get your head out of your Asana

Courtesy of Lululemon

i guess the models
lost their Heads in the process
of achieving Enlightenment.

(this is not a publishable poem,
you bet your Asana.)

Metamorphosus Interruptus

On Performing the University of Disaster, Part Five

It's fairly easy to become a spy, really. All one needs is to secrete a few signifiers: a fake moustache here or a change of clothing there, an assumed name and a few passports to get through the checkpoints. Perhaps the skilled agent will modulate language in spoken or written form, while the truly gifted spy might go so far as to adopt a new gait altogether (Keyser Söze understood this best). The point is to both fashion and perform an identity, one that will allow passage between spaces of more or less regulated sovereignty. In other words, it is a will to movement that in its very becoming creates opportunities for critical investigation and possibilities for social change.

Spy Signifiers

For a purportedly "secret" agent, Bond's identity was perhaps the worst kept secret in the spy game. Whether at the hotel registration desk, the baccarat table, or the cozy confines of the martini bar, the naming was always the same: Bond. James Bond. Square jaw, smoky gaze and cool Britannia. Tall and tuxedoed, shaken not stirred. There was nothing subtle about it, nothing secretive. One supposes this is because Bond performs himself at every moment the actor also performs the character into life, but at some point the theatre must become a bondage, no?

Of course there was always a second identity that haunted Bond from his very birth: 007, the numbering name of Her Majesty's Secret Service corporeally registered with every case mission assigned as an asset in the field. Clerical object of Moneypenny and spectral threat to a veritable constellation of villains: 007 was as well known in the spy network as Bond himself. Singular corporeal punctum and reductive technology to invisibly mark his body, the nexus between skin, gesture and inscribed identity never more apparent. This numbering name of 007 is not a counting number — it is never additive, much less multiple.

When Bond made love to 006, in other words, it's not as if 0013 was anywhere to be found.

The Spy's foot begins to vibrate. Shoephone, naturally: a smart technology for navigating the spy game's networks of lust and mistrust. As Ronell points out, one shoephone always implies another, always implies a relation, for what use is a single receiver on its own? Shoephone technology also presumes the walking, mobile agent, however, one whose gesture meets language in the everyday gait of the spyworld. His will to movement exists as an uneasy compromise between the perceived waves of affective tonality and the particulars of linguistic signification.

The Agency has his number too, of course: administrative numeration for organizing the field of potential. But perhaps also an unsecure connection, for our footings are always uncertain in these networks of flux. Someone might be listening to the call, or touching in synchronicity. Warily, he retrieves the message from the Colonel:



. . . . .
<code> wtf? -- Spy.


As with the shoephone, the spy identity also exists in relation. Like all techniques of living, the signifiers of identity spring forth from the body in processes of co-emergence before folding back to re-form anew. Hence the birth of an identity is first and foremost an expression of violence: it demands a certain tearing away from existent relational fibres towards the adoption of newer signifying forms (this was one of the first lessons the Spy learned from the Colonel in basic training). But this violence brings with it liberation and empowerment: we get comfortable in our new skins, so to speak, and as we move into new relational forms we sing out to others who might likewise possess similar elements of performativity.

Co-emergence: this selfness is selfless, if not necessarily free of selfishness.

Eventually, these new rhythms and selves give birth to the name of the name, which we thereafter understand as the identity category. But this, categorically speaking, is where a different tearing occurs, at once an abstraction from the relational processes that gave birth to the identity proper and a parallel shift that sediments or stratifies its remaining fibres. Dogma and hygiene set in. Identity is policed. Fluidity is compromised. And the one thing feared most by any agent in the field of potential is to become compromised.

Simon Critchley illustrates the political importance that identity categories may possess in galvanizing a movement towards action and, potentially, change on a subrevolutionary scale. The name and its performance can be a rallying cry, "inauthentic" yet for a fleeting instant powerfully lived. Agency writ large: the question of how to live is simultaneously the question of how to die.

But this question also seems to concern the flip. When do the structural conditions of empowerment and possibility mutate such that they invert and become the conditions for repression? Or to phrase the question differently, is the identity category itself a choreographic object around which its associated part-subjects orbit, rearrange and otherwise flip in a movement from dominant to dominated (and/or submissive) positions?

Another vibration from the Colonel. The Spy hits the Submit button:


. . . . .
<code> lol -- Spy.


"Mediation is no longer a deal between partners or a communication following established rules, but an innovative process of media to which we belong. In such a mediation there is not even the goal of mutual understanding, because the flow needs breaks. Dissent is the salt of mediation and designed to eliminate anthropocentric arrangements, the mafia practices of humankind" (Schirmacher).

The Spy hangs up his shoephone and considers the interface between gesture and language. He considers the binary of love and hate when brought together linguistically in oppositional expressions of relation: "I hate that I love you," or "I love that I hate you." There is no counterbalancing of sentiment between the two expressions: the antagonism between action verbs in each sentence is such that the speaking predicate — the "I" — becomes enclosed by abject misery in the former instance or appears monstrously callous in the latter. Hate always triumphs in this conflict, semantically speaking; it cannot be negated simply by love alone.

For love to emerge triumphant the situation requires pure will, or more accurately, pure will not: "I will not hate that I love you," or "I will not love that I hate you." In both cases the semantic structure has been modulated — not inverted, mind you, but rather emptied of its vitriolic sense. This should not be considered a second negation in addition to love's attempted negation of hatred, but instead a refusal: exodus walking together hand-in-hand with antagonism.

Language games, nothing but language games.

The University of Disaster is precisely such a language game. Has it not been from the outset? Given that traditional material infrastructure is largely absent from its constitution, save for the most skeletal required elements, we must indeed consider it a ludic architecture that has been performed into existence — a rich node of communicative action that errs largely on the side of spoken rather than written language. The very reason it "works" is due not to its facilities but rather to the produced intensity of experience in one's faculties: a relentless excursion in the mountains pushing its students and spies to ever-new possibilities. If operated as a traditional academy it would fail miserably.

Yet it succeeds. Process philosophy meets pedagogy meets praxis.

Despite our example of love and hate considered above, those in the spy game know that the situation is anything but binary. As Victor Vitanza teaches us with the language games of Lyotard, and with the specific example of Tegwar, the machines are always modulating with each move. Love and hate infold in flux: there is no time to remain sedentary. This fact assumes even greater significance when one considers the rich node of communicative action — that is, the balance between speaking and writing — that constitutes the University of Disaster as sovereign institutional form.

If the University of Disaster errs largely on the side of the spoken word, with all the perishability that implies, we might ask what respect it holds for its relation with the listener? What laws govern its sovereignty and ensure justice for its subjects if the tradition is primarily oral?

As Schirmacher points out, Lyotard's call for "just gaming" was itself an ambiguous play on the word just: "to take life lightly and at the same time insist on justice for the working of language games." Those in the spy network should not want to fall in love with language: in fact, they should be distrustful of its claims. But sometimes language is required to communicate the nuances of relation, of love, of hate — in other words, for me to express myself to you.

And so we play, we take life lightly.

In this sense, "lol" operates at the threshold of text and image: both an acronym for dark, sardonic, wicked humour (Critchley's third way between melancholia and mania) and a hands-up icon of powerlessness before the sovereign. I surrender, with a wry grin touching the very corner of my lips.

Can one play the game with style? Is there justice?

Metamorphosus - Colonel - Photos courtesy of Barb Fornssler, 2009


. . . . .
<code> kthxbye -- Spy.


"Style is a self-evolving activity producing a gaze and opening the ear. It is not the author's viewpoint, or his or her aesthetic judgment that style expresses. Style is a game playing with time and language in which you discover and forget the self. Style is neither an identification tag nor a tool of power but a composition never made before, in a language free of fixed meaning but still meaningful to you" (Schirmacher).

Massumi+Manning are back in the game. Great timing. Are they a deal between partners, or a multiplicity? It seems to be the latter: they do not make 007 or 006, or even 0013, but the more-than that is produced by the eventedness of relation and its perishability. Call its numbering name n+1 — or hesheheshehe returns!

Style, vision, sound: fine, in theory. But let's not dance around the important questions. Where is the touch? Where is the politics of touch, more precisely? And for that matter, where is its pedagogy and praxis?

Touch is where the spoken of the ear meets the written of the gaze. Each must be considered as relational forms. A speaking body is met by a listening body, the threshold or interface between the two at the skin of the tympanic membrane; a writing body, on the other hand, is met by a reading body, the threshold between the two at the skin of the archive.

The skin is a surface, however. It wraps around a volume, encloses gesture. Speaking and writing must be considered variations of a topology emerging from gestural expression, each of which transforms differentially in time and space depending on the performance of the relational bodies in question. Gesture is time in the always-becoming of volumetric embodiment and the space in which a touching body is met by another touching body.

Whither style in this relational context? Massumi+Manning analyze this precise question with deeper consideration to find that style is the sum of movement modulations between all agents in co-resonance that allows the skilled player to gain an advantage. But style is also a provocation to the referee. A penalty may be called, or new rules introduced in response to the modulations. What if one is in the peculiar position of being both the person who must play the game with style and also adjudicate the degree to which the other plays stylishly as well, however: can one call a penalty against oneself? As Critchley reminds, following Agamben, Schmitt and others, we must define the sovereign not by the power to constitute the law, but rather by the one who determines the state of exception.

Massumi+Manning point out that naming and institutionalizing a dynamic process challenges the ethics of said process at every turn. If the dynamism of the process is born primarily through the process of speaking, as with the University of Disaster, then should we not always keep the ethics of the speaker in question? And if the communicative act is always relational, should we not also do the same for the listener? Finally, if naming and institutionalizing an identity are precisely that which offered agency in the first place, then once again we ask: when does the flip take place?

It appears to be when the generative violence implied by the birth of the identity no longer serves the agent but rather detaches to exist as a repressive technicity of the image. If the function of power in disciplinary societies served to produce docile bodies, its correlate in the societies of control is to produce docile identities, which may also include docile bodies. As such, we must escape the violence of the image.

Exodus or antagonism? Exodus and antagonism? If the passage is preordained, is there truly the possibility for agency?

Perhaps the agent in this case is the one who ruptures the preordained passage from one identity to the next, confusing the threshold. Consider this form of rupture or refusal consonant with a project of skin tectonics: the shifts and rumbles between various integumentary layers (dermis, clothing, architecture, digital profile) that may at times rupture or crack the "surface". The logic of skin tectonics suggests that the moving, gestural body — always already a political body — will never be fully captured by the tightness of its spectacular skin, for there will always be a slippage between integumentary layers. It is this slippage that constitutes the contemporary zone of opportunity, of resistance, and of indifference.

And if the nexus between skin, gesture and inscribed identity has never been more apparent, then perhaps we might also consider style to be a contouring of the Word — at once a transversal flight of the witness through doxa and a terrifying yet liberating movement to create interstitial distance between the law and the state of exception.

Did the referee even notice?

Metamorphosus - Agent - Photos courtesy of Barb Fornssler, 2009


. . . . .
<code> cul8r -- Spy.


Mission is a go. Homo Generator is meeting him at the rendezvous point and bringing reinforcements.

"This second law of media asks you to sign your name to the event, with no credit given for the hidden agenda. Media babies nurtured by shows, soaps, and trash movies live happily with collage, parody, and pastiche characteristic of the realm of performance. … Media has to seduce and open up a field of action which has no goal other than playing life, rearranging a never fixed lifeworld" (Schirmacher).

Once upon a time Bond staged his own death in the play of life. Though the physiological signals were indeed remixed, this is certainly not a biological death we are describing but rather a death of the image. 007 flatlined to 000, with no new data-deltas in the process of manufacture. It was perhaps his most convincing engagement ever with the question of performed identity.

Bond is dead! Long live the Bond!

Bond's maneuver was significant in that it offered him a new opportunity for movement — not simply for passage between identities (that is, life and death), but for a temporary suspension of the passage itself. This movement in suspension sounds paradoxical if one assumes the fixed perspective of the medical gaze and its unitary subjectivity, though when understood as a renegotiation of the link between corpus and image and its multiple relations, the idea begins to make more sense. Bond unperforms his normative performance to challenge the body-image link of his fixed identity and complete the mission. Or at least to gain the upper hand in so doing, for eventually he must come back to life and resurrect his pursuit of the evil mastermind.

But what if one could stay in passage indefinitely? Would it be possible to leverage the event rupture and dilate the threshold of passage such that movement always remains a potentiality? As with hesheheshehe, could one understand this as a will not to movement and a language game to the last? Not suspended animation, that is, but animated suspension? Could one keep the predatory fembot drones at bay? Could one die and yet live?


(Such traps are everywhere to be found. The question is where. The question is when.)


It suddenly dawns on him. "Homo Generator, you're the mole."

"It's General Generator, you idiot." A dismissive wave from his black-gloved hand. "Of course I'm the mole — or the serpent, whatever. It's been Me all along. This pitting of ideologies against one another has proven to be a very profitable enterprise."

"You're the one who's been sending me the messages. The Laws. It all makes sense now."

"Are you so sure it wasn't the Colonel? After all, the messages were from her channel."

(And what makes you so sure we don't have a second channel? If we mitigate its ambiguity, the multiple redundancy flesh resonance offers can help authenticate any code.)

"The first two sounded nothing like her."

"Yes, I will admit that it took us some time to — how shall we say — tap into her mode of linguistic processing? She was quite uncooperative to begin with. Poetic, even. Still, our work was good enough to get you here today."

Searching for a way out . . . "What have you done with —"

"No more questions, Spy, it's time for you to produce, time for you to pass your final test. Are you with us?"

(Could one play the game with style?)


The Spy turns to General Generator and looks him squarely in the eye. Playing life, just gaming, and determining the signature of truth under the sign of intensity, for language games such as those played by the University of Disaster demand equally intense conclusions to determine truly just outcomes. (Is any passage always already preordained? No.) He will sign his name to the event and refuse the test drive toward Final Judgment. He will laugh out loud like Medusa and be powerless before the sovereign.

Rapture of the rupture: you only live twice, after all.

Just then the subtle creak of a footstep behind him and the muted blip of a silenced pistol. Searing pain engulfs the base of his neck. (Fuck, philosophy is what happens behind your back! Where were my senses?) The pain spreads immediately to his heart, lingers there as the moment dilates into a flash drive of hazy memories, before consuming the rest of his body with a numbing scramble of icy television snow. Generator's voice fades. A blinding light overwhelms him.




(for taylor liss, agent in multiplicity.)

Pixel to Pellicule to Projection

For my own part, I will consider myself content with my work if, in attempting to locate the place and theme of testimony, I have erected some signposts allowing future cartographers of the new ethical territory to orient themselves.

— Giorgio Agamben

(part three of a three-part series: see also pixel and pixel to pellicule)


Given a spectacle as lavish and complex as the Opening Ceremonies of an Olympic Games, it can be difficult to justify the isolation of one particular component as being more worthy of attention than the rest. Indeed, in the case of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and its Opening Ceremonies the politics of identity also merit close consideration, particularly as they concern the representation of Canada's indigenous peoples, the varied Olympic sporting nationalisms, and the recently deceased Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.

Courtesy of CTVOlympics

That said, however, this essay will isolate and question a different component of the integumentary function during the Vancouver 2010 Opening Ceremonies, namely the white ponchos worn by nearly every each spectator in attendance. Though Vancouver was plagued by mild temperatures and rain in the days preceding the Games, the ponchos on hand were not there to protect spectators from the elements — indeed, these were the first fully indoor Opening Ceremonies. Rather, they were used as the screen on which the purveyors of sporting spectacle projected various images to mark the Olympic Games' opening.

At the Vancouver Olympics we witnessed yet another flip in the topology of discipline, spectacle and control — that is to say, in the topology of contemporary politics. No longer the disciplinary grid of the pixelated card stunt, no longer the undulating wave derived from the grid's discrete sequential logic, subjectivity in the stadium seats has mutated once again. The projection of Olympism onto the screen of ponchos completely smoothed the striations of the enclosed stadium layout, creating from their disciplinary subjects the unity of a single skin.

Subjective skin

In Michelangelo's The Last Judgment, painted on the front altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, there is a detail of the fresco in which Saint Bartholomew holds a rough knife in his right hand and his own flayed skin in the left. Bartholomew's gesture is at once a turn toward the Lord and a recoil from His presence. And of particular interest to this essay, the skin he holds in his left hand is meant to be a portrait Michelangelo painted of himself.

Sistine Chapel (Detail)

the last judgment (detail)

Scholarship has varied about what Michelangelo intended by introducing his self-portrait into the skin of Saint Bartholomew. The violent flaying of the skin, both an act of homage to the Lord and a punishment for his refusal to endorse paganism. The knife wielded by Bartholomew himself. All variables that complexify the "intent" of the artist, one from so many centuries ago who represents a story that originates centuries earlier.

It matters little to our present discussion which interpretation of Michelangelo's intent is the "correct" one. Instead, we draw our attention to the fact that in the time passed since the mid-sixteenth century, the "knowledge" that Saint Bartholomew's skin bore a self-portrait of Michelangelo was known, "forgotten" for centuries, and then "rediscovered" by the Italian physician Francesco La Cava. We draw our attention to the fact that a primarily oral tradition (knowledge of Michelangelo's self-portrait) was rendered extinct — before its eventual rekindling by the physician's visual capacity. We draw our attention to the very fact that a collective audience could imagine the artist representing his subjectivity by inscribing or revisioning a skin that was already known as belonging to someone else.

It is the American art critic and historian Leo Steinberg who questions the lengthy interval between those eras that understood Saint Bartholomew's flayed skin as portraying Michelangelo himself. Why this temporal gap or disconnect? Why was it a physician, La Cava, who "rediscovered" the self-portrait? Was it simply, as Steinberg suggests, that as a physician he was immune to the discursive boundaries of art orthodoxy and thus more free to discover?

Or can we resist this simple negation and suggest that as a physician La Cava was likely already aware of the body's medicalization via technical imaging processes? Aware that it was the gestural moving body that was captured by the varied forms of kinematic visioning? Or that the cinema constituted a plastic art and science of the skin (pellicule) long before such techniques moved from the flat surface to the contoured body? That the "rediscovery" of Michelangelo's self-portrait entered art discourse in 1925, scant decades after the emergence of popular cinema in many areas of the world, is perhaps not surprising.


It is said the mark of a good plastic surgeon is that one cannot view scar tissue artefacts from the incising, folding and stitching of a subject's skin, at least given the sufficient focal distance from which one is to make such a consideration. We can remark, then, on the skilled surgeons of spectacle who so neatly sewed together the ponchoed pellicules in the stands of Vancouver Olympic Stadium: when viewed from the perspective of the television camera, or indeed, from the other side of the stadium, the skin appeared whole and relatively unmarked — a touch weathered, perhaps, but certainly bearing little overt evidence of scarring to its surface.

Courtesy of CTVOlympics

We might suggest it is Pointillism updated for the current technological age: no longer the round dot of the point nor the square of the pixel, but the irregularly bounded figure that is the polygon, multiplied and (texture) mapped together to create the screen. It is the logic of volumetric striation and the sports videogame avatar: a large set of differential polygon shapes stitched together that reduce to the flat plane of television those elements we most consider gestural.

As the gestural is captured by the skin's surface orientation we shift our focus to that which has been projected onto the screen, namely, icons representing various Olympic sports and flags representing the competing nations. In other words, those fantasies of sporting inclusion and fraternal nationalism we collectively understand as "Olympian," discursively inscribed onto the screen as necessarily belonging to particular sports or to the nation-state form of political sovereignty.

We noted earlier that sport is one arena in which the supposed decline of the nation-state posited by Hardt and Negri's Empire thesis has not been confirmed. To the contrary, it is the vigor with which nation-versus-nation sporting competition continues to resonate that obscures those other actors in sport's imperial meshwork and their varied conjunctures with one another. Might we even suggest that sport offers the opportunity for the excesses of the imperial system — that is, for the nationalist tensions that arise as neoliberal capital flows smoothly across borders — to be safely dissipated via the differential flows of television signals and allow for the overall health of the machine-organism?

The hygienic theatre

It is Virilio who suggests that those who are absent from the stadium are always right. But Baudrillard goes further: as mentioned earlier, the lesson he draws from the Heysel disaster is that the spectators need to be purged from the stadium in favour of the strictly televisual. John Bale locates in this a fulfillment of his "surgical" model of the sportscape, a sterile space free of spectators and in which only the athletic operations themselves are conducted on the stadium floor. Indeed, given the raw ponchoed skins that have just so recently been stitched together for the Vancouver Opening Ceremonies, one would hope the hygienic standards of the stadium approach those of the surgical clinic.

To illustrate this hygienic quality we shall take a slight detour to explore the glow sticks that were also handed out to each spectator at the stadium. Given the high definition capability of television and the high resolution of the spectator screen, the glow sticks provided to each audience member should be understood as much smaller objects than the cards of the pixel stunt, and thus fulfilling a quite different function. While the cards of the pixelated stunt were engineered to communicate a particular signal, the glow sticks serve to reintroduce noise to the high definition display of digital signal, adding a lushness not unlike that which a musician might engineer into a contemporary digital recording with the artefacts of vinyl static.

Courtesy of CTVOlympics

This lushness is visible both by those present at the stadium and those watching at home, which is not to suggest that these become identical subject positions. The spectator at home exists as a function of the eye, which is to say as a function of both the camera eye and the television producer's eye. This functions as either a sort of real-time Cubism in which multiple simultaneous viewpoints are filtered to the singular perspective of the final work, or as a more scripted logistics of perception that features pre-calculated camera sightlines corresponding to the action below.

Recall that Benjamin likened the cameraman to the surgeon, who "greatly diminishes the distance between himself and the patient by penetrating into the patient’s body, and increases it but little by the caution with which his hand moves among the organs." The warm ambience of the glowstick noise obscures the hygienic sterility in which digital spectacle is produced for the spectator at home.

The zone

The spectator at the stadium, on the other hand, exists in a middle zone as both subject and object of this particular drama, the hygiene of digital also modulating this multiple relationality. Kittler's dramatic introduction to Gramophone, Film, Typewriter offers us a clue as to the particular reason why:

Before the end, something is coming to an end. The general digitization of channels and information erases the differences among individual media. Sound and image, voice and text are reduced to surface effects, known to consumers as interface. Sense and the senses turn into eyewash. Their media-produced glamor will survive for an interim as a by-product of strategic programs. Inside the computers themselves everything becomes a number: quantity without image, sound, or voice. And once optical fiber networks turn formerly distinct data flows into a standardized series of digitized numbers, any medium can be translated into any other. With numbers, everything goes. Modulation, transformation, synchronization; delay, storage, transposition; scrambling, scanning, mapping — a total media link on a digital base will erase the very concept of medium. Instead of wiring people and technologies, absolute knowledge will run as an endless loop (p.1).

During the Vancouver Opening Ceremonies, the loop of absolute knowledge in question ran between the space of the stadium and the space of the home, which begs a question. If synthetic means of perception today rely almost wholly on digital forms of recording, inscription, encoding, transmission and storage, then why does the bank of spectators, this screen onto which the Opening Ceremonies were projected, still need to be present? Why can't the images of the national flags and the sporting icons — and indeed, the spectators themselves — be superimposed on the television screen (as with a graphic overlay that displays statistics), or digitally integrated into the "real" of the stadium, (as with football's first down line)? If, as Baudrillard and Virilio suggest, it is those at home watching who are always right, why is it that the stadium spectators are still required?

One of the lessons we learned from the 2008 Summer Olympic Games and its Opening Ceremonies was precisely such an indistinction between actual and synthetic spaces, most notably manifest in the fireworks display that exploded both in gunpowdered form at Beijing National Stadium and as a digital simulation on telescreens worldwide. This optical doubling was meant to ensure that televisual perception remained pristine in the event that problems befell the live fireworks display — namely, low visibility due to purportedly poor air quality. Once again, those absent from the stadium appeared to be right.

It could be said that the stadium spectators are still required because the revenues they bring from ticket sales, concessions, and sponsor imprints are desirable to the profit-maximizing actors who constitute Sporting Empire. But these are risky revenues. Aggregating a live audience post-9/11 is risky, and thus costly: the Vancouver Organizing Committee spent $950 million on the varied security measures employed during the Games. That the risk is borne at all speaks to a shift from State sovereignty and its right to kill, which today becomes biopolitics and its "primary objective to transform the care of life and the biological as such into the concern of State power" (Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz, p.155). An expense of nearly a billion dollars to secure territory for a two-week sporting competition gives this biopolitical "care of life" a rapid quantitative grounding.

The care of biological life as a security matter is risky, yes, but from a different perspective so is the signal coming from the image-factory that is the sports stadium. The Opening Ceremonies of an Olympic Games, in particular, exist among the most elaborately constructed spectacles in human history, both at the stadium and on television. An entire choreography of perception to capture the dazzling displays in the building for television, admitting to its own presence as infrequently as possible. The actors on the floor are relatively scripted, but what about the spectator-subjects in the stands? How can we be certain they will not compromise the signal in any way? What if someone engineered the contagion of a Wave?

Are these revenues really worth the risk?

Given the scripted choreography of perception produced in Hollywood today, one presumes the CGI rendering capabilities are sophisticated enough to display either a screen of projected imagery or a crowd of stadium spectators. But Kittler's observation about the shift to digitality proves key. If we can question the simulation of fireworks, national flags, sports icons and spectators, certainly we can question the simulation of the event itself, erasing the very concept of the stadium? Is this not the lesson of sports videogames and their rapidly "improving" binary-coded artificial intelligence engines?

Courtesy of CTVOlympics

That the sporting event actually exists is the first layer in the carefully constructed apparatus of truth that is contemporary televised sport. This truth possesses a digital representation, inscription, transmission and storage, but what it wants is its legitimation, which it finds in the flesh relation of those analog bodies located at either end of the communication channel and its endless loop (cf. Massumi, "On the Superiority of the Analog"). It is the spectator at the stadium who provides this fleshy legitimation to the televiewer at home, a last gasp for real space to roar in a relation dominated by real time.

For one fails to understand the roar of the stadium crowd if one considers it simply an acoustic phenomenon. As Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht suggests, it is rather "a physical point of self-reference through which the crowd perceives and transforms itself into one unified body" (In Praise of Athletic Beauty, p.215). It is an expression of intensity made manifest, made corporeal: the linguistic signifiers of aural outpouring, yes, but also the gestural qualities of the roaring act and the flesh resonance with both the thousands of others in attendance and those who perform on the stadium floor.

In fact, there need not even exist a roaring crowd for there to be a comparable level of intensity perceived by those in attendance. A stillness — an anticipation of what is to come — may resonate with the flesh in a fashion quite as intense as the great roar. We might say there is a buzz in the air, the quiet hum of voices that gives the pregnant silence its lush quality. We might say one could cut the tension with a knife, perhaps the most damning indictment of the tangibility of flesh's non-tangibility, of the relational weaves that develop their tensility with each passing moment of anticipation, and of the latent urge to sever these fibres lest one be consumed by the intensity of their relation.

Perversion, inversion

In a perversion of Foucault's analysis of the panopticon, the disciplining of the spectator becomes that which contributes to the production of sporting spectacle itself. Anyone may step into the guard tower, yes, and observe those in the partitions of competition (given sufficient discretionary income, of course), thus participating in the exercise of disciplinary power. But the spectator also becomes among the observed when the vectors of archive and telesthesia are introduced to the production of spectacle: the "guards in the tower" are also seen by the television cameras, surveillance cameras, and cellphone cameras that proliferate in this ludic space. They, too, become Foucauldian "objects of information, never subjects in communication," at least insofar as we are describing communication in its traditional linguistic sense.

Given the always-on digitality of Kittler's new media order, the "guards" themselves become performers in the discursive production of the mediated event and confirm the affective response that the television audience at home is meant to embody. Guarding, as such, comes to mean communicating the very analog fact of having spectated the event, with communication understood as based in flesh resonance and its corresponding gesture.

No matter how sterile the space becomes, the stadium spectator will never be exiled from the surgical theatre in favour of the televiewers back home. So long as the optics of televised spectacle remain perspectival in nature, the vectors of telesthesia will never fully reproduce the volumetric of the stadium spectator. Even if they do somehow, if the optics become volumetric and the avatar can more closely approximate the gestural body of the spectator at home, it remains that the analog resonance of flesh will not have been duplicated. And so the spectator at the stadium becomes the uneasy compromise that sporting Empire must concede in order to give synthetic perception and its audience a grounding and legitimation in the resonance of flesh witnessing.

What is a stadium?

It was suggested earlier that in the stadium we find echoes of Agamben's inquiry into the camp as a form of life governing biopolitics everywhere. While we do not mean to draw an equivalence between the deportees of Auschwitz and high performance athletes, we should draw attention to those structuring principles found in the most extreme version of the camp and how they enter the ludic arena to govern the biopolitics of sport. The enclosure of the stadium, the serialization of spectators and inscription of athletes within, and the topological transformation of the space to police performance enhancing substances and methods all constitute a particular state of exception that we might describe under the broad emerging rubric of lex sportiva. We find additional evidence with the conversion of the stadium space from its role in the production of ludic capital to other purposes during times of warfare, emergency, contagion, or disaster.

Indeed, Agamben himself draws the link between the stadium and the camp-as-form on a few different occasions. In Means Without End: Notes on Politics, he writes:

If this is the case, if the essence of the camp consists in the materialization of the state of exception and in the consequent creation of a space for naked life as such, we will then have to admit to be facing a camp virtually every time that such a structure is created, regardless of the nature of the crimes committed in it and regardless of the denomination and specific topography it might have. The soccer stadium in Bari in which the Italian police temporarily herded Albanian illegal immigrants in 1991 before sending them back to their country, the cycle-racing track in which the Vichy authorities rounded up the Jews before handing them over to the Germans, the refugee camp near the Spanish border where Antonio Machado died in 1939, as well as the zones d'attente in French international airports in which foreigners requesting refugee status are detained will all have to be considered camps (p.42).

To these examples we might also include the Louisiana Superdome during Hurricane Katrina, the Itchioka PoW Camp during World War II, and the local baseball diamonds used as "designated protest zones" or "free speech areas" during political events, among hundreds of others. While these examples highlight the space itself as primary in structuring the biopolitical apparatus, Agamben elsewhere delves further into the relations that produce the subjectivities of the camp. In Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, he writes of the Sonderkommando, a unique group of deportees "responsible for managing the gas chambers and crematoria," and who also occasionally played in soccer matches with the Nazi SS:

[Primo] Levi recalls that a witness, Miklos Nyszli, one of the very few who survived the last "special team" of Auschwitz, recounted that during a "work" break he took part in a soccer match between the SS and representatives of the Sonderkommando. "Other men of the SS and the rest of the squad are present at the game; they take sides, bet, applaud, urge the players on as if, rather than at the gates of hell, the game were taking place on the village green."

This match might strike someone as a brief pause of humanity in the middle of an infinite horror. I, like the witnesses, instead view this match, this moment of normalcy, as the true horror of the camp. For we can perhaps think that the massacres are over — even if here and there they are repeated, not so far away from us. But that match is never over; it continues as if uninterrupted. It is the perfect and eternal cipher of the "gray zone," which knows no time and is in every place (p.25).

What is of note about this gray zone is the space for the third that opens up within the play at hand, the zone of indistinction between guard and deportee on the soccer pitch. If the economic might of the television audience at home serves as the truth of the event for Sporting Empire and its actors in the Opening Ceremonies, do the spectators at the stadium and their complex integration into the spectacle exist in a similar gray zone or third space?

The witness

How do we understand witnessing and flesh resonance in such a gray zone? As Agamben continues in Remnants of Auschwitz:

From this perspective, the meaning of "witness" also becomes transparent, and the three terms that, in Latin, express the idea of testimony all acquire their characteristic physiognomy. If testis designates the witness insofar as he intervenes as a third in a suit between two subjects, and if superstes indicates the one who has fully lived through an experience and can therefore relate it to others, auctor signifies the witness insofar as his testimony always presupposes something — a fact, a thing, a word — that preexists him and whose reality and force must be validated or certified. … Testimony is thus always an act of an "author": it always implies an essential duality in which an insufficiency or incapacity is completed or made valid (p.150).

If what is being presented as the Opening Ceremonies is but the authored spectacular event par excellence, then this last aspect of testimony posited by Agamben becomes problematic for Sporting Empire. Too many authors spoil the text, we might say, or at least challenge its architectural claims to truth and thus the message must be modulated rather than wikified. Intellectual property is at risk, after all. And thus we may better understand the images projected upon those in attendance at Vancouver's Olympic Stadium: the latest technique by which Sporting Empire attempts to neutralize the authorial aspect of witnessing. Skins flayed open, each surgically stitched to the next, the naked life onto which an Olympic self-portrait is inscribed; zoe and the replication of interlocking rings, gesture turned inward from the screen, analog presence and its incomplete translation to the digital.

While the camp endures as a form in which the very issue of humanity is continually at stake, and thus always stands separate from an analysis of sport and its ludic political economy, we may certainly recognize in the stadium, as Agamben himself does, the camp-as-form that differentially constitutes biopolitical spaces everywhere. And yet this "differential" constitution begs the question of specificity. In the particular case of the Vancouver 2010 Opening Ceremonies, an event purportedly marked by its diversity — the bright colours of the Parade of Nations, in particular — obscures its very basis in uniformity: what is the specific mechanism that has most of the audience wearing a white poncho to complement those team uniforms marching in down below?

Why are the stadium spectators complicit? Is the requirement to wear the poncho contractually obligated as part of one's ticketed passage into the Opening Ceremonies? Or what about a different scenario, with a poncho strategically available on each chair that was optional to wear upon entering the building? What if one attempted to refuse but then someone else a few seats over strongly suggested that one was in fact expected to wear the garment? Who, precisely, would be "expecting" the poncho to be worn? The event organizers? The panoptic gaze? Or one's fellow assembled spectators?

Courtesy of CTVOlympics

Does one stand defiant in the face of this challenge? Does one refuse the soft program of the mass and explicitly call into question the figure of the spectator-witness? As the animal body is emptied out into the in the networked space of spectacle, does one reduce one's degree of exposure to alterity in order to contain the potential of contagion? In this gray zone, the zone of naked life and spectacular television programming, the zone in which presence trumps absence, the zone in which for the time being real referents still remain, one can only hope that Baudrillard's strategem of hyperconformity was intended as a clever ruse.

dobf flux002 (kino-gait)

In The Coming Community, the Italian political theorist Giorgio Agamben suggests that "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 … this is the good that humanity must learn how to wrest from commodities in their decline" (p.50).


It is in this context, the inseparable linking together of image and body, that the Department of Biological Flow hosts its second workshop of research-creation, KINO-GAIT, on October 20 at the Lillian H. Smith Library in Toronto from 6-8pm. Please join us!

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twitter: #dobf

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.


In America, Jean Baudrillard suggested that the mirror phase had "given way" to the video phase and the contemporary era of the screen image. But have we not changed again, reverted back to the mirror or at least mutated into a new hybrid of mirror and video?

There is a model for what we are attempting to describe here: the two-way mirror so adored by psychology practice. As children we play in these special rooms while the medical gaze and its recording devices sit quietly behind the silvered glass. Eventually, we learn of the duplicity, not unlike those moments in which we discover the fictions that are Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and Michael Jackson's whiteness. Whenever in the same situation again, we are subconsciously aware of the mirror and wonder what lurks on the other side.

The regime of the screen intensifies, both in quantity and quality. The sheer number of screens increases beyond even that which Baudrillard could imagine. There is a viral proliferation of the screenal, vectoring beyond home (television) and work (computer) to infect every public space (monitor, jumbotron, electronic billboard, arcade game, etc.), and even the very flows of human movement themselves (laptop, PDA, cellphone).

But the nature of the input interface has changed as well, "democratized," a contagion of interactivity to match the proliferation of the screenal. Now we are all "creators," all able to see ourselves extended into the data networks of the ludic-virtual. In other words, all complicit in the creation of a new mirror — a slightly kaleidoscopic mirror, mind you — but one that captivates us like Narcissus long beyond that mirror phase of childhood.

Like the two-way sort used in psychology, however, this new era of the interactive is at once mirror and screen, at once opportunity for enclosed self-contemplation and open performance. For we all know what lurks behind the silvering of this new mirror and that is the gaze: sometimes manifest as benevolent glance and sometimes as cold, clinical, unblinking stare. Always performance.

Narcissus never suspected that Echo was swimming below the surface of the pool, but we know better.

* * *

There is a certain congruency here with videogames that allow one to toggle between first- and third-person perspectives. Vilém Flusser discusses the difference between line and surface and its implications for perception and thought, but, writing before the videogame revolution, neglects to consider the volumetric. All three appear in the planar form, but since Flusser distinguishes between line and surface, or text and image, it seems important to understand that the videogame is also of an altogether different character, for one actually enters its non-space to control the avatar during one's play.

This is not the same as a three-dimensional setting being reduced to the two-dimensional planar surface through perspectival optics, as with photography, film or television. In that case, one's vision identifies strictly with the point-of-view of the camera and one must imagine the depth of field that is represented on the surface. With the contemporary videogame, on the other hand, there is literally a three-dimensional non-space that has been mathematically modeled "behind" the screen. While the screen thus appears as a site of reduction, this is not due to the nature of cognitive engagement with this non-space, for we are continually monitoring multiple points-of-view as our bodily expertise increases in these ludic environments.

Admittedly, an entire history of static versus scrolling versus spatial gameplay environments needs to be told here, but suffice it to say that the emergence of the ludic subject from the primordial digital ooze of the surface to become volume is the most significant challenge to perception and thought since the invention of photography.

The split of the two-way silvering between mirror and screen is perhaps one way to understand this challenge to perception and thought, manifest in the ludic environment as the ability to instantaneously switch between the subject and object, between the I/je/? and the one/on/??? pronoun positions.

What of the you/tu/??

This was the opening in which wii would like to play // we don't have tickets found its niche. In "sprinting" the videogame 100-metre dash against a local, embodied competitor there was an explicit engagement with the you/tu/? at the nexus of I/je/? and one/on/??? positions. No, people didn't actually run, but yes, they did flail their arms, breathe heavy, and perhaps even shed a bead of sweat. No, people didn't face each other, but yes, through a Japanese interface both Chinese and English engaged amicably, not in translation but rather as a mediation.

And yes, in the process a temporary we/nous/?? was established: a micropolitics of the social body that first began with a politics of the moving and sensing animal body.

(a work-in-process between elaine w. ho and sean smith towards "17 days in beijing: screen of consciousness on the micropolitical," a text for public issue 40)