walking to the subway this morning with bags in hand, solitary traveler among the throngs in the urban jungle. packets of green, notably the park i am skirting on my last steps before the terminal entrance, fleck the otherwise grey landscape, providing a pleasant noise to the constant signal of dwelling and commerce. suddenly i am hit with a dense olfactory burst of lush vegetation — fetid, alive, of mud and wet leather.

verdant …

my thought splits in two directions. in the first, slightly more immediate, i am transported back nearly two decades in time to the high school cross-country running team and its races in the damp of an eastern ontario autumn. royal trails, carpets of fallen leaves immersed in a layer of moisture as they continue their journey back to the soil.

in the other direction, slightly more rational, i wonder if i have the right word in mind. verdant? though i have no way to be certain as i navigate the signal and noise of the journey at hand, the dictionary of my mind is convinced: this smell, deeply inhaled in a fleeting instant, is verdant, and it has evoked a lush, rich patch of memories, perhaps not quite whole as with an ecosystem, but rather as one might still breathe life from a bouquet of hand-picked flowers.

training runs to fort henry hill. plantagenet. an entire topography of irregularity — surfaces, conduit widths, distances — as we leave the domestic domain of track for the wilds of cross-country competition. cool, crisp air and a soggy undergrowth. rich kids wearing racing spikes and spandex tights, poor kids wearing simple running shoes and repurposed soccer shorts, others falling somewhere in between. retching as i gasp for oxygen only steps from the finish line. third place.

and, once upon a time, that fetid whiff embracing a body in motion.


Stereoscopic Reality

Beijing 080808 - Courtesy of Google and partners

Paul Virilio, Open Sky, p. 37 (emphasis in original):

How can we really live if there is no more here and if everything is now? How can we survive the instantaneous telescoping of a reality that has become ubiquitous, breaking up into two orders of time, each as real as the other: that of presence here and now, and that of a telepresence at a distance, beyond the horizon of tangible appearances?

How can we rationally manage the split, not only between virtual and actual realities but, more to the point, between the apparent horizon and the transapparent horizon of a screen that suddenly opens up a kind of temporal window for us to interact elsewhere, often a long way away?

Unless, like Marvin Minsky, we deny the importance of 'analogue' optics and so of the horizon of appearances, we must now absolutely question the stereoscopic nature not only of the 'relief of appearances' and of the third dimension of space, but above all of the fourth dimension, the temporal relief brought about this time by the split between spatial and temporal proximities, the relief of a world in future overexposed to the optoelectronic amplification of its depth of field.

On the one hand, I think that Virilio overstates the decline of the local here in favour of the now of instantaneous electronic transmissions on a planetary (and superplanetary) scale. The relentless persistence of the local and what Virilio refers to as "small scale" optics was brought sharply into focus for me this summer with the HomeShop: Games 2008 project organized in Beijing by Elaine Ho. While it is easy to consider HomeShop as simply an alternative art space, it is in fact just such an attempt to navigate this stereoscopic reality with the tools at hand, whether those tools are art, sport, the screen, or the intersections of embodied tracings and disembodied electronic documentation.

That said, Virilio's broader point about an emergent stereoscopic reality merits serious consideration: how does one live stereoscopically?

How do we negotiate a politics in this stereoscopic existence? Increasingly, the multitude seems to be the answer, as much as we struggle to define and breathe life into the concept.

How do we engage a sporting practice that doesn't neglect the body in favour of the interface?

Perhaps most importantly, how do we love stereoscopically, simultaneously in the here and now?

Bird\'s Nest

Is it a matter of smooth and striated, the curiosities of nomadism set against the rich diversities of State living?

Yes, and no.

The "large scale" optics that give rise to the shrinking and disappearance of extension also bring with them new forms of striation, new forms of sedimentary living. Put differently, circulation through the network does not necessarily imply a smooth or nomadic existence; it may instead signal a State living that is not that of the nation-state but rather that of polar inertia and an emerging Empire.

Again, how do we navigate and negotiate this "grey ecology"?

As McLuhan suggested, perhaps schizophrenia is a necessary consequence of media literacy.

workers, consumers, multitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snowboarding and Strategies of Refusal

Jacobellis - Switch

Snowboarding and Strategies of Refusal: Goddess, Cyborg, Switch

(submitted by barbara fornssler and sean smith to the 2009 sport, sexuality and culture conference at ithaca college)

Framed as a necessary departure from Donna Haraway's theoretical cyborg, the figure of the "switch" is introduced to understand the complex relationality experienced by the athlete-subject in a moment of Olympic competition. Appropriated from the complex sexual politics of BDSM culture, the figure of the switch allows for a renegotiation of Haraway's cyborg by creating a space in which the submissive/dominant dichotomy between the emancipatory feminist cyborg and the patriarchical military-industrial cyborg may be explored as a contextual and meshed embodiment of contingency and historical decision-making in strategic situations.

* * *

The race begins and four bodies careen out of the starting gates to dart headlong downhill. Immediately, one of the challengers is shot off the track and into the safety net lining the course. Then another one drops, and another, until it is just Lindsey Jacobellis out in front, substantially ahead of her nearest pursuer. Four sources of energy on the video screen have been quickly whittled down to one, Jacobellis absorbing the electromagnetic flows from the other three as millions of viewers crane towards their screens to watch her race to the finish line. She knows she's out in front by a large margin and as she nears her final goal the adrenaline rushes, though she is hardly aware of her pounding heart.

This is the logic of theatre.

Almost at the finish line, about to achieve the orgasm of modern sport, the athletic body speaks of its own accord. In the moment of climax, Jacobellis chooses a different model of gratification. She hit a short rise in the snow and pulled a method grab. Ecstasy!

But snowboarding itself is not immune from its own spectacularization. Indeed, the sport came of age in the era of digital cameras and handheld personal videocameras, and thus from the very beginning, snowboarding was spectacle. Given enough attempts, one will almost always get the optimum photo or video clip, detached from the aura of its icy production environment.

This is the logic of film.

In this case, however, given the primacy of the sporting theatre, Jacobellis was only afforded one take for the camera … and she wiped out. Face plant.

Chance? Aleatory perturbations in laminar flow as she soared through the air?

Or does the athletic body dip the edge of the board ever-so-slightly, the boundary between human and machine ever negotiable? Does the lumbar vertebrae straighten imperceptibly skyward and tilt the axis of rotation backward just a few degrees? In other words, does the athletic body effect not a rational agency, but an affective agency comparable to a doubling of Csikszentmihalyi's flow theory model?

The agency of the snowboarding body to ignore the linear pursuit of the record and attempt a method grab at the moment of ecstasy should be considered authentic to the expressive genealogy from which it emerges. But if Jacobellis had completed the trick it would have been simply folded into the spectacle of Olympism in the process, as an avalanche may sweep away adventurous boarders who have ventured out of bounds in search of fresh powder. The completed trick would have had greater sign value than that of her face plant.

In the end, as the body lays sprawled helplessly on the snow while a pursuer pulls up from far behind to claim the gold medal, it is the ecstasy that is left open, a libidinal investment that refuses its return to the wish-desire and its sign of negation. In crashing, Jacobellis is loyal neither to the cyborgian body-machine-image complex of the Olympic athlete nor to that of the recreational snowboarder, though she is of both domains. She is Switch.

This is the logic of the network.

[Chorus: "Thanks be to God(dess)."]

* * *

This paper interrogates the figure of the switch through a case study of American snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis, who crashed in the 2006 Olympic boardercross final while pulling a trick only a short distance from the finish line and a certain gold medal, ultimately having to settle for silver. In this case, the switch engages in sport as dominant or submissive — as Olympic versus freestyle snowboarder — dependent on the context of encounter, allowing for a new agency of the subject that is affective through its movement and sensation. The emergence of Jacobellis' fall just prior to the climactic point of victory stands as a double strategy of refusal — a negation of the spectacle that makes explicit the identity of the switch and its implications for a new feminist politics.

morning contemplation

"Circulating is the first ethical act of a counterimperial ontology." — Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri
morning contemplation

???? jingshan park,
beijing, china
august 2008

Simulation, Replication, Improvisation

"Within the culture industry, even in its archaic incarnation examined by Benjamin and Adorno, one can grasp early signs of a mode of production which later, in the post-Ford era, becomes generalized and elevated to the rank of canon" (Virno, p. 58).

The era of technical reproduction did in fact become generalized to the rank of canon, but within this canonization lay the seeds of its own obsolescence. The speed of capital required increasingly faster means of technical reproducibility, which begat developments in systems theory, statistical modeling, information management, etc., yielding innovations such as just-in-time inventory and production. As the fluxes of manufactured desire and consumption concurrently accelerated via the increasingly networked electronic conduits of the late twentieth century, production encountered a limit-barrier as it was unable to produce faster than just-in-time while retaining maximum efficiency levels.

For gains to be made, capital needed to anticipate consumer demand as keenly as possible to curtail overproduction, which has subsequently become an increasingly central preoccupation of statistical mathematics and gives us the era of Baudrillardian simulation: the creation of a hyperreality in which every exchange, every corporate (and increasingly non-corporate) interaction is anticipated by a statistical model.

The speaker alone — unlike the pianist, the dancer or the actor — can do without a script or a score. The speaker's virtuosity is twofold: not only does it not produce an end product which is distinguishable from performance, but it does not even leave behind an end product which could be actualized by means of performance. In fact, the act of parole makes use only of the potentiality of language, or better yet, of the generic faculty of language: not of a pre-established text in detail. The virtuosity of the speaker is the prototype and apex of all other forms of virtuosity, precisely because it includes within itself the potential/act relationship, whereas ordinary or derivative virtuosity, instead, presupposes a determined act (as in Bach's "Goldberg" Variations, let us say), which can be relived over and over again (p. 56).

It is never quite clear to what degree Virno sees a departure from an earlier mode of production qualitatively and quantitatively rooted in seriality. Virno, whose life, theory and praxis are primarily embedded in the era of technical reproducibility, would have seen improvisation steadily devalued over the course of the twentieth century as the archive increasingly redefined boundaries of space and time for the recording and distribution of performance. But once technical reproduction reaches its logical conclusion and is succeeded by the age of digital simulation (following in the line of McLuhan, Baudrillard and others) and replication (following in the line of Dawkins, Virilio and others), each located within an overarching logic of recombination, improvisational forms of culture — understood in a formal, linguistic sense — see their value increase once again in a societal desire to retrieve the "real".

Given more exposure to improvisational culture Virno would certainly have realized that pianists, dancers and actors are equally as capable of improvisational performance as the speaker. And when one further considers the presentation of self in everyday life as always already a performance (often a speaking one), subconscious improvisational "acting" jobs for the multiple publics one faces, then the privilege Virno gives to the speaker over these other "derivative" virtuosos fully crumbles.

Simply put, the pianist, dancer, actor (and basketball player) also possess a virtuosity that "includes within itself the potential/act" relationship. If Virno is going to posit a multitude in which the poiesis of labour merges with the praxis of political action, all rooted within the virtuosity best exemplified by the speaker, then we must consider that contemporary cultural forms have revived the value of improvisation and that the utterance may emerge from the whole body rather than simply as breath expired artfully from the lungs.