Desperation Moves


In certain modern team sports there are a number of what we may describe as normative, yet legal, "desperation moves" that the team losing a contest may attempt as time begins to run out — provided the deficit is reasonably surmountable. In hockey, for example, the losing team will pull the goaltender in favour of an extra attacking skater; in basketball, a team will foul deliberately in order to force the other team to immediately shoot free throws; in gridiron football, there is the onside kickoff, etc.

Strategically, we might abstract these three examples as follows: in hockey, given the particular status (and equipment) that characterizes the goaltender, the attempt is to create an asymmetry in the number of attacking skaters and put pressure in the opposing zone. In basketball, constrained as it is by a required player symmetry, the attempt is to dilate the temporal parameters of the game, "extending" it by rapidly fouling and hopefully trading off multiple 1-point shots for 2- or 3-point shots at the other end. Gridiron football is also constrained by symmetry, on the one hand, but does not have regular and rapid turnover of possession either, and thus its attempt with the onside kick is to overload a space — or more precisely, to swarm a proximity.

In each case we witness a malleable, plastic quality — stretching, contracting, spasming — that over enough contests will have a statistically significant ability to turn the tide of victory in the timespaces of zero-sum athletic enclosure.




"On the surface of things, water offers us this paradox: it is at once capable of gently propagating a wavy ripple to near-infinity, and yet it is also surprisingly resilient or responsive to dramatic changes in amplitude. A peculiar elasticity, then, this distributed and complex musicality in which we-swim."

(Jock Cousteaux, Aqua Rara, p.69)

a new relationship to the law


American Pragmatism


the geometry of the thing couldn't be any more obvious: a rectangle with standardized dimensions and rounded corners; a swath of freshly zambonied ice about half the width of the rink; a puck from dead middle centre ice on a plumb line straight vertical to the goal; a goaltender crouching in the way, also dead centre on this plumb line to victory.

modern sport writ large: sochi olympic men's ice hockey prelims; usa vs. russia; shootout; tj oshie is picked to shoot an unprecedented 6 times and almost single-handedly lifts team usa to the win.

but it's the style of the how which concerns us here, not simply the 4 goals oshie scored (after beating the russian goalie bobrovsky cleanly on all 6 attempts, it should be added). what was so devastating about his approach?

think expressive lines. it begins in the difference from the line oshie takes relative to the plumb vertical, not to mention the more normative lines skated by other players in shootout situations.

the orthodox lines that constitute shootout normativity? think of full-bore speed straight down the plumb line with a little deke at the goalmouth; or one big arc before coming to the strong hand and sniping from the slot; or the dangle that emerges at the end from an otherwise gentle wave of a line; or that crazy mess of a scribbled line when the coach puts in the wrong shooter to win the game — the indecisive line.

(or perhaps putting the brakes on, right before the crease, showering the goldtender in the eyes with a little snowy blindness?)

oshie has taken flight from this expressive normativity in a number of ways. first, the tempo: his opening arc is extremely slow relative to the average shooter, and the pace and shape of the arc somehow suggest a snake charmer conjuring the relational cobra with a tune. second, his use of space: he explores almost the entire width of the freshly flooded ice, even to the point of skating beyond that outer limit a few times (and in the process suffering stumbles to otherwise smooth curves).


because of the first two, slowness and width of arc, there emerges a third: oshie is able to complete a pretty full two turns of generous and seductive curvature in the opening of his approach, relative to what is usually at most only one. as a result he doesn't reveal his handedness too early to bobrovsky (which is to say his contextual handedness — ie. front or back hand — rather than a general handedness — ie. left or right shot).

these turns are of descending amplitude: there is a gravitational pulling-towards the epicentre that is the goal, oshie generating an intensity with the big slow arcs before the lightning and chaotic finish right at the net. it is vortical: his line expresses a tornado that has bobrovsky as its subject and the goal right behind if the displacement is successful enough ("in other words, a figure in which all the points of space are simultaneously occupied according to laws of frequency or of accumulation, distribution" — d+g, atp, p.489). oshie has shortened the phase of the relational tango between he and bobrovsky using an exponential time signature on skates.

(it is noteworthy that oshie's stumbles from going wide on the opening turn didn't necessarily result in a miss; in fact, they seemed to add even more chaos to the approach, allowing oshie a greater disequilibrium with/in which to play at the goal.)


so which one of these lines or attempts constitutes oshie's "ideal form", then?

of course it is the topology itself — the biogram — held within a sort of statistical probability of lines that may be expressed. it is all six of the attempts, and more ("a physics of packs, turbulences, 'catastrophes,' and epidemics corresponding to a geometry of war, of the art of war and its machines" — d+g, atp, p.489). it is oshie's ability to manipulate and intensify experiential time, and then quickly read the relational tango that emerges such to avoid formatted routines. and it is the confidence born of inherited results which ultimately state either a functional yes or no — even if you've beaten the goalie cleanly on six and only scored on four.

Winter, Classically

winter, classically

The NHL is the top hockey league in the world, and if we are looking at this from a sports production standpoint this means we are describing the most highly skilled manufacture of competition and uncertain hockey outcomes on the planet, as an ongoing concern — which is to say as a matter of accumulation rather than the elite event-based production of the Olympics.

But of course the game is also about the production of spectacle, of audience aggregation and synthetic storylines and target marketing — and thus the most highly skilled manufacture of sporting gesture and its transmission, of affective receptivity, of qualified fanaticism and quantified consumerism.

For most of the 20th century, as John Bale points out, the former has meant an increasingly hygienic space of sporting production, in which the values of achievement sport most desired by accumulation find their way into the daily churn of the professional sport industry. In a sense, it was not simply a standardization that mattered but the removal of noise which could otherwise contaminate the truth of the results.

winter, classically

And for most of the 20th century spectacle played along, developing an increasingly elaborate logistics of perception to disguise production altogether and present the viscera of pure, competitive play-at-work. The surgicality of the endeavour is even more pronounced here, with thousands of sensory cuts rendered and stitched together to somehow produce the skin of a sporting Gesamtkunstwerk.

Which is what makes the NHL's Winter Classic so interesting: by playing the game outdoors and subject to the elements (snow, wind, glare), not only is a particular sporting nostalgia of backyard shinny and pond hockey revived, but spectacle itself becomes more spectacular by explicitly refusing the hygienic paradigm of modern sport. Noise is introduced, friction enters the system, and by the standards of achievement sport the event's game production occurs at a shockingly substandard level.

There is a refusal of hygiene in the play-at-work space, but only by cutting through the spatiotemporal fold and admitting the past. A futural noise, friction or filth would still be unimaginable here.

winter, classically

If there is in fact a zone in which the past-present of the Winter Classic meets the future, it remains bound with that other element of achievement sport — the record. Only the record of interest here is one of accumulation: the largest crowd in hockey history ever to witness a live contest, as 105,491 jammed into the University of Michigan football stadium to watch the game.

And hence the flaw in Bale's analysis: for him, pace Baudrillard and Virilio, it was the television audience that was always right and so to perfectly satisfy the hygienic requirements of achievement sport the spectators at the live event had to be removed, leaving behind only an inert ludic container in which the game could be played, fair play assesed, and television imagery produced. But it appears that accumulation is never so teleological, the crowd is precisely necessary to give the alibi to spectacle, and it is hygienic achievement which can be removed from the equation and left behind without losing a truth verdict in the process.

In this case, witness-noise makes a virtue of production-noise to set a nostalgic record, though one wonders what the hyperbolic curve will demand as it increasingly detaches from its counterpart in linear accumulation.

The Voice (and its Mingled Bodies)

Courtesy of Kellogg

With professional sport — and particularly those major professional sports leagues that play a large number of games in a season, such as the NBA, NHL or MLB — there exist at least three distinct tempos at play which animate the television broadcast. The first is born of the Flesh that plays the game proper — that is, the athletes that literally provide the muscular motor for the sporting spectacle that is being produced. Fast-twitch fibres, razor-sharp reflexes, power: everyone says the game is always fasterthe athletes that much more impressive — when they are witnessed in person, which is to say volumetrically.

The second tempo is provided by the multiple Eye that captures this fleshy expenditure in its becoming, both for telecast to audiences far removed from the sports stadium as well as for archival purposes and their future extractive values — from in camera to on camera. Obviously this is the tempo most apparent to the television viewer at whatever contingency is called home, even though its aim is to achieve a perfect transparency that allows for the truth of sporting copoiesis and its measureable objectives to illuminate the living room or sports bar space.

Paradoxically, this is a tempo of acceleration: while slow-motion instant replay allows the network producer to loop back ad infinitum to show athletic exploits at reduced speed in startling detail, the multiple cuts they entail and indeed the slow-motion techniques themselves serve overall to somatically accelerate a pace that has been largely compromised by the wide-angle tracking shot.

This subtle narcosis of the TV screen is in turn partially offset by a third tempo, that of the Voice (play-by-play, colour commentary) which narrates the athletic emergence and channels its discursive formation in a fashion that toggles between registers of servomechanism and agency. While the fleshy bodies on the field of play must eventually decay and be replaced by other peak bodies, the Voice is timeless — or at least of a pace that introduces nostalgia through the rhythmic undulation of its articulations and periodic spasms of hyperbole (if you are sleeping then you are not paying full enough attention).

Puberty is metamorphosis for the Voice: expression has changed, a phase shift that for both genders generally deepens the tone and produces a different quality of intensity to the air that is expired with every word spoken. After puberty, one's voice barely changes throughout the rest of one's life, even while the rest of its fleshy container grows old and withers. While peak athletic bodies come and go at great pace, the timelessness of the announcing Voice is ensured so long as it does not become strange and lose its ability to connect at this slower tempo.

The Voice is a Skin (or perhaps an aural form of what Serres refers to as a veil) that does not appear on the TV screen too often — in fact, we might consider it a form that ruptures the pellicule (skin) itself. Its performative expression is much less for the television than it is a performance of the television and its network affiliations for the hordes in attendance at the stadium. At the very least the Face of the Voice is visible on-screen rarely enough that the sight of bad toupees, weaves or awkward botox treatments are either barely registered or offer a quaint and queer artefect produced as the excess of nostalgia's claims to truth.

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Rewind: Sept. 2008: "Structurally, late modern sport operates along two primary temporal vectors: it is at once the eternal recurrence of a particular sporting history wrapped in the warm folds of nostalgia (or better, what LCD Soundsystem might call borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered century) and a continual preparation for contagion, processing, incarceration and trauma. Somewhere in between this implicated past and future is the now of consumption."

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Generally speaking, we might suggest it is the multiple Eye (and its interface with the touch of Skin) that governs the preparation for contagion, processing, incarceration and trauma found in late modern sport, while the Voice (and its interface with the touch of Skin) anchors its eternal recurrence of particular sporting histories in nostalgia.

Finally, we might suggest that the Flesh (and its interface with the touch of Skin) both implicates and is implicated by the now of consumption. It is here that exchange occurs, tempos slightly out of joint, though one hopes not overly so. It is here that we gesture towards new forms of encounter, new politics, new exchanges — in part through and with the Skin, but also by interfacing Flesh directly, in resonances of harmony or interference.