London Olympics: What can the body do?

“Big Ben” threads the needle of the Eye

Olympic madness pervades London.  The city regales its visitors with nationalist flags seemingly posted everywhere, bodies included.  There’s an electric feeling in the air.  In Chelsea it remains somewhat calm (what would you expect?), but walk to Victoria, Hyde Park, or Soho etc. and you can see athletes and enter into a “celebratory” space organized around the question: What can the human body do?  It’s odd, the city is filled with the world’s best athletes.  But , of course, we must not fall into the easy trap of romanticizing the “human-body.”   To prevent this from happening we must take into account the context within which the “body” is defined (taking our cue from Foucault).  For here I would say the body reaches it’s so called potential only within a rationalized and nationalized context.  In this sense, at the very best human-bodies remain very limited indeed as they are organized in terms of very narrowly defined events (100 m dash, the marathon, etc.) and not by other more liberating possibilities.

The measurements of the body (i.e., 100 meter dash in 9.5 seconds etc.) must itself be taken into account.  And when we talk about “measurements” we must also understand what systems of power are organized in such a way as to make the measurements themselves possible.  So in terms of the Olympics, we could say that it is a celebration of the human body and its possibilities, and this is true.  But, on a deeper level we must also be aware that the human body is organized and constituted by these measurements in terms related to a nationalist discourse.  In other words, the body in the Olympics is celebrated for what it can do within narrowly defined fields of measurements.  But is this celebration not hiding other more interesting possibilities regarding the body and human possibility?  For example, can the body not be defined differently?  Could the body be understood as a series of intensities not reducible to “Olympic measurements” but instead in terms of “trans-measurements” located on fluid admixtures of power and its relationship to other intensities?  In this way, as much as I am bedazzled by the celebration of the finest specimens on Earth, there is something dangerous about limiting the human to these Olympic specifications.  The Olympics should teach us a lesson therefore, a lesson about how the body inherently resists measurements.  So finally, we can identify something of a paradox imbued within the logic of the Olympics:  When someone breaks a world-record in a sport (i.e., they transcend the previous limits of what was heretofore possible) is this action not further proof that when a record is broken, the human becomes blinded (paradoxically) to what they can really do on the ground-zero level of power?

the Men’s Marathon

I am, of course, merely recapitulating the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari who challenge us to re-think the body not as a stable entity that can be, as Peter Sloterdijk recently argues in his book Rage and Time, manipulated psychosocially in order to merely reproduce the body in terms of normative standards (i.e., keeping people within the cell-block of enslavement to pre-existing sources of power (the State, Religion, Economic production etc.).  Until we are willing to risk rethinking the body on an infinite plane of immanence we will not know what we can do, and thus, we will not do what we are capable of doing.

I am off to visit various national “houses” (and I highly recommend to you, if you are in London, attending the Qatar house nearby the pedestrian bridge on the north bank of the Themes).