American Pragmatism

oshie

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).

oshie

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.)

oshie

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.

_____________ _ _ _

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."

_____________ _ _ _

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.

northward, bound

intension

suboptimally smitten

intension
a luscious word or
rhythm rolling off the tip
of one's tongue off the tips
of one's fingers off
the tipsy stroll one takes on
the surface of one's face.

face off

interface, starry-eyed
not a force or a face but
a field and a gliding on
which affects play the game.

play off

she runs because she can and
isn't that the point in a
traject of points only seen
after the moment of aching
muscles and intensional sweating pours off?

pores off

i run because i am a program and
isn't that the point in a
traject of points only seen
in a tense future of quaking
connexions and intensional
sweating or fears?

if n+1=<3 then print
"i am sorry"
else off

friday nite lites

is the classic scoreboard the lite-brite of the sportocracy?

certainly the only patterns that may be punctured on its face are those that inscribe the rectilinear number-patterns of time and score. but how could they do such a thing? numbers are round and luscious and flowing and curvilinear: gestural markings on a surface, yes, though never meant to be pinpricks of light programmed for a screen-based display (and today's jumbotron fonts are not gestures of the same order, either).

Lite-Brite Scoreboard

if "all production produces production," as deleuze and guattari suggest, then we must trace the flows: it was the card stunt that taught us about these coded sign systems infiltrating the gridded spaces of the sports stadium almost a century ago. there, too, gesture was captured, though with them light was merely reflected to the viewing eye, not produced in its own right. with the electronic scoreboard, on the other hand, it is the produced light of monochromatic incandescent bulbs that is always in the service of the official record: time and produced output, or what we call score.

Scoreboard Font

two squares of potential in this lite-brite pattern. what about all the space in between, or the enclosure within the enclosure? what if the "invisible" layer of black paper and its prescribed pattern was removed from the scoreboard? what if its brite lites were pushed into the holes in freely formed patterns? what if the lites could illuminate from positions embedded in the plastic grid itself?

Courtesy of Colleen Wolstenholme

colleen wolstenholme
victory lane (2004) — line of scrimmage (2004) — slap shot (2008)

what if the scoreboard lite-brite could be layered upon itself — perhaps repeatedly — such that multiple games were being recorded at the same time — perhaps one giving the cover of reduced exposure to the other?

pluripotent

In order to consume more signal, we must consume more noise as well. The apparatus of the Machine can filter out most of this noise, but human agency is still required to filter out the last bits. Politics occurs in this residual noise. This demands that we continue to interface with other human bodies as well: What parts of the body do we allow the other to touch? Do we touch in sex or sport or anger? When do we introduce a prophylactic layer to any of the above, and when do we not? (June 2009)

Courtesy of Craig Le Blanc

craig le blanc
please use me
2004
wood hockey stick, acrylic urethane

dear you: how do i know i am communicating with you if there is always an agent between us?

Courtesy of Craig Le Blanc

We have data intimacy with everyone. It is via the network with emails and chats and mixtapes. It is in person with words and fashion and gesture. But we only have physical intimacy with certain individuals. This is haptic rather than optic, a knowledge of and through and located in the flesh. Which begs the question today: Are there things we cannot map? More importantly, are there things we do not want to map? As Michael Hardt suggests, love is a political concept. (June 2009)