(down the rabbit) holey space

a breath of fresh air, redolent of vuvuzela blossoms

there was a public outdoor screening on a restaurant wall a few nights ago at the end of the street where i live: "bangladesh defeats england in historic cricket victory." it was not projected through the partition but rather reflected upon the building’s facade. closer, yet further away.

oh, i *do* remember our identity tourism in tucson. there were cast-iron sculptures of lisa nakamura's body on every building, just like antony gormley in london. "inverted post-colonialism," i think, was the vogue.

context is not only a spatiotemporal phenomenon, but a (matrixial) psychic phenomenon as well. context suggests an increasing tendency towards harmonized (and dare we say synchronized?) co-resonance. it seems to me that context itself constitutes the stasis of monotony and that the coming-into resonance of and through alterity is what creates the openness.

did you know that amsterdam is the steampunk version of second life? delanda said they created this shit back in the 1400s! and then at some point lewis carroll wrote a virus and messed up the code. the game still plays in my console, but the graphics are a little distorted, you know?

how does third place, the "runner up in the exceptional case," change the relation between numbers one and two ("the best winners")? the ontogenesis of the third is an alter-accomplishment in its own right, no? how do we understand the third in terms of multitude and the very being-in-language of which virno, agamben and nancy speak? how does the third come into resonance of and through alterity? is openness created?

children both shy and fearless; translation, mistranslation, smiling without voices; does it really matter? tonality, don't think in terms of romanization! a new iron curtain; public, private, third spaces; be a switch; but it wouldn't be a very honest emotion if you could turn it off like a switch.

or am i flailing?

crushed blossoms in a vase of water


"Tango is an improvised movement — at its best and most challenging, a politics of touch — carrying within its sensory mechanisms the potential instantiation of a politics that might be called a politics of friendship. Tango is a challenge to fraternization as the maxim for democracy even while it is the dream of a nationally unified identity. Tango is all of these contradictory movements of desire."
(Erin Manning, Politics of Touch, p.28)

We ought to recognize the tango (like the panopticon) as an abstract diagram or general architecture of embodied micropolitics that may, with the necessary modifications, be applied to different forms of coming-together or community. Here, body becomes bodies, the tango's lightness as diagram matched only by the heaviness of the flesh in which it finds embodied form.
(sportsBabel, July 2009)

Courtesy of Adidas

"I move to move with you to move with them to move you moving me."
(Manning, Relationscapes, p.25)

If, as Virno suggests, the figure of the virtuous public speaker is central to the emergence of the multitude, then we must also ask about the virtuosity of the public listener (a form of communication in its own right). This is why Manning's abstract diagram of the tango is so important: it accounts for both speaking and listening bodies in relation.
(sportsBabel, May 2010)

"Touch errs. Being in relation is about the experience of erring, which is at the heart of any desire to reach toward. It would be fallacious to argue that the body is always constant in its directionality. A politics of touch must be errant."
(Manning, Politics of Touch, p.70)

Silence is Golden

Imagine the scenario: It is the gold medal game of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic hockey tournament, Canada versus USA. The archrival Americans have just scored the go-ahead goal with under a minute to play in the third period. The goalie is pulled for an extra skater, there is a frantic rally as the seconds tick away, but the Canadians cannot bang the puck into the net and time expires. Canada Hockey Place seems quiet as a morgue, until a vocal minority can be heard beginning to cheer:

U-S-A! U-S-A!
Fight, fight, fight…
with Miller Lite!

Somewhere in between the initial shock of losing the game and the collective gnashing of teeth that will accompany the forensic aftermath, it suddenly dawns upon Canadians that these vocal American fans in attendance are gleefully chanting a corporate branded cheer. And for weak beer no less — talk about adding insult to injury!

The whole thing sounds preposterous, no?

But is this not the direction we Canadians are heading right now with the recent campaign by Pepsi and Hockey Canada to create a "new cheer" for the 2010 World Junior Hockey Championships in Saskatoon?

Isn't the real prize for the sponsors buried in a hope that the cheer will gain sufficient traction with those present in Saskatoon and the rest watching on television that it continues well after the World Juniors are complete? Continues, say, two months later for the really big event, the Vancouver Winter Games? That the Pepsi hockey cheer will perhaps cascade down from the rafters of Canada Hockey Place as our teams skate toward an Olympic gold medal?

If so, this comes perilously close to the textbook definition of "ambush marketing," the deliberate attempt by one corporate entity to associate itself with an event for which another company has purchased exclusive rights to sponsor. Coca-Cola, Pepsi's chief rival, is one of the TOP-level sponsors of the Olympic Movement, which grants it exclusive sales and promotion opportunities at all Olympic events and venues until 2020, including this February in Vancouver.

With corporate sponsorship and television broadcasting revenues providing the lion's share of its income (nearly 90%), one does not stretch in using the term "draconian" to describe the lengths the International Olympic Committee will go to protect this financing. So powerful is the IOC and its cadre of sponsors that the Canadian government even introduced federal legislation (Bill C-47, the Olympic and Paralympic Marks Act) that makes ambush marketing and other infringements of official sponsor intellectual properties for financial gain a criminal activity.

But "word-of-mouth" cannot be a criminal activity, can it?

Of course, corporate sponsorship at the stadium has been around for over a century. And there is even some precedent for a cheer involving a branded product, as Miller Lite's iconic "Tastes great! Less filling!" see-saw chorus between groups of fans has illustrated. But never before have we witnessed, through invention, the very words and rhythms a sports spectator uses to cheer so explicitly bind patriotic nationalism to a transnational corporate sponsor.

EH! O' CANADA - GO! Start practicing it. After all, it is now our duty to do so as "true" Canadian hockey fans, is it not? If everyone else at the arena is using the cheer, can it be so easy for one to refuse?

Let us understand how this will play out. Promotional campaigns over the next month will teach us the cheer and introduce appropriate consumer behaviour responses. If the Canadian juniors happen to win their tournament the television ads will intensify, with fresh visuals of players and fans celebrating the victory. The G of the Gatorade bolt logo and the circular Pepsi logo will punctuate the GO! at the end of each cheer. It will feel natural to get caught up in the subsequent tide of emotion and carry the cheer right into Vancouver for the Olympic hockey tournament, only the most important Canadian television event in recent history.

And Pepsi holds "royalty-free, irrevocable and exclusive" rights to this cheer in perpetuity. Forget word-of-mouth, then: we are describing a calculated corporate ventriloquism of the highest order.

This should not be considered a slight against Joan Buma, the Grimsby, Ontario native whose cheer was selected over thousands of other entries to win the contest. Clearly, as she points out, she just wanted to share her passion for our national hockey teams as best she could. Nor is this a question of supporting the men and women who lace up their skates to represent the Maple Leaf — of course we should respect such effort and sacrifice in the name of sporting excellence. The question, rather, concerns a particular attempt to subtly modulate, control and profit from the very ways in which we communicate with one another.

Welcome to capitalism in the information age.

Not long ago, the political theorist Paolo Virno wrote that "nobody is as poor as those who see their own relation to the presence of others, that is to say, their own communicative faculty, their own possession of a language, reduced to wage labour."

In this case, however, the labour is unpaid. It is possibly unethical. And frankly, it is unnecessary. We know how to be fans. We have been doing this since time immemorial — long before a corporate-sponsored cheer came along, anyways — and we shall likely continue to do so long into the future.

When confronted with those situations in which our labour is exploited we are often advised to stand up for what we believe, to shout out for justice, to look power square in the eye and make our voices heard. Actions of this sort have historically produced positive results. But such is the paradox that faces the Canadian hockey fan during the upcoming winter months, for perhaps in this particular case the correct strategy will be to say nothing at all.

gesture, intellect, virtuosity?

Building upon the work of Varro and Aristotle, the central thesis of Giorgio Agamben's essay "Notes on Gesture" is that gesture — a means without an end — stands separate from production or poiesis (a means to an end) and action or praxis (an end without a means), and in the process opens a new dimension of the political. This is no trivial observation for Agamben: "means without end" serves as the title of the book in which the essay appears, both in its English translation and the original Italian ("mezzi senza fine"). Clearly this idea of the "being-in-language" that is gesture is somewhere near the crux of his political thought.

Nothing is more misleading for an understanding of gesture, therefore, than representing, on the one hand, a sphere of means as addressing a goal (for example, marching seen as a means of moving the body from point A to point B) and, on the other hand, a separate and superior sphere of gesture as a movement that has its end in itself (for example, dance seen as an aesthetic dimension). Finality without means is just as alienating as mediality that has meaning only with respect to an end. If dance is gesture, it is so, rather, because it is nothing more than the endurance and the exhibition of the media character of corporal movements. The gesture is the exhibition of a mediality: it is the process of making a means visible as such (p.58, emphasis in original).

It behooves us to consider Agamben's thesis in resonance with Paolo Virno's A Grammar of the Multitude. In the second day of the seminar that constitutes the basis of the book, Virno outlines a similar triad that informs his potential politics: labour, action and intellect.

Let us consider carefully what defines the activity of virtuosos, of performing artists. First of all, theirs is an activity which finds its own fulfillment (that is, its own purpose) in itself, without objectifying itself into an end product, without settling into a "finished product," or into an object which would survive the performance. Secondly, it is an activity which requires the presence of others, which exists only in the presence of an audience (p.52, emphasis in original).

The two analyses, which do not refer to each other in any way (Agamben's original appeared in 1996, while Virno's seminar took place in 2001), are in fact so remarkably similar that I feel a need to address the following questions in the context of Global Village Basketball and any project of sporting multitude:

  1. how does gesture relate to intellect?
  2. how does Virno's hybridization of labour and political action in the post-fordist age complicate Agamben's analysis?
  3. how do we locate virtuosity relative to the sphere of gesture?
  4. is Virno's language and virtuosity of the speaker actually commensurate with Agamben's pure mediality and being-in-language of gesture?
  5. can networked pickup basketball realize both Agamben's and Virno's politics insofar as the emergence of a sporting multitude is concerned?

(a work-in-process between elaine w. ho and sean smith towards "unlayering the relational: microaesthetics and micropolitics," a text for the mediamodes art and technology conference in new york)

olympism (sb rmx)

Style, Virtuosity, Tango

"An act of virtuosity has as its wellspring the attempt to be virtuous, which transcends any attempts at mere functional or technical competence. It is in this attempt to be virtuous as athletic-subjects that a sporting micropolitics is contested." — Pierre de Coubertin feat. Paolo Virno (sb rmx)

Homo Ludens, Deludens, Transludens

Elements of Style: Homo Ludens, Deludens, Transludens

(submitted by sean smith to the 2009 artfulness of play conference at the university of western ontario)


Play is a fundamental component of human cultures, one that has infused other structural forms of society such as art, philosophy and law (cf. Huizinga, Homo Ludens). Inherent in play to greater or lesser degrees are sets of rules that channel the conditions of possibility for the ludic subject, whether towards a particular goal or in freer forms of expression. But in the contemporary digital age, these rules of play become more implicitly rules of a system, algorithmically and architecturally so. Julian Kücklich suggests that cheatingdeludology as a strategy — is one way to understand such systems, to learn what constitutes their conditions of possibility and opportunities for agency. Though the theory of deludology is born of the computer game medium, there are still other forms of game in which we play more directly with and against human competitors: is there a violence to these human others in executing strategies of the deludic? Here we turn to Brian Massumi, who suggests style as a third way of approaching the situation. In his analysis, style exists in the liminal space between rules-based technical proficiency and deliberate strategies of cheating, the space where the possible always emerges as a provocation to the game's governing authority. This paper will interrogate play, cheating and style together in trialectic form, as well as in resonance with Paolo Virno's notion of virtuosity, in order to investigate its applicability for a potential micropolitics.