Did you know that Telstar was the first satellite to relay a live transatlantic television feed? Did you know that Adidas created the official match balls of the 1970 FIFA World Cup, also named Telstar? Did you know that the black and white panels of the soccer ball were designed such that the ball would be more visible on black-and-white television? Did you know that the Telstar ball is designed in the shape of a truncated icosahedron, topologically transformed by the addition of air? Did you know that the truncated icosahedron also provided the lens configuration used for focusing the explosive shock waves from the detonator of the Fat Man atomic bomb? Did you know that Coleco introduced a videogame console designed to be connected to a black-and-white television, also named Telstar? Did you know that the Coleco Telstar used the AY-3-8500 chip manufactured by General Instrument, which dedicated pin number 21 for its soccer game?
i try to understand what is eating you
i try to stay awake but it's 58 hours
since that i last slept with you
what are we coming to?
i just don't know anymore
blame it on the black star
blame it on the falling sky
blame it on the satellite that beams me home
(radiohead, "black star")
Instant Karma's Gonna Get You: Reflections on Movement, Relation and Memory
(submitted by sean smith to the intersections 2010 conference in communication and culture at york university)
In 1966 the Fluxus-influenced artist Yoko Ono presented Play It By Trust, a conceptual work featuring a chess board with two sets of all-white pieces facing each other on a grid of all-white squares. The opponents become indistinguishable from one another in the absence of traditional visual signifiers, and as the hypothetical game progresses the entire binary of militarized competition becomes subject to reconsideration. Using Ono's white chess set as a model I will put the game into play, so to speak, as a means of questioning the interrelated concepts of movement, relation and memory within this ludic space. Drawing primarily on the theory of Deleuze and Guattari, Kittler, Massumi, Manning and Agamben, I will contrast the archive as technical apparatus with a more embodied and intermediated form of collective remembering, as well as explore their implications for political sovereignty in the age of Empire.
Two passages from Jean Baudrillard:
- from "Beyond Artificial Intelligence: Radicality of Thought," in Impossible Exchange, p. 116:
"Kasparov has on his side the human passion of the challenge; he has an other ranged against him, an opponent. Strictly speaking, Deep Blue has no adversary; it moves within the scope of its own programme. This is a decisive advantage for the human, the advantage of otherness, which is the subtle precondition for play, with its possibilities of decoying, of 'overplaying one's hand', of sacrifice and weakness. The computer, by contrast, is condemned to play at the height of its capabilities."
- from "Deep Blue or the Computer's Melancholia," in Screened Out, p. 163:
"When up against the machine they have themselves programmed (let us not forget that it was men like Kasparov who programmed Deep Blue), human beings can only subtly de-programme themselves, become 'technically incorrect' to stay ahead of the game. They may even have to take over the machine's own place. … This is the only possible strategy: if you become technically correct, you are unfailingly beaten by the machine."
play it by trust (white chess set)
On the surface, Yoko Ono's Play It By Trust seems to be a smart and intuitive critique of the simple binary of war-conflict. By painting all of the pieces and squares white and positioning them in the traditional chess game opening formation, she immediately sets up a tension in which we seem to actually be waging war against ourselves. Once an imagined play begins and the pieces commingle (dare we say miscegenate?), they slowly start to lose their identity of standing opposite the other and the game tentatively suggests a metaphor for peace.
In any examination of chess play, however, we cannot just look at matters on the surface. We must admit the contours and perspectives of the volumetric, just as we must admit the unfolding of a particular linear timeframe while play emerges. Imagine this imagined game becoming material — momentarily — and its players using algebraic notation (eg. Nf3) to track the logistics of movement-play on the board, for even in Ono's chess-world the striations of the grid do still exist.
When the coding of the chess game moves almost strictly to the archival databank the pieces and squares cease to possess an "identity" in any traditional sense, save for abstract locational information at discrete moments in time. They do not stand embodied for anything in particular, save the continual generation of the code. As Deleuze would suggest, they have become dividuals.
Since the entire game could be played via notation at this point — which, in fact, is what happens with computer chess — maintaining any relation to Ono's white pieces remains strictly an exercise in sensuality and the act of touching or moving-with in touch. This is the only reason they need remain. Viewed from this perspective, Ono does not show us a peaceful future world in which the binary oppositions of black versus white cease to exist, but rather demonstrates the ultimate uselessness of the material body in its becoming-information. While at a "surface" level seeming to embrace hybridity and one-ness with the other — in the most postmodern, imperial sense put forth by Hardt and Negri — this chess world remains connected, disconnected and otherwise modulated by streams of data, perspectival vision, and the archive.
And so the question we must ask of Yoko Ono stands insistent: is the game being archived? In the contemporary age of "archive fever," is the game being coded, notated, recorded or inscribed, saved, secured — in short, remembered? If there were no hands moving the pieces around the board, but only the pieces collectively moving themselves, would such archiving occur nonetheless — perhaps automatically, as a new form of instant karma?
play it for as long as you can remember
who is your opponent and
who is your own self. (yoko ono)
Or do we refuse the archive? Do we retain tactility? Do we encounter the inevitable confusion once the board becomes more chaotic during middle and endgames? Do we collectively remember and resolve the confusion?
Do we collectively forget and allow certain memories to slip away, or fade to black?
(thanks to the switch, who is both black and/or white if i remember correctly)
(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.
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.
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.).
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.
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.