Bodies

A gesture is a form of communication between individuals, but also an expression of embodiment unique to each individual. We know this already: gait, the form of gesture held as a primary example by Giorgio Agamben in his "Notes on Gesture," may be implicated algorithmically in apparatuses of surveillance that capture, inscribe and identify each of our methods of walking through quasi-public spaces. Our gestures, whether they are purely functional (to roll a cigarette, to shoot a basketball jumpshot) or strive to approach the sublime aspects of both play and virtuosity (the dance of bodies in improvised sport), are singular expressions of our being-in-the-world that may sometimes also be shared in processes of communication or co-emergence.

If we can suggest that the postmodern era features docile identities to match the docile bodies of the modern era, then to maintain the liberatory possibility of continually inhabiting and passing through the confines of identity-constructs we must possess the ability to assume the gestures of another individual. Or, to lean on a rather impoverished term, one must be able to speak and translate between different body languages.

Of course, this process of inhabiting the gestures of another individual already existed with actors in the theatre and cinema, a fact which assumed a particularly salient fascination and fetishization during the latter stages of an industrial capitalism that attempted to strip away all forms of physical literacy not serving to maximize economic efficiency or minimize political insubordination. In the age of post-fordism, however, it is gesture — both functional and virtuous — that becomes the motor for sign value creation and the approaching consequence of pure equivalence in exchange this implies. Whether the expression of one's own singularity or the performance of another, the control society leverages a moebius strip of surveillance and spectacle in its attempt to appropriate and exploit gesture.

Perhaps the negative space of the gesture, most clearly expressed in Erin Manning's elaboration of the tango, offers a solution to this paradox of embodiment and representation? As she articulates in her book Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty, the tango is a continual negotiation between two dancing bodies, one of which leads the other during performance while at the same time always being led. Never a perfect replica of the other's body in negative space, for there is always a zone of approximation, a zone in which the unspoken remainder of negotiation resides, a zone of fuzzy logic or error. Nonetheless it is a replica faithful enough, a micropolitics considered and reconsidered, a document for one to archive in the muscle memories of negative space and its processes of embodied forgetting.

If the cinema emerges from the coupling of image and theatre, so too does the tango emerge from the coupling of sculpture and play. Sometimes skin, but always flesh.

The problem with Manning's tango is that it is usually a two-person dance, or a predominantly binary form of gesture and communication: the several is neglected. Perhaps pickup or improvised team sport may be where the tango-as-dance becomes multiple? Pickup sport fragments and fractalizes the binary relation of the tango's negotiation into part-subjects and many-relations that wholly adequate themselves to a field of potentiality emerging in real-time. That such activity itself forms a competitive endeavour remains secondary to this a priori phenomenon of coming together in sport.

As mentioned earlier, the tango and its negotiations are primarily haptic forms of gesture and communication that may be contrasted with a State power relation operating in a more optic sense of individualization and surveillance. But Foucault reminds us that

the Panopticon must not be understood as a dream building: it is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form; its functioning, abstracted from any obstacle, resistance or friction, must be represented as a pure architectural and optical system … a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use (1977, p. 205).

Hence the abstract diagram that optimizes the function of the prison also allows, with the necessary modifications, for the optimization of the factory, hospital, school or stadium: the capillarization of power enabled by this abstract diagram may be translated from one space of discipline to another. Even as these sites of enclosure are in a general state of crisis and permeability, the abstract diagram survives by adapting its striating function and leveraging haptic techniques in the service of administrative vision.

Similarly, though in contrast, we should acknowledge that the tango is itself not simply a form of dance that enjoys a particular haptic negotiation between bodies and a particular resonance in Argentina. The tango may also be a Russian martial artist surfing the waves of channeled aggression flowing-toward from one or many opponents. It may also be a number of self-determined and networked communities more or less simultaneously playing pickup basketball in Canada, China, Macedonia, Poland, Uruguay and the United States.

In other words, we ought to recognize the tango (like the panopticon) as an abstract diagram or general architecture of embodied micropolitics that may, with the necessary modifications, be applied to different forms of coming-together or community. Here, body becomes bodies, the tango's lightness as diagram matched only by the heaviness of the flesh in which it finds embodied form.

Not Global

(a response to reader karima, who thoughtfully questioned the use of the word "global" given the technological requirements to join the global village basketball game, anticipating some of the same questions that i have been asking myself)

Global Village Basketball 2009 took place last week at gym locations around the world. Despite the seemingly grand title, it was a humble affair: a few thousand points scored by a few hundred people hailing from a handful of countries scattered across a few continents. Can one truly call such an event "global"?

Of course not. But imagine a little. More people learn about the game and more baskets are scored in more places. Do we approach the "global" at this point? There is certainly a technological limit that is eventually reached, since one requires internet connectivity in order to upload one's points and photos to the collective meta-game.

Courtesy of Worldmapper

one. equal area cartogram of worldwide internet users, 2002

As the (slightly outdated) equal area cartogram above shows, worldwide access to the internet is dramatically distorted, which leaves certain areas technologically "in the dark" as concerns communication connectivity. Or does it? The latter word — connectivity — complicates the issue slightly, for connecting to this meta-game of basketball does not necessarily imply a desktop computer, colour monitor, router and ISDN line. It may simply mean the ability to exchange digital bits of information, which one may accomplish just as easily by telephone.

Courtesy of Worldmapper

two. equal area cartogram of worldwide cellular telephone subscribers, 2002

This equal area cartogram from the same year shows worldwide cellular telephone subscribers, and one can easily see in contrast to the first map how certain areas of the world are beginning to expand while others contract. Global? No, but certainly a different context than what we were considering at the outset. And when we shift the analysis from proportion to raw quantity of mobile cellular phones, the question of connectivity is complicated even further. Bangladesh, Colombia and Venezuela have more cellular phones than Canada? Ghana, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have more cellular phones than Finland or New Zealand? There seems to be a disconnect between (Western) perceptions of economic prosperity and the reality of connectivity-in-potential around the world (a motif that by no coincidence weaves itself continually through the music of M.I.A.).

Courtesy of Google Analytics

three. geographical distribution of visits to the global village basketball web site

Perhaps the best thing that happened to me personally during the inaugural event is that the technology at our game location didn't work. We had lavish plans to bring a laptop to the gym and upload each game as it was played. We were going to take photos with a digital camera and add them to the Flickr pool while the game was in progress. We were going to hook the laptop to a data projector and display the global meta-score on the wall as it changed in real-time.

Only we didn't have connectivity.

Wireless access was confined to particular areas at the school in which we were playing. We didn't have an ethernet cable long enough to reach a classroom and get connected that way. And the Global Village Basketball web site didn't want to cooperate with an iPhone that one of the players had with him. Despite the wonderful technological capital available to us, we were reduced to keeping score on paper and uploading the information later.

But it didn't matter. Save for the scribbling of a local score on paper at the end of each game and the periodic update of the overall score total from someone's Blackberry, this Wednesday night scrimmage was pretty much like every other Wednesday night scrimmage created by this micro-community of basketball players in terms of structure. Yet in terms of style it was radically different: there was an energy (or affective tonality) in the air that can only be considered the byproduct of an imagined sporting meta-community.

If this is the case — that is, if one can still feel "a part" of the event in an "offline" sense and connect at a later point to "commit" one's local score to the global repository of scores — then the questions about connectivity raised earlier are complicated even further. As Paul Virilio repeatedly illustrates, the speed of instantaneous electronic communications forces us to consider time rather than space as the fundamental parameter governing social relations. For Global Village Basketball, one really needs to be only within 24 hours of a telecommunication access point in order to have the group's baskets count. And this is what the event proposes in its purest distillation: an offer to be counted or accounted for.

Courtesy of YouTube

four. distribution of visits by country to the global village basketball youtube video

Nonetheless, the original question remains: can we really use the world "global" to describe the event, no matter how open-ended its linking infrastructure attempts to be? Absolutely not. The word "global" connotes too much the idea of a "total" system, which is by no means the goal of Global Village Basketball, nor should it be the goal of any sporting multitude. If individual sports are linguistic forms, then it would be akin to seeking one global language and the consequential limits to thought systems this would imply.

But this is not the intent of the event title. Rather than reading "global" one ought to instead read "global" and "village" together as if the two words formed a single concept. The term "global village" was coined by the Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan, who suggested that the electricity-based technologies of telegraph, radio, television, personal computer, internet, telephone, etc. would reconfigure spatial relations and draw the 6 billion people on the planet intimately closer together as if living in a single village.

This is not to suggest a utopia in the age of telecommunication networks! In fact, claims of utopia by other scholars form the laziest critiques of McLuhan's work, for McLuhan himself was quite ambivalent about the latent promise of the global village.

There is more diversity, less conformity under a single roof in any family than there is with the thousands of families in the same city. The more you create village conditions, the more discontinuity and division and diversity. The global village absolutely insures maximal disagreement on all points. It never occurred to me that uniformity and tranquility were the properties of the global village. It has more spite and envy. The spaces and times are pulled out from between people. A world in which people encounter each other in depth all the time.

The tribal-global village is far more divisive — full of fighting — than any nationalism ever was. Village is fission, not fusion, in depth. People leave small towns to avoid involvement. The big city lined them with its uniformity and impersonal milieu. They sought propriety and in the city, money is made by uniformity and repeatability. Where you have craftsmanlike diversity, you make art, not money. The village is not the place to find ideal peace and harmony. Exact opposite. Nationalism came out of print and provided an extraordinary relief from global village conditions. I don't approve of the global village. I say we live in it (McLuhan: Hot & Cool, 1967, p.272).

When the density of our stereoscopic existence intensifies, in other words, we become increasingly human, all too human.

In conclusion, a note on semantics

We ought to clarify the difference between "global" and "global village" that is implied by Global Village Basketball. To that end, from now on we shall endeavor to call the event Global+Village Basketball, the plus-sign indicating two ideas: first, that the two words must be read together as if one concept; and second, that our ability to play in an environment not conducive to peace and harmony is only possible because of the relationality that fashions each individual who decided to connect and be counted.

imaging, imagining

GVB 2009 Montage - Courtesy of the Players

"To appropriate the historic transformations of human nature that capitalism wants to limit to the spectacle, to link together image and body in a space where they can no longer be separated, and thus to forge the whatever body, whose physis is resemblance — this is the good that humanity must learn how to wrest from commodities in their decline. Advertising and pornography, which escort the commodity to the grave like hired mourners, are the unknowing midwives of this new body of humanity" (Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, p.50).

Abstract Diagrams

(or, how to make love while dancing on a mondrian)

Multipurpose Gym

"global village basketball is the line of flight. it ruptures the existing hierarchy by networking together the molecular pickup games that exist around the world into one meta-game. it is a collective, yet distributed, net performance of improvised pickup basketball located on a smooth patchwork of hardwood, asphault, terrazzo, concrete and dirt; the backboard is syncretic plexiglass, aluminum and wood; the rims iron, milk crate and peach basket; the mesh nylon and chain-link. the virtual setting of the meta-game becomes the means of deterritorializing the basketball court space" (sb rmx).

Global Village Basketball 2009

agon, arete, assembly

People play pickup basketball all over the world every day. On June 10, 2009, the Global Village Basketball event will attempt to link as many of these games as possible together into one large meta-game happening throughout the network. Join the game.