this won't mean nothing to you.

chip time and fuzzy geolocation. these are the watchwords of a sport at the vanguard of control. a swarm of runners channeled for 26.2 miles down a long corridor, tagged like insects in a laboratory experiment. the clock-foot is synchronized to the clock-eye, which swarms in turn around the course of events, ticking.

touching. spools of clock-skin are spun out along the channel, spun around the city, spun across the network: not a dermal whole, as with a text or a book, but part-fibres that twitch with every passing muscular stepflayed skinny one might suggest as the weaving unfolds.

misty-eyed. the insects run and spray numbers everywhere: we know inexactly where your code is in the swarm at all times.

chicago 2012

"Digital technologies have a connection to the potential and the virtual only through the analog. Take word processing. All of the possible combinations of letters and words are enveloped in the zeros and ones of ASCII code. You could say that entire language systems are numerically enveloped in it. But what is processed inside the computer is code, not words. The words appear on screen, in being read. Reading is the qualitative transformation of alphabetical figures into figures of speech and thought. This is an analog process. Outside its appearance, the digital is electronic nothingness, pure systemic possibility. Its appearance from electronic limbo is one with its electronic transformation. Now take digital sound: a misnomer. The sound is as analog as ever, at least on the playback end, and usually at the recording end as well (the exception being entirely synthesized music). It is only the coding of the sound that is digital. The digital is sandwiched between an analog disappearance into code at the recording and an analog appearance out of code at the listening end.

Take hypertext. All possible links in the system are programmatically prearrayed in its architecture. This has lead some critics to characterize it not as liberating but as downright totalitarian. While useful to draw attention to the politics of the possible, calling hypertext totalitarian is inaccurate. What it fails to appreciate is that the coding is not the whole story: that the digital always circuits into the analog. The digital, a form of inactuality, must be actualized. That is its quotient of openness. The freedom of hypertext is in the openness of its analog reception. The hypertext reader does something that the co-presence of alternative states in code cannot ever do: serially experience effects, accumulate them in an unprogrammed way, in a way that intensifies, creating resonances and interference patterns moving through the successive, linked appearances."

– Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual, p.138

chicago 2012

the whole thing is partly inexact.

no, the code is in the miles and the sweat and the pain and the fatigue and the stretching and the training partners and the dirty laundry and the calories and the, and the, and the pantpantpanting.

and then it's in the code. after that, these alphanumerics — but more precisely, the numbers that drive the text and image — have a felt-ness of context and can mean something across the planet, mean something more than just a clinical dividuality given substance as a temporary-or-forever object of information. they can produce new intensities in turn — and call these latter human if you must.

chicago 2012

what kinds of meanings, though, or what kinds of intensities? what kinds of affects can these numbers produce from the ocular mist?

proximal, yet missed. some programs have more of an openness than others: did playing fantasy sports or videogames ever make you want to cry?


(lkl 7039: you made it look like a walk in the pahhhk.)

weaving: memory, relation, skin

Property Of

sportsBabel, March 2009:

"How precious the ability to transition fluidly between multiple identities, particularly living in a society that says we can have only one? We may try on others like well-made Armani suits when we play sports videogames, for example, or manage fantasy sports teams or wear authentic replica jerseys to the stadium. But these are tightly manufactured identities that generally remain within a constellation of corporate consumer control."

Baudrillard - Screened Out

Giorgio Agamben, "Identity without the Person," Nudities, p.46:

"Persona originally means 'mask,' and it is through the mask that the individual acquires a role and a social identity. In Rome every individual was identified by a name that expressed his belonging to a gens, to a lineage; but this lineage was defined in turn by the ancestor's mask of wax that every patrician family kept in the atrium of its home. From here, it only takes a small step to transform persona into the 'personality' that defines the place of the individual in the dramas and rituals of social life. Eventually, persona came to signify the juridical capacity and political dignity of the free man. The slave, inasmuch as he or she had neither ancestors, nor a mask, nor a name, likewise could not have a 'persona,' that is, a juridical capacity (servus non habet personam). The struggle for recognition is, therefore, the struggle for a mask, but this mask coincides with the 'personality' that society recognizes in every individual (or with the 'personage' that it makes of the individual with, at times, reticent connivance)."

* * *

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p.170:

"We can now propose the following distinction: the face is part of a surface-holes, holey surface, system. This system should under no circumstances be confused with the volume cavity system proper to the (proprioceptive) body. The head is included in the body, but the face is not. The face is a surface: facial traits, lines, wrinkles; long face, square face, triangular face; the face is a map, even when it is applied to and wraps a volume, even when it surrounds and borders cavities that are now no more than holes. The head, even the human head, is not necessarily a face. The face is produced only when the head ceases to be a part of the body, when it ceases to be coded by the body, when it ceases to have a multidimensional, polyvocal corporeal code — when the body, head included, has been decoded and has to be overcoded by something we shall call the Face."

Courtesy of Philips

(small billboard above urinal in men's washroom at pub showing football game: human figure and shaver are portrayed in same polygonal wireframe fashion as the prior image above, but not at the expense of pink tinges which remain on the informational skin.)

Deleuze and Guattari, p.170:

"Facialization operates not by resemblance but by an order of reasons. It is a much more unconscious and machinic operation that draws the entire body across the holey surface, and in which the role of the face is not as a model or image, but as an overcoding of all of the decoded parts. Everything remains sexual; there is no sublimation, but there are new coordinates. It is precisely because the face depends on an abstract machine that it is not content to cover the head, but touches all other parts of the body, and even, if necessary, other objects without resemblance. … The face is not animal, but neither is it human in general; there is even something absolutely inhuman about the face."

* * *

Agamben, p.47:

"It is hardly surprising that one's recognition as a person was for millenia one's most jealously guarded and significant possession. Other human beings are important and necessary primarily because they can recognize me. Even the power, glory, and wealth that the 'others' seem so sensitive to, make sense, in the final analysis, only in view of this recognition of personal identity. Of course, one can — as it said that the Caliph of Baghdad, Hārūn al-Rashīd, was fond of doing — walk incognito through the streets dressed as a beggar. But if there were never a moment in which the name, glory, wealth, and power were recognized as 'mine,' if — as certain saints recommend doing — I were to live my whole life in nonrecognition, then my personal identity would also be lost forever."

peace, love

sportsBabel, March 2009:

"This identity constellation of corporate consumer control is marked by its architecture and interface, and it obscures its bodily remainders in the process. In navigating multiple identities, on the other hand, one explicitly acknowledges the remainders, indeed embraces them. The former is an administered, metered and exchanged passage into the skin, while the latter offers a contingent and outward invitation of the flesh."


(for rod murray: critical race scholar.)

a stitch in time

Courtesy of Amber Scoon

amber scoon
skin series (#4)
handmade/recycled paper, string, wax, varnish

once upon a time baseball was speed. to the industrial working class of an emerging america, with its long hours on the farm, in the shop, or at the factory, baseball was the perfect complement of evening leisure — far more suitable temporally than cricket and its aristocratic pastoral rhythms that would stretch out over days.

one day, however, speed passed the game by.

(i've spent the day in front of my tv set — that memory box.)

today baseball is too slow for the digital age of television, internet, fantasy league or tweet. today the sabermetric approach applies statistical methods and quantitative analytics to the baseball archive, research and development processes whose anterior models are thereafter confirmed or rejected on the field of play. today one might go to the game for the tactile and visceral recharge of getting away from one's computer for three hours — a different sort of massage, if you will.

have we not witnessed a parallel development with photography?

with the polaroid our will to pellicule appeared to have found its completion: how could we hasten the development processes such that the eye would be converted to skin as quickly as possible? a little tug on the white part, wave it around a bit, and the archive of inscribed memory was already produced for one to remember.

but we have a flip.

with the digital camera today we do not even wait for the eye to fulfill its mundane task, as our very being in the world in a performative sense requires us to always already be in com-position . . . we do not fix our eye to the technical apparatus anymore, but rather sit back and coolly observe the com-position, or the performance, as it unfolds . . . the only question is if the eye, as it unfolds, will ruin the skin already produced as an anterior effect . . . in its exposure and luminescence the skin already produced from the outset is processed from chemistry to the numerical grids of pixel resolution and linguistic codes of file format . . . word for word, or perhaps character for character, shameful exposed skin.

Back in Time, Stupidly

he was stupid, finding out the hard way that with the digital camera what was perceived as the eye was in fact the skin itself. or perhaps he was trying to look backward into time, through time. call it inverse retrospection. prospection.

(of course i'll never make that film. nonetheless i'm collecting the sets, inventing the twists, putting in my favorite creatures. i've even given it a title, indeed the title of those mussorgsky songs: sunless.)

unlike both eye and skin, the athletic gestural poet is not dependent on lighting conditions, neither sun nor clouds. she seeks not exposure but expression. she seeks a different unfolding of time, or perhaps its weaving.

(so they had to come there, both of them, under the rain, to perform the rite that would repair the web of time where it had been broken.)

Web of Time

Identity: Skin and Flesh

How precious the ability to transition fluidly between multiple identities, particularly living in a society that says we can have only one? We may try on others like well-made Armani suits when we play sports videogames, for example, or manage fantasy sports teams or wear authentic replica jerseys to the stadium. But these are tightly manufactured identities that generally remain within a constellation of corporate consumer control.

* * *

"You know, the difference between you and me is that you look at a skin and see what's inside. I look at a skin and see what's outside."

"Um, you do realize you're talking to the mirror?"

"Sure, but it's really not just a mirror. Sean says it's more like a two-way mirror, or a video screen crossed with a mirror — simultaneously both-and. We see ourselves reflected in it but we can also be seen by everyone else. And the thing is, we all know what's behind the looking-glass."

"Still looks like a mirror to me."

"Quiet, you."

* * *

This identity constellation of corporate consumer control is marked by its architecture and interface, and it obscures its bodily remainders in the process. In navigating multiple identities, on the other hand, one explicitly acknowledges the remainders, indeed embraces them. The former is an administered, metered and exchanged passage into the skin, while the latter offers a contingent and outward invitation of the flesh.

* * *

Sean Smith earned an MBA from the University of Alberta’s International Institute for the Study of Sport Management and is currently a doctoral candidate in the PhD program in Media and Communications at the European Graduate School in Switzerland. Prior to that, he served on faculty for two years in the Sport Management program at Acadia University, after earning a BKin (Sport Management) only three months earlier. His colleagues would describe him as an innovative team leader who diplomatically handles diverse individuals and situations, and who uses technology effectively for research and communications. Research focus: Critical inquiry at the nexus of international sport, technology, politics and the body.

Smithers was a basketball player and assistant coach at Acadia University, where he earned a Bachelor of Kinesiology in Sport Management. His colleagues would describe him as a team leader and he is a sometime contributor to the SportsFilter community.

sportsbabel is an artist and critical sport theorist living … … …

is … … …

(special thanks to icarus, purple, pia fuchs and the switch)

constancy, relationality, opportunity

The professional sport industry — particularly those leagues that comprise the upper echelon of the sports-media capitalist hierarchy — presents a paradox when viewed relative to the flows of capital in other sectors of the global economy. In other industries that require large investments in fixed capital, such as automobile production, plants have increasingly (and rapidly) relocated to countries and cultures in which the costs of variable capital are lower: all that is solid melts into thin air, only to condense and solidify once again in the global south.

In sport, however, the primary product being manufactured is the live sporting spectacle, with its affective experience of the crowd-as-number situated within the multisensuality of the stadium environment proper. It is easy to lose sight of the live event's primacy given the intensity with which the sports industry has initiated joint production processes to manufacture immaterial outputs further downstream, such as television broadcasts or fantasy sport data streams. But it is the live event that creates the paradox for sporting capital mentioned above: the plant of professional sports production — the stadium in its myriad forms — cannot simply relocate to where the costs of variable capital are the lowest precisely because the site of production is simultaneously the site of consumption for a live event, an inseparability that characterizes few other industrial sectors.

Yankee Stadium

While capital desires unregulated flow and the immaterial outputs of sportocratic production also have their own flows and rhythms, at a less complex level of assembly sports events flow to varying degrees as well. Baseball, for example, is a sport that does not flow to a high degree: it is a series of discrete actions — pitch, hit, throw, out or run produced — that are linked together in a form of mutual agreement between all those present. In other words, the structural elements of the game in the sense of codified rules (whether verbally agreed upon or highly codified in written form) facilitate what we might term a weak flow that emerges from the closed nature of the sport. Despite the weak flow that is produced, the discrete elements of the game provide plenty of signifying breaks that may be recorded as metadata about the live event action, which forms the scorecards, boxscores and other archives of the game.

Basketball, on the other hand, is a far more open-ended, flowing sport. Rather than a loosely connected series of discrete events, the action in a basketball game generally oscillates back and forth along the court surface in a fairly consistent rhythmical fashion. Roughly speaking, it is the peaks and valleys of the oscillation curve as it unfolds in linear time that become the events that are marked for the archive — shot attempted, basket made, steal or turnover. Put differently, it forms a strong flow from which signifying breaks have been extracted, in an inversion of the relationship described with baseball.

This means that an event such as a scored basket has as its primary relationality that of the flow. In a pickup game of basketball that relationality is complemented by the game score being passed from one player to another by word of mouth. As we move to more organized, league forms of basketball, the internal coherence or relationality of the flow is supplemented by an external scoring, legitimating and archiving apparatus (referees, official scorer and timekeeper, standardized records). It is this supplementary dimension that forms the basis of the downstream joint production processes mentioned earlier.

As the archival information is "liberated" from the productive energies of the athletes on the field of play, it then enters a constellation of differential signification and relationality completely detached from the flow of that particular game. The basket becomes an entry in a database that may form relationships with an overall "official" score, with other baskets by the same player, with a graphic overlay on a television broadcast, or with a consumer's fantasy league ranking. In baseball, with its weak flow of manufactured relationality, this liberation is not a particularly violent process, but in open-ended sports of strong flow like basketball the violence is far more pronounced.

Whether open or closed, the violence of the immaterial and its disruption of flux is most pronounced in the upper echelons of the sports hierarchy. This is due to the immense salaries that professional athletes are capable of earning — particularly relative to workers in other industrial sectors — as professional sport demands a highly specialist form of labour. Furthermore, the global competition for this talent has heightened dramatically over the past several decades as the number of consumer markets capable of sustaining a domestic professional league has expanded and the financial stakes involved in fielding a successful franchise have increased. Since the sporting capitalist is prevented from relocating the sporting plant to wherever variable capital is the cheapest, one must instead seek world-class specialist labour more cheaply from around the globe and bring it to the site of the stadium. We need only consider the examples of the English Premier League importing association football players from Africa, Major League Baseball importing athletic labour from Japan, or the Russian professional basketball league importing female players from the United States to realize how fully the migration of athletes permeates across sports, cultures, genders and economic vectors.

Given the fixed seating capacity of a stadium and the relative price elasticity of demand for sports tickets, the revenues required to cover rising salary expenses must come from elsewhere. One way of doing this is to increase the number of production runs at the plant, or in this case, to play more games. While there are usually more free dates at the stadium that could be used for live event manufacture, we cannot truly dissociate the athletes themselves from our understanding of plant in the sports industry.

As Michael Hardt has suggested, there is a dialectic between labourer and capitalist in which collective resistance by the former eventually leads to automation efforts by the latter. But professional sport resists such explicit forms of automation as robotic production since it is the athlete him/herself that is the object of fascination and desire. Instead, the professional athlete becomes a hybrid between labour and capital, with standardized techniques of discipline, expensive surgeries and other medical modalities such as oxygen chambers, as well as databased methods of probability and simulation helping to intensify production. Nonetheless, there remains a certain point after which the organic body provides diminishing returns in terms of the number of production runs (played games) completed by the firm.

Instead, we find that the sporting capitalist is forced to increase immaterial joint production efforts to cover these rising salary costs. While this doesn't explain the "origin" of immaterial output in the sports industry, it does provide us one way of understanding the intensity with which sign-value must be extracted from the immaterial. Put another way, the sporting capitalist requires a growing intellectual property (data-object) turnover ratio in order to maintain the same level of surplus-value earned over time. But it also suggests that the relationality of the data-object as it is violently detached from the site of sporting poiesis and entered into other sign systems must be targeted in any praxis by the sporting multitude, insofar as it simultaneously targets the alienation experienced by the consumer-worker, rather than solely that of the producer-worker.

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.