Games, Force, Emergence

Can resistance be actualized simply by appropriating and rechanneling the structural forms it seeks to subvert? Does this not just provide an alibi that sustains the original forms of biopower and control?

Courtesy of Human Rights Torch Relay

Consider two examples from the nexus of sport and politics. The first is the Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO), an event launched in 1962 in Indonesia as a counter to the Olympic Games. As Wikipedia elaborates:

Established for the athletes of the so-called "emerging nations" (mainly newly independent socialist states), GANEFO made it clear in its constitution that politics and sport were intertwined; this ran against the doctrine of the International Olympic Committee, which strove to separate politics from sport. The IOC decreed that the athletes attending GANEFO would be ineligible to participate in the Olympic Games.

As Indonesia had established GANEFO in the aftermath of IOC censure for the politically charged 4th Jakarta Asian Games in 1962 which Indonesia hosted, for which Taiwan and Israel were refused visa, the IOC's reaction was understandably hard-line which led to an indefinite suspension of Indonesia from the IOC.

The first edition of GANEFO was held in Jakarta, Indonesia in 1963 where in total 51 nations participated such as Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burma, Cambodia, Ceylon, Cuba, Czechoslovakia Socialist Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Dominican Republic, Finland, France, German Democratic Republic, Guinea, Hungary, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Laos, Lebanon, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, People's Republic of China, the Philippines, Poland, Republic of Mali, Rumania, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Somali Republic, USSR, etc.

The USSR, in a show of solidarity, did send athletes to the first GANEFO, but in order not to jeopardize their position in the IOC, the Soviet athletes were not of Olympic caliber.

The second edition of GANEFO had been planned to be held in Cairo, Egypt in 1967, but this was canceled due to political considerations.

The second example is the Human Rights Torch Relay, currently underway in various locales around the world. This grassroots campaign seeks to raise awareness of the Chinese communist government's poor record of human rights violations including, but not limited to, the torture and oppression of Tibetans and followers of Falun Gong.

The torch relay began in Athens, Greece on August 9, 2007 where the first flame was lit. The relay now continues across five continents throughout the year preceding the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Events held by participating cities around the world will include the traditional Olympics run with the symbolic torch, welcoming events with speakers, concerts, petition campaigns, displays, press conferences, and interview opportunities. Athletes who have participated in past Olympics games will be among the torch relay ambassadors who will pass the torch from one country to another. Participating individuals and organizations will be responsible for holding a torch-receiving ceremony and organizing related activities. We encourage all participants to proceed with plans that best fit the customs and traditions in their host countries and regions.

Information and speakers will be provided to national, regional, and local governments, schools, libraries, civic and church groups, non governmental organizations (NGOs), etc., via printed material, talk shows, blogs, social networking and live presentations hosted by non profit groups, churches, and independent groups interested in human rights. Local contact persons will work with participants to determine the most appropriate events, outreach activities, and materials for their area.

Can such simple "rebrandings" of these traditional sporting structures work? According to Lotringer, Kraus and El Kholti, in the foreword to Baudrillard's In the Shadow of Silent Majorities, "Félix Guattari may have answered that it is no longer necessary to maintain a distinction between material and semiotic deterritorializations and that there is no more absolute primacy of one system over another."

True, but do these two examples really deterritorialize human subjects from the power structures theretofore oppressing them? In my opinion, both of these events are limited by the fact that they simply reproduce the original structural forms they seek to undermine, albeit with an appropriately modified semiotic gloss. With GANEFO, the problem was that the event sought to counter IOC hegemony with opposition at the nation-state level; in other words, by creating just another (potentially exclusionary?) form of nationalist competition. Similarly, the Human Rights Torch Relay seeks to destabilize the hegemony of the Chinese state by duplicating one of the most important symbols of a purportedly universal humanism, the Olympic Torch Relay, during its Beijing 2008 iteration; in this case, a lack of media exposure inhibits the potential for such a method to subvert with any high degree of success.

Courtesy of Human Rights Torch Relay

If the rules of the game create a particular power differential, then the object for those oppressed by this imbalance is to change the rules of the game! In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuze and Guattari elaborate:

What interests us in operations of striation and smoothing are precisely the passages or combinations: how the forces at work within space continually striate it, and how in the course of its striation it develops other forces and emits new smooth spaces. … Movements, speed and slowness, are sometimes enough to reconstruct a smooth space. Of course, smooth spaces are not in themselves liberatory. But the struggle is changed or displaced in them, and life reconstitutes its stakes, confronts new obstacles, invents new paces, switches adversaries (ATP, p. 500).

Perhaps instead we need to recognize that both material and semiotic deterritorializations are required in concert for the struggle to be truly displaced?

I would like to offer two examples that stand in contrast to GANEFO and the Human Rights Torch Relay, not in terms of being "better" than these (my two examples don't even exist yet!), but rather as potential structural challenges to the hegemonic status quo. The first is the Global Village Basketball game that constitutes a portion of my doctoral dissertation project. Briefly, GVB uses networked media technologies to link together geographically-dispersed pickup games of basketball into one meta-game that is simultaneously located in real and synthetic spaces. The second example is the Peace Relay, which multiplies a singular signifier (as with a torch) into the thousands so that many running subjects may disperse as a contagion to spread a meme along multiple vectors.

Both examples potentially displace current understandings of the structures that sustain these sporting and political forms. Global Village Basketball and the Peace Relay — in contrast with GANEFO and the Human Rights Torch Relay, respectively — take traditional structures of linearity, hierarchy, bounded space and fixed identity as the starting point from which new rhizomatic counter-strategies of multiplicity may be launched. Even with these deterritorializations-in-potential, however, we must not fail to heed the coda to the Deleuze and Guattari quote above: "Never believe that a smooth space will suffice to save us."


One response to Games, Force, Emergence

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  1. Rodster says:

    Smithers … this is a recent meditation I had on Gloria Anzaldua's work that I think has some relevance to your problem here.

    Oh, and if the little birdy that told me you are now ABD was correct … CONGRATS, brother! Let's catch up sometime soon.

    Peace & Much Love …