Notes from Babel: ‘To win a World Cup you must be at your most virtuous’

Editor’s note

The following is the transcript of an e-mail conversation between writers Sean Smith and Peter Amdam. It was originally written in English and translated for Josimar, a soccer magazine from Norway that, launched in 2009, treats the game’s culture and politics.

For most of the 21st century Smith has logged his working notes and research on sport theory at sportsBabel, a site that “examines the aesthetics, politics and poetics of sport and physical culture.” As evident below, he is interested in technical developments in sport and in its consumption, which leads to reflection on the postmodern spectator. Smith’s commitment to praxis as well as theory comes through in his annual promotion of Global Village Basketball, a Web-aided melding of pickup results from Poland to Serbia to the USA that illustrates the potential of “sporting multitudes.”

Unlike his theoretical forebears—who have football as first sporting reference—Smith draws from an amalgam of influences as fan and participant. He started playing soccer as a youngster. In sportsBabel’s career Smith has commented on the BBC’s innovation in 1927 of supplying a numbered grid system to aid listeners before the first live football broadcast. He also writes about the documentary Heysel ’85: Requiem for a Cup Final, one of the touchstones in postmodern meditations on violence and sport.

Smith’s interlocutor, Amdam, is an independent editor and writer based in Oslo. His essay “All Poems Are Too Beautiful: Some Notes on Jean-Luc Nancy, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Claire Denis” will be published in fall 2010.

Canadian artist Patricia Reed created this digital print on flag fabric—a linear pastiche of all recognized national flags. The result is “an imbroglio of nation-state graphic ideology” with a “black whole” in the center. (Pan-national Flag © 2009 Pia Fuchs—Reed’s German pseudonym. Image courtesy of the artist.)

PA: I would first like to situate you and your current project. Where are you coming from? What brought you to this combination of sports and critical theory? What is the basic proposition behind your concept of “sporting multitude”? It seems heavily informed by [Gilles] Deleuze, [Félix] Guattari and [Antonio] Negri—combined with a notion of sport/play/war that has its own conceptual history.

SS: First and foremost, I am coming from a trajectory of embodiment. I was an athlete long before I was ever aware of or interested in critical theory, playing at different skill levels with different roles and sets of relations to teammates and competitors. I’ve played a number of different sports over time, but I seem to have gravitated towards more open-ended team sports such as soccer, hockey and particularly basketball.

I had been interested in the theory of communication for some time, especially the emerging “new media” that was very much making its presence felt in the universities. I had read a fair amount of [Marshall] McLuhan and a little bit of [Jean] Baudrillard, but otherwise didn’t have much background in critical theory since my first two degrees were in kinesiology and business management. So when I first picked up [Michel] Foucault in graduate school I was fortunate to have had a phenomenological experience of the disciplined athletic body from which to begin approaching his thought.

Page 1 of 4 | Next page