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.
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.
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.
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.
A basketball player gets whistled for a technical foul and a free throw is awarded to the other team as a penalty. Almost always outside the normative range of what constitutes a foul in the game — actually making bodily contact with an athlete on the opposing team — the technical is precisely what it says it is: a technicality that has been broken in the juridical structure that is the basketball league proper, most often a behavioural infraction against what is considered good sportsmanship. Some of these juridical prohibitions are universal across leagues, while some are unique to the league itself.
(Usually in the courts of mainstream civil society, it is one who is declared not guilty who gets off on a technicality. Not so in basketball, in which the technicality is always on, always assigned as a penalty against which there is next to no opportunity for recourse or exoneration.)
A basketball player steps up to the line to shoot the free throw. Though it is meant to be an award or restitution for the technicality that has been broken, it is actually quite a difficult shot. This is because the restitution exists somehow outside the normal context of play: the shooter goes to the line alone while the rest of the players must stand and watch out at midcourt, unlike the regular free throw situation in which players from each team line up in staggered formation along both sides of the painted key to rebound the potentially missed shot.
But there is no rebound to be had with the technicality. Again it exists outside of game play, which is to say it exists outside of the game's historical time. And further, it exists outside of its usual relations: while not having the players line up for a rebound is meant to be less distracting for the shooter, their absence is actually quite viscerally felt, a denuding of the multiple body's co-composition that leaves the one shooting very naked and alone.
So on the one hand a player gets whistled for a technicality, but it is paradoxically the one who has been offended (or their agent) who will face the intensity of exposure in exacting a restitution. And the purportedly cybernetic technique of shooting free throws reveals its limits in turn: it is the messiness and chaos of co-present bodies — even if they are competitors — that lubricates this technical machine towards its successful realization.
We have discussed earlier that the squash court at the University of Chicago offered the site of the first successful critical nuclear reaction in 1942 — thus implying a genealogical link between the material specificity of a sporting space and that required for this most uncertain of laboratory experiments. Chicago Pile-1, the mound of graphite bricks and wooden timbers that constituted the first nuclear reactor, found itself nested neatly within the squash court, the only place on campus with thick enough walls and a sufficiently elevated ceiling to house the experiment.
But it bears keeping in mind that a second architectural nesting takes place, the squash court proper being located underneath the bleachers at Stagg Field football stadium. In other words, the form of the stadium offered the space for a squash court, which thereafter offered space for Enrico Fermi and the Manhattan Project team members.
Put differently, a particular energetic system that is the football game becomes sufficiently popular when "converted" to or "expressed" as a semiosis that there is sufficient demand for larger-scale bleacher seating to be constructed. A new self-contained energetic system emerges in this fold: two bodies orbiting around a tiny rubber part-subject that pings around the concrete bunker, perhaps an allegorical metastability for the rupture that is to come.
The marathon course is drawn, inscribed within the established grids of an urban core. New barriers are created, temporarily cutting off certain flows (cars, bicycles, pedestrians) in order to facilitate others: a gated conduit for the gaited competitors who will run on this crisp gray morning.
This cut creates a new surface, or perhaps we can say it multiplies surfaces — it is surfacing, actively producing itself in the proliferating striations of the new territory. Perhaps we can say it is for security, or perhaps we can say that security offers the alibi for a folding of spectacle upon itself, the intestinal guts of vectoral capitalism turned outwards as if Lyotard's great ephemeral skin revealing the shit that really makes the machinery slicken.
Glide then, runners: extend your energetics into this libidinal surface as you race to that cloaca called a finish line. The light cycles of sponsorship precede your motorcade at the flanks, both shiny and festering with their spectacular repetition and insatiable appetite. But remember this digestive cookie from Guattari as footstep and breath connect to eyes and stomach: "It's on this level of investments of desire that there are reserves of capacity to express the revolt."
The reference is from George Lucas' epic 1971 movie, THX 1138, in which a state-controlled intensification of communication processes manages every facet of daily life in a futuristic society, regulating the flux of all human subjects in work, leisure and love.
Though the Department exists in homage to Lucas’ vision, our consideration of biological flow seeks to reinvigorate the agency of the human subject in its negotiations with economic and political structures both material and immaterial.