roundball, oblique function

Paul Virilio (in interview with Sylvère Lotringer), Crepuscular Dawn:

"With the orthogonal plane, the flat plane, as in the entire history of architecture, there is no difference between making one movement or another. On an inclined plane, climbing and descending are radically different; but climbing diagonally or descending diagonally are different again; and walking laterally is different as well. Every dimension, every direction of space becomes a modification of the body" (p.36).

"The advantage of the oblique is that you can choose what you want, whereas with the orthogonal, or with Le Corbusier, the right angle is always straight and up. Architecture Principe was based on breaking the orthogonal in every way. It no longer accepted the tyranny of the right angle. Entering into topology — you can say into 'the fold,' even if Gilles Deleuze had not yet written his essay on the baroque at the time — we did a lot of work on it. We had a lot of choices to play with, but they were dependent upon the experiment" (p.40).

"I am not talking about auto-mutilation, obviously, just attempts to push the body to the limit. It was a bit like competition. There was a sport-like dimension to our research, that's for sure" (p.44).

Oblique function in basketball

basketball court as oblique function
(inspired by parent et virilio, architecture principe)

What if the normally orthogonal space of the basketball court existed as an oblique function, with the direction of the grade incline running from sideline to sideline? What if the goals at each end of the court remained aligned to the orthogonal right angle? Given an experimental group of athlete-performers, how would movement and relation on the surface of play change over time as the players adapted from the orthogonal to the oblique? Could such changes become manifest in the absence of language — that is to say, strictly as a matter of gesture?

On Massumi's Logic of Relation: Rules

striated, smooth

We begin our translation of Massumi's soccer ball to sportsbabel's basketball with an opening passage on rules and their retrospective coding of the conditions of possibility.

To the question of what founds a formation like a sport, or what its conditions of existence are, an obvious answer would be "the rules of the game." But in the history of sport, as with virtually every collective formation, the codification of rules follows the emergence of an unformalized proto-sport exhibiting a wide range of variation. The formal rules of the game capture and contain the variation. They frame the game, retrospectively, describing its form as a set of constant relations between standardized terms. A codification is a framing derivative that arrogates to itself the role of foundation. It might be argued that all foundations are of this nature: ex post facto regulatory framings rather than effective foundings. Once they apply themselves, the rules do effectively frame and regulate the play, taking precedence. Their precedence is retrospective, or fictional, but effective. It has all the reality of a formation of power, of which usurpation might be argued to be the model — usurpation of variation (Parables for the Virtual, p.71).

The history of basketball would suggest otherwise. James Naismith invented the game specifically to find an indoor winter activity as an outlet for aggressive masculine tendencies at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. In other words, the rules did not form later and apply themselves retrospectively, but were rather present from the outset (and the soccer ball became the first basketball!). Indeed, play in general would not be possible were it not for the loosely formed constraints that condition possibility in the space of ludic movement. Otherwise we would find ourselves squarely in the zone of the virtual.

I also think outside of sport to computer videogames. Julian Kücklich discusses the ruledness of a game environment and how in greater degrees it may also constrain the conditions of possibility. In effect, what he is describing is how linguistic codes can striate a space of play. But the spaces of computer videogames — which are rapidly becoming sites of collective formation not unlike sport — are always already ruled spaces by dint of their linguistic form, or put differently, their programmed nature. There is no proto-game from which Grand Theft Auto emerges to contain variation.

(It should be pointed out that ruledness is not quite the same as the striated-smooth dichotomy proposed by Deleuze and Guattari: a space may be striated in material form without firm rules necessarily being attached to the effect of those gridlines. That said, in the foreword to Baudrillard's In the Shadow of Silent Majorities Lotringer, Kraus and El Kholti state that "Félix Guattari may have answered that it is no longer necessary to maintain a distinction between material and semiotic deterritorializations and that there is no more absolute primacy of one system over another." We will not understand them as synonymous, then, but rather as forms that modulate the conditions of possibility in similar fashion.)

But we are in the realm of sport for this discussion. And so we are more fully in the realm of the moving body, in all its sporting forms. Does this imply that Massumi's broader concerns are invalid? No, I don't think so: the point was still to capture and contain variation, but variation of a different order, the roughhousing of young male physical education instructors, rather than an earlier proto-version of basketball. Through the formalization of rules, variation is captured and contained across space and time: it implies that the sport will be played again on another occasion, in the same place or at a different location, and that there will be some consistency between the two events.

If the rules are ex post facto captures that take precedence, what do they take it from?: from the process from which the game actually emerged, and continues to evolve, to the extent that circumstances arise that force modifications of the rules. The foundational rules follow and apply themselves to forces of variation that are endemic to the game and constitute the real conditions of the game's emergence. The rules formally determine the game but do not condition it. (They are its formal cause, not its efficient cause) (Parables for the Virtual, p.72).

Do not forget that this "proto-sport" continues to exist (in basketball we have called it "pickup") alongside the more formal regulated versions of the "sport" (that is, league basketball). In other words, we do not want to get caught up in a linear "stages of progress" model in which pure play becomes proto-sport, which becomes sport, which is thereafter refined by variations in the style of play that are captured or modulated by new rules. The informal pickup versions continue to exist in parallel and in fact play significant roles in creating the variation that flourishes in (and challenges the formality of) "sport" proper.

Let us not become bound up in the search for origin and instead be more cognizant of the process. For in capturing variation — the motor of sporting emergence — we are capturing the possible of the body athletic. Herein lies the micropolitical moment of sport.

Happy Mother's Day


[03/05/2009 1:58:39 PM]

sportsbabel says: please say thanks to your mom……!
sportsbabel says: you are our relation……
sportsbabel says: (smiley)

[03/05/2009 1:58:55 PM]

workers, consumers, multitude

"The multitude is a by-product of the technological mutation of the productive process just as the consumer class was a by-product of the metamorphosis of commodities from objects to signs."

– Sylvère Lotringer
foreword to Paolo Virno's A Grammar of the Multitude

Do we really want to set consumption apart from the potential emergence of the contemporary multitude as multitude and rely solely on production instead?

In sport at least, and the present project to articulate the multitude through sport, we certainly do not want to — indeed, we cannot — separate the two. If anything, we might suggest that the rise of the consumer fan-class in sport, the metamorphosis of sporting commodities (players, teams, outcomes, footwear) from objects to signs, and the creation of athletic celebrity-spectacle are responsible for technological mutations in the productive process.

Sport contributes to the function of hegemony in very diverse political economies precisely because it is such a minimally contested locus of biopolitical production. In many overdeveloped nations this is partly due to the fact that the salaries for professional sport workers at the highest level of competition vastly outpace those for other types of workers and that the attendant celebrity culture introduces a regressive binary of power between athletes and other workers that complicates any attempts at common struggle. Given that the charitable activities of professional athletes are increasingly captured by sporting capital to become media events in themselves (part of the mutation of production), the potential for a sporting multitude to emerge through worker-production is problematized further.

This is not to deny professional athletes a political consciousness, but to say that the financial risk for those worker-athletes involved to express such a politics can be an unfair obligation for one to ask of them, particularly if one has not also put millions of their own dollars on the line. In other words, it should be considered ethically acceptable for the professional worker-athlete to privilege the several over the multitude, taking care of a local body-politic (family and friends) while somewhat subordinating the broader political in the process.

Nor is it to say that professional athletes will not be part of a sporting multitude, but that in its becoming this multitude must be sufficient in intensity to offset or withstand the semiotic force of celebrity and restore a balance to communal relations between all of those in a common struggle within and without sport. It also means that liberating the class consciousness of the worker-athlete cannot alone provide the path to political action in the spaces of sporting biopolitics and beyond.

However, while work time now "virtually extends to the entire life" of the post-Fordist worker, at the same time it must be understood that play or leisure has extended fully into work life as well, with an equal yet opposite magnitude. The desk jockey brings work home every night, but plays fantasy sports at the office every day. Put another way, it is sporting consumption that primarily constitutes the diagram of biopolitical space and it is the concomitant work of consumption that fosters alienation. Thus consumption is what needs to be targeted for political action, particularly because the worker class in professional sport, at least in the top, most-mediated leagues, is too well paid to form an internal coherence — as class — between themselves and other workers.

So the focus of the multitude turns instead to the consumer-worker who has been united by a new form of alienation, born primarily as an alienation-from-body that is immersed continually in pleasure and gaming, which the sporting biopolitics at a microsocial scale and post-Fordism at a macrosocial scale have played a substantial role in forming. The consumer must refuse the sensory distortions that form the mediated version of the sporting event as embodied activity for the worker-athlete, and become the event instead. Or at the very least, the refusal must remix and repurpose the media tools and their sensory distortions in a recombinant logic towards the project of political action.

This is the paradox of the sporting multitude: it requires sport consumers to become aware of the work of their consumption by embodying the experience of instrumental sport production in the ludic arena. In other words, don't rescue the workers from production, but rather the consumers from consumption. Allow consumers to emerge as multitude through the work of their own consumption.