Anyone who has spent time in humanities/social science graduate school knows that the frivolity and barbarism of sports is a topic for disdain. This isn’t always true, but you are usually safe saying something disparaging when it comes to that topic. This tumblr is a centralized place to organize some of my thoughts about the productive intersections of sports, broadly construed, and critical theory. While there will be with more general posts about theory and politics, I am mostly interested in considering the implications of sports from two angles.
1) Sports as an embodied practice. Considerations of space, rules, movement and relation are all brought into relief by sports. Michel Serres discussion of football (soccer!) to explain quasi-objects and quasi-subjects is illustrative of this approach. As Brian Massumi picks it up in his bookParables for the Virtual:
“The tendential movements in play are collective, they are team movements, and their point of application is the ball. The ball arrays the team around itself. Where and how it bounces differentially potentialities and depotentializes the entire field, intensifying and deintensifying the exertions of players and the movements of the team. The ball is the subject of play. To be more precise, the subject of the play is the displacements of the ball…” (Massumi, Parables for the Virtual, 73).
The exemplary case of sports helps elucidate a more complex way of thinking subject-object relations. My suspicion is, and one Massumi clearly takes seriously, that sports may help intervene in lots of philosophical and theoretical discussions over embodiment, movement, and representation.
2) The ethical and political implications of sports as a social practice. Needless to say, sports at all levels hold tremendous importance for people the world over. They are the sites of an incredible emotional, monetary and bodily investment. For instance, I have written about the importance of the New Orleans Saints in the sentimental politics of post-Katrina New Orleans (I’ll post some of those thoughts in full very soon). Another example is the increased attention to concussions in the NFL and NHL, a spectacular playing out of “prognosis time” in the high profile lives of celebrity athletes. The discussions of injury in sports shape and are shaped by broader understandings of bodily deterioration under contemporary capitalism.
In pursuing these two lines of inquiries, two caveats are necessary. First, these are obviously inextricably linked modes of thought that I have divided for mostly analytic reasons. The embodied practice of sports has a reciprocal relationship with the ethical and political implications of its social organization. That the professional American sports leagues all operate as massive businesses influences the ways in which their versions of football or basketball are embodied. Nationalism and a particular relationship to history and the media have something to do with how soccer (football!) is played in America. This is probably obvious, but worth mentioning. The second caveat is that I don’t want these discussions to be the most simple version of how sports usually comes up: as merely a reflection of already existing social forces. I’m more interested in what sports produces and reveals. Hopefully the difference will come out as the discussions around here heat up.