detailing, digits, painting the corners

catcher-trans

"Of course he and she can as easily be she and he (and everything in between). The point is not so much the singular biological body that performs the role of catcher, but rather the catcher's affective modulation of pitching, hitting and adjudicating bodies through a proximity of flesh resonance that we have come to identify as the feminine — expressed in the signal of the called pitch. Ronell's figure of the switchboard operator looms present in this context, though the linguistic signals of telecommunication have been replaced, at least in part, by a more subtle consideration of co-resonance with these three other performing bodies."

(sportsbabel, march 2010)

-

"Of course, the direct human agency involved to trigger the commands and activate the card stunt emerges as a fourth required element to follow the first three, which during the history of college football is a responsibility that has fallen to the cheerleading corps. Given the gendered histories of cheerleading in football, we might inquire into the specific ways that women were involved with triggering these program activation commands. It seems not a stretch to read the figure of the card stunt leader in resonance with both Kittler's figure of the typist and Ronell's figure of the switchboard operator — that is, one (woman) who can both inscribe a new flow of coded data as well as one who can connect an existing flow-in-potential, suggesting further that the history of technotext is always already a feminist one."

(sportsbabel, february 2010)

Metamorphosus Interruptus

On Performing the University of Disaster, Part Five

It's fairly easy to become a spy, really. All one needs is to secrete a few signifiers: a fake moustache here or a change of clothing there, an assumed name and a few passports to get through the checkpoints. Perhaps the skilled agent will modulate language in spoken or written form, while the truly gifted spy might go so far as to adopt a new gait altogether (Keyser Söze understood this best). The point is to both fashion and perform an identity, one that will allow passage between spaces of more or less regulated sovereignty. In other words, it is a will to movement that in its very becoming creates opportunities for critical investigation and possibilities for social change.

Spy Signifiers

For a purportedly "secret" agent, Bond's identity was perhaps the worst kept secret in the spy game. Whether at the hotel registration desk, the baccarat table, or the cozy confines of the martini bar, the naming was always the same: Bond. James Bond. Square jaw, smoky gaze and cool Britannia. Tall and tuxedoed, shaken not stirred. There was nothing subtle about it, nothing secretive. One supposes this is because Bond performs himself at every moment the actor also performs the character into life, but at some point the theatre must become a bondage, no?

Of course there was always a second identity that haunted Bond from his very birth: 007, the numbering name of Her Majesty's Secret Service corporeally registered with every case mission assigned as an asset in the field. Clerical object of Moneypenny and spectral threat to a veritable constellation of villains: 007 was as well known in the spy network as Bond himself. Singular corporeal punctum and reductive technology to invisibly mark his body, the nexus between skin, gesture and inscribed identity never more apparent. This numbering name of 007 is not a counting number — it is never additive, much less multiple.

When Bond made love to 006, in other words, it's not as if 0013 was anywhere to be found.

The Spy's foot begins to vibrate. Shoephone, naturally: a smart technology for navigating the spy game's networks of lust and mistrust. As Ronell points out, one shoephone always implies another, always implies a relation, for what use is a single receiver on its own? Shoephone technology also presumes the walking, mobile agent, however, one whose gesture meets language in the everyday gait of the spyworld. His will to movement exists as an uneasy compromise between the perceived waves of affective tonality and the particulars of linguistic signification.

The Agency has his number too, of course: administrative numeration for organizing the field of potential. But perhaps also an unsecure connection, for our footings are always uncertain in these networks of flux. Someone might be listening to the call, or touching in synchronicity. Warily, he retrieves the message from the Colonel:

Nomad

 

<code> FRIST LWA FO MDIEA: TEH SLEF SI TEH FAOCL PONIT -- COL.
. . . . .
<code> wtf? -- Spy.

 

As with the shoephone, the spy identity also exists in relation. Like all techniques of living, the signifiers of identity spring forth from the body in processes of co-emergence before folding back to re-form anew. Hence the birth of an identity is first and foremost an expression of violence: it demands a certain tearing away from existent relational fibres towards the adoption of newer signifying forms (this was one of the first lessons the Spy learned from the Colonel in basic training). But this violence brings with it liberation and empowerment: we get comfortable in our new skins, so to speak, and as we move into new relational forms we sing out to others who might likewise possess similar elements of performativity.

Co-emergence: this selfness is selfless, if not necessarily free of selfishness.

Eventually, these new rhythms and selves give birth to the name of the name, which we thereafter understand as the identity category. But this, categorically speaking, is where a different tearing occurs, at once an abstraction from the relational processes that gave birth to the identity proper and a parallel shift that sediments or stratifies its remaining fibres. Dogma and hygiene set in. Identity is policed. Fluidity is compromised. And the one thing feared most by any agent in the field of potential is to become compromised.

Simon Critchley illustrates the political importance that identity categories may possess in galvanizing a movement towards action and, potentially, change on a subrevolutionary scale. The name and its performance can be a rallying cry, "inauthentic" yet for a fleeting instant powerfully lived. Agency writ large: the question of how to live is simultaneously the question of how to die.

But this question also seems to concern the flip. When do the structural conditions of empowerment and possibility mutate such that they invert and become the conditions for repression? Or to phrase the question differently, is the identity category itself a choreographic object around which its associated part-subjects orbit, rearrange and otherwise flip in a movement from dominant to dominated (and/or submissive) positions?

Another vibration from the Colonel. The Spy hits the Submit button:

 

<code> FUOTRH LWA FO MDIEA: MDIEAITON SI TEH FOLW FO MDIEA -- COL.
. . . . .
<code> lol -- Spy.

 

"Mediation is no longer a deal between partners or a communication following established rules, but an innovative process of media to which we belong. In such a mediation there is not even the goal of mutual understanding, because the flow needs breaks. Dissent is the salt of mediation and designed to eliminate anthropocentric arrangements, the mafia practices of humankind" (Schirmacher).

The Spy hangs up his shoephone and considers the interface between gesture and language. He considers the binary of love and hate when brought together linguistically in oppositional expressions of relation: "I hate that I love you," or "I love that I hate you." There is no counterbalancing of sentiment between the two expressions: the antagonism between action verbs in each sentence is such that the speaking predicate — the "I" — becomes enclosed by abject misery in the former instance or appears monstrously callous in the latter. Hate always triumphs in this conflict, semantically speaking; it cannot be negated simply by love alone.

For love to emerge triumphant the situation requires pure will, or more accurately, pure will not: "I will not hate that I love you," or "I will not love that I hate you." In both cases the semantic structure has been modulated — not inverted, mind you, but rather emptied of its vitriolic sense. This should not be considered a second negation in addition to love's attempted negation of hatred, but instead a refusal: exodus walking together hand-in-hand with antagonism.

Language games, nothing but language games.

The University of Disaster is precisely such a language game. Has it not been from the outset? Given that traditional material infrastructure is largely absent from its constitution, save for the most skeletal required elements, we must indeed consider it a ludic architecture that has been performed into existence — a rich node of communicative action that errs largely on the side of spoken rather than written language. The very reason it "works" is due not to its facilities but rather to the produced intensity of experience in one's faculties: a relentless excursion in the mountains pushing its students and spies to ever-new possibilities. If operated as a traditional academy it would fail miserably.

Yet it succeeds. Process philosophy meets pedagogy meets praxis.

Despite our example of love and hate considered above, those in the spy game know that the situation is anything but binary. As Victor Vitanza teaches us with the language games of Lyotard, and with the specific example of Tegwar, the machines are always modulating with each move. Love and hate infold in flux: there is no time to remain sedentary. This fact assumes even greater significance when one considers the rich node of communicative action — that is, the balance between speaking and writing — that constitutes the University of Disaster as sovereign institutional form.

If the University of Disaster errs largely on the side of the spoken word, with all the perishability that implies, we might ask what respect it holds for its relation with the listener? What laws govern its sovereignty and ensure justice for its subjects if the tradition is primarily oral?

As Schirmacher points out, Lyotard's call for "just gaming" was itself an ambiguous play on the word just: "to take life lightly and at the same time insist on justice for the working of language games." Those in the spy network should not want to fall in love with language: in fact, they should be distrustful of its claims. But sometimes language is required to communicate the nuances of relation, of love, of hate — in other words, for me to express myself to you.

And so we play, we take life lightly.

In this sense, "lol" operates at the threshold of text and image: both an acronym for dark, sardonic, wicked humour (Critchley's third way between melancholia and mania) and a hands-up icon of powerlessness before the sovereign. I surrender, with a wry grin touching the very corner of my lips.

Can one play the game with style? Is there justice?

Metamorphosus - Colonel - Photos courtesy of Barb Fornssler, 2009

 

<code> TRHID LWA FO MDIEA: SYLTE SI TEH MDIEUM FO ATCOIN -- COL.
. . . . .
<code> kthxbye -- Spy.

 

"Style is a self-evolving activity producing a gaze and opening the ear. It is not the author's viewpoint, or his or her aesthetic judgment that style expresses. Style is a game playing with time and language in which you discover and forget the self. Style is neither an identification tag nor a tool of power but a composition never made before, in a language free of fixed meaning but still meaningful to you" (Schirmacher).

Massumi+Manning are back in the game. Great timing. Are they a deal between partners, or a multiplicity? It seems to be the latter: they do not make 007 or 006, or even 0013, but the more-than that is produced by the eventedness of relation and its perishability. Call its numbering name n+1 — or hesheheshehe returns!

Style, vision, sound: fine, in theory. But let's not dance around the important questions. Where is the touch? Where is the politics of touch, more precisely? And for that matter, where is its pedagogy and praxis?

Touch is where the spoken of the ear meets the written of the gaze. Each must be considered as relational forms. A speaking body is met by a listening body, the threshold or interface between the two at the skin of the tympanic membrane; a writing body, on the other hand, is met by a reading body, the threshold between the two at the skin of the archive.

The skin is a surface, however. It wraps around a volume, encloses gesture. Speaking and writing must be considered variations of a topology emerging from gestural expression, each of which transforms differentially in time and space depending on the performance of the relational bodies in question. Gesture is time in the always-becoming of volumetric embodiment and the space in which a touching body is met by another touching body.

Whither style in this relational context? Massumi+Manning analyze this precise question with deeper consideration to find that style is the sum of movement modulations between all agents in co-resonance that allows the skilled player to gain an advantage. But style is also a provocation to the referee. A penalty may be called, or new rules introduced in response to the modulations. What if one is in the peculiar position of being both the person who must play the game with style and also adjudicate the degree to which the other plays stylishly as well, however: can one call a penalty against oneself? As Critchley reminds, following Agamben, Schmitt and others, we must define the sovereign not by the power to constitute the law, but rather by the one who determines the state of exception.

Massumi+Manning point out that naming and institutionalizing a dynamic process challenges the ethics of said process at every turn. If the dynamism of the process is born primarily through the process of speaking, as with the University of Disaster, then should we not always keep the ethics of the speaker in question? And if the communicative act is always relational, should we not also do the same for the listener? Finally, if naming and institutionalizing an identity are precisely that which offered agency in the first place, then once again we ask: when does the flip take place?

It appears to be when the generative violence implied by the birth of the identity no longer serves the agent but rather detaches to exist as a repressive technicity of the image. If the function of power in disciplinary societies served to produce docile bodies, its correlate in the societies of control is to produce docile identities, which may also include docile bodies. As such, we must escape the violence of the image.

Exodus or antagonism? Exodus and antagonism? If the passage is preordained, is there truly the possibility for agency?

Perhaps the agent in this case is the one who ruptures the preordained passage from one identity to the next, confusing the threshold. Consider this form of rupture or refusal consonant with a project of skin tectonics: the shifts and rumbles between various integumentary layers (dermis, clothing, architecture, digital profile) that may at times rupture or crack the "surface". The logic of skin tectonics suggests that the moving, gestural body — always already a political body — will never be fully captured by the tightness of its spectacular skin, for there will always be a slippage between integumentary layers. It is this slippage that constitutes the contemporary zone of opportunity, of resistance, and of indifference.

And if the nexus between skin, gesture and inscribed identity has never been more apparent, then perhaps we might also consider style to be a contouring of the Word — at once a transversal flight of the witness through doxa and a terrifying yet liberating movement to create interstitial distance between the law and the state of exception.

Did the referee even notice?

Metamorphosus - Agent - Photos courtesy of Barb Fornssler, 2009

 

<code> SCENOD LWA FO MDIEA: PREOFMRCANE SI TEH SGINARUTE FO TUTRH -- COL.
. . . . .
<code> cul8r -- Spy.

 

Mission is a go. Homo Generator is meeting him at the rendezvous point and bringing reinforcements.

"This second law of media asks you to sign your name to the event, with no credit given for the hidden agenda. Media babies nurtured by shows, soaps, and trash movies live happily with collage, parody, and pastiche characteristic of the realm of performance. … Media has to seduce and open up a field of action which has no goal other than playing life, rearranging a never fixed lifeworld" (Schirmacher).

Once upon a time Bond staged his own death in the play of life. Though the physiological signals were indeed remixed, this is certainly not a biological death we are describing but rather a death of the image. 007 flatlined to 000, with no new data-deltas in the process of manufacture. It was perhaps his most convincing engagement ever with the question of performed identity.

Bond is dead! Long live the Bond!

Bond's maneuver was significant in that it offered him a new opportunity for movement — not simply for passage between identities (that is, life and death), but for a temporary suspension of the passage itself. This movement in suspension sounds paradoxical if one assumes the fixed perspective of the medical gaze and its unitary subjectivity, though when understood as a renegotiation of the link between corpus and image and its multiple relations, the idea begins to make more sense. Bond unperforms his normative performance to challenge the body-image link of his fixed identity and complete the mission. Or at least to gain the upper hand in so doing, for eventually he must come back to life and resurrect his pursuit of the evil mastermind.

But what if one could stay in passage indefinitely? Would it be possible to leverage the event rupture and dilate the threshold of passage such that movement always remains a potentiality? As with hesheheshehe, could one understand this as a will not to movement and a language game to the last? Not suspended animation, that is, but animated suspension? Could one keep the predatory fembot drones at bay? Could one die and yet live?

 

(Such traps are everywhere to be found. The question is where. The question is when.)

 

It suddenly dawns on him. "Homo Generator, you're the mole."

"It's General Generator, you idiot." A dismissive wave from his black-gloved hand. "Of course I'm the mole — or the serpent, whatever. It's been Me all along. This pitting of ideologies against one another has proven to be a very profitable enterprise."

"You're the one who's been sending me the messages. The Laws. It all makes sense now."

"Are you so sure it wasn't the Colonel? After all, the messages were from her channel."

(And what makes you so sure we don't have a second channel? If we mitigate its ambiguity, the multiple redundancy flesh resonance offers can help authenticate any code.)

"The first two sounded nothing like her."

"Yes, I will admit that it took us some time to — how shall we say — tap into her mode of linguistic processing? She was quite uncooperative to begin with. Poetic, even. Still, our work was good enough to get you here today."

Searching for a way out . . . "What have you done with —"

"No more questions, Spy, it's time for you to produce, time for you to pass your final test. Are you with us?"

(Could one play the game with style?)

Rupture

The Spy turns to General Generator and looks him squarely in the eye. Playing life, just gaming, and determining the signature of truth under the sign of intensity, for language games such as those played by the University of Disaster demand equally intense conclusions to determine truly just outcomes. (Is any passage always already preordained? No.) He will sign his name to the event and refuse the test drive toward Final Judgment. He will laugh out loud like Medusa and be powerless before the sovereign.

Rapture of the rupture: you only live twice, after all.

Just then the subtle creak of a footstep behind him and the muted blip of a silenced pistol. Searing pain engulfs the base of his neck. (Fuck, philosophy is what happens behind your back! Where were my senses?) The pain spreads immediately to his heart, lingers there as the moment dilates into a flash drive of hazy memories, before consuming the rest of his body with a numbing scramble of icy television snow. Generator's voice fades. A blinding light overwhelms him.

Candida

Whiteness.

___

(for taylor liss, agent in multiplicity.)

gesturing∞gesturing

Whether to privilege speaking or writing as the primary form of communication most closely representing and/or governing humankind's expressive potential — and the form that exists closest to thought itself — is a debate that has interested philosophers for some time. It is also what Bergson would refer to as a false problem, formed by the badly analyzed composite that considers the two as the same in kind.

The first critique we must address is that to even begin to approach the debate presumes we may distinguish pure forms of speaking and writing process, and indeed between the speaking and writing subject. But this is trickier than it appears. Those that seem to be writing may at times be speaking and vice-versa, depending on the context and the relation. Plato's dialogues, for example, are clearly spoken forms that have been committed to text. And with a sports television news anchor reading from a studio teleprompter, the spoken is but a temporary transformation that sees teletype become voice become the writing-with-light of video photography and electromagnetic transmission. Most modes of communication are in fact some hybrid of the two.

recorded waveforms

If we insist on understanding speaking and writing as pure forms, however, at least as they are used in common parlance, then we must first make the relational nature of their form explicit. That is, we must also consider the whom to which our communication is addressed and the ontogenetic character of our messages and technical apparatus. As Avital Ronell queries in "Delay Call Forwarding",

When does the telephone become what it is? It presupposes the existence of another telephone, somewhere, though its atotality as apparatus, its singularity, is what we think of when we say "telephone." To be what it is, it has to be pluralized, multiplied, engaged by another line, high strung and heading for you (p.5).

Should we not change the form of our written language in this document (a spoken dialogue to be sure), then, and first name these processes speaking-listening and writing-reading instead? This is not to suggest a purely dialectic approach. Even if we are to take the liberty of divorcing these binary relations from the total multisensory contexts in which they emerge, they nonetheless remain permeated through with noise, multiple codings, ignored bits, signal filters and suppressed utterances, all of which prove troublesome for what could otherwise be perceived as a cybernetic model of communication. The form is further compromised once the binary becomes several with the third-party audience member, innocent bystander, eavesdropper, translator or witness: the resultant multiplied fibres of relation and modulated degrees of exposure ensure that the acts of speaking-listening and writing-reading are never dialectic in their syntheses.

But this is not satisfactory, either. The left-to-right linearity of writing in Western languages is such that the first term of the composite usually becomes the privileged one (think first author status on a journal article). The speaker and writer purportedly become active agents in this scenario while the listener and reader remain mere passive vessels for message reception, or at best participants who actively formulate in response when the roles shift. To listen for the call is as significant a form of communication as the expression of the call itself, however, at times a priori or at least co-emergent. And to offer the call a response, re-route it to a more appropriate listener, or ignore it altogether are also significant forms of expression that further undermine the privilege of the first term in considering speaker-listener or writer-reader.

Should we acknowledge the generative potential of the relation between these two terms that continually unfold and fold back into one another, then, by substituting the infinity symbol for the hyphen? Should we name these concepts speaking∞listening or listening∞speaking or writing∞reading or reading∞writing, the first term in the pair receiving privilege in that particular context but each always existing at the flip?

calligraphy by gail frost, photoshop by sportsbabel

This focus on relation leads to a second critique of the debate between speaking and writing, which is that the two forms are different in kind because they infold time in different ways. We might suggest that speaking∞listening (again, as an ideal form) is aware of its relation in a particularly intimate fashion, owing to both a flesh-oriented spatial proximity and a simultaneity in time. Speech exists in a perpetual present, the utterance evaporating or dispersing into thin air along with the breath that gave it expression. Only the question of memory is left in its microturbulent wake.

Due to the complex relational interplays each brings to the process — along with their unique temporal trajectories and rhythms — both speaking and listening subjects resonate more or less harmoniously with one another at any particular moment in the dialogue or discourse. While there is a simultaneity in time that allows for the encounter, it does not necessarily imply a synchronicity. Speaking must thus be considered an emergent process towards the possibility of a tangential moment, or a touching of sorts. It is in this possibility of the tangent that simultaneity may become synchronicity.

As is well known, writing∞reading introduces what is called historical consciousness. "History began with the invention of writing," Vilém Flusser notes, "not for the banal reason often advanced that written texts permit us to reconstruct the past, but for the more pertinent reason that the world is not perceived as a process, 'historically,' unless one signifies it by successive symbols, by writing" (p.63). We should not be so quick to dismiss the banality of reconstruction, however, as it is grounded in relation: writing understands a different sense of history and future in that it abstracts its audience. One who writes can only approximate the relational nature of communication insofar as it is left open-ended; the future constructed by the written document is presumed in many ways to remain stable.

We may summarize the material aspects of relation in these ideal expressive forms as follows: a speaking body is met by a listening body, the threshold or interface between the two at the skin of the tympanic membrane; a writing body, on the other hand, is met by a reading body, the threshold between the two at the skin of the archive.

Courtesy of Zhang Huan

zhang huan
family tree
2000
performance

The skin is a surface, however. It wraps around a volume, encloses gesture.

Gesture precedes both speaking and writing. The latter two are not the same in kind but rather the same, or at least variations of a topology emerging from gestural expression. Gesture can either co-exist with or become one of these two more highly-coded forms — or some hybrid that finds them both interwoven — depending on the concepts of time performed by the moving body+bodies in question. It brings the coded acts of speaking and writing to the plane of immanence and the fleshy resonance of affect. Gesture is time in the always-becoming of volumetric embodiment.

If we are to continue considering "pure" forms and relationality, then the embodied movement of the gesturing body is likewise met by another gesturing body; nothing is in stasis. In some cases a coded gesture is given a coded response that more closely resembles speaking or writing, while in others the gesture itself is replicated. In yet other cases still the gestural codes are less apparent and the gestural response simply exists in the always-imperfect negative space of its other(s). Whichever case we are describing — and understanding we are bound to lapse into more abbreviated linguistic habits later in the document — we should for now name its process gesturing∞gesturing.

(from the introduction to "body+politics: towards a sporting multitude," a work-in-progress doctoral dissertation for the european graduate school of media and communications)

Thrownness, or the Zone of the Artwork

Courtesy of Jackson Pollock

Through the drips and flips of his painting technique, Jackson Pollock removes touch from his process — the touch of the arm+hand+brush against the canvas — but this is not to suggest a disappearance of the tactile. Though Pollock moves away from the plane of the rectangular frame, he is still connected to the work proper by the trajectories and fluid dynamics of paint falling to the surface. As such, it is his gesture that comes to the forefront of the work — the whole movement of the painterly body as it expressively sends coloured pigment to the canvas.

We stay in America™ but move from abstract expressionism to baseball. Here, the strike zone constitutes the canvas upon which the pitcher crafts his athletic artwork. Fastball, curveball, changeup, slider are each part of the process, with the knuckleball perhaps most closely approximating the gesture of Pollock's drip technique. Each pitch in the zone counts as a marker of success on the scorecard: when the pitcher most expresses virtuosity he is said to be painting the corners; at other times he is just outside. But a pitch on or off the canvas is not simply a matter of success or failure, for being outside the zone can sometimes be considered a strategic move.

Courtesy of Sportvision

As the baseball catcher will point out, it can be advantageous to spend a certain allocation of gestures in such a way as they are not to hit the canvas; that is, to call for balls to be thrown out of the strike zone so as to modulate the posture of the opposing hitter and throw him off balance. She cannot make such a strategic decision too often, however, since four balls equals a walk and the beginning of the run production process for the offensive team. Further, the pitcher's skill is such that a particular called pitch will not be executed with true delivery every time, and balls called by the umpire will occur. While gesture is where athletic poiesis may be located, the game is still played in the frame.

Of course he and she can as easily be she and he (and everything in between). The point is not so much the singular biological body that performs the role of catcher, but rather the catcher's affective modulation of pitching, hitting and adjudicating bodies through a proximity of flesh resonance that we have come to identify as the feminine — expressed in the signal of the called pitch. Ronell's figure of the switchboard operator looms present in this context, though the linguistic signals of telecommunication have been replaced, at least in part, by a more subtle consideration of co-resonance with these three other performing bodies.

Fastball

This is not to deny the catcher a body of her own. For she feels the game in her body: the aching rotator cuff is a lifetime of throws to pick off a doubting runner at second; the lump from a roughly healed clavicle the ossiferous knot archiving the collision from a stand taken at home plate; the deep stiffness in both knees signifying the cyborgian gesture of the positional crouch as it makes minor adjustments in tango with the hitter at the plate. Her embodiment stands as both a fleshy, visceral living-through of every inning played and practice pitch thrown, as well as an incomplete archive of these switchboard modulations. Pain remembers pain, after all.

Courtesy of Namuth and Pollock

Pollock teaches baseball that the poiesis of the thrown ball remains in the gesture itself, rather than any archive or record of the work (and its subsequent capture by econometric modeling). In turn, baseball perhaps suggests to Pollock that the artwork consists not just of those splatters and drips of paint that eventually find their way onto the canvas, but also those that miss the zone completely. It suggests that these are not errors for the artist, nor wasted pigment, but rather strategic omissions from the act of inscribing, manifest with each gesture as an abstract expression of affective choice from the embodied memory of thousands of like movements. As such, they should be understood as part of the total artwork.

But who is Jackson Pollock's catcher? Is it Pollock himself? Is it the work of art? Is it Lee Krasner? Peggy Guggenheim and the art market? An open-ended relation? Is it Dasein?

Is this why Pollock was allegedly so rattled by Hans Namuth's documentary Jackson Pollock 51, in which the photographer captured the gestural process of Pollock's technique by shooting up through a clear pane of glass? That in staring through the zone of the artwork, Pollock's catcher-switch was revealed to himself as the archive of the archive, visibly apparent as the technological gaze of the movie camera?

(happy birthday to the switch, and many thanks for calling a good game)

Pixel

Card Stunt

The role of the spectator at large scale sporting events is one that has been examined sporadically in critical theory by the likes of Baudrillard, Virilio, Bourdieu, Barthes and others. And in the sport literature, much of the existing work emerges from John Bale and his investigations of the spaces and sites of sporting competition. But one facet of spectator involvement that I do not remember receiving much attention in either domain has to do with the large-scale communication productions involving the spectators themselves holding up sheets of coloured paper to produce some image viewable from a remote perspective. Known as "card stunts," these productions are the spectacular outcome of Bale's developmental model of the modern stadium: each seat equidistant from the next in a neat disciplinary grid of rows and columns that is then conscripted to produce subcomponents of the final pictorial message (see example here).

STAGES

ENVIRONMENT

PERMEABLE BOUNDARIES
WEAK RULES OF EXCLUSION

No spatial limits; uneven terrain; spatial interaction between "players" and "spectators"; diversified land use.

ENCLOSURE

Limits of pitch defined; players segregated from spectators.

PARTITIONING

Embankments, terraces, grandstands; payment for entry; segregation of spectators by social class; start of segregation within crowd; specialized land use.

SURVEILLANCE

Enclosed ground; synthetic pitch and concrete bowl; TV replay screen; total segregation within crowd; panopticism; diversified land use.

RULES OF EXCLUSION STRONG
IMPERMEABLE BOUNDARIES

a four-stage model of the evolution of the modern stadium.
lines refer to possible freedoms of movement for players and spectators.
(from bale, 1993)

In viewing the card stunt unfolding at the stadium one immediately thinks of both Pointillism and its eventual transition to the field of picture elements, or pixels. Indeed, Seurat's famous Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte - 1884 could be understood in terms analogous to the card stunt: an orthogonal view of "non-partitioned spectators" becoming abstracted into coloured points of representation as they watch the leisured pursuits (rowing, sailing) unfold along the river.

Courtesy of Georges Seurat

georges-pierre seurat
un dimanche après-midi à l'île de la grande jatte - 1884
1884-1886
oil on canvas

Paul Virilio appears to be following a similar trajectory in his analysis of twentieth-century media technology. In The Information Bomb he notes:

Extending the dislocation of the figure, which we saw at the beginning of the twentieth century with Cubism, and its disappearance into forms of abstraction, geometric or otherwise, de-localization — the product of the age of the virtual — leads today to an art of interactive feedback between the artist and his/her visitors, along the lines of those infographic paintings which change and metamorphose as you contemplate them, doing so from the particular viewpoint of each of the actors/spectators. Moreover, the decomposition of figures in Pointillism or Divisionism leads today, thanks to fractal geometry, to another type of deconstruction: the dismantling of the space-time of the work.

In the age of the sudden electronic motorization of the artwork, dislocation of forms and de-localization of the art object go hand in hand and accompany the acceleration not in this case of history, but of the reality of the plastic arts. This represents, on the one hand, a questioning of the roles of actor and spectator, and, on the other, an interrogation of the notions of author and viewer. And it is a calling into question of the site of art, after the questioning of the site of the theatrical scene. These are all so many harbingers of an unprecedented change — premonitory signs of the new time scheme within which culture will operate in the era of the emergence of cyberculture (p. 129).

Interestingly, the card stunt predates the personal computer revolution of the 1970s-90s, and thus the popular introduction of computer monitors and pixel resolution from the world of corporate industry and into the home. Instead we must go back earlier, through the era of the Rubik's Cube, through the era of mainframes and computer punch cards, through the era of split-flap displays on clocks and train departure boards, to locate the card stunt in American college football as early as 1910.

In other words, the card stunt predates the introduction of televised sports and therefore must be considered a message system with an audience different from that of the TV spectator at home: it was originally designed for those players, coaches and fans who were present at the stadium. But once the football stadium is connected to the broader apparatus of television and sponsorship capital (and eventually to the jumbotron screen), the problematics of signal production are opened to newly consider the intensified subroutine loop of screen and subject relation.

Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

One requires three elements for a card stunt to function successfully: the dissemination of a program code beforehand (the paper handout of instructions stating which card to display at what time); a set grid of stadium seats (the field of resolution) for visual output; and the activation of the program through a coded routine of command prompts.

Of course, the direct human agency involved to trigger the commands and activate the card stunt emerges as a fourth required element to follow the first three, which during the history of college football is a responsibility that has fallen to the cheerleading corps. Given the gendered histories of cheerleading in football, we might inquire into the specific ways that women were involved with triggering these program activation commands. It seems not a stretch to read the figure of the card stunt leader in resonance with both Kittler's figure of the typist and Ronell's figure of the switchboard operator — that is, one (woman) who can both inscribe a new flow of coded data as well as one who can connect an existing flow-in-potential, suggesting further that the history of technotext is always already a feminist one.

Further, if we continue to follow our suggestion that football models the American military-industrial complex in a sort of evolutionary version of chess, then these cheerleading women appear early on to play an important role in coordinating messages of support from the home front to the battle lines. But they are coded messages, and as such are susceptible to being intercepted or hacked by the enemy. This is precisely what occurred in the "Great Rose Bowl Hoax" of 1961: supporters of the California Institute of Technology, frustrated by a lack of visibility relative to Washington, their more famous opponent, pulled a prank in which the coded instructions were switched so that the visual output from the Washington fans ultimately communicated a very different message than the one originally intended.

Great Rose Bowl Hoax

If we can locate the card stunt at the modern stadium as a genealogical precursor to the pixelated bitmap computer display, we might consider the increasingly cramped seat and leg room at the contemporary stadium, then, as both an intensification of its capital productivity and a process toward becoming more high resolution. All surfaces become screens, it appears. And as Agamben notes, following Deleuze, the age of the cinema is also the age of a generalized catastrophe of gestures. If that is the case, can we flip the question of embodiment experienced by the increasingly cramped stadium spectator and ask: what implications do high resolution screen displays have for the human body watching at home today?

Remixed Signals

On Performing the University of Disaster, Part Three

James Bond does not exercise. And frankly, if one was an image why bother? There is no sense in doing so, no sense in maintaining one's structures ossiferous and muscular, no sense in engaging the productive and sensual pleasures of the lipidinal and libidinal.

But this feels wrong. And so the Spy plans to write a brief to the Colonel.

He wants to file it "09-10-09: Mixed Signals from the Other."

Table Tennis

He wants to let the Colonel know that the University of Disaster does not have an athletic department. No rowing crew, no football team, no cheerleading squad. He wants to write that this is not to suggest an absence of physical culture, nor even sporting culture for that matter. There is swimming and hiking and running and cycling. There is sauna and yoga and chess. There is eating and drinking and dancing and sexing, each in portions of one, two or several. There is slacklining and hacky sack and table tennis and riding the craziest swingset in the world, poised on a precipice of nothingness in the cool sunshine of the Alpine mountains.

There is the artful inspiring of breath these mountains enable.

And then there are the toxins in the air. The contagions. The signifiers.

Mixed signals, indeed, but embodied nonetheless.

He wants to write about physical culture at the University of Disaster as that most Sisyphean quest for knowledge! Imagine oneself as both force and counterforce, a body-rock continually pushing and being pushed up a hill, beginning to breathe heavily, starting to perspire slightly, leaning into the grade of the slope, turning a sharp angle, deepening into a full pant, breaking into a full sweat, being mocked by the steep mountain backdrops … and all of sudden coming around a corner to lay eyes on one's colleagues and co-conspirators.

(deep breath…)

Before rolling back down once again.

He wants to write that there are even sports at the University of Disaster, a little basketball here or some futbol over there in the giardini. They appear to be gendered events, though perhaps tentatively approaching passage through those decrepit borders of normativity. At any rate, the altitude is punishing. And most amazingly (intelligence!), these student-athletes play without a referee, without a league, without cameras, without an archive, without representation or legitimation.

They compete!

EGS Futbal

He wants to seal the brief as classified intelligence with the caption Eyes Only.

But Agent 99 grasps his hand, gently.

suddenly, to know that you're there, you need an echo. …
you need an echo.

She teaches him that we have never been separate from our technologies: they have always been us from the beginning, or at least from the beginning of our language and logos. There is no antagonism to speak of between "man" and "machine", but only a humanity that continually generates itself through its techniques of living. This includes those things to which we give the label "machines", a relationality of both-and that frustrates any attempt at dialectical thought positing and perpetuating man versus machine or body versus tool.

In other words, she teaches him that the camera and the archive are part of his body. Revisioning versus. Eye knowing.

there was a young man who said
"though it seems that i know that i know,
what i would like to see
is the i that knows me
when i know that i know that i know."
(capsula, "i know that i know")

She teaches him that the "eye knows" and the "I knows" want to multiply, serially, as if a work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. And as each term is added to the preceding one the possibilities of the relational are changed as well, from a knowledge of self and being-in-the-world to an epistemology of the rational mind to an ontology of metaphysical Being. Aura, not to mention authority, fades like a satellite transmission choked off by high altitude and a strange crepuscular dawn.

But she also teaches him that once the "I knows" reach a certain threshold they cease to be additive and instead become recursive. Non-dialectical. There is a folding, an infinite telescoping of these I-knows into the You-know, of the self into the other, of the singular into the plural.

She calls this the flesh.

She teaches him that the body is insistent and relentlessly present at the University of Disaster because it offers its students and spies a different locus of knowing to complement the equally relentless drives for rational thought, inscription and the skin. This locus should not be mistaken as a singular corporeal punctum, however, since the flesh and its somatic way of knowing is more diffuse, unfettered by the skin, relational and multiple.

This is why the futbol athletes are able to play without referees, without representation or legitimation. Speaking in the voice of Avital Ronell, she teaches him that authority is stronger than force, that the authority of the futbal players emanates from the flesh and that this flesh is stronger than the remote gaze and force of the referee. The authority of this temporary futbal community is made possible by both a self-discipline of the body and a respect for relation. Or, speaking now for Agamben, a gesture.

She teaches him that embodiment-as-process is not a productive resource nor a standing reserve. It is rather a gift, and not one to be taken for granted. For at any moment a spasm in our singular-plurality can abscond with it, rob us of it — not in the sense of a numbing or as with the narcosis of Narcissus, but in the sense of being violently and perpetually detached from one's being-in-the-world and thus always in the process of catching up to one's flesh.

She teaches him that there can be intimacy and empathy through our techniques and technologies, both hardwire and softdata, for they spring forth from and return back to the flesh. There is always a distance between us in our touching, though, and so the intimacy and empathy will always be incomplete. The trauma will remain open-ended.

But she speaks for Ronell again and teaches him that trauma is what structures us. Not determines, but structures. She teaches him that the camera always stops rolling before Bond returns home to face his trauma.

Remix

Traumatized, structured, remixed, the Spy crumples his unfinished brief to the Colonel and burns it to ashes. He picks up his notebook instead, burdened by the high altitude and strange crepuscular dawn that is his flesh, and tries to scribble his thoughts in poetic verse. The ash on his fingers smudges the lined paper, as if grasping.

He leaves the camera rolling.

I tell all. Or do I?

No. The flesh never reveals all of its secrets.

* * *

(for dr. no and all the other egs villains recently convocated upon the world.)