Black Ice

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time to take it slow
black ice, white snow
what if the truth is we don't really know
if so then life is a mystery
this could be the end of all history

(k-os, "black ice")

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Project description (1000 characters maximum):

Hockey Canada and Pepsi recently announced the winner of a competition to create the "official" cheer for Canadian hockey fans to shout during the 2010 World Juniors in January: "EH! O'CANADA, GO!" But the real prize seems to be the hope that it gains sufficient traction with fans such that it continues after that event is complete and into the Vancouver Olympic Games (which are officially sponsored by Coca-Cola).

"Hockey Fan Training Camp" was intended to be a two-hour community hockey scrimmage open to girls, boys, women and men of all ages. It concluded with those in attendance "practicing" the cheer in an ironic illustration of this corporate intrusion into the fan's right to communicate. However, given that ice time rental in Toronto is prohibitively expensive for such a relational project, we shall buy as much Pepsi as we can for $300, freeze it at a local park to create a small rink, and invite people to play on that instead — to be documented on video and shared on YouTube.

(submitted by sean smith to the tinygrants juried microfunding program for relational and creative interventions in toronto)

comma, garçon

Pain and intensity

One of the most important components of sport and physical culture, yet continuously one of the least considered, is the pain one experiences both during and after the embodied becoming of athletic poiesis. To some degree, however small, participating will always hurt. Degree, or intensity, is important here: this pain should be considered on a spectrum from the simple lactic acid soreness one gets from overly taxing the muscles during a workout, to the small tears that appear in muscle fibres from stretching them beyond their current state of elasticity, to the bruises resulting from elbows and other sundry collisions in a basketball game, to the more acute injuries such as sprained ankles or dislocated fingers or broken bones, to the severest sporting traumas requiring surgical intervention.

adidas, threshold

Wherever it may be located on the spectrum, this pain may be variably distasteful or pleasurable, depending upon the context and the relation. But the intensity makes itself present nonetheless, periodically returning as if an old friend or a musical motif that weaves into the soundtrack of one's life. Make no doubt: pain is a marker of memory.

Pain remembers pain.

The anesthesia of telesthesia

At what point does capital enter or infuse this spectrum of pain? There is certainly a qualitative difference between the pain of lifting weights at the gym or a yoga class, on the one hand, and the ruptured ACL of a professional football quarterback that requires surgical intervention on the other. Generally speaking, this difference in the quality of intensity emerges as a question of scale in the assemblage that is the body athletic: have the fibres and connective tissues been severed or ruptured at a microcellular level or at a more complex macro-scale?

But there is also a structural difference between the conditions that led to the pain and the forms of intervention (rest, surgery) required to heal the injured parts of the body. We witness a capitalist imperative in football, for example, that yields to increased speed and size in players, more violent collisions and subsequent injuries, and the becoming-commonplace of surgical interventions to return the cyborg athletes to full operational status as soon as possible — such that an asset does not become unprofitable or a labourer does not risk losing a job.

Saved By Technology

The athletic subject undergoing a surgical procedure is administered an anaesthetic before the operation such that the pain cannot be felt, for once a threshold of intensity is crossed on the spectrum of pain, any sort of pleasure leads to pure agony and trauma. (Is this commensurate with the risks of absolute deterritorialization that Deleuze and Guattari warn against?) One does not even want to approach such a threshold again and the narcosis must be welcomed. In doing so, however, one also opens up the possibility for another (the administrator of the medical gaze) to cut, sever and otherwise realign the structural fibres and relational flows of one's animal body.

Is this so unlike the narcosis that the sports fan embodies when integrated with the networked media-entertainment apparatus? Archives of statistical data, the tracking-images of surveillance and spectacle, and the algorithmic engines of machinic intelligence form a different assemblage with the professional athlete, one that allows a vicarious participation rather than an inert spectatorship. Sports television and videogames are crucially founded upon this principle: if one has experienced at some point the pain of athletic poiesis then the simulation becomes acceptable insofar as its non-touch may represent some never-felt new pain.

Put differently, nostalgia in sport assumes a different meaning as it becomes less about experiencing an idyllic past that has been lost to progress and rather about allowing us to remember a history of our own pain without actually having to submit to its intensity once again. We allow a class of worker-athletes to experience the touch of pain for us instead, which we then consume in mediated and narcotic form. We cut, sever and otherwise realign the structures and flows of this singular-plural body in the process. Flesh intimacy yields to data intimacy, never to return.

Pain remembers pain, then, but perhaps memory hurts memory as well.

Touch and its return

What are the structural conditions of possibility governing memory? This very contemporary question seems to be a matter of determining what technical apparatus is both generated by and interfaced with the human body, does it not? But it is also a matter of the flesh. Where do technical apparatus and flesh meet on Chris Marker's sunless visual horizon? Where do they meet Jonathan Crary's ruminations on the struggle between the collective flesh of the multitude and military-techno-capital over the right to sleep and dream?

Threat Alert Graffiti, NYC

unknown artist
street mural, lower east side, new york city
november, 2009

How long does the perfume linger on the lapel of a man's wool jacket? How long does an image from the eye of Marker's camera flicker in the eye of that same man's memory? How does Marker's Sans Soleil resonate with Crary's reflections on sleep, capital, and the sensations of always-on digitality? As pain and memory most assuredly weave into one another in a very fleshy or visceral way, we might also reconsider how it is that we dream in and of the flesh in the age of ubiquitous data and light-networks.

For what if it was all a dream sequence, anyways? Or what if the whole thing was digital and the perfume was but a simulacrum fashioned from the archival bits of a hundred late-night B-movies and a thousand trendy style magazines scattered across the subway stations of Tokyo?

Digital, touching: will flesh intimacy return? Erin Manning writes:

My gesture toward you is a momentary one. There is no touch that can last beyond the first moment of contact. To touch longer, I must touch again: as my focus shifts elsewhere, my skin soon forgets to acknowledge yours. To touch me, you must return the touch to and from yourself in an ongoing process of exchange. Because it is temporary and immediate, the gesture is never more than momentary. This is a political moment in the most ethical sense, for it demands a continual re-articulation rather than a subsuming into the same. If I attempt to subsume you through touch, I will not reach you. Instead, I will inflict the worst kind of violence upon your body: your body will act only as the recipient of my directionality. Your body will become prey. If, instead, I acknowledge the ephemerality of the gesture, I risk an opening toward [what Agamben refers to as] "the sphere of ethos of the most proper sphere of that which is human" (Politics of Touch, p. 60).

The layout of this particular photo spread appears hip, gritty, underground chic. As they have faced each other in the past across the basketball court or over the dinner table, so too do photographer and model face each other now, standing on opposite platforms of the subway, she to take the A train uptown while he will hop the southbound line to Kreuzberg. But this time the vector of becoming is important: the two train lines are headed in opposite directions. Antagonism and relational aesthetics and an eerie silence. One cannot help but laugh at what is either the cheapest of metaphors or perhaps the formulaic ending to this particular B-movie.

Medusa laughs, at any rate. Or is it Capital? The hour is late, too late, it has been statistically determined, to run frequent and profitable service on these particular public transit lines: there are no trains on the horizon. The two stare at each other across the empty tracks. Their gaze lingers, lingers for too long and then some, lingers for what becomes an uncomfortably interminable period of time. Where is the goddamned train?

The banality of this moment has become spectacular! Or, maybe the cinematic spectacle has been rendered banal by the rhythms and perturbations of capital in flux. He cannot be certain either way.

But certainly a space has been opened by this uncomfortable duration, a space in which the relational fibres come to the fore as units of analysis once again, as with the embodiment of athletic poiesis discussed at the outset of this memoir. Though we are describing here a micropolitics of intersubjectivity, as with before this "micro" begs the question of scale: At what level of embodiment does the trauma appear? Have the relational fibres been stretched, bruised, or severed? Will they be subsumed within the worst kind of violence inflicted upon a body? How will they heal?

Once again he cannot be certain. After all, pain remembers pain.


June, 2007: The sleep comes, but it is the fragmented, delirious sleep of a man with dengue fever. Tortured sleep. Rivulets of sweat flow into tributaries of liquid linen. Shards of disconnected thought mosaic the global electronic conscious and the matrix of the unconscious. Material and immaterial bridge centuries of temporality. Experiences gained and lost.

Gestures Sacred and Profane

Two temporal vectors

Notes from sportsBabel, September 2008:

Structurally, late modern sport operates along two primary temporal vectors: it is at once the eternal recurrence of a particular sporting history wrapped in the warm folds of nostalgia (or better, what LCD Soundsystem might call borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered century) and a continual preparation for contagion, processing, incarceration and trauma.

Somewhere in between this implicated past and future is the now of consumption.

Ceci n'est pas une pipe

Presidential Fist Bump

The micropolitics of contagion

This past weekend I was at a college basketball game in Toronto. Like many other cosmopolitan cities with a mobile corporate class, an ethnically and culturally diverse population, and readily-available vectors of connection by land, air and water, Toronto has become a locus for the swine flu virus that has been spreading around the world. The discourse networks that link (and compress) the city are continually relaying locally-relevant information concerning H1N1 contagion, diagnosis and prevention. A strange mixture of fear and apathy hangs in the air.

As with those from every other walk of life, athletes are being hit by the virus and forced into varying degrees of illness and quarantine. Sporting contests have become a threat matrix of opportunity for contagion with the other. There was a moment of hesitation after this particular game ended, the players shuffling as they remembered the directive not to shake hands with the other team. Instead, each competitor was able to "fist bump" his opponent in a respectful post-game gesture.

Are we witnessing what Paul Virilio might have called the pollution of proactivity?

A personal history of the fist bump

Fist bumping appears to be a relatively new phenomenon. The awkward attempts by courtside celebrities in recent television narratives suggest as much, anyway, and Barack Obama's hip gesture with Michelle Obama the night he claimed the U.S. Democratic Party nomination more clearly punctuates the unfolding text. But I can personally remember a culture of fist bumping in basketball as early as 1995, when I transferred schools and began playing for a new university team, and I am quite certain that the phenomenon predates my own ethnocentric bias.

In other words, it is not new.

Notably, the first team I played for was pretty monoculturally white, while the second team was much more ethnically and culturally diverse, drawing players from across the country and internationally, including such cosmopolitan cities as Toronto or Montreal. The processes of negotiating alterity on the court and in the locker room and into the more diffused conduits of the campus town were more readily present for me than they had been on my earlier team. Handshakes — a form of touching — became a particularly important factor in these negotiations. And the fist bump was one of these significant tactile forms for me, at first primarily between myself and certain Afro-Caribbean teammates, before diffusing to include my relations with almost everyone else on the team.

At that time the fist bump was performed as a form of gestural communication between the players and not by spectators or "consumers" of the sport, whether televised or no. Basketball provided a vector of exchange distinct from that of the market. A temporary community was formed. In this sense, it is to President Obama's credit that he laces on a pair of shoes every once in a while and plays the game himself.

Digital, contagions

Notes from sportsBabel, August 2009:

Of course, when we play pickup basketball (or any other form of physical culture, for that matter), we sweat. This is the fact of our very being-in-the-world as athletic bodies.

Sweat bears a paradox, though: it is at once a positive form of olfactory writing or inscription that signifies our athletic poiesis, and a liquid-haptic vector of waste, filth, toxin, or contagion.

This does not prevent us from touching the other, however, in our sweaty athletic-becoming. The abjection secreted by this paradox commingles-with and washes-through those bodies one comes into contact with during production and passage. So long as both of us are sweaty, it doesn't matter. This is as true in sport as it is in labour as it is in sex.

But what if one's hand was dry? Would the desire to touch the other player's sweaty palm remain?

This is not a post about fisting

This is not a pipe - Magritte

Holy space

Upon expressing my surprise that the basketball players were fist bumping their opponents to prevent the spread of swine flu, I was informed that the local Catholic Church was doing something similar, replacing the handshake of peace between fellow parishioners with the bump of a closed fist. Not having seen it in person myself I wasn't certain, but this blog post seems to suggest that such a virus prevention strategy is indeed emerging in the church's holy spaces. Peace be with you, accompanied by a fist bump.

When does the flip take place? When do the subjects of hierarchical spaces become those of social meshworks? When does alterity curl? When does the fist bump as gesture of solidarity become a generalized strategy of capillarized power? When does it become a micropolitics of response to contagion?

At the threshold of touching, it appears.

Dispatches from the future

"The Panther Moderns allowed four minutes for their first move to take effect, then injected a second carefully prepared dose of misinformation. This time, they shot it directly into the Sense/Net building's internal video system. At 12:04:03, every screen in the building strobed for eighteen seconds in a frequency that produced seizures in a susceptible segment of Sense/Net employees. … Subliminally rapid images of contamination: graphics of the building's water supply system, gloved hands manipulating laboratory glassware, something tumbling down into darkness, a pale splash" (William Gibson, Neuromancer, 1984).

"He managed not to recoil when she took his hand. He was getting information from her. Let her touch him as long as she kept talking" (Octavia Butler, Clay's Ark, 1984).

Dunking as cyborgian ballistics

Notes from sportsBabel, September 2009:

For the longest time the primary skill required for success in basketball was a certain marksmanship that allowed one to quickly determine trajectories and shoot the ball into the basket. Height was certainly favoured, but only insofar as it allowed those shot trajectories (and corresponding rebounds of missed attempts) to be shorter and more precise.

Dunking, however, changed the sport forever. While a genealogy of the dunk as a particularly Afrocentric form of cultural expression needs to be accounted for here, suffice it to say in the meantime that while it originally favoured the extremely tall player the athletic skill set changed to favour the quick, explosive leaper: Earl "The Goat" Manigault, Connie "The Hawk" Hawkins, and Herman "The Helicopter" Knowings. Julius Erving, Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan, and Vince Carter. James White, Justin Darlington, and Guy DePuy, to name but a few of these artists.

With dunking, the athletic body itself assumed a ballistic trajectory in order to stuff the ball into the goal both efficiently and emphatically. Any understanding of the dunk as an expressive art form in its own right must acknowledge this a priori corporeal basis of the athletic agent.

An aside from Planet Lovetron

The year is 1979. Twice within a month, at the mid-way point on a temporal trajectory between Parliament-Funkadelic's Mothership Connection and the novels by Gibson and Butler quoted above, Darryl Dawkins of the Philadelphia 76ers shatters a glass basketball backboard by dunking. If we can say that the dunk is the expression of an athletic body's ballistic trajectory and if the basketball court apparatus is the factory of the professional basketball economy, then does Dawkins not become the nomadic warrior smashing an organ of state striation?

Perhaps like those who smashed clocks and looms before him?

Affirmatively, we want the funk. Can a true choice to engage with the apparatus even be possible in the absence of possibility for such a refusal? Do we not shape the yoke of our existence?

As if channeling George, Bootsy and the rest of the P-Funk connection, Dawkins named the dunk "the Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam." And thus it bears repeating: any understanding of the dunk as an expressive art form in its own right must acknowledge this a priori corporeal basis of the athletic agent.

Now consider LeBron James (as Business LeBron), who suggested in a recent Nike television commercial that "dunk contests are bourgeois." What relationships would you perceive between these two performers nearly three decades apart? Consider meme and rhythm sciences in the process. Defer judgment.

Consider it a little longer. Just do it.

A third temporal vector?

Do we follow the interwoven threads of an Afrofuturist aesthetics and politics — as laid out by Mark Sinker, Mark Dery, Kodwo Eshun, Paul Miller and others — to locate the relational connections between black science fiction and music? Do we locate similar connections between basketball and Afro-American or Afro-Caribbean forms of music such as jazz, funk, dub, hip hop, rap and jungle/dnb?

Do we see the passage of the pickup basketball player to the league basketball player as what Deleuze and Guattari would suggest is a temporary capture of the nomadic war machine? Do we see the fist bump emerge from being a strictly tactile form of communication to become an object of information for the integrated spectacle? Do we see that in the "surgical space" of the stadium, the fist bump meme has been rendered a carefully-controlled vector of signification?

And when a real contagion (H1N1) generates a new state of fear, do we witness the relatively open-handed gesture of the handshake become the closed yet equally expressive gesture of the fist bump, effecting a flip (of switch, of moebius twist) between the sacred and the profane? Do we suggest the fist bump returns as an Afrofuturist form of the "ghostly DNA" that Gibson refers to in Neuromancer, mutated from earlier variants of Black Power and the raised-fist salute?

Finally, do we presume that Larry, Angelo and Lupus Yonderboy of the Panther Moderns were white?