control society, thinkers have tried to gauge its precise character and sportsBabel has worked to make a contribution to that end. But we must keep in mind that the original title has "sociétés de contrôle" in the plural. That is, Deleuze suggests there are multiple societies of control, each effecting its own intensive modulation of subjects as its disciplinary apparatus and spaces of enclosure are in decline or crisis. Each of these is interconnected by other modulations at different levels of assembly (cf. DeLanda).

Panhapticism in Ljubljana

panhapticism as graffiti in ljubljana:
vision and touch intersect at the nexus of control

Do not mix models, Deleuze and Guattari remind us: sport will have its own modulations, its own relations with and passages between striated and smooth, optic and haptic, and back again.

But with sport, at least, the disciplinary spaces of enclosure do not appear to be in crisis. Rather, they appear to exist as moments within a larger sportocratic trajectory. Brian Massumi offers us guidance towards understanding this trajectory — or rather transformation — by asking us to consider architecture topologically, in which Euclidean space is an instance, a point in time raised to the level of the three-dimensional — in short, a metric moment of a topological transformation or process.

The distinction that is most relevant here is between topological transformation and static geometric figure: between the process of arriving at a form through continuous deformation and the determinate form arrived at when the process stops. An infinite number of static figures may be extracted from a single topological transformation. The transformation is a kind of superfigure that is defined not by invariant formal properties but by continuity of transformation. … Anything left standing when the deformation is stopped at any moment, in its passage through any point in between, also belongs to their shared figure. The overall topological figure is continuous and multiple. As a transformation, it is defined by vectors rather than coordinate points. A vector is transpositional: a moving-through points. Because of its vectorial nature, the geometry of the topological superfigure cannot be separated from its duration. The figure is what runs through an infinity of static figures. It is not itself determinate, but determinable. Each static figure stands for its determination but does not exhaust it (Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, p. 184).

In this case, Massumi is discussing the challenge for architecture to respond to topology as the experiential condition of individual human beings. In his view, our being-in-the-world as sensing subjects involves a "synesthetic cooperation" between exoreferential fixed visual perception and self-referentially dynamic internal proprioception as they fold forward and back into one another. But what if we are talking about the administrative apparatus instead, the architecture that adjudicates the social body as well as the individual body?

In its high performance sporting sense, the moment (or static figure) at which the topological superfigure comes to rest is the space and time that we traditionally understand as the site of athletic competition. It was John Bale who first explicitly formalized the sport stadium in these terms, but the stadium's disciplinary character was already understood implicitly by the sociologist Jean-Marie Brohm with his "prison of measured time," and even earlier in George Perec's novel W ou le souvenir d'enfance, which juxtaposes a narrative set in the stadium against one set in the concentration camp.

At this particular level of assemblage the stadium is a Euclidean space: enclosed, partitioned, and adjudicated with a perspectival optic gaze. The athletes, support personnel and spectators become objects of information within this sporting apparatus, numerically inscribed and tracked at various checkpoints. They each become part of an archive-creation process as well as an atomized element against which archives are tested.

Only thereafter, when the competition nominally ends, does the topology become apparent. Specimen samples are withdrawn from the athletic body for anti-doping testing procedures. While authorities originally captured the "waste" byproduct of urine for testing, today the range of signifying vectors has expanded to include blood and DNA, which are effectively "living tissue" insofar as they contain the biological code to recreate human life. To counter against doping procedures or drug technologies in use today but in the absence of a feasible test to ferret them out, the World Anti-Doping Agency has instituted an 8-year statute of limitations within which newly-discovered tests may be retroactively applied to old samples and results changed. In other words, the competition still continues for eight years after the interim winners have been announced.

As such, the samples of "living tissue" that leave the disciplinary spaces of sport are themselves part of the space of competition. Wherever they travel — by vehicle to some laboratory or by telecommunication channel to some database — the site of competition topologically transforms to match this space. Massumi, once again (in repetition and difference): Because of its vectorial nature, the geometry of the topological superfigure cannot be separated from its duration.

Rather than modern sport being a disciplinary institution in "crisis" yielding to an institution of control, then, it appears that its disciplinary spaces continue to exist albeit as discrete moments or static figures in the overall topology of high performance athletic competition. The topological superfigure itself — the vectorial transformation — is what we understand today as the crisis: a smooth space of intensities that the institution of control attempts to administer by riding and arresting the flow, what Deleuze and Guattari describe as an effort to "utilize smooth spaces as a means of communication in the service of striated space" (A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, p. 385). Instead of the panoptic gaze taking measure within a static figure, the panhaptic touch-sense modulates within the transformation to render it optic at every possible moment: a tactile, digital interplay between the senses, a haptic-made-optic.

Superhumans and Mutants

The light-speed of the nuclear blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki forces a recalibration of other speeds as well. The succeeding Cold War witnessed one such recalibration in the animal speed of the moving body: while proxy wars were fought in the jungles of the underdeveloped world, they were contested in the sporting arenas of the overdeveloped world as well. East versus West sporting competition launched a total rationalization of the athletic body as object of science that could be engineered for the optimal pursuit of speed in the name of ideology. The fallout from this proxy sporting war was most notably witnessed with the national teams of East Germany, which implemented programs of steroid use to increase speed and power for both its male and female athletes, resulting in short-term athletic success at the expense of substantial physical deformities later in life. From state-sponsored subhumanization to state-sponsored superhumanization and its mutant consequences in a matter of three decades, the jackboot march of progress carried on.

From the forthcoming essay:
"La Bombe Philosophique: An Archaeology of the Stereoscopic Present (Or, Sorting Through the Shrapnel)"