The art of tracing part VI: Espace Lisse(s)

"Near misses on the dogleap stairways
French kisses in the darkened doorways
L'espace du Lisses from back in the days" (Variation of Down to the Waterline by Dire Straits)

Oli Mould applies Deleuze and Guattari's theoretical idiom, smooth and striated space, to analyze the movements of traceurs. The traceur challenges the order of the city, like the nomad challenges sedentary space, whose striae is smoothed out by tracing.

Coincidentally, the concept smooth space translates to espace
lisse in French; Lisses, a suburb to Paris, also being the cradle of parkour where the founders David Belle and Sebastién Foucan developed tracing.

"Returning to the simple opposition, the striated is that which intertwines fixed and variable elements, produces an order and succession of distinct forms, and organizes horizontal melodic lines and vertical harmonic planes. The smooth is the continuous variation, continuous development of form; it is the fusion of harmony and melody in favor of the production of properly rythmic values, the pure act of the drawing of a diagonal across the vertical and the horizontal" (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 477).


The art of tracing part V: HypheNation

toronto30meet-041, by Christoph Brunner

[...] people still see this abysslike dichotomy where you, on the other hand, see a fundamental hyphen (Latour to Serres).

The humanities bear within them the question of the hyphen (Latour to Serres).

[...] a hyphen (absent or traced between them) reunites them, [...] a tie so powerful that it's like cement holds them together (Serres to Latour)

Word 2010 was recently installed on my computer. Under the tab Page layout a function, and a word, caught my eye: Hyphenation. It struck me that this must be where tracing takes place. To trace is to be the hyphen.

HypheNation is the less noisy country next to (para) Vuvuzuela.

In HypheNation mediations, processes and becomings are everything, and Hermes is god.
We must conceive or imagine how Hermes flies and gets about when he carries messages from the gods – or how angels travel. And for this one must describe the spaces situated between things that are already marked out – spaces of interference. […] between has always struck me as a preposition of prime importance (Serres & Latour, Conversations, pp. 64).


The art of tracing part IV: the AlphaBeta of tracing

Being somewhat of a mythical Atlantis of mathematical and logistical thought, Point A continues to direct us, away from itself, toward the by now immensely crowded Point B. We can't stay at A, the water is rushing in. All the roads lead to B (46 million results on Google cannot be wrong). B is where the party's at; where the noise is; B is for Babylon, or Babel; the point that will break.

In this
Hegelian blueprint, this rise-and-fall-of-empires for dummies, the kernel of the western concept of progression is discernible. A and B are molar essences, thesis and anti-thesis; beings that will be purged in the disturbing fire -- or drowned in the tsunami -- of becoming, and merged into synthesis (at the cost of destroying everything behind, as when the bridge crumbles apart behind you in given Nintendo-game). This, according to Serres, is how the diagram of history proceeds; via sacrifice, expulsion, and scapegoating.
That's not time, only a simple line. It's not even a line, but a trajectory of the race for first place - in school, in the Olympic Games, for the Nobel Prize. This isn't time but a simple competition - once again war. The first to arrive, the winner of the battle, obtains as his prize the right to reinvent history to his own advantage (Serres & Latour, Conversations, p. 49).
How does Serres handle this "generalized athleticism" (as Deleuze & Guattari call it), since he does not want to contribute to the relentless arrow of linear time? Simply, by starting that little time-machine of his, that he calls general comparitivism. Instead of strolling down the one-way street of history, he ties his shoes, grabs a fire-ladder, and ascends to the fractal skyline of the city's rooftops, 'an area strangely void of explorers'. Tracing begins.

One common notion of Parkour is that it is 'aiming to get from A to B the fastest' (wikipedia). Other related definitions might formulate something about moving forward in the most corporeally economic way. I have reasons to suggest that there is more to this seemingly simple scheme; if this coarse definition, fastest and most economical, really captured what tracing is about, Parkour would be nothing more than just another lifestyle commodity in the service of neoliberal freedom, only more ascetic and servile (buddhist-capitalism as Slavoj Zizek would have it).

Why would a traceur aim to get from point A to point B the fastest? Silly demonstrations of prowess between friends? Escape? That may be so, but, according to Oli Mould, Parkour should be understood 'fundamentally as a process of movement'. Speed, most certainly, is central to tracing, but not as a means to select a victor. Instead speed is necessary for the traceur to establish the relation between A and B; 'He is a and not only a; he is b as well; he can be the inverse, the opposite, the contradictory. A is b, Q.E.D. This is the very logic of denouement. It was not possible; well look it is possible' (Serres, The Parasite, p. 207 ).

To trace is to be the relation between A and B; to trace is to, by a swift displacement between allegedly incommensurable positions, confirm the beauty of a dichotomy (and concomitantly dedichotomize it without necessarily de(con)structing it). To trace is to '[a]rrive at the magic formula we all seek -- PLURALISM=MONISM -- via all the dualisms that are the enemy, an entirely necessary enemy, the furniture we are forever rearranging' (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 20-21).
I am [t]racing towards synthesis. [...] this synthesis will no doubt be made more through comparitivism than by sequential linking, more through Hermes's swift travels than by deduction and solid construction. [...] The synthesis will be made, more probably, among fluids (Serres & Latour, Conversations, p. 73).
Such a synthesis-in-flux implies that the philosopher-traceur will be able and willing to reclaim the flooded Atlantis.


The art of tracing part III: An alternative to critique?

'No, let us not eliminate; on the contrary, let us include' (Conversations, p. 132).

Is a philosopher always a critic, does she always analyze? Both of these words, so dear to the modernist settlement, semantically imply differentiation, classification, and categorization. The critic splits things up, or erases borders, with her de(con)structive analysis: this is A, this is B, and they are not the same, or, perhaps even, they should be the same. Dichotomous difference or holistic sameness?

I'd like to think of the philosopher-traceur as something else. The traceur doesn't eliminate anything, save for notions about what possible connections there are in a given situation. To trace is to create sameness, without eliminating difference. A gentle caress on the cheek of a stranger; bold, but affirmative.


'There is no social system that does not leak from all directions, even if it makes its segments increasingly rigid in order to seal the lines of flight' (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 204).

'[w]e must invent our lines of flight, if we are able, and the only way we can invent them is by effectively drawing them, in our lives' (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 202).


The art of tracing part II

As evident from his interview-series with Latour, Serres foresaw wikipedia, which was traced out with the following words: No doubt, the information age will someday bring us an encliquopedia!

In honor of that fine tracing from the late Eighties, I bring you the definition of trace/to trace from wiktionary


  1. An act of tracing.
    Your cell phone company can put a trace on your line.
  2. A mark left as a sign of passage of a person or animal.
  3. A very small amount.
  4. (electronics) An electric current-carrying conductive pathway on a printed circuit board.
  5. An informal road or prominent path in an arid area.
  6. (mathematics) The sum of the diagonal elements of a square matrix

to trace

  1. To follow the trail of.
  2. To draw or sketch.
  3. To copy onto a sheet of transparent paper
[Couldn't remove the tracings of the old hyperlinks sufficiently, but somehow there's somekind of logic to that as well].

Apparently, some of this meanings will be very fruitful in the coming demonstrations.


The art of tracing part I

Hermes is one of Michel Serres' most important conceptual personae. The where-, and walkabouts of this hellenic trickster perfectly cohere with Serres' own eclectic meanderings. This quadruply winged god is according to Serres the model we must apply for understanding how the world is constituted. This could crudely be comprehended as some sort of sustainable development for the social sciences. We must thread lightly, as well as swiftly, to manage to follow our fickle guide-deity.

"We have to imagine a foundation with wings on his feet", says Serres to Latour, and as a physical cultural scholar I cannot but associate to the practitioners of Parkour, the traceurs. My way to explore the ways of Hermes will be to construct a conceptual vessel capable of keeping track of his speedy mediations (speediations?). This vessel, or stance, will be traced out between continental philosophy and the physical culture of Parkour.

The stance will be referred to as the philosopher-traceur. In a series of posts here on sportminor, I will develop this concept along with what I will call "the art of tracing".



The parasite is a thermal exciter (Serres, Michel, The Parasite, p. 190).