The moral, molar, or molecular winner of a contest?

In his treatise on fair play, Sigmund Loland repetitively comes back to one formula(tion) of what is produced in sport: the sweet tension of uncertainty of outcome. Michel Serres is of a similar meaning when he states that the 'glorious uncertainty' in sport is that which saves it from being just another crude dialectic scheme, like, for instance, war.

Are there any other practices and structures that produce uncertainty to the degree, and as sweetly, as sports do? Uncertainty, definitely; as sweet, perhaps. Listening to a story, having sex, taking part of, or consuming, artistic improvisation, sure. The list could be expanded, but none of them has this production as a guiding rationale. Due to this, and despite the fact that sport has as its structural goal measuring, comparing, and ranking human beings, Loland is right to emphasize sport as a possible arena for the Aristotelian eudaimonia - human flourishing.

'Generalized athleticism' is but one of Deleuze's (and Guattari's) physical culture concepts that never were elaborated enough with. According to D & G, this modus sprung from, and was established in, ancient Athens, where it contributed to the upbringing of the free men - the vanguards of democracy. In all spheres of life, these men were paradoxically constituted as both friends and rivals. Ideas of justice and equality are foundational pillars of this model. Harsh as it may seem, justice and equality both must be executed, both must have their procedures. Modern sport is probably the societal sphere that has implemented this rationale the most successfully and sufficiently, which the name 'generalized athleticism' also implies.

To compete in sport one will need other competitors, and moreover, their efforts will spur you to perform better. The more equal you are with concerns to performance ability, the more sweet uncertainty you are probable to produce. Friend and rival in one. Cozy contest. Contest is derived from contestare, Latin for 'to strive together'.

So far, so good - in both the dramaturgical, and the literal sense of the expression. Why must 'So far, so good' end? Sport is an autotelic practice with the structural goal of inaugurating a victor, and ranking the tawdry mass of losers behind, and beneath, the laureate(s). At the molar (concentrates of memories and mores - memores?) level winners and losers are produced, and added to history, while at the the molecular (atomistic, micropolitical, and mo/ve/mental) level, the sweet tension of uncertainty of outcome revels and unfolds like the crest of a wave. But does the sweet tension really rely on the uncertainty of outcome?

According to Loland, the (uncertainty of) outcome of a competition is the impetus that renders sport it's dynamics. For certain, Loland applies Caillois's concepts of Agon (contest) and Alea (chance) in his conclusion to support his preferred -- and, it must be added, rigorously accounted for -- moral (molar) imperative of sports: play (with a shared ethos) to win. Portions of Alea may be added to the Agon, that nevertheless always will be the essence of sports. In this line of thinking, outcome, i.e. the zero-sum game of the production of the molar positions of winners and losers, is the key driver in sports, but if uncertainty never emerges, neither will sweet tension .

This box is untouchable; we cannot think outside it, if we, at the same time, want to benefit from its sweetness. But in a good Latourian manner I would like to, at least ephemerally, try to 'extract the honey, and press away the poison' from this equation. So where do I start?

In posts to come, I will argue that outcome, per se, is not a sufficient source for eudaimonia, human flourishing. Such coarse identity politics will only reproduce the anxiety of winners (will I be defeated the next time?), and the anger of losers (next time I'll defeat him/her). And why only strive towards the blooming of humanity; why not post-human flourishing? This kind of point of departure would harmonize with many of the contin(g)ental thinkers, such as Deleuze and his 'molecular' analyses.


's kin: For Sean

(This post is dedicated to Sean Smith and his weblog diary, sportsBabel - a great source of inspiration).

Over at Babylon an investigation on 'skin' has been going for quite a while now. The general question is perhaps: How are we to apply hapticity? The answers to this, probably and hopefully, will lead away from politics of identity, toward politics of touch, affect, and hope in the coming community.

What will life be like in HaptiCity (the capital of Vuvuzuela)?

Skin is a prime unit to understand and modulate this citizenry with: Gait as the skin of gesture; the audience as the skin of the stadium; 'Radio Vuvu' as skin tectonics; the jersey as the skin of the athlete; traceurs as mobile freckles -- mouches -- on the architectural sk(yl)in(e) of Babylon.

Being the largest organ of the body, the skin, according to Michel Serres, is the place where one's soul plays. Soul emerges when skin meets skin, especially when your own skin/s meet/s. Lovers, Serres says, trace on each other's skin to search for each other's scattered souls (The five senses, p. 24).

Skin withers and returns eternally at the same time. Skin is interface-and-relation-in-the-world. To investigate skin is to dive in to the molecular flow of the collectivity. Skin is what on the molecular level makes possible the formula of us being plural and same synchronically.

Although not as nihilists, Agamben, Serres, and Deleuze share an attraction toward the concept of 'whatever' (or the latin counterpart of quodlibet). Agamben comforts us that in the coming community '[t]he coming being is whatever being ... being such that it always matters' (The Coming Community, I). The plethora of whatevers communicate with gestures and through touch, why skin always must be taken under consideration.

But how do we assess the kinship of these quodlibets? One thing we know is that it always takes two to tango (tangere is Latin for 'to touch'), and that touch and skin will be the place of exchange when species meet. In search of African stars, therefore, always start from Tangier. Tangier, the capital of HypheNation, is the place and space traced out when we touch, and there by sweep up each other's scattered souls (or when we, unlike the frightened city dweller in Sandman, wake up the dreaming city).

The following concept is a semantic pun, but hopefully a fruitful appendix to the 'whatever'/'quodlibet' of contin(g)ental philosophy. Skin, as the panta rei kind of space where interaction takes place, is the source of kinship itself: skin = 's kin.

... 's kin is whatever's kin is whatever's kin is whatever's kin ...