American Zoe Trope

It has been recently reported that Major League Baseball is conducting genetic tests on certain young Latin American baseball prospects and their parents, in response to cases of identity and age falsification. Naturally, the bioethics and privacy issues involved in such practice immediately come to the fore:

Many experts in genetics consider such testing a violation of personal privacy. Federal legislation, signed into law last year and scheduled to take effect Nov. 21, prohibits companies based in the United States from asking an employee, a potential employee or a family member of an employee for a sample of their DNA.

. . .

The federal bill forbids an employer from asking for DNA or to hire, fire or compensate based on a person’s DNA or any family member’s DNA. The employee or family member of the employee does not have to be a citizen of the United States.

Because the law is not yet in effect and has not been enforced, it is unclear how it will apply to cases in which American companies conduct DNA tests abroad on citizens of other countries.

We might also examine the situation from the perspective of Giorgio Agamben's politics. The birth certificate is one's original claim to citizenship in a state apparatus, without which one essentially becomes stateless, a sort of refugee whose tethers to citizenship are deeply frayed at best. In voluntarily obscuring the significance of the birth certificate, Latin American baseball players have been able to negotiate a cloud of ambiguity to obscure their ages and identities, thereby making themselves seem more talented prospects at a younger age and thus more attractive to major league franchises in the United States.

"The refugee should be considered for what it is, namely, nothing less than a limit-concept that at once brings a radical crisis to the principles of the nation-state and clears the way for a renewal of categories that can no longer be delayed" (Agamben, Means Without End: Notes on Politics, p. 22).

We witness spectacular capitalism and the specific meshworks of sporting Empire respond in turn, however, not by reassigning the bios that is the political life of the citizen, but rather by having the zoe that is one's naked existence as a living being speak to the models of truth it proposes.

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 Permanent State of Competition?

April 28, 2009: The IOC reanalyzed a total of 948 samples from Beijing after new lab tests for CERA and insulin became available following the Olympics. The testing began in January and focused mainly on endurance events in cycling, rowing, swimming and athletics.

"We suggest that athletes who may be tempted to cheat keep this reality in mind," WADA president John Fahey said. "We believe that retrospective testing serves as a strong deterrent."

* * *

Article 12 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights dictates that "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation." In the contemporary high performance sporting arena, however, we might justly question if these same rights of privacy are extended to the athletes themselves. To police doping practices in high performance sport, the World Anti-Doping Agency has assumed formidable powers of registration and control over competing athletes, which allow it to draw biological specimens from an athlete’s body in or out of competition with no advance notice; which require athletes to provide accurate whereabouts information at all times for said testing; which reserve the right to retroactively nullify previous results should future detection techniques be discovered within an eight-year statute of limitations; and which tracks subjects longitudinally through an "athlete passport" system. This essay suggests that the conditions have been created through which high performance sport participation is subject to continual surveillance across both space and time, and that the formerly discrete site of sporting competition has topologically transformed such that it becomes a permanent condition of athletic being.

(to be presented by s.smith at the 2009 olympic reform: a ten-year review conference in toronto)

Discipline :: Topology :: Control

Since Deleuze introduced the concept of the control society, thinkers have tried to gauge its precise character and sportsBabel has worked to make a contribution to that end. But we must keep in mind that the original title has "sociétés de contrôle" in the plural. That is, Deleuze suggests there are multiple societies of control, each effecting its own intensive modulation of subjects as its disciplinary apparatus and spaces of enclosure are in decline or crisis. Each of these is interconnected by other modulations at different levels of assembly (cf. DeLanda).

Panhapticism in Ljubljana

panhapticism as graffiti in ljubljana:
vision and touch intersect at the nexus of control

Do not mix models, Deleuze and Guattari remind us: sport will have its own modulations, its own relations with and passages between striated and smooth, optic and haptic, and back again.

But with sport, at least, the disciplinary spaces of enclosure do not appear to be in crisis. Rather, they appear to exist as moments within a larger sportocratic trajectory. Brian Massumi offers us guidance towards understanding this trajectory — or rather transformation — by asking us to consider architecture topologically, in which Euclidean space is an instance, a point in time raised to the level of the three-dimensional — in short, a metric moment of a topological transformation or process.

The distinction that is most relevant here is between topological transformation and static geometric figure: between the process of arriving at a form through continuous deformation and the determinate form arrived at when the process stops. An infinite number of static figures may be extracted from a single topological transformation. The transformation is a kind of superfigure that is defined not by invariant formal properties but by continuity of transformation. … Anything left standing when the deformation is stopped at any moment, in its passage through any point in between, also belongs to their shared figure. The overall topological figure is continuous and multiple. As a transformation, it is defined by vectors rather than coordinate points. A vector is transpositional: a moving-through points. Because of its vectorial nature, the geometry of the topological superfigure cannot be separated from its duration. The figure is what runs through an infinity of static figures. It is not itself determinate, but determinable. Each static figure stands for its determination but does not exhaust it (Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, p. 184).

In this case, Massumi is discussing the challenge for architecture to respond to topology as the experiential condition of individual human beings. In his view, our being-in-the-world as sensing subjects involves a "synesthetic cooperation" between exoreferential fixed visual perception and self-referentially dynamic internal proprioception as they fold forward and back into one another. But what if we are talking about the administrative apparatus instead, the architecture that adjudicates the social body as well as the individual body?

In its high performance sporting sense, the moment (or static figure) at which the topological superfigure comes to rest is the space and time that we traditionally understand as the site of athletic competition. It was John Bale who first explicitly formalized the sport stadium in these terms, but the stadium's disciplinary character was already understood implicitly by the sociologist Jean-Marie Brohm with his "prison of measured time," and even earlier in George Perec's novel W ou le souvenir d'enfance, which juxtaposes a narrative set in the stadium against one set in the concentration camp.

At this particular level of assemblage the stadium is a Euclidean space: enclosed, partitioned, and adjudicated with a perspectival optic gaze. The athletes, support personnel and spectators become objects of information within this sporting apparatus, numerically inscribed and tracked at various checkpoints. They each become part of an archive-creation process as well as an atomized element against which archives are tested.

Only thereafter, when the competition nominally ends, does the topology become apparent. Specimen samples are withdrawn from the athletic body for anti-doping testing procedures. While authorities originally captured the "waste" byproduct of urine for testing, today the range of signifying vectors has expanded to include blood and DNA, which are effectively "living tissue" insofar as they contain the biological code to recreate human life. To counter against doping procedures or drug technologies in use today but in the absence of a feasible test to ferret them out, the World Anti-Doping Agency has instituted an 8-year statute of limitations within which newly-discovered tests may be retroactively applied to old samples and results changed. In other words, the competition still continues for eight years after the interim winners have been announced.

As such, the samples of "living tissue" that leave the disciplinary spaces of sport are themselves part of the space of competition. Wherever they travel — by vehicle to some laboratory or by telecommunication channel to some database — the site of competition topologically transforms to match this space. Massumi, once again (in repetition and difference): Because of its vectorial nature, the geometry of the topological superfigure cannot be separated from its duration.

Rather than modern sport being a disciplinary institution in "crisis" yielding to an institution of control, then, it appears that its disciplinary spaces continue to exist albeit as discrete moments or static figures in the overall topology of high performance athletic competition. The topological superfigure itself — the vectorial transformation — is what we understand today as the crisis: a smooth space of intensities that the institution of control attempts to administer by riding and arresting the flow, what Deleuze and Guattari describe as an effort to "utilize smooth spaces as a means of communication in the service of striated space" (A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, p. 385). Instead of the panoptic gaze taking measure within a static figure, the panhaptic touch-sense modulates within the transformation to render it optic at every possible moment: a tactile, digital interplay between the senses, a haptic-made-optic.

Future Perfect: Tense

In sport sponsorship, there is almost always a contractual obligation between the athlete and sponsor in which the former bears the brand marks of the latter during most, if not all, public appearances or press conferences. To the best of my knowledge, there is no industry standard template regarding image rights, but rather specific provisions are contract dependent.

This had dramatic implications in 1992 when professional athletes were first allowed to compete in the Olympics. Reebok was the clothing sponsor for the entire U.S. Olympic team, which meant that any American athlete who won a medal would wear the official Reebok track suit on the medal podium. But the "Dream Team" of NBA basketball players was creaming everyone in sight and Michael Jordan (among others) let it be known that as a Nike endorser, he wouldn't wear the Reebok uniform on the podium and would instead skip the medal ceremony. For someone whose recognizability at the time rivaled that of the Pope, this was scandal. But eventually a compromise was reached in which the Nike athletes stood alongside their teammates on the medal podium with U.S. flags draped over their shoulders to cover the offending Reebok logo.

Clearly, the hotly-contested athlete image rights are key to the value of immaterial intellectual properties. For the visioning economy to extract this value, the (two-dimensional) surface of the athletic body must continually be photographed, while images of body volumes have assumed increased significance as well. But what about the interiors of athletic bodies and the flows that pass into, through, and out of them? Will they become subject to the vision machine? Though this control of the athlete is already happening to a degree in the context of anti-doping practices, we might wonder if such visioning will ultimately contribute directly to the pancapitalist profit motive?

As mentioned already, the extended skin of the athletic uniform is sponsored; the actual skin may become sponsored as well (tattoos representing gambling or casino web sites?); and professional sports teams have insured various athlete body parts to minimize investment risk. Now I am wondering about a related, but slightly different proposition: What if the intellectual property under consideration was DNA?

The NBA currently runs mandatory workshops for all rookie players in which they learn about various risk factors and occupational hazards, among them the "nefarious" women who use various methods to try and get impregnated during one-night stands in order to sue/extort for palimony at a later date. Now these women are ultimately doing it for the money, but what if instead of getting pregnant they were trying to save the ejaculate for copying or resale? Does the sperm of world-class athletes have immense revenue potential? If a black market grows for this type of service, how long before capital moves in to capture the rents?

Can't you see Nike, in the age of database-powered dating services and recombinant genetics, prospering in the insemination brokering service?

It's happened for years in the horse racing business.

What are the racial implications of the marketing and sale of high performance athlete DNA? ("If you want a white child, you may choose from these athletes; black athletes begin on page 5 of the catalogue. I'm afraid you can't have Michael Jordan's size and jumping ability with white skin — we don't have the technology to blanch DNA at this time.")

From there, what about the vat-grown eyeballs and assorted body organs suggested by Gibson in Neuromancer? What template are they built upon — perhaps snippets of an athlete from the Nike stable (in shades of hooks' "eating the Other")? Can the genetic qualities of Jordan's muscle fibres be synthesized with the antibody capabilities of one's own cells to create a new marketable class of personalized products (cf. CAE)?

Sponsorship just uses the arena or the billboard — or the surface of the athlete — as a vector for sign communication. As such, it is not very interesting in and of itself. A more interesting proposition is to ask what new vectors will transmit the sign, for it is the sign that is the source of power and wealth in the immaterial economy. DNA is one answer and must be examined in any critical futures analysis of the sportocracy.

Volumetric Striation

<!–a series on antony gormley and the origin of "tactile burden", in no particular order–>

Feeling Material - Courtesy of Antony Gormley
Feeling Material VI
Antony Gormley

When Antony Gormley made his presentation at EGS I was struck by an apparent dematerialization of the human body in his work over a period of twenty-five years. The first two works I want to describe here were catalysts for me in "putting it all together", so to speak, as I had never really considered myself someone who critically appreciated or even liked sculpture.

But Feeling Material really spoke to me: for Gormley the project was an attempt to "make the internal space of the body visible as a void … as a still place at the centre of a spiraling energy field," and I could really see a body coming to terms with its relationship to an omnipresent world of electricity and information networks.

The body as producer and consumer of information: while interacting with other bodies in material space it also extends beyond the skin into data networks to interact with other, virtual, bodies. But even in the dematerialized state it is continually presented with the material.

Hence I was intrigued to see the next work in his presentation, Clearing, in which the energy of the body finally sheds its fixity in space and expands to fill the entire container of the room as if a liquid.

Clearing - Courtesy of Antony Gormley
Clearing IV
Antony Gormley

Of Clearing, Antony Gormley writes:

I was trying to destroy the fixed co-ordinates of a room and make a space/ time continuum (a line without end) that was both a thing and a drawing. … This installation acts as a kind of vector field, encouraging the viewer to move through its structure, and in so doing, disrupts the authority of a single-point perspective, necessitating instead a constant renegotiation of the visual field.

If one were to read Gormley's words through a Deleuzian lens, it seems that he seeks to find a smooth space within the rigid enclosure of the room's cuboid structure. The purpose of striating space is to effect a rational logic and constrain the movement and speed of bodies; political docility and productive, economic efficiency and utility. But smooth space presents a challenge to this desired effect of the State, and so there arises a secondary desire: to invert the exterior striation that constrains the body's movement so that it becomes a general striation of the body itself. As mentioned already, this concerns the flows within the body, as with the visioning that occurs in the case of doping and the determination of a "normal" athletic body. But it also serves increasingly to track the body and its contours in an open, fluid space that resists an easy fixed optical perspective necessary for striation. Instead of an optic gaze, we turn to a haptic solution.

As Deleuze illustrates in "Postscript on the Societies of Control," discipline functioned as a series of discrete spaces linked in a process of analogy: the prison was like the factory, which was like the school, and so on. Each space is coded in a fashion related to its striation; the code provides the technique for the striation to take place. With the flowing smoothness of control — the space of continuous modulation — what provides the coding for political control to take place? In the absence of analogy, what is the constant as we move from one environment to the next, in and out of enclosures and boundaries, traversing the passage from real to virtual and back, flowing with migrations great and small as they vector across the planet? The constant code is the code of the body: its internal chemical composition; its fingerprint swipe, retinal scan and DNA profile; its form in a digitized negative space.

Shift V - Courtesy of Antony Gormley Bubble Matrix - Courtesy of Antony Gormley
Shift V
Antony Gormley
Bubble Matrix (vertical swimming pose)
Antony Gormley

Consequently, we might read two of Gormley's later sculptures that fashion the human body in negative space, Shift V and Bubble Matrix, as aesthetic precursors to a political concept that we shall label volumetric striation. This volumetric striation is the capture of the human body in a three-dimensional grid-like form (wireframe), such as what occurs with a motion capture video apparatus. Because of the irregular form of the human body, this striation is not a perfectly rational tesselation of congruent squares covering a plane with horizontal and vertical coordinates, as we see with other striated grid spaces. Instead, it is a connected set of irregularly-shaped polygons covering the surface of a three-dimensional solid form, with the connections dependent on where the nodal points of light have been located on the body. Given the technological constraints of motion capture systems right now, it is not a tight striation that is effected, though it is getting tighter as the technology both improves and lowers its unit cost.

Baudrillard - Screened OutOut of technological necessity, volumetric striation in sporting contexts — for example, with motion capture systems that record player movements to be used in sports videogames — is still reliant upon a referential planar striation, the disciplinary sporting enclosure derived from Foucault in the work of Eichberg, Bale, Shogan and others. We are, however, starting to move away from this relation of dependence. With Michael Jordan's "bullet time" dunk we simulate high-speed photography using a circular arrangement of cameras and synthesize a volumetric form from the collection of produced images. Similarly, ProZone uses many cameras in conjunction with a rectangular soccer pitch to track bodies in smooth space. Finally, the EyeToy captures representation volumetrically using light contrasts before embedding the virtual body in a videogame space.

In other words, it appears that the process of striating the body volumetrically may be detached from the planar striation of the enclosed grid in material space (though it will still continue to be attached to a planar striation of the tabular database form). If Gormley seeks to undermine "the authority of a single-point perspective, necessitating instead a constant renegotiation of the visual field," then "State" politics must also eschew the authority of a single-point perspective in response. As the sporting examples above suggest, connected networks of CCTV cameras used for surveillance purposes, though irregularly distributed throughout cities, may be able to effect a volumetric striation of human bodies in large, open spaces as a technique of panhaptically leveraged control.

Motion capture: Model a subject on the lam in three dimensions. Toggle between first- and third-person perspectives. Simulate likely alternatives. Capture motion.

It is not groundbreaking to recognize that the higher the resolution of such a three-dimensional model, the closer we get to a representation of the "real" human body. Ideally, if we could get a polygonal resolution to the granularity of a skin cell, you would have a "perfect" representation from a visual perspective. But what is important with Gormley's work in Shift V and Bubble Matrix, in my opinion, is that he shows how faithfully one can represent the human form with a minimal number of interconnected polygons. Put in political terms, it seems that he is illustrating how relatively low-resolution the volumetric striation need be in a networked open space to have dramatic consequences for the body being imaged.

The same might currently be said of sports videogames and other communication forms of their ilk. Should we consider the sports-media complex, then, to be part of a larger assemblage we might call the sports-media-control complex?