aufgabe

Monologic, Dialogic, Severalogic, Technologic: On Blogging as Method

(to be presented by sean smith at the 2009 north american society for sport sociology conference in ottawa, can)

Courtesy of Ryan King

Taking Vilém Flusser's distinction between dialogue and discourse as an entry point into the surfed waves of networked communications, this paper reflects upon my eight years of maintaining a blog for the purposes of critical sport research and creative expression. In laying bare the writing project and identity that is sportsBabel (www.sportsbabel.net), I will discuss questions of voice, number, relationality, technology, noise and public assembly. Each of these issues inform my ongoing attempt as a critical theorist to engage what is described by Paul Virilio as "speed writing", Hélène Cixous as "écriture féminine", and Giorgio Agamben as a "form-of-life" while thought is still in my body.

Pedagogy of Touch

On Performing the University of Disaster, Part Two

Bond. James Bond.

In the very name is the relational. Bond is the spy who operates in the liminality between smooth and striated, who fluidly shifts identity to meet the parameters of the assignment, who acts as an attractor of potentials. His is a contingent existence, at once strange and familiar, a unity of process and relation. Bondage.

(Switch.)

A process philosophy demands that one consider first and foremost the relation. Part-subjects are only thus insofar as they co-emerge with others from a streaming continuity of experience. Or better, not simply streaming but eddying and circling back to recondition the possibilities for becoming, aternally, often far from any conventional understanding of equilibrium.

Relationality

The Colonel sets up a secret rendezvous in Toronto. A reversal from the movies, the city has an air of exoticism relative to the drabness that is the everyday of cosmopolitan Europe. Fragments of time and space coordinates are passed through various channels to notify and gather agents from the field, multiply redundant yet still requiring individual wit to zone in on the final locale. Glancing around the room I spot 007, over there Agent 99, Homo Generator appears to be wearing a disguise, and somebody whispers something about Bourne. Each looks on the surface to be relatively normal: I wonder what secrets they hold?

fail more better the object reads
better the attempt, embrace, fail
wait.
dwell in this craft
write body
touch a moment in that singular-plurality, herein called a failure.

Intelligence has just come in from the strategists at the University of Disaster. As befitting the context, he delivers it with sobriety, grace and aplomb. Or does she? It seems to be hesheheshehe, stereophonically so. From the highest dancing trebles of art to the physically pounding basslines of philosophy, the sounds register to the depths of my body and back again. In other words, both-and. Relation. Process. Massumi+Manning as the catalysis to chaotic, non-linear and networked potential.

Relationality

Take two people in bed. While sleep is shared need for psychosomatic regeneration, shared sleep is something different altogether. An enclosed space, though not a striated one: there is no line drawn down the middle of the bed separating the bodies into disciplinary partitions, no gaze ensuring the objects of information stay confined to the appropriate area. Rather, a negotiation takes place during the night — for space, for cover, for the presence or absence of touch in the depths of sleep. One might cross the theoretical dividing line in order to contour and caress the body of the other, or one might try to create distance in order to plunge more fully into restfulness. Either way, this negotiation is not spoken, nor even truly conscious, but felt: it is a haptic negotiation of both flesh and skin that continues throughout the night, in greater or lesser form, with the goal of corporeal, psychic and social rejuvenation hopefully balanced come sunrise.

Take three people tending bar. A long, tight space to navigate as one moves from customer to glass to fridge to tap to garnish to till to customer, all the while avoiding the other two. And the demands of capital drive the demands for speed in this space. Serve, quickly, and reap the rewards. One imagines this would create noise in the system, and the newcomer does literally run face-first into the situation. But once a new threshold for perception is reached (stop looking and feel!), speed actually enhances, turning the movements of the three behind the counter into a frenzied ballet as each moves along the length of the bar to pour drinks. Bodies negotiate and cantilever through space in real-time such that maximum reward is pragmatically achieved.

Take multiple people dancing at a club. This is Manning's tango with a live wire stuck in one side, multiplied and radiating rhythmically to every corner of the dancing space. How do bodies become-several within this multiple mass? Once again there is a negotiation, and once again it is silent save for the pounding basslines (philosophy!) that provide rhythm to the exchange. But we are more fully constrained in this case by the volumetric, as each writes or inscribes one's own four dimensions in such a way as to not physically strike fellow dancing bodies, while seductively sharing moments of the flesh with another.

(i take comfort in the laughter of cixous)

Or, finally, flip the terminus and take these three examples in reverse order. Negotiation, approximation, risk. The slightest change in perception can have dramatic consequences for understanding the microsociality of relation.

Relationality - Courtesy of Abigail Simon

red,
redness,
the 'ness' survives as perishable object of subjective form.

i know, because i sense it — because i non-sense it.

non-sensuous wave and curl and folding back into upon and under that sense immediate
those eyes on page trailing letter shape,
sense made in your non-sensuousness (did you realize?)

Make no mistake about it, we are describing the state of affairs at the micro-level: microspaces, microsociality, micropolitics. But, as they say, smaller isn't necessarily better. One might think that the microspace would lend itself to be better surveyed by the intelligentsia of this mission, to be better mapped, better controlled. Au contraire, estime Jean-Christophe. A performed cartography suggests a renewed call for psychogeographical techniques that quickly fractalize a neighbourhood in advance of the mission-event: for food, drink, information or aesthetic sustenance.

It might be suggested that the requirement for food to nourish each of our bodies singularly, to keep alive our animal body alone, would offer an experience separate from the bonds of ontogenesis. But this is to fully misunderstand in its many forms the relational nature of food! Its growing, sourcing, preparation, consumption and reflection upon thereafter all constitute a relational experience par excellence. Vital nourishment!

Yet despite the trappings of wealth and style, James Bond doesn't seem to eat. How does he negotiate? I suppose one cannot eat much and still stay as thin as an image. Odd fellow.

Relationality - Courtesy of Barb Fornssler

write a paragraph of sensing body, dwell in this craft
i cannot make para, cannot generate the graph without disruption.
slice into flow, see curves
imaginings are sometimes best left blank. please dwell.

Once again, we say farewell and flip back to the now of the network (this realization is sense made, a point of understanding that is mis/understood as a point, as an end). But a terminus is only so until the tendency produced by it is fed forward to produce another (it feeds forward into your next line, and the next, and the next). Process is always, resolutely, becoming (and the text is less important than that movement in your eye, the hollow glow from screen that dilates the pupil). Or, a coming into touch with. It is always co-emergent, prior to thought, prior to language (i am a dilated pupil…and now so are you).

Word is bond, yo.

(co-written by the colonel and the spy for all those who made the canvas of toronto cryptic.)

Chess, Language, Gender and Power

As discussed earlier regarding the archivization of chess movements, we view a gradual shift over 400 years from a formal old English means of documenting games to a descriptive chess notation, a form of information compression that leverages the striating architecture of the chessboard and representational alphanumerics to convey much the same information in a far more economical fashion. To refresh:

1614: The white king commands his owne knight into the third house before his owne bishop.
1750: K. knight to His Bishop's 3d.
1837: K.Kt. to B.third sq.
1848: K.Kt. to B's 3rd.
1859: K. Kt. to B. 3d.
1874: K Kt to B3
1889: KKt-B3
1904: Kt-KB3
1946: N-KB3

Today, most of the chess world has standardized on the even more compact algebraic notation, which would render the above example as "Nf3". There has clearly been a shift away from a more elegant, ornamental prose account of the action to a radically compressed form of information, in which alphanumeric characters describe the essential components of the movement in question. In descriptive notation, action is archived using the rank of the piece in question and its final resting place on the grid, spatially relative to the King or Queen pieces (ie. N-KB3 means "knight moves to the third rank in front of the bishop on the King’s side of the board"). In the even more compact algebraic notation, on the other hand, a move is recorded using the rank of the piece in question and the grid coordinates of the final resting space (ie. Nf3 means "knight moves to the f3 square on the chessboard grid").

This evolution notwithstanding, the goal, two-fold in nature, remains the same: precisely track movements in space and time during a contest and, in doing so, create an archive of those movements. "f3" is strictly a spatial referent and "Nf3" is a movement tracked in space and time, archived with an economy of language to complement the economy of movement that Foucault analyzed so well in other spaces of disciplinary power — factory, school, hospital, barracks, prison.

In the context of gender and power, however, the consequences of this evolution are not trivial.

In Birth of the Chess Queen, Yalom makes a very convincing argument that the queen becomes the most powerful piece on the chessboard due to the rise of queens as essential figures in the courts of medieval Europe. Other historians suggest the rise of long distance battlefield artillery as providing the cultural impetus for such a shift in the game. Likely it's a combination of both factors. As the archiving language of chess compresses over the past four centuries, the way that gender and power referents are written into the archive has changed considerably. Where once there was a King and Queen, now there is only a K or a Q. And the archiving of the King who owns a particular spot on the board — or another piece that is coded in relation to the King — is reduced to simple inscribed alphanumeric grid coordinates.

In other words, while the underlying power structures represented and embedded in the model of chess — particularly the complex gender relations between King and Queen that emerged in the medieval European version of the game — have remained reasonably unchanged during the last 400 years, the language used to archive the game has inexorably been stripped of gender and power referents — data frugality eliminates the possibility for "commands," "owne," and "His."

According to Kittler, since 1880 "literature no longer has been able to write for girls, simply because girls themselves write" (GFT, p. 174). He doesn't mean here that women had written themselves into being, as the French feminist thinker Hélène Cixous wishes, but that in joining the second industrial wave as office stenographers and typists women were thrust into the mechanics of writing as a livelihood. It is no coincidence that the information compression of the chess archive approaches its limit around the same time that the typewriter/woman machine emerges in industrial society. Kittler continues: "The typewriter cannot conjure up anything imaginary, as can cinema; it cannot simulate the real, as can sound recording; it only inverts the gender of writing. In so doing, however, it inverts the material basis of literature" (GFT, p. 183). In the context of our chess discussion, we are left with the question of how to read this inversion of writing and gender and the emerging immateriality of the textual archive as the discrete alphanumerics of the typewriter sublimate into computerized data networks.

Two interpretations suggest themselves. Optimistically, the computer-human symbiosis facilitates (qua Haraway) a form of post-gender relations. While we shouldn't look at these acronyms ahistorically — clearly they have deep, meaningful gender histories — in the contemporary moment we can read in the simple alphanumeric signifier of K or Q an absence of gender. For all intents and purposes, the language of the modern chess archive becomes blind to gender and power referents; objects are visioned, mapped and archived in space and time and with each discrete movement thereafter plotted anew. The gender and power referents that are imbued in the game very early on disappear in the creation, maintenance and modernization of the chess archive. When the computer reads these alphanumeric characters in the archiving and transmission of the game, the simulation of the game, and even the playing of the game against human opponents, it is blind to gender and power as it has no sense of this historical tradition.

On the other hand, what if computers and computer networks are fashioned in a combination of hierarchy and meshwork (cf. DeLanda) that reproduces existing gender/power structures, and the computer disregards gender and power relations as in the first scenario? This ahistoric understanding by the computer is perhaps doubly dangerous in that there is a social mindset created of post-gender normativity despite a structural reality that suggests otherwise.