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.

small sutras

small sutrasmall sutra

i hang my hopes out on the line
will they be ready for you in time?

if you leave them out too long
they'll be withered by the sun

full stops and exclamation marks
my words stumble before i start

how far can you send emotions?
can this bridge cross the ocean?

(la roux, in for the kill)

* * *

sportsbabel, 2001-2009
remix, language, translation, affect

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.

the weight of my words

sportsbabel, 2001-2009

there are very many ways
i would like to break the spell
you've cast upon me

because all the time
i sacrificed myself
to make you want me
has made you haunt me

* * *

sportsbabel, 2001-2009
a remix begins



[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.)


Cuban Censorship

No, this isn't a post about Castro and the Communists in Havana. It's about a story at the other end of the economic spectrum, featuring everyone's favourite billionaire-of-the-people, Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks and publisher of Blog Maverick.

The story begins with a post by Mr. Cuban entitled "The Sport of Business", in which he declares that business is the ultimate sport. Besides being a patently ridiculous premise that totally misunderstands the meaning of the term 'sport', I felt that the post was, unlike most of the quality material on his blog, fairly self-promotional. As I've noted before on sportsBabel, he does have a history of self-promotion.

So I let him know about it. The beauty of the blogosphere is interstitial, to be found in the comments and trackbacks that link various ideas and spaces together. To get permission to post on Mr. Cuban's blog (which is run by Weblogs, Inc.) and identify myself as non-spam, I had to supply my email address. After clicking on a URL, my comments were activated:

Mark, usually you have some really insightful and interesting things to say on this blog, but today's post was pure self-indulgent crapola. Is it difficult to type and look in the mirror at the same time?

A little harsh? Maybe. But I don't really think it was that bad, and I certainly tried to temper the negative with the plaudits at the beginning of the comment.

When I re-visited the blog a few hours later, though, I was shocked and peeved to find out that my posted comments had been deleted. Gone. Without a trace. Just like I had never voiced a word of dissent.

Naturally, I sought an explanation:

Dear Mark/Weblogs Inc.,

With all due respect, I am wondering if you could perhaps elaborate on the censorship practiced by deleting my comment from the Blog Maverick post on "The Sport of Business". Was the content so inappropriate? Even though I praised Mark in general, was it so wrong to call him out this one time for what I felt was a self-indulgent post?

Most print publications run far worse in the Letters to the Editor, and the Internet grew because of people on electronic bulletin boards who called a spade a spade, a fact of which I am sure you are both aware.

At the very least, doesn't a responsible micro-publishing empire have an obligation, if it accepts a comment and posts it, to notify the author as to why the editorial decision has been made at a later time to censor a dissenting opinion? You do have my email address, after all.

I'm sorry to learn about your decision, and wish you the best in your ventures. I, however, will no longer be following.

Respectfully yours,

Sean Smith

Mr. Cuban's terse reply?

Courtesy of AP


He's right. It is his board, and it is his decision, and he is certainly welcome to take his ball and run home with it. But he does tend to dish out the negative quite heavily himself, so it seems quite interesting that he is not willing to take it as well. Has he not been called worse in the boardroom? Is he surrounded by sycophants at work? Does Mr. Cuban, sponsor of the Fallen Patriot Fund, truly believe in the American First Amendment rights that these patriots have defended?

And finally, where does the role of dissent rest in his world?