However, the interference of nonhumans must be exactly assessed for sport to produce its winners legitimately. A record affected by wind is followed by a wa-asterisk (wind-assisted record) .
The sport columnist Alan Hubbard sketches a scenario that highlights what might have been the outcome for sport if Oscar 'Blade-runner' would have won the 400 m. final during the ongoing world championships in athletics in Daegu, Korea. Eventually, he didn't win but might as well have. Pistorius's unique distribution of energy during the race is foremost noticeable between 200 and 300 m, where and when he is the only known runner to accelerate.
Hubbard speculates that if Pistorius was to break the world-record, perhaps already in the coming Olympics, one would have to introduce a ta-asterisk (technology-assisted record). 'Would those able-bodied rivals who patted him on the back and said "Well done" have reacted in quite the same way had he actually beaten them?', Hubbard rightfully wonders.
By letting Pistorius run, one of the 'modern constitution's' most efficacious apparatuses in producing notion of universal humanness was jeopardized. Indeed we live in times when the intertwinings between thing and man are exponentially increasing in scale and complexity.
Sport has been a central actor in the work of purification, i.e. sorting human from the nonhuman. This has also -- arguably foremost -- been done in order to establish an internal hierarchy among humans.
Oscar Pistorius's participation in regular athletics challenges not only the former record-holders of the 400 m distance, but the whole of the modern constitution!
My proposition was that this way of investigating sport implicates a perspective which makes dioramas out of sporting events, a little practice I amused myself with in a more speculative piece on javelin and hammer-throw as markers for different regimes of knowledge. But what exactly is the diorama? Since I’m not convinced that this point of view is that favorable in the study of sport, perhaps we should see to what, in this analogy, should be retained, and what should be expelled.
The diorama is a peculiar object mostly found in museums, where they represent some decisive point in history, some spectacular animal in its natural habitat, or some indigenous tribe in their quotidian practices. Dioramas are freeze-frames of the richness of existence seen from a human perspective, with the glasses of a curious scientist. The freeze-frame is also an analogy used by Deleuze and Guattari when they discuss how science relates to (the) chaos (that it wants to understand and describe). Observe chaos, transform noise into signal, produce truth, reproduce the system of science, in a Luhmannian way.
The concern to show life as it is in the diorama could evoke awkward feelings among its spectators, as is evident from the blog-entry of Tim Morton, professor of English at University of California, Davis, when he describes his uneasiness encountering dioramas with dead animals under the spell of taxidermy – in this case a crepuscular heron by its nest.
Now everything in this diorama is dead, yet designed to give the uncanny sensation of life. This double edge always makes me feel weird. I am looking at the corpse of a bird, posed as if alive (Morton).
Morton moreover means that dioramas are ’carefully constructed to appear natural’, a nature that in this case of the heron is more like a Latourian natureculture with all sorts of human(ufactured) debris. Morton’s, also very Latourian, description captures many aspects of how refined the composition of (scientific) knowledge is and must be to earn its efficacy, potency, and legitimacy.
Here I would like to return to the discussion of interpretation in the study of sport, and thereby further variegating the proposed analogy.
What we see in sport could well be interpreted as a different anthropological d(io)ramas, but isn’t this analogy too easily exhausted? It suggests that sports doesn’t really have a united code – a Luhmannian symbolically generalized medium –, and that the plethora of sports at any given moment is but an archive or museum of different decisive mo(ve)ments and forms in the history of man. There’s nothing wrong with seeing sport as this, I myself quite fancy this angle, but I think that there is more to sport than it being an array of different forms, discovered and performed.
I would like to situate sport as an ‘object’ (Harman) – system (Luhmann), and black-box (Latour) work fine as well – that reached completion in the modernist settlement, and thereby reinforced the modern constitution. A constitution whose foremost mission was to separate the poles of society and nature (work of purification), a concern that in turn enabled an even more intense intermingling between the two (work of translation).
Even if Latour isn’t that impressed with Luhmann’s system’s approach, I still find the latter’s notion of ‘medium’ very useful in the case of sports, as the Norwegian sport sociologist Jan-Ove Tangen has demonstrated purposefully. Therefore, I would like to couple the two concepts of the ‘modern constitution’ and the ‘symbolically generalized medium’ in my discussion.
The constitution offers explanations for spatial and temporal distribution in general, while the system’s approach more specifically describes the particular object of sport, in which the winner is the medium that affect all other actors within its perimeter.
What, then, is the connection between the winner (medium) and the conjoined work of purification and translation (constitution)? Sure the phenomenon of winning could be traced to meritocracy, capitalism, liberalism, fascism and other renowned processes, but, what is winning on the level of where humans and nonhumans interact – Latour’s ‘anthropological matrix’ where all human collectives hitherto have resided?
The winner is the foremost human actor in given sporting trial of strength. That is what is produced in sport. But in the demonstration, the apodeixis, all nonhuman interference must be known, lest the result would be illegitimate. Without a proper result, such as if it was affected by weather, substances, and foul advantages, not only is the constitution betrayed, i.e. that the partitioning of humans and nonhumans gets blurred, but also are all the above-mentioned social processes arrested.
Thus, curiously enough, sport seems more explicit about its administering and organization of nonhumans and humans, than the average practice in a modern collective, at least as it is described by Latour. It is as if sport has an unusual position in the modernist settlement. The goal of sport is to sort out the kernel from the chaff, regarding both the division between humans and nonhumans, and humans internally (meritocracy, fascism, etc.). But this is more overt than what is common for modern practices.
Whereas modernistic science has seen double (society is a collective of naked apes, which when seen thus, makes able some of those naked apes – scientists – to mobilize a nature, that alters the conditions for that same and still not same society), in sport, this goes on in the open. Nature has its laboratories, society has not. Sport is the nearest society comes to universally investigate what (human) bodies can do. Folk-science, more and more appear as an apt term for sport.
Above, the diorama was described as enrolling dead material to depict the living, as a freeze-frame of life, and, freeze-framing, in turn, was described as a scientific stance toward chaos. Clearly, there is something else at play in sport. Nothing is frozen in sports. On the contrary, everything is heated up! Thus, sporting events is more akin to philosophical concepts. Deleuze and Guattari claim that philosophy tries not to take snap-shots of chaos, noise, and life, but instead aims at staging, reenacting, and performing small snippets of it. A philosophical concept is more agile than a scientific fact. No wonder that so many philosophers have applied examples from the world of sport in their demonstrations of concepts.
Rather than the term first proposed, ‘diorama’, sport as a folk-science and as a philosophical tool should be understood as a ‘biorama’. A staging of live material to show that society and culture is a semi-orchestrated, yet open-ended, invention made up from and upheld by both humans and nonhumans. To paraphrase Tim Morton in his musings of the diorama: bioramas are 'carefully constructed to appear social'. Sport as a folk-science thereby peculiarly both reinforces and denounces the modern constitution. It is as if sport already is a nonmodern practice (cf. Massumis protosport), merely mimicking and translating (betraying?) science and its experiments. An ethnomethod to carefully construct, stadium by stadium, a suggestion for a universal humanity (I'm not saying it is a good suggestion).
Is it really a coincidence that Graham Harman, perhaps the foremost herald of Latour as a metaphysicist, worked as a sport journalist?
Sport is, quite literally, a folk-science. The moderns have in sport composed a particularly effective ‘ethnomethod’ (Latour, 2003) to encapsulate a notion – and to nourish the discourse – of a universal humanhood. Where human rights, religions, and literary canons have failed, sport has succeeded, as has capitalism in constructing the consumer. And these are not new thoughts -- the discourse of sports has always been saturated with brotherhood and communication. Sport as universal language is a Babel's tower, tacitly built not to wake up the ‘crossed-out god’ (Latour, 1993); Running up and down ‘the athlete’s stair’ (Deleuze & Guattari, 1986) to stitch the Leviathan.
No, I don't even know your name, it doesn't matter.
You're my experimental game, just human nature.
You're my experimental game, just human nature.
Movement and territory
Movement is always a series of trials. The properties of actors are constantly being measured and exchanged during displacement. “Bruises bigger than dinner-plates” (The Smiths). Grinded concrete (Borden, 2001; Bäckström, 2005) – inverted statue (Serres; Jonasson, 2011). The movement-trial is necessarily always about deterritorialization and reterritorialization. Letting go and glueing; scattering and gathering; Slytherin and Gryffindor (Rowling).
Deterritorialization is literally something firm and dry in the process of being destabilized. Words leaving the mouth. A moth spreading out its wings and taking off. Movement is the message being translated, even the message of translation itself. Voiced by guides. A less known meaning of translation is betrayal. Betrayal in motion. Lost in translation. In medias res.
Concerning spatiality, temporality, and conditions for participating actors, trials in sport are rather elaborated and refined. The trials in sport aim to purify human action both with the help from and in relation to nonhuman actors. The outcome must result in the reconstruction and reproduction of universal humanness. In the same way Latour understands the universality of science, universal should here be understood as universal within its own network. Since both these networks, science and sport, are rather lengthy, universality in them are perceived as fully transcendent. A world record is a world record, and a scientific finding published in Science is a gift to the whole globe.
Without its deterritorializations, sport would be literally lame. (The extreme ability of athletes’ bodies in fact bears a heavy load of guilt regarding the stigma of disabled bodies). The appealing turbulence of sporting collectives – Serres’s ‘glorious uncertainty’ and Loland’s ‘sweet tension’ – is due to deterritorialization.
But sport without proper reterritorializations would only result in people throwing themselves out from, or cars crashing with, cliffs. Medieval folk-football was in this aspect poorly reterritorialized. Sports that are described as risk, lifestyle, adventure, and extreme are characterized by a high degree of deterritorialization. What kind of territory, then, is it that is confirmed and accumulated by reterritorialization in sport?
Sport reterritorializes on the modernist settlement, the abode of the tribe known as the moderns. Their most characteristic feature is that they make an absolute distinction between nature and society, in their story of themselves. At the same time, they let actors from both these ‘satellites’ (Latour), intermingle and proliferate, wildly and freely. A State, a Hobbesian Leviathan (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987), such as the modernist settlement is based on dichotomous arrangements like these. Nature and society is an overarching metaphysical couple in modernity, but time is also divided into a before and after (enlightenment). Revolution. Following Deleuze and Guattari (1987), such dichotomies and binaries are abundant in the ‘State’, i.e. networks like the modernist settlement. In sport, this partitioning is effectuated in the reinforcing of age, weight, and sex.
Hobbes’ social contract and naked apes
So why has it in the modernist settlement been so crucial to construct pure forms of human, humanity, culture and society? This is a highly political question, and the administration and implementation of it have had wide implications on all collectives since the enlightenment. With concepts such as ‘contract’, ‘citizen’, ‘representation’, ‘sovereign’, ‘power’, and ‘society’, British philosopher Thomas Hobbes systematized a nomenclature, whose seal modern social science still bear. The erecting of a purely human collective, the Leviathan, was Hobbes’s solution to the religious conflicts that haunted Europe at the time, and had done so for quite long.
All local, contingent, and singular interpretations of the Bible were deemed dangerous by Hobbes. Inventive readings of the book could be harmful if they led to an exegesis that admitted the existence of immaterial, spiritual, yet potent entities outside the perimeter of State surveillance. Spectres and ghosts were all to be exorcised in one single stroke, that of inaugurating the Sovereign. If all human actors agreed on who was to represent them, the State would not only get a representative of the people, but also a highly legitimate spokesman for the divine realm. Chosen by both deity and laity, the Sovereign controlled both the earth and the heavens, but in a perfectly just way. For, who was this regent? Not just some despot, or tawdry usurper, but the very people itself, incarnated in one person.
This political strike of genius would ward off all that wasn’t human in collectives. This is how the discourse of that encampment of naked apes, today living under the name of society, came to be. The encapsuling of a society meant that nude monkeys henceforth established their own parks and Zoos (Sloterdijk, ten Bos, Agamben) in a way that protected them, not only from spirits, but from falling back into the violent ‘natural state’ (like that of folk-football). One could easily see why this neat little arrangement was worth to cherish, and to keep safe and sound.
Retrials and detrials
So, every reterritorialization acts to reinforce all these divisions. We can therefore in sport perhaps speak of retrials which repeat, accumulate, gel, and glue the Leviathan; macropolitically, in reestablishing power-relations between social categories, and, micropolitically, by purifying a universal humanity from nonhumanity.
Conversely, we could talk about, detrials, in which the outcome is more uncertain. Save for mass-production of losers and composition of a universal humanity, sweet tension of uncertainty of outcome is precisely sport's most decisive output.
Detrial and retrial are perfectly balanced in sport. The uncertainty of outcome in sport (detrial) feeds the need of seeing the humanity as a multitude of volatile and singular free-willed subjects, while the reproduction of social categories, their internal power-relations, and the controlled participation of objects in sport (retrial), vanguard the abode of naked apes (gymnos meaning naked in greek). This illustrates the shift, Latour claims that moderns do, conveniently and naturally, between society as soft (detrial), and hard (retrial).
That is why sport, despite its experimental endeavors to find out what bodies (anybody) could do, never jeopardizes the universal identity of humanity that it promotes.
Hammer throw quite accurately describes what reterritorialization is about. The centrifugal (Latin: fleeing the centre) vertigo of the hammer might appear as a straightforward deterritorialization, but is actually dominated by the ego-boosting, centripetal (Latin: seeking the centre), effort of the athlete. Who is the centre of it all? A "me, me, me!" that eventually loses it all. Whereas the javelin thrower produces a centre-fleeing line.
Let us now pay a visit to the early hurlers in the Norse mythology, and compare the two precious weapons of the king of the gods, the one-eyed Odin, and his son, the thunder-deity Thor.
The trickster god in Norse mythology, Loki, happened to accomplish the task of fooling the dwarven master-smiths to give their most wonderful creations to the foremost of the Æsir. T
No wonder that the reterritorializations of Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer-cum-boomerang (hammerang?), appear as more useful and utilizable than the one possible deterritorialization of Gungnir, Odin’s all-piercing spear, that constantly increases the distance between itself and its thrower. Gravity and Celerity.
But the age of the hammer has come to an end. The gravity of the iconoclast's hammer will be substituted, perhaps with the celerity of the javelin - the maker of holey space.
Perhaps we are now entering the age of the javelin, in which:
we have only got one shot,
we are one-eyed,
we must use our intuition.
Despite the chatter of sport journalists, the yelling of coaches, the chanting of supporters, and the trash-talk of sportsmen and -women, I will argument that sport is what it is since it is mute. What we discern as sport is in every case a series of trials in which the properties of human and nonhuman actors are enacted and investigated.
The noise and murmur from the people in and around the sporting event is undeniably there; sport without sound would be dull. Still, this is macropolitics and macrofascism – representations, identity, and such.
The mute interaction between human and nonhuman actors on the field – that is the real experiment. I also happen to believe, and so I will argue, that the enactment of these relationships is what makes sport such a profound contributor to the modern constitution.
Social systems, such as law and science, all have their ’symbolically generalized medium’, which enable them to both differentiate, and reproduce, themselves (ibid. pp 61-64). According to Luhmann, everything in a system depends on its medium. While law’s is ”right”, and science’s is ”truth”, the symbolically generalized medium of sport is the ”victor”. If law isn’t entrusted to produce right, and if science is entrusted to produce truth, they would be fiercely criticized, and, concomitantly, put under rigorous scrutiny. And – since right and truth are so decisive for the organization, governance, and management of collectives – so they are!
The umwelt – the surrounding collectives which affect a given system – is a disturbing entity, the noise of which systems must reduce in order to safeguard, and to guarantee the longevity of, the system. But, inevitably, the system must transform some of the surrounding noise into signals that inject ”controlled newness”, which, I argue, is a decent semantic interpretation of the word ”reproduction”. This line of events has a lucid analogy in the sloughing of snakes: the new skin looks almost like the old skin, perhaps brighter and certainly stronger. Another illuminating figure of speech that would cast light on the system’s rationale in its umwelt relations, could perhaps be found in water that mustn’t stand still for too long, lest it would reek.
In the case of sports, actors are complaining, and even raging, when the victor is found to be produced in an inappropriate way, illegal substances, unfavorable weather conditions, and even, given the alleged quality of play of the respective teams in a match, the ”unfair” distribution of goals among the teams.
Regarding another system that is decisive for the present discussion, perhaps it could be said, following Deleuze (1991), that the symbolically generalized medium of philosophy is the concept? ”What would be the worth of a philosopher of whom one could say: he did not create the concept?”(ibid:474).
It is obvious how well the concepts of my metaphysicians of choice, Latour, Deleuze, Guattari, and Serres, resonate with Luhmann’s ”systems approach” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987; Latour, 1999; Serres 2008; Wolfe, 2008; see also Latour 1993 & 2007 for criticisms of the system as concept): Latour’s black boxes; Deleuze and Guattaris’ territorializations; and, Serres’ noises, parasites, jokers, and blanks. Considering the question of structure, that is. And one could be lengthy here, concept-dropping blatantly, but this tracing will do for now.
The questions this leaves me with, though, are epistemological ones: How much mending of other concepts does it take to construct a new concept, i.e. how much namedropping must the philosopher put her reader through in order to claim that her concepts are novel? Is namedropping in philosophy rather a question of education – of pedagogy and canon? Or is namedropping only an equilibristic excess, like somersaults in parkour? Latour and Serres tell us to stitch and mend, in opposition to the idol-breaking of the critical analytical stance, but is the plethora of philosophical concepts included in their TLC agenda for research?
This entry started out as an illumination of a ”systems approach” to sports, and ended up in epistemology. It happens to me a lot. Last note to self: what kind of system does this name-dropping of philosophical concepts and skewing from ontology to epistemology reproduce?