Diagonals, Pulses, Politics

In a discussion last year with Constantin Petcou, Doina Petrescu and Anne Querrien titled "What makes a biopolitical space?", Antonio Negri tackles the question of urban space as a potential site for opposition and resistance. Key to his analysis is the city as the site of intersection between the "political diagonal" and the "biopolitical diagram":

The biopolitical diagram is the space in which the reproduction of organised life (social, political) in all its dimensions is controlled, captured, and exploited – this has to do with the circulation of money, police presence, the normalisation of life forms, the exploitation of productivity, repression, the reining in of subjectivities. In the face of this, there is what I call a "political diagonal", in other words the relation that one has with these power relations, and which one cannot but have. The problem is to know what side you are on: on the side of the power of life that resists, or on the side of its biopolitical exploitation. What is at stake in the city often takes shape in the struggle to re-appropriate a set of services essential to living: housing; water, gas and electricity supply; telephone services; access to knowledge and so on (emphasis added).

Though his understanding of political action as always being intimately interwoven with the space of biopolitical production is important, Negri's problematic choice of metaphor gives the analysis as a whole the appearance of being overly reductionist and binary. Purportedly contra the biopolitical space of lines and vectors and the subjectivities produced therein, Negri's concept of the "political diagonal" is essentially just another line or vector, bisecting or cutting in two ("know what side you are on"). Though the political diagonal works counter to the grid of biopolitical production or the biopolitical diagram, it certainly seems to do so within the same geometry and logic.

Resistance is more nuanced, supple and contingent than that. And thus in contrast to Negri I think we need to consider the political as rhythmical, as pulsing+expanding-contracting, as beating like a heart. This focus on the pulse or rhythm would more fully appreciate the potential for minor practices at the level of the microsocial, which is the preferred approach of Negri's interviewers. Further, if we are to think of political action in terms of pulses or rhythms our analysis then demands an even more granular approach, moving not only from the level of the social to the microsocial but to the level of the individual body itself.

The biorhythms of the individual body are continually played out against the collective rhythms of the microsocial or social, as well as against other rhythms produced by the biopolitical diagram such as work and leisure in their institutionalized forms. The alignments between these rhythms are not reducible to binary outcomes of either/or, but rather result in varying degrees of harmony that may or may not lead to political actions, though if so, are realized along a full spectrum of intensity.

All of which is why sport, above other forms of physical culture, may be so crucial to this particular understanding of politics: precisely because the individual body (eg. athlete), the microsocial (eg. team) and the social (eg. fans at stadium) — read in terms of sporting pulses or rhythms — lie at the intersection of work and leisure, of discipline and creativity, of body as robotic labourer and body as playful hacker, all increasingly within a contested urban milieu. Hence, if we consider sport as the site of a politics located at the borderspace between the work-model and the leisure-model by exploring the rhythms and frequencies of the body, the microsocial and the social, then perhaps we have a lens through which we can see the political anew in cognate areas outside of sport.


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  1. sportsBabel » Collective Forgetting says:

    [...] one's memory of self located where they were at the moment of the drive and shot attempt, rhythmically relative to Brown and each of the other bodies on the court. The "visual" memory of the [...]