Introduction to Rhythmanalysis

The following constitutes the conclusion of a paper I just presented in Copenhagen:

A central concern in Bale's analysis of high performance running is the space-time compression that occurs as technologized runners traverse standard spatial distances in ever-shorter temporal quantities. But we must draw a distinction between the imperatives of capital and those of the State (Deleuze & Guattari, ATP; Hardt & Negri, Empire). A world-class running athletes embodies a massive fixed capital investment that seeks maximal speed and the potential financial reward that entails, while the State seeks to maintain a perceived level of ethical integrity for its own spectacular purposes.

Bale's analysis refers to the acceleration of capital in its various forms and one of the ways in which the State seeks to control these bodies is by introducing a space-time dilation to offset the compression. The fully automated photo finish system essentially expands the final tenths of a second at the conclusion of a race so that the administrators may optically adjudicate the speeding bodies and determine a race victor. Similarly, where the wide space of the marathon creates permeability in the tight disciplinary enclosure normally understood with achievement sport, the State attempts to fortify the barriers between spectator and participant by using radio frequency transponder chips to compress the marathon sportscape.

Thus, the State, in the form of the International Association of Athletics Federations, is presented here as establishing countervailing impulses or rhythms of spatiotemporal compression or dilation in a controlling response to the unchecked immanence of high performance running bodies. Based in the tactile nature of networked electronic technologies this control may be described as panhaptic, which suggests that new tools are required to think beyond optical surveillance and conceptualize resistance to structures of authority, both within sporting cultures and in broader society.

*     *     *

And I'd like to juxtapose this with a passage from Henri Lefebvre's Introduction to Rhythmanalysis (p.15, emphasis in original):

Everywhere where there is interaction between a place, a time, and an expenditure of energy, there is rhythm. Therefore:

a) repetition (of movements, gestures, action, situations, differences);

b) interferences of linear processes and cyclical processes;

c) birth, growth, peak, then decline and end.


The United States Drug Enforcement Agency has recently completed the largest performance-enhancing drug crackdown in U.S. history. 50 arrests, 26 underground labs raided, millions of dollars in cash and product seized. But it was this passage that caught my attention in Shaun Assael's ESPN article (emphasis added):

The investigation also focused on message boards where advice is traded about obtaining raw materials, as well as on the Web sites that help the labs sell finished products to the public. Hundreds of thousands of e-mails were intercepted, according to Dan Simmons, a San Diego-based special agent for the DEA. Simmons said that no professional athletes have been implicated so far but that the e-mails are being compiled into a massive database of names and are being analyzed.

. . .

In an interview, David Howman, the director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said that he expects to learn if the names of any athletes attempting to qualify for the Olympics are in the database. Howman said that he is working closely with the DEA, and veteran BALCO investigator Jeff Novitzky of the Internal Revenue Service, to make sure that any legal hurdles are cleared so that WADA can get that access.

Does it not seem odd that WADA — a sports organization — would have this degree of access in a U.S. criminal investigation? Consider the mission statements of the three organizations:

U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency

"The mission of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is to enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States and bring to the criminal and civil justice system of the United States, or any other competent jurisdiction, those organizations and principal members of organizations, involved in the growing, manufacture, or distribution of controlled substances appearing in or destined for illicit traffic in the United States; and to recommend and support non-enforcement programs aimed at reducing the availability of illicit controlled substances on the domestic and international markets."

U.S. Internal Revenue Service

"The IRS is a bureau of the Department of the Treasury and one of the world's most efficient tax administrators. In 2004, the IRS collected more than $2 trillion in revenue and processed more than 224 million tax returns. … The IRS Mission [is to p]rovide America's taxpayers top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and by applying the tax law with integrity and fairness to all."

World Anti-Doping Agency

"The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is the international independent organization created in 1999 to promote, coordinate, and monitor the fight against doping in sport in all its forms. Composed and funded equally by the sports movement and governments of the world, WADA coordinated the development and implementation of the World Anti-Doping Code (Code), the document harmonizing anti-doping policies in all sports and all countries."

* * *

While sport operates as a striated space on smaller geographical scales, we might posit the preceding as an example of the legitimization of sporting Empire in a smooth space of control.

In the passage of sovereignty toward the plane of immanence, the collapse of the boundaries has taken place both within each national context and on a global scale. The withering of civil society and the general crisis of the disciplinary institutions coincide with the decline of nation-states as boundaries that mark and organize the divisions in global rule. The establishment of a global society of control that smooths over the striae of national boundaries goes hand in hand with the realization of the world market and the real subsumption of global society under capital (Hardt & Negri, Empire, p. 332).

Bonne Fete


[Aside] Once again, a year has passed and that means it is time to reflect (from Paris!!) on what I have "accomplished" here at sportsBabel. And that means a quick list of some of the ideas I was most fond of, from a thought process described as "sort of like a popcorn machine" (thanks Lex).

Ten posts, in no particular order:

  1. Interactive Waste Disposal
  2. Towards the Invisibility of Cameras
  3. Guilty By Association
  4. Central Intelligence
  5. The Control Room
  7. Lightness and the Tactile Burden
  8. The Authentic Hologram
  9. Body Treble
  10. Production Schedules

I began my doctoral studies in November at the European Graduate School, which clearly had a substantial influence on my work here at sportsBabel, as I was exposed to many new ideas and theories, perhaps most notably the work of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (and through them a further development of my reading of Deleuze and Guattari). Stalwarts of this blog such as Virilio and Baudrillard also continued to be of significance; sadly, we mourned the latter's passing this past spring.

But even more than these thinkers new and old, I am indebted to my colleagues at EGS for their contributions to my transformation and growth over the past year. An Elegy (for Saas-Fee) is written in their honour, and I look forward to seeing them again in only ten short months.


Vectoral Alibi?

In class at EGS this summer, Michael Hardt suggested that the capital at stake appears to be as important as the content it produces — not only for the owners of capital, but for its consumers as well. While he was discussing Hollywood at the time and its production of mystique and spectacle, the same can certainly be said for the world of professional sport. The consumers of professional sport are on intimate terms with player wages, stadium construction costs, league economics (salary caps, luxury taxes, revenue sharing), econometric techniques for cost assessment, media and sponsorship deals, and more.

Is this a symptom of the passage to vectoralism?

Does the "visibility" of capital obscure the stocks and flows of the vectoral?

If so, does it therefore imply that capital becomes the alibi for the vectoral order and its particular repressive logic?

Empire and the Sporting Body

"Empire is formed not on the basis of force itself but on the basis of the capacity to present force as being in the service of right and peace" (Hardt and Negri, Empire, p.15).

Can we suggest, to paraphrase Hardt and Negri, that WADA is constituted not on the basis of its ability to force athletic subjects to comply to a particular body composition or to disclose personal whereabouts at all times, but on the basis of its capacity to present these intrusions as necessary to preserve the truth claims and fair play dictates of modern sport?

Empire is formed and its intervention becomes juridically legitimate only when it is already inserted into the chain of international consensuses aimed at resolving existing conflicts. … [T]he expansion of Empire is rooted in the internal trajectory of the conflicts it is meant to resolve. The first task of Empire, then, is to enlarge the realm of the consensuses that support its own power (p.15).

Existing conflicts, in this case, meaning the global contestation for athletic supremacy, which in turn is connected to the political promotion of sovereign nation-states as well as the flows of capital that may accrue to the victors of such athletic contests. Significantly in the context of Empire, after receiving its first two years of funding directly from a sporting body (the Olympic Movement), WADA is currently funded by nation-state governments as well as the Olympic Movement. In 2001, the governments of United Nations member countries agreed to fund half of WADA's budget by means of a regional formula to determine contributions. The governments within each region mutually agree upon the final individual contribution of each nation-state.

And sporting organizations connected to these nation-states are signatory to the World Anti-Doping Code: 203 out of 203 National Olympic Committees have signed on, which is perhaps not surprising given the IOC connection. Several hundred other international sports organizations have also accepted the WADA code.

But it is in "enlarging the realm of the consensuses that support its own power" that we see further evidence of WADA-as-Empire: Dick Pound, chief of the agency, has publicly and privately pressured MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL players and owners to accept the WADA code and stamp out what he perceives to be a major problem in professional sport. He has had indirect success by convincing U.S. politicians to introduce two legislative bills making doping practices in sport illegal: the Clean Sports Act and the Drug Free Sports Act. While neither bill ultimately became law, this should be considered significant in terms of the indirect approaches that may be used in a decentralized mesh of power to achieve goals.

It will be interesting to follow how WADA-as-Empire continues its campaign of hygiene against universal contagion, featuring pure, truthful, and policed bodies being contaminated by polluted, cheating, and unlawful bodies.

The Import/Export of the Body Athletic

The sportocratic economy reaches its current lofty heights as the broader economy shifts its primary orientation from manufacturing to service. As large swathes of the workforce in advanced economies become (primarily sedentary) information- and knowledge-intensive service workers, a vacuum is created in sport, in which there is a need for fit, muscular bodies to produce the movements required for professional contest manufacture.

Some of these bodies come from the lower economic classes in the advanced economy, perhaps lacking access to the tools, information and knowledge that are required for upward mobility in the new service economy; a rare few come from the middle and upper classes, notably from those sports requiring substantial capital expenditures in order to compete. But increasingly these jobs are being "exported" to developing economies in Latin America, China, Africa and elsewhere — an "outsourcing" of body movement, per se. This is perhaps best exemplified in the global migration for labour talent in soccer, but also may be seen in basketball, baseball, hockey, rugby, cricket, etc.

But these jobs aren't literally exported or outsourced. Resample:

[T]he United States is finding an increasing number of manufacturing jobs move overseas to locales where the labour costs are lower, and has for some time. What is relatively new, however, is the growing number of blue and white collar information jobs that are moving, via the Internet, to Europe and Singapore and developing nations such as China and India. … [T]hese departures have created a vacuum in American production, which exerts a tremendous pull towards the only manufacturing sector that cannot be outsourced — the cultural production of American spectacle. In the professional sports world, the United States is a net importer of labour. This warrants mention.

To borrow from Hardt and Negri, however, we should not see this as evidence of a linear "stages of economic development" thesis manifest in sport. To the contrary, the influence of information/knowledge is pervasive in the production of these athletic bodies, with sporting academies being created in developing economies that offer resources in athletic and coaching science far beyond what was available to the American athlete 50 or 60 years ago. Furthermore, for countries featuring an admixture of economic production, such as China, the sale of one commodity form to a foreign market may act as a prerequisite for another form to exist — the body movement of Yao Ming is exported to the United States/NBA/Houston Rockets, only then to have processed Yao informational products re-imported from the United States/NBA/Houston Rockets, which are then sold to China's burgeoning consumer economy directly via paid services or indirectly via advertising for other consumer goods.