The Affective Computer

(a slow paper pounce, a floating lazily down an amsterdam [channel] … )

Toward a Fleshy Architecture of Baseball

Baseball is a game of discrete operations. Or, as McLuhan used to suggest, the industrial assembly line economy perfected in its sporting form.

And yet, despite the pastoral sense of time it still retains somewhat in our contemporary society of the instant, baseball is a game that never quite comes to rest. Whether in terms of a subtle and syncopated rhythm of athletes continually in motion on the field of play, or of code that circulates endlessly through the folding networks of sporting actors producing the event, baseball is always already in excess of the formal play and its discreteness.

Two Out, Men on First and Second (2010)

two out, men on first and second
2010
sildenafil citrate, blister packaging
6.5 x 5 cm

So while the architecture of baseball could be considered a computing architecture — that is, one that performs rational, linguistic calculations in order to achieve particular end goals as efficiently as possible — it is a computing architecture already in excess of its formal logic and discrete operations precisely because of the fleshiness of its moving components. Put differently, we are describing a baseball computer whose affects are precisely what allows for the functioning of the system and its switches.

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keywords: catcher, errors, sabermetric programming languages, sildenafil citrate, agency

security, blankets, some assembly required

Metamorphosus Interruptusexposure, transparency, opacity - hopscotch threshold"patchwork, for its part, may display equivalents to themes, symmetries, and resonance that approximate it to embroidery. but the fact remains that its space is not at all constituted in the same way: there is no center; its basic motif ('block') is composed of a single element; the recurrence of this element frees uniquely rhythmic values distinct from the harmonies of embroidery" (d+g, atp, 476). the cut must be complemented by the crossfade. Mimetic PolycarbonInscriptions and Artefacts "in the electric age we wear all mankind as our skins" (mcluhan, understanding media). this is my politics of touch.
i hope you like it.
"whether from the point of view of structure or that of development, the Voice as a psychic element can only be accounted for in relation to an entirely different psychic sphere. when the matrixial cavity of passage becomes a matrixial acoustic-resonance camera obscura, partial-objects and partial-subjects are not separated by a cut but are rather borderlinked by frequencies, waves, resonance, and vibrations. they share and are shared by the same vibrating and resonating environment, where the inside is outside and the outside inside" (ettinger, matrixial borderspace, 186). lines, flight, labouringTreatise on Table TennisB-Side Wins Again the "closer" the skin of spectacle is to the animal body proper, the more virile the transmission. "the borderline between I and non-I as co-poietic poles of the same vibrating string are transformed into a threshold and transgressed. instead of the objet a of the Voice, I therefore suggest speaking of a metramorphic link a — a matrixial voice. even more effectively than the Gaze, the Voice as a matrixial erotic antenna for psychic emission and reception testifies to the metramorphic processes of transformation in unconscious shared cavity. the psychic voice-link opens in us a matrixial time-and-space of encounter where, like in a resonance-cavity, inside and outside vibrate together" (ettinger, matrixial borderspace, 186).Silence is Goldengesturing-gesturing "it is as though a smooth space emanated, sprang from a striated space, but not without a correlation between the two, a recapitulation of one in the other, a furtherance of one through the other. yet the complex difference persists. patchwork, in conformity with migration, whose degree of affinity with nomadism it shares, is not only named after trajectories, but 'represents' trajectories, becomes inseparable from speed or movement in an open space" (d+g, atp, 526).Double-Eightscapital needs to insinuate itself into every conversation so that the singular body may be more fully laid bare for corporate invasion. "the matrixial resonance camera obscura where metramorphic event-encounters take place locates the inside as a shareable space-and-time and the outside as in-corporated-without-fusion" (ettinger, matrixial borderspace, 186).

Stadium Surfing

Feb. 2010: "The integumentary system of our artificial living consists of a series of interconnected layers, from the subcutaneous, dermis and epidermis; to hair, nails, horn and pelt; to clothing and architecture; to that vast and mostly invisible network of communication protocols we call the internet. Indeed, as McLuhan suggests, 'in the electric age we wear all mankind as our skin.' But these layers do not sit neatly upon one another, sedimented in neat parallel striae; there is rather a slippage between layers, a series of foldings and touch points emerging from the integumentary movements and flows. Call it skin tectonics: the shifts and rumbles between various layers that may at times rupture or crack the 'surface'."

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Stadium Surfing

Idea for a Conceptual Art Project, No.22:

1. Take a sports stadium teeming with partisan fans.
2. Combine the pixelated card stunt with the spectator wave to create an 8-bit surfing avatar.
3. Ride that motherfucker 'round and 'round the stadium.
4. Synchronize wide-angle tracking shot.
5. Bail avatar headfirst into the wash.

* * *

Feb. 2010: "The gestural body is a moving body, and is thus always already a political one as well. The logic of skin tectonics suggests that such a moving body will never be fully captured by the tightness of its spectacular skin, for there will always be a slippage between integumentary layers. And it is this slippage that constitutes the contemporary zone of opportunity, of resistance, and of indifference."

(thank you to karima dorney for initiating the dialogue.)

Pixel to Pellicule to Projection

For my own part, I will consider myself content with my work if, in attempting to locate the place and theme of testimony, I have erected some signposts allowing future cartographers of the new ethical territory to orient themselves.

— Giorgio Agamben


(part three of a three-part series: see also pixel and pixel to pellicule)

Pellicule

Given a spectacle as lavish and complex as the Opening Ceremonies of an Olympic Games, it can be difficult to justify the isolation of one particular component as being more worthy of attention than the rest. Indeed, in the case of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and its Opening Ceremonies the politics of identity also merit close consideration, particularly as they concern the representation of Canada's indigenous peoples, the varied Olympic sporting nationalisms, and the recently deceased Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.

Courtesy of CTVOlympics

That said, however, this essay will isolate and question a different component of the integumentary function during the Vancouver 2010 Opening Ceremonies, namely the white ponchos worn by nearly every each spectator in attendance. Though Vancouver was plagued by mild temperatures and rain in the days preceding the Games, the ponchos on hand were not there to protect spectators from the elements — indeed, these were the first fully indoor Opening Ceremonies. Rather, they were used as the screen on which the purveyors of sporting spectacle projected various images to mark the Olympic Games' opening.

At the Vancouver Olympics we witnessed yet another flip in the topology of discipline, spectacle and control — that is to say, in the topology of contemporary politics. No longer the disciplinary grid of the pixelated card stunt, no longer the undulating wave derived from the grid's discrete sequential logic, subjectivity in the stadium seats has mutated once again. The projection of Olympism onto the screen of ponchos completely smoothed the striations of the enclosed stadium layout, creating from their disciplinary subjects the unity of a single skin.

Subjective skin

In Michelangelo's The Last Judgment, painted on the front altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, there is a detail of the fresco in which Saint Bartholomew holds a rough knife in his right hand and his own flayed skin in the left. Bartholomew's gesture is at once a turn toward the Lord and a recoil from His presence. And of particular interest to this essay, the skin he holds in his left hand is meant to be a portrait Michelangelo painted of himself.

Sistine Chapel (Detail)

michelangelo
the last judgment (detail)
1537-1541

Scholarship has varied about what Michelangelo intended by introducing his self-portrait into the skin of Saint Bartholomew. The violent flaying of the skin, both an act of homage to the Lord and a punishment for his refusal to endorse paganism. The knife wielded by Bartholomew himself. All variables that complexify the "intent" of the artist, one from so many centuries ago who represents a story that originates centuries earlier.

It matters little to our present discussion which interpretation of Michelangelo's intent is the "correct" one. Instead, we draw our attention to the fact that in the time passed since the mid-sixteenth century, the "knowledge" that Saint Bartholomew's skin bore a self-portrait of Michelangelo was known, "forgotten" for centuries, and then "rediscovered" by the Italian physician Francesco La Cava. We draw our attention to the fact that a primarily oral tradition (knowledge of Michelangelo's self-portrait) was rendered extinct — before its eventual rekindling by the physician's visual capacity. We draw our attention to the very fact that a collective audience could imagine the artist representing his subjectivity by inscribing or revisioning a skin that was already known as belonging to someone else.

It is the American art critic and historian Leo Steinberg who questions the lengthy interval between those eras that understood Saint Bartholomew's flayed skin as portraying Michelangelo himself. Why this temporal gap or disconnect? Why was it a physician, La Cava, who "rediscovered" the self-portrait? Was it simply, as Steinberg suggests, that as a physician he was immune to the discursive boundaries of art orthodoxy and thus more free to discover?

Or can we resist this simple negation and suggest that as a physician La Cava was likely already aware of the body's medicalization via technical imaging processes? Aware that it was the gestural moving body that was captured by the varied forms of kinematic visioning? Or that the cinema constituted a plastic art and science of the skin (pellicule) long before such techniques moved from the flat surface to the contoured body? That the "rediscovery" of Michelangelo's self-portrait entered art discourse in 1925, scant decades after the emergence of popular cinema in many areas of the world, is perhaps not surprising.

Surgery

It is said the mark of a good plastic surgeon is that one cannot view scar tissue artefacts from the incising, folding and stitching of a subject's skin, at least given the sufficient focal distance from which one is to make such a consideration. We can remark, then, on the skilled surgeons of spectacle who so neatly sewed together the ponchoed pellicules in the stands of Vancouver Olympic Stadium: when viewed from the perspective of the television camera, or indeed, from the other side of the stadium, the skin appeared whole and relatively unmarked — a touch weathered, perhaps, but certainly bearing little overt evidence of scarring to its surface.

Courtesy of CTVOlympics

We might suggest it is Pointillism updated for the current technological age: no longer the round dot of the point nor the square of the pixel, but the irregularly bounded figure that is the polygon, multiplied and (texture) mapped together to create the screen. It is the logic of volumetric striation and the sports videogame avatar: a large set of differential polygon shapes stitched together that reduce to the flat plane of television those elements we most consider gestural.

As the gestural is captured by the skin's surface orientation we shift our focus to that which has been projected onto the screen, namely, icons representing various Olympic sports and flags representing the competing nations. In other words, those fantasies of sporting inclusion and fraternal nationalism we collectively understand as "Olympian," discursively inscribed onto the screen as necessarily belonging to particular sports or to the nation-state form of political sovereignty.

We noted earlier that sport is one arena in which the supposed decline of the nation-state posited by Hardt and Negri's Empire thesis has not been confirmed. To the contrary, it is the vigor with which nation-versus-nation sporting competition continues to resonate that obscures those other actors in sport's imperial meshwork and their varied conjunctures with one another. Might we even suggest that sport offers the opportunity for the excesses of the imperial system — that is, for the nationalist tensions that arise as neoliberal capital flows smoothly across borders — to be safely dissipated via the differential flows of television signals and allow for the overall health of the machine-organism?

The hygienic theatre

It is Virilio who suggests that those who are absent from the stadium are always right. But Baudrillard goes further: as mentioned earlier, the lesson he draws from the Heysel disaster is that the spectators need to be purged from the stadium in favour of the strictly televisual. John Bale locates in this a fulfillment of his "surgical" model of the sportscape, a sterile space free of spectators and in which only the athletic operations themselves are conducted on the stadium floor. Indeed, given the raw ponchoed skins that have just so recently been stitched together for the Vancouver Opening Ceremonies, one would hope the hygienic standards of the stadium approach those of the surgical clinic.

To illustrate this hygienic quality we shall take a slight detour to explore the glow sticks that were also handed out to each spectator at the stadium. Given the high definition capability of television and the high resolution of the spectator screen, the glow sticks provided to each audience member should be understood as much smaller objects than the cards of the pixel stunt, and thus fulfilling a quite different function. While the cards of the pixelated stunt were engineered to communicate a particular signal, the glow sticks serve to reintroduce noise to the high definition display of digital signal, adding a lushness not unlike that which a musician might engineer into a contemporary digital recording with the artefacts of vinyl static.

Courtesy of CTVOlympics

This lushness is visible both by those present at the stadium and those watching at home, which is not to suggest that these become identical subject positions. The spectator at home exists as a function of the eye, which is to say as a function of both the camera eye and the television producer's eye. This functions as either a sort of real-time Cubism in which multiple simultaneous viewpoints are filtered to the singular perspective of the final work, or as a more scripted logistics of perception that features pre-calculated camera sightlines corresponding to the action below.

Recall that Benjamin likened the cameraman to the surgeon, who "greatly diminishes the distance between himself and the patient by penetrating into the patient’s body, and increases it but little by the caution with which his hand moves among the organs." The warm ambience of the glowstick noise obscures the hygienic sterility in which digital spectacle is produced for the spectator at home.

The zone

The spectator at the stadium, on the other hand, exists in a middle zone as both subject and object of this particular drama, the hygiene of digital also modulating this multiple relationality. Kittler's dramatic introduction to Gramophone, Film, Typewriter offers us a clue as to the particular reason why:

Before the end, something is coming to an end. The general digitization of channels and information erases the differences among individual media. Sound and image, voice and text are reduced to surface effects, known to consumers as interface. Sense and the senses turn into eyewash. Their media-produced glamor will survive for an interim as a by-product of strategic programs. Inside the computers themselves everything becomes a number: quantity without image, sound, or voice. And once optical fiber networks turn formerly distinct data flows into a standardized series of digitized numbers, any medium can be translated into any other. With numbers, everything goes. Modulation, transformation, synchronization; delay, storage, transposition; scrambling, scanning, mapping — a total media link on a digital base will erase the very concept of medium. Instead of wiring people and technologies, absolute knowledge will run as an endless loop (p.1).

During the Vancouver Opening Ceremonies, the loop of absolute knowledge in question ran between the space of the stadium and the space of the home, which begs a question. If synthetic means of perception today rely almost wholly on digital forms of recording, inscription, encoding, transmission and storage, then why does the bank of spectators, this screen onto which the Opening Ceremonies were projected, still need to be present? Why can't the images of the national flags and the sporting icons — and indeed, the spectators themselves — be superimposed on the television screen (as with a graphic overlay that displays statistics), or digitally integrated into the "real" of the stadium, (as with football's first down line)? If, as Baudrillard and Virilio suggest, it is those at home watching who are always right, why is it that the stadium spectators are still required?

One of the lessons we learned from the 2008 Summer Olympic Games and its Opening Ceremonies was precisely such an indistinction between actual and synthetic spaces, most notably manifest in the fireworks display that exploded both in gunpowdered form at Beijing National Stadium and as a digital simulation on telescreens worldwide. This optical doubling was meant to ensure that televisual perception remained pristine in the event that problems befell the live fireworks display — namely, low visibility due to purportedly poor air quality. Once again, those absent from the stadium appeared to be right.

It could be said that the stadium spectators are still required because the revenues they bring from ticket sales, concessions, and sponsor imprints are desirable to the profit-maximizing actors who constitute Sporting Empire. But these are risky revenues. Aggregating a live audience post-9/11 is risky, and thus costly: the Vancouver Organizing Committee spent $950 million on the varied security measures employed during the Games. That the risk is borne at all speaks to a shift from State sovereignty and its right to kill, which today becomes biopolitics and its "primary objective to transform the care of life and the biological as such into the concern of State power" (Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz, p.155). An expense of nearly a billion dollars to secure territory for a two-week sporting competition gives this biopolitical "care of life" a rapid quantitative grounding.

The care of biological life as a security matter is risky, yes, but from a different perspective so is the signal coming from the image-factory that is the sports stadium. The Opening Ceremonies of an Olympic Games, in particular, exist among the most elaborately constructed spectacles in human history, both at the stadium and on television. An entire choreography of perception to capture the dazzling displays in the building for television, admitting to its own presence as infrequently as possible. The actors on the floor are relatively scripted, but what about the spectator-subjects in the stands? How can we be certain they will not compromise the signal in any way? What if someone engineered the contagion of a Wave?

Are these revenues really worth the risk?

Given the scripted choreography of perception produced in Hollywood today, one presumes the CGI rendering capabilities are sophisticated enough to display either a screen of projected imagery or a crowd of stadium spectators. But Kittler's observation about the shift to digitality proves key. If we can question the simulation of fireworks, national flags, sports icons and spectators, certainly we can question the simulation of the event itself, erasing the very concept of the stadium? Is this not the lesson of sports videogames and their rapidly "improving" binary-coded artificial intelligence engines?

Courtesy of CTVOlympics

That the sporting event actually exists is the first layer in the carefully constructed apparatus of truth that is contemporary televised sport. This truth possesses a digital representation, inscription, transmission and storage, but what it wants is its legitimation, which it finds in the flesh relation of those analog bodies located at either end of the communication channel and its endless loop (cf. Massumi, "On the Superiority of the Analog"). It is the spectator at the stadium who provides this fleshy legitimation to the televiewer at home, a last gasp for real space to roar in a relation dominated by real time.

For one fails to understand the roar of the stadium crowd if one considers it simply an acoustic phenomenon. As Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht suggests, it is rather "a physical point of self-reference through which the crowd perceives and transforms itself into one unified body" (In Praise of Athletic Beauty, p.215). It is an expression of intensity made manifest, made corporeal: the linguistic signifiers of aural outpouring, yes, but also the gestural qualities of the roaring act and the flesh resonance with both the thousands of others in attendance and those who perform on the stadium floor.

In fact, there need not even exist a roaring crowd for there to be a comparable level of intensity perceived by those in attendance. A stillness — an anticipation of what is to come — may resonate with the flesh in a fashion quite as intense as the great roar. We might say there is a buzz in the air, the quiet hum of voices that gives the pregnant silence its lush quality. We might say one could cut the tension with a knife, perhaps the most damning indictment of the tangibility of flesh's non-tangibility, of the relational weaves that develop their tensility with each passing moment of anticipation, and of the latent urge to sever these fibres lest one be consumed by the intensity of their relation.

Perversion, inversion

In a perversion of Foucault's analysis of the panopticon, the disciplining of the spectator becomes that which contributes to the production of sporting spectacle itself. Anyone may step into the guard tower, yes, and observe those in the partitions of competition (given sufficient discretionary income, of course), thus participating in the exercise of disciplinary power. But the spectator also becomes among the observed when the vectors of archive and telesthesia are introduced to the production of spectacle: the "guards in the tower" are also seen by the television cameras, surveillance cameras, and cellphone cameras that proliferate in this ludic space. They, too, become Foucauldian "objects of information, never subjects in communication," at least insofar as we are describing communication in its traditional linguistic sense.

Given the always-on digitality of Kittler's new media order, the "guards" themselves become performers in the discursive production of the mediated event and confirm the affective response that the television audience at home is meant to embody. Guarding, as such, comes to mean communicating the very analog fact of having spectated the event, with communication understood as based in flesh resonance and its corresponding gesture.

No matter how sterile the space becomes, the stadium spectator will never be exiled from the surgical theatre in favour of the televiewers back home. So long as the optics of televised spectacle remain perspectival in nature, the vectors of telesthesia will never fully reproduce the volumetric of the stadium spectator. Even if they do somehow, if the optics become volumetric and the avatar can more closely approximate the gestural body of the spectator at home, it remains that the analog resonance of flesh will not have been duplicated. And so the spectator at the stadium becomes the uneasy compromise that sporting Empire must concede in order to give synthetic perception and its audience a grounding and legitimation in the resonance of flesh witnessing.

What is a stadium?

It was suggested earlier that in the stadium we find echoes of Agamben's inquiry into the camp as a form of life governing biopolitics everywhere. While we do not mean to draw an equivalence between the deportees of Auschwitz and high performance athletes, we should draw attention to those structuring principles found in the most extreme version of the camp and how they enter the ludic arena to govern the biopolitics of sport. The enclosure of the stadium, the serialization of spectators and inscription of athletes within, and the topological transformation of the space to police performance enhancing substances and methods all constitute a particular state of exception that we might describe under the broad emerging rubric of lex sportiva. We find additional evidence with the conversion of the stadium space from its role in the production of ludic capital to other purposes during times of warfare, emergency, contagion, or disaster.

Indeed, Agamben himself draws the link between the stadium and the camp-as-form on a few different occasions. In Means Without End: Notes on Politics, he writes:

If this is the case, if the essence of the camp consists in the materialization of the state of exception and in the consequent creation of a space for naked life as such, we will then have to admit to be facing a camp virtually every time that such a structure is created, regardless of the nature of the crimes committed in it and regardless of the denomination and specific topography it might have. The soccer stadium in Bari in which the Italian police temporarily herded Albanian illegal immigrants in 1991 before sending them back to their country, the cycle-racing track in which the Vichy authorities rounded up the Jews before handing them over to the Germans, the refugee camp near the Spanish border where Antonio Machado died in 1939, as well as the zones d'attente in French international airports in which foreigners requesting refugee status are detained will all have to be considered camps (p.42).

To these examples we might also include the Louisiana Superdome during Hurricane Katrina, the Itchioka PoW Camp during World War II, and the local baseball diamonds used as "designated protest zones" or "free speech areas" during political events, among hundreds of others. While these examples highlight the space itself as primary in structuring the biopolitical apparatus, Agamben elsewhere delves further into the relations that produce the subjectivities of the camp. In Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, he writes of the Sonderkommando, a unique group of deportees "responsible for managing the gas chambers and crematoria," and who also occasionally played in soccer matches with the Nazi SS:

[Primo] Levi recalls that a witness, Miklos Nyszli, one of the very few who survived the last "special team" of Auschwitz, recounted that during a "work" break he took part in a soccer match between the SS and representatives of the Sonderkommando. "Other men of the SS and the rest of the squad are present at the game; they take sides, bet, applaud, urge the players on as if, rather than at the gates of hell, the game were taking place on the village green."

This match might strike someone as a brief pause of humanity in the middle of an infinite horror. I, like the witnesses, instead view this match, this moment of normalcy, as the true horror of the camp. For we can perhaps think that the massacres are over — even if here and there they are repeated, not so far away from us. But that match is never over; it continues as if uninterrupted. It is the perfect and eternal cipher of the "gray zone," which knows no time and is in every place (p.25).

What is of note about this gray zone is the space for the third that opens up within the play at hand, the zone of indistinction between guard and deportee on the soccer pitch. If the economic might of the television audience at home serves as the truth of the event for Sporting Empire and its actors in the Opening Ceremonies, do the spectators at the stadium and their complex integration into the spectacle exist in a similar gray zone or third space?

The witness

How do we understand witnessing and flesh resonance in such a gray zone? As Agamben continues in Remnants of Auschwitz:

From this perspective, the meaning of "witness" also becomes transparent, and the three terms that, in Latin, express the idea of testimony all acquire their characteristic physiognomy. If testis designates the witness insofar as he intervenes as a third in a suit between two subjects, and if superstes indicates the one who has fully lived through an experience and can therefore relate it to others, auctor signifies the witness insofar as his testimony always presupposes something — a fact, a thing, a word — that preexists him and whose reality and force must be validated or certified. … Testimony is thus always an act of an "author": it always implies an essential duality in which an insufficiency or incapacity is completed or made valid (p.150).

If what is being presented as the Opening Ceremonies is but the authored spectacular event par excellence, then this last aspect of testimony posited by Agamben becomes problematic for Sporting Empire. Too many authors spoil the text, we might say, or at least challenge its architectural claims to truth and thus the message must be modulated rather than wikified. Intellectual property is at risk, after all. And thus we may better understand the images projected upon those in attendance at Vancouver's Olympic Stadium: the latest technique by which Sporting Empire attempts to neutralize the authorial aspect of witnessing. Skins flayed open, each surgically stitched to the next, the naked life onto which an Olympic self-portrait is inscribed; zoe and the replication of interlocking rings, gesture turned inward from the screen, analog presence and its incomplete translation to the digital.

While the camp endures as a form in which the very issue of humanity is continually at stake, and thus always stands separate from an analysis of sport and its ludic political economy, we may certainly recognize in the stadium, as Agamben himself does, the camp-as-form that differentially constitutes biopolitical spaces everywhere. And yet this "differential" constitution begs the question of specificity. In the particular case of the Vancouver 2010 Opening Ceremonies, an event purportedly marked by its diversity — the bright colours of the Parade of Nations, in particular — obscures its very basis in uniformity: what is the specific mechanism that has most of the audience wearing a white poncho to complement those team uniforms marching in down below?

Why are the stadium spectators complicit? Is the requirement to wear the poncho contractually obligated as part of one's ticketed passage into the Opening Ceremonies? Or what about a different scenario, with a poncho strategically available on each chair that was optional to wear upon entering the building? What if one attempted to refuse but then someone else a few seats over strongly suggested that one was in fact expected to wear the garment? Who, precisely, would be "expecting" the poncho to be worn? The event organizers? The panoptic gaze? Or one's fellow assembled spectators?

Courtesy of CTVOlympics

Does one stand defiant in the face of this challenge? Does one refuse the soft program of the mass and explicitly call into question the figure of the spectator-witness? As the animal body is emptied out into the in the networked space of spectacle, does one reduce one's degree of exposure to alterity in order to contain the potential of contagion? In this gray zone, the zone of naked life and spectacular television programming, the zone in which presence trumps absence, the zone in which for the time being real referents still remain, one can only hope that Baudrillard's strategem of hyperconformity was intended as a clever ruse.

Pixel to Pellicule

Courtesy of agu2000_de at Flickr

If we are to give full consideration to Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the body without organs we cannot allow our analysis to remain simply in the domain of those organ systems responsible for intelligence (brain, networked server farm), circulation (heart, stock market), or filtration (kidney, casino). We must also consider the largest organ of them all, at least as far as humans are concerned: the skin, that surface which is folded and wrapped from the two-dimensional so as to enclose a particular volume.

The skin is part of the integumentary system, designed to protect the interior of the volume as well as regulate the exchange of flows through its enclosing membrane. It also has an expressive role that is bound in a nexus of power relations: whether we are discussing the human dermis, clothing and fashion, the social networking profile page, or the buildings of the city, the skin constitutes the primary locus of organization for the body situated in a system predicated upon the optic (as with identification), even if this optic is based in touch (as with inscription).

The integumentary system of our artificial living consists of a series of interconnected layers, from the subcutaneous, dermis and epidermis; to hair, nails, horn and pelt; to clothing and architecture; to that vast and mostly invisible network of communication protocols we call the internet. Indeed, as McLuhan suggests, "in the electric age we wear all mankind as our skin." But these layers do not sit neatly upon one another, sedimented in neat parallel striae; there is rather a slippage between layers, a series of foldings and touch points emerging from the integumentary movements and flows. Call it skin tectonics: the shifts and rumbles between various layers that may at times rupture or crack the "surface".

Courtesy of Aphex Twin + Chris Cunningham

aphex twin
come to daddy
1997
still from music video (dir. chris cunningham)

The disciplining of the sporting spectator during the 19th and 20th centuries (as outlined by Bale) serves to render this mass of individuals a temporary layer or component of the stadium architecture. When the spectators flowing into the stadium come to rest in their grid of seating coordinates, they form a layer of skin on top of the architecture of the building. They, too, comprise a part of its surface. The skins of the audience members present covering the architectural form of the stadium suggests a rejection of the anthropocentric view that all media are necessarily extensions of our human bodies, as with McLuhan. They appear instead to be remixable components of our always already living artificially. And as the stadium card stunt suggests, they are programmable components as well.

The disciplined spectator-body has a constrained set of opportunities for free movement in the x- and y-axes of the stadium's seats — the striated space that allows for the card stunt to function. One may traverse prescribed conduits of flow (eg. to concessions or lavatories), but expressive movement is certainly curtailed. Spectators are, however, able to move more expressively in the z-axis: rising to one's feet, jumping up and down, standing to offer an ovation. These are responses to some important moment on the field of play, though, responses to an event. What about embodied expression — understood as movement in the z-axis — during the interval between these moments of intense response?

This is the domain of the Wave, that collective audience gesture in which successive groups of spectators (understood vertically along the y-axis of the seating grid) briefly stand and raise their arms, slightly following in time those adjacent to them so as to achieve an oscillating wave that flows through the sports stadium. The Wave disguises itself as a blast whose shockwave ripples out from some epicenter and travels in circular fashion around the building, but each instance begins rather as a contagion, at least when catalyzed "spontaneously" by fans. This contagion has a two-fold function: first, to signify the beginning of what will ultimately become an asignifying multiplicity and communicate that information in a micro-relational sense to those in adjacent seats; and second, to introduce a vector of transmission for the gesture as it flips from contagion to blast — either clockwise or counterclockwise around the stadium.

(By way of contrast examine the micropolitics of stadium contagion when not transformed into the waveform blast rhythm, as with the chaos that was the Heysel Stadium disaster. Baudrillard suggests in The Transparency of Evil that Heysel confirms precisely "why the public must simply be eliminated, to ensure that the only event occurring is strictly televisual in nature. Every real referent must disappear so that the event may become acceptable on television's mental screen" [p.80].)

Although the exact origins of the Wave are uncertain — as if one could pinpoint the precise evolutionary moment that a meme "begins", particularly one that is gestural (unless of course it had been engineered in a laboratory) — its emergence can be located during the 1970s and 1980s, which is to say the era when the society of spectacle most fully realizes the analysis offered by Debord. Its relationship to the image, then, merits closer attention.

Courtesy of Vironevaeh at Flickr

Recall that the spectator becomes part of the skin of the stadium building — a stippling perhaps, or a texture map. While the Wave begins with the same logic of enclosure and partitioning that enables the pixelated card stunt, it breaks out of this visual field of resolution to undulate around the stadium: the screen refresh of the card stunt yields to an orbital revolution that is asignifying except as an expression of its own existence, the gesture as pure mediality (cf. Agamben).

Two interrelated problems confront the Wave, however, in any consideration of it as a collective (even if not consciously so) act of resistance against sporting capital and its disciplinary subject positions. The first involves the question of agency as it relates to each individual in the multiplicity of audience bodies that rise in waveform at the stadium. Antonia Hirsch's Vox Pop is illustrative in this regard. While the work expresses the uncanny nature of the Wave gesture when decontextualized from its normal collective formation, it also forces us to consider the opposite: What sort of agency does the individual have to refuse as the mass tide of movement comes bearing down?

Courtesy of Antonia Hirsch

antonia hirsch
vox pop
2008
still from 2-channel video installation

While the catalysis of the Wave's apparent spontaneity at one time belonged to certain highly identified fans, today it is just as likely to be started by stadium operations as part of the total spectacle. Agency is further compromised by the foldings of vision — lenses and screens, both organic and technic, that contribute to the discursive production of "good fan" subjectivity. Does this not already hint at a capture of the gestural deterritorialization into the z-axis? And is this not in a certain way the story of the control society: eliminating mandatory, top-down protocols when the micropolitics of local relation will accomplish many of the same goals? As Deleuze and Guattari propose, fascism "involves a war machine … [it] is constructed on an intense line of flight, which it transforms into a line of pure destruction and abolition" (ATP, p. 230). The volumetric line of the z-axis, the vectoral line of the waveform — both must answer to this line of questioning.

Which leads us to the second problem of the Wave as gestural micropolitics: the relationship between surfaces and volumes (a corporeal lacuna that haunts the thought of Flusser). While the Wave today is indeed an affair often deliberately coordinated by stadium personnel, it most certainly retains the possibility of being a purely positive expression triggered by an individual cluster of fans. But if we follow Agamben and Deleuze to understand that the element of cinema and the pellicule of film is gesture rather than image, then it must follow that the inverse is true as well: while it may indicate some other set of spatiotemporal coordinates, either indexically or otherwise, gesture as such remains ultimately bound by the skin.

Courtesy of David Cronenberg

david cronenberg
videodrome
1983
still from film

The myriad forms of perspectival gaze merely adjust their focal depth, so to speak, such that the integumentary function is lifted in relief to capture the Wave as but another surface phenomenon. Purely positive expression or no, the gesture of the Wave ceases to fulfill what Agamben would refer to as a means without ends — "the exhibition of the media character of corporal movements" — and becomes instead the finality without means that sustains this project of integrated representation. Put differently, the praxis of the wave-as-gesture is emptied of its political significance as it folds back into the produced pellicule of sporting spectacle.

Or is it? The gestural body is a moving body, and is thus always already a political one as well. The logic of skin tectonics suggests that such a moving body will never be fully captured by the tightness of its spectacular skin, for there will always be a slippage between integumentary layers. And it is this slippage that constitutes the contemporary zone of opportunity, of resistance, and of indifference.

Archival Fragments

Broken Edison

(open flatbed scan, sampled at 600dpi, downsampled to 96dpi)

"the electric light is pure information. it is a medium without a message, as it were." (mcluhan)
"the outformation age means the copies are more real than the original." (scoville)

call it (i/o)formation, then. a formation. a form.

"archivable meaning is also and in advance codetermined by the structure that archives." (derrida)

what is the formal structure of the archive in the digital age, the age of electricity and light-based fibre optics and copies proliferating to the point that file replaces filial?

what about the status of the part-copy, as with the bits of an email that travel different paths to a destination address or the various file fragments of a music torrent we will solicit from multiple peers?

is the swarm the anti-archive? (or, put differently, is it the archive?)
or is the swarm the new archon or "keeper" of the archive in its copies and part-copies?

does the "hermeneutic right" that belongs to the archon shift from one of interpreting a binary "truth" located inside or outside of the physical archive to one of interpreting a distribution curve of probabilities at event-thresholds variously located across the network?

does the swarm modulate the form of the archive from possessing a single point to multiple points of failure? if so, is there a corresponding change in power relations?

these are some of the questions that haunt memory and flow and impermanence and contemporary politics in the (i/o)formation age.

Socket

(open flatbed scan, sampled at 600dpi, downsampled to 96dpi)