Perfect Day, No. 2

Vilém Flusser: "The theory of communication implies the theory of decision and the theory of games. And the theory of games implies art in a new sense."

Resample: "And what now? What of other use-values for the body athletic? Would he coach? Could he create shadows of his legacy from the fading twilight of his career? Or could he reinvent his running (and his body)? He was, after all, only thirty!"

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Perfect Day

Shot Put Final

1. VANNINI, A.	(CAN+ITA)	23.65 (SB)
2. YUTKO, J.	(FIN) 		23.63
3. OKKERT, S.	(SAF)	    	23.47

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Vannini Goes Out A Champion

VANCOUVER (AP) — Her legs were aching. Her back was tightening. Her shoulders were exhausted.

But not too exhausted to lift the Pignataro Cup one last time.

In her final competition, veteran shotputter Autumn Vannini tasted victory in front of a home crowd at Warn Stadium with a season-best heave of 23.65 metres, narrowly defeating teen sensation Jan Yutko of Finland.

It was a bittersweet win for Vannini, who retires after a 12-year career on the international stage. But there will be no regrets for the athlete who during her peak season of 2005 won a jaw-dropping 17 straight competitions.

"The sport has been great to me," said Vannini, clearly emotionally spent as well. "When I was a girl I imagined competing against the best in the world, imagined representing my nations, imagined standing on this podium and seeing my flags raised. And I've been able to accomplish all of that. It's been tough these last few years with the injuries, but I'd be just as happy doing all of this, competing, even if nobody was keeping score and nobody was watching."

On this day, however, they were watching. And cheering. And, on her final attempt, chanting her name before the final throw that vaulted her to victory. The echoes are sure to reverberate at Warn Stadium for years to come.

Lex Sportiva and the State of Exception

At a recent conference critically reviewing Olympic reform actions over the past decade hosted by the University of Toronto, former International Olympic Committee Vice-President and World Anti-Doping Agency head Richard Pound questioned the emergence of a "lex sportiva." Such a rule of law particular to sport would govern in sporting contexts (international/global) while standing somewhat outside or at least with a very ambiguous relationship to the rule of civil law. In essence, the athlete — or at least a particular type of high performance athlete — becomes like a citizen of a particular sporting sovereignty. The figure of the athlete-citizen assumes the privileges and obligations of the lex sportiva upon entering the confines of the enclosed sports stadium.

The potential of a lex sportiva (it must be noted that its actual existence is a contested topic in the legal literature) becomes particularly interesting and important when uttered by the head of WADA, the most powerful anti-doping organization in the world and arguably the most explosive governing force of biopolitics ever created in short time. The World Anti-Doping Code outlines specific provisions for how the individual athlete may treat his or her own body in the course of preparing and training for competition. To a large degree these provisions have to do with the athletic as a distinct and discrete unitary entity: the athlete and his or her agents (coach, trainer, doctor) are by no means to transgress the boundaries of this unitary entity by adding or subtracting technological enhancements through the skin.

"The age of globalization is the age of universal contagion," contend Hardt and Negri, though in the case of contemporary high performance sport this contagion — referencing the fundamental binary of fair play — features pure bodies being contaminated by polluted bodies. The state of exception in the context of high performance sport and anti-doping may be described as WADA’s limited right to violate the sovereign organic unity of the athletic body from which the notion of fair play is partially derived. At a basic level, the relative constitution of competing athletes or teams must be based to the greatest degree possible upon symmetrical relations; any asymmetries arising in athletic competition must be grounded within the unitary athletic body in its genetic composition, refined through aptitude and hard work, and expressed through the poiesis of sporting performance. Substances, methods and other enabling technologies are permissible in this ethic of sport so long as they are supplementary to the organic unity of the athletic body and do not penetrate or pollute (Smith, 2008, "WADA as Sporting Empire: Prospects and Shadows").

The architecture of the sport stadium is no longer a discrete site of competition, however, but rather has become topological under the WADA regime. We must recognize this is because the state of exception in which the athlete-citizen stands at the fuzzy borders between lex sportiva and civil society has itself entered a transformational process in which said exceptionalism broadens to encompass all of that athlete's space and time. The state of exception becomes total, the state of competition becomes permanent. We find a resonance with the notion of exceptionalism put forward by Giorgio Agamben:

In truth, the state of exception is neither external nor internal to the juridical order, and the problem of defining it concerns precisely a threshold, or a zone of indifference, where inside and outside do not exclude each other but rather blur with each other. The suspension of the norm does not mean its abolition, and the zone of anomie that it establishes is not (or at least claims not to be) unrelated to the juridical order. Hence the interest of those theories that, like Schmitt's, complicate the topographical opposition into a more complex topological relation, in which the very limit of the juridical order is at issue. In any case, to understand the problem of the state of exception, one must first correctly determine its localization (or illocalization). As we will see, the conflict over the state of exception presents itself essentially as a dispute over its proper locus (Agamben, State of Exception, p. 23).

Agamben makes it explicit that the state of exception emerges as much a problem of language as one of political philosophy. It is an obfuscation or a location of lacunae within language that allows for the subsumption of non-traditional "threats" under the banner of exceptionalism. In the short time since its inception WADA has created a sophisticated and systematic language to govern anti-doping efforts, a newspeak bathed in science and jurisprudence that channels the parameters of discourse in such a way as to make a lex sportiva and a potentially corresponding state of exception a reality.

Where the case of anti-doping and lex sportiva differ from a strict reading of Agamben has to do with the rights of the individual under exceptionalism. In his reading, exceptionalism is that which writes or refashions language such that particular subjects stand outside of any affirmative identity positions that would grant due process or basic human right (as, for example, with the "detainees" at Guantanamo). While process and right remain intact in the case of sport (the point is not to perfectly equate "athletes" with "detainees"), identity plays a similar role in the creation of the exception, albeit in a method of abstraction rather than erasure. By vectoring into the athletic body via urine, blood and DNA signifiers the sovereignty of sport and its system of lex sportiva supersedes the sovereignty of the individual human athlete and its living tissues. In doing so it uses these biological samples as linguistic markers by which the athletic body "speaks" to the adjudicating authority.

These markers of "objectivity" are numerico-linguistic registers on a database that stand abstracted and apart from the identity of the athlete and the particular social, cultural, historical and economic processes of individuation that created the current high performance context in which he or she competes. (In "Postscript on the Societies of Control" Gilles Deleuze refers to this rather as a process of dividuation.) The abstraction or "anonymity" (and thus confidentiality) of data becomes simply a euphemism suggesting that it will take some effort to link a numerico-linguistic biological sample to a particular indexed identity, for such testing in the absence of identification would otherwise be meaningless.

But this abstraction of identity or anonymity — not unlike in the case of erasure described by Agamben — also provides a veneer of authority (scientific in this case) to the state of exception that WADA and the lex sportiva operate within. This allows WADA an endocolonial right to penetrate the sovereignty of the athletic body, to keep live samples of it incarcerated for eight years, to force all disputes to be argued in its own particular newspeak, and the list is certain to grow. Ultimately, the question is one of power and resistance.

The essence of global sports law or lex sportiva is that it is an argument for self-regulation or for a private system of governance and justice. This raises the possibility that lex sportiva as a legal concept will be used to disguise fundamental issues of regulation. Lex mercatoria is a false analogy. Lex mercatoria is ultimately justified as a private autonomous global law because it rests on contract. Lex sportiva rests on a fictitious contract. Although the relationship between an international sporting federation and an athlete is nominally said to be contractual, the sociological analysis is entirely different. The power relationship between a powerful global international sporting federation, exercising a monopoly over competitive opportunities in the sport, and a single athlete is so unbalanced as to suggest that the legal form of the relationship should not be contractual. Rather like the employment contract, a formal equality disguises a substantive inequality and a reciprocal form belies an asymmetrical relationship. This inequality makes it misleading to use lex mercatoria as an analogy for the development of ideas about lex sportiva (Foster, 2003, Entertainment and Sports Law Journal 2(1), p. 15).

Put more simply, if global high performance sport is the only game in town, and the balance of power is overwhelming in the face of the athlete-citizen, then whence the opportunity for resistance? And further, if the state of exception becomes total, can it and the lex sportiva rationalize other power imbalances that involve a governing right of endocolonial passage into the sovereign individual human body?

The Gunslinger

As a man walks through the park, he spots another man, solitary in his leisure. This other man appears to be a gunslinger. Slowly, the first man approaches the second. He can easily understand the skill of the other, steadfast despite the slight gnawings of time on the athletic body. The gunslinger doesn't shoot his pistol, but rather looks ready to, practicing his draw, quick but never in a hurry, the shooting body liquid yet coiled.

A risk is taken, the two strangers begin to engage. Very quickly he understands that the other speaks a different language: perhaps English or Chinese, maybe hiphop or youth, he cannot be certain. But he picks up enough fragments (archaeology in real-time!) to approach the other even more closely: about skill, about the grammar of a bodily linguistics being forgotten, about age, about geography, about family, about identity. A lot can be covered in a few minutes if the conversation is framed just so.

Here, the just-so in common was sport. Sport as linguistics and its potential for communicative action. He invites him to the upcoming contest: a showcase of marksmanship with others from around the world. An opportunity to touch others with the miniature cracks of blue lightning. A network location is passed, coordinates given. He reads the other's face, an open book. He says he'll be there.

On that day he'll still be a gunslinger, he thinks, but perhaps a different one.

Moebius, Style and the Double Strip Flip

Style exists at the flip of the moebius strip.

Single Moebius

It is not a deliberate attempt to cheat, per se, but it is greater than the technical proficiency required to execute the skills of the sport. If it is too much of a variation from the technically proficient or encoded rules, then the referee calls an infraction and new rules are created or perhaps old ones modified (cf. Massumi).

Now imagine that the transludic flip of this moebius strip intersects (or is braided) with the flip of another one, which we shall understand as the dual surface of surveillance and spectacle.

Double Moebius

Style belongs to both domains (or sets?): not only does it mediate between playing by the rules and cheating, but it is also the switch point at which the technical apparatus facilitating the surveillant gaze becomes the engine of sign value for the set of social relations that constitutes the athletic spectacle.

(This relationship is obscured insofar as the production of surveillance becomes increasingly visible in the contemporary age while the production of spectacle becomes increasingly invisible.)

In other words, it is style (or virtuosity?) that has been appropriated from the common good and pressed into the service of capital, but it is perhaps style — and its complex emergence from the relational — that offers the possibility for the common to return, however temporarily.

On Massumi's Logic of Relation: Rules

striated, smooth

We begin our translation of Massumi's soccer ball to sportsbabel's basketball with an opening passage on rules and their retrospective coding of the conditions of possibility.

To the question of what founds a formation like a sport, or what its conditions of existence are, an obvious answer would be "the rules of the game." But in the history of sport, as with virtually every collective formation, the codification of rules follows the emergence of an unformalized proto-sport exhibiting a wide range of variation. The formal rules of the game capture and contain the variation. They frame the game, retrospectively, describing its form as a set of constant relations between standardized terms. A codification is a framing derivative that arrogates to itself the role of foundation. It might be argued that all foundations are of this nature: ex post facto regulatory framings rather than effective foundings. Once they apply themselves, the rules do effectively frame and regulate the play, taking precedence. Their precedence is retrospective, or fictional, but effective. It has all the reality of a formation of power, of which usurpation might be argued to be the model — usurpation of variation (Parables for the Virtual, p.71).

The history of basketball would suggest otherwise. James Naismith invented the game specifically to find an indoor winter activity as an outlet for aggressive masculine tendencies at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. In other words, the rules did not form later and apply themselves retrospectively, but were rather present from the outset (and the soccer ball became the first basketball!). Indeed, play in general would not be possible were it not for the loosely formed constraints that condition possibility in the space of ludic movement. Otherwise we would find ourselves squarely in the zone of the virtual.

I also think outside of sport to computer videogames. Julian Kücklich discusses the ruledness of a game environment and how in greater degrees it may also constrain the conditions of possibility. In effect, what he is describing is how linguistic codes can striate a space of play. But the spaces of computer videogames — which are rapidly becoming sites of collective formation not unlike sport — are always already ruled spaces by dint of their linguistic form, or put differently, their programmed nature. There is no proto-game from which Grand Theft Auto emerges to contain variation.

(It should be pointed out that ruledness is not quite the same as the striated-smooth dichotomy proposed by Deleuze and Guattari: a space may be striated in material form without firm rules necessarily being attached to the effect of those gridlines. That said, in the foreword to Baudrillard's In the Shadow of Silent Majorities Lotringer, Kraus and El Kholti state that "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." We will not understand them as synonymous, then, but rather as forms that modulate the conditions of possibility in similar fashion.)

But we are in the realm of sport for this discussion. And so we are more fully in the realm of the moving body, in all its sporting forms. Does this imply that Massumi's broader concerns are invalid? No, I don't think so: the point was still to capture and contain variation, but variation of a different order, the roughhousing of young male physical education instructors, rather than an earlier proto-version of basketball. Through the formalization of rules, variation is captured and contained across space and time: it implies that the sport will be played again on another occasion, in the same place or at a different location, and that there will be some consistency between the two events.

If the rules are ex post facto captures that take precedence, what do they take it from?: from the process from which the game actually emerged, and continues to evolve, to the extent that circumstances arise that force modifications of the rules. The foundational rules follow and apply themselves to forces of variation that are endemic to the game and constitute the real conditions of the game's emergence. The rules formally determine the game but do not condition it. (They are its formal cause, not its efficient cause) (Parables for the Virtual, p.72).

Do not forget that this "proto-sport" continues to exist (in basketball we have called it "pickup") alongside the more formal regulated versions of the "sport" (that is, league basketball). In other words, we do not want to get caught up in a linear "stages of progress" model in which pure play becomes proto-sport, which becomes sport, which is thereafter refined by variations in the style of play that are captured or modulated by new rules. The informal pickup versions continue to exist in parallel and in fact play significant roles in creating the variation that flourishes in (and challenges the formality of) "sport" proper.

Let us not become bound up in the search for origin and instead be more cognizant of the process. For in capturing variation — the motor of sporting emergence — we are capturing the possible of the body athletic. Herein lies the micropolitical moment of sport.

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.