27
Jun
10

A(g/i)on

For me, Wimbledon will always tinged with a certain melancholy, since one of my enduring fantasies was that one day the BBC would commission a tele-essay from David Foster Wallace, to be screened while rain suspended play (this was before the new roof), that while leaving perplexed the majority of viewers might nevertheless serve as a great hymn to what DFW regarded as ‘the most beautiful sport there is’

Never here to be realised, alas, nonetheless the British station in what Wallace dubbed ‘The Show’ sends me back to Infinite Jest, and in particular the hieratic figure of Coach Schitt–quasi-Hedeggerian/fascistic tennis savant, an emissary of old world rectitude and asceticism, rendered farcical and noble by his location in America characterized by an unproblematic valorisation of subjective desire and success. Although confined to no more than 10 pgs of the 1,000+ pg novel, Schitt’s disquisitions articulate some of the fundamental themes of IJ.  As has been argued elsewhere, IJ can be seen as a cogent expression of the symptomatological work of great fiction,  a great ‘clinical’ labour that identifies subjectivity (its constitution, deformation, regulation,  and destruction) as the locus of collective and individual ills. Tennis (as understood by Schitt) is both the site of the greatest danger and (a la Holderlin) that of the saving grace: if for Schitt the former is embodied in the perils of the ‘Show’ (the adulation, the stress, the inevitable decline, etc) then the saving grace resides in what this Show would render peripheral: i.e., the court and its Event, understood as a ‘Cantorian continuum of inifinities of possible move and response…infoliating, contained, this diagnate infinity of inifinities of choice and execution, mathematically uncontrolled but humanly contained…’.For Schitt then tennis is a theatre that stages the ultimate existential drama wherein :  ‘The true opponent, the enfolding boundary, is the player himself. Always and only the self out there, on court, to be met, fought…The competing boy on the net’s other side: he is not the foe: his is more the partner in the dance. His is the ..excuse or occasion for meeting the self…’

To a group of teenagers struggling with rigours of the compulsory daily 6 a.m. drills of the Enfield Tennis Academy,  this philosophy is bodied forth in concrete terms:
‘…I am saying, is always something too. Cold. Hot. Wet and dry. Very bright sun and you see the purple dots… Outside is wind…Inside is smell of heaters, echo…clunk of machines vomiting sweet cola for coins…Bad lighting, so. Or Outside: the bad surface. Oh no look no: crabgrass in cracks along baseline. Who could give the total with crabgrass….Always something’

Such impediments, Schitt affirms, are not to be resolved through an adjustment to circumstances, ‘Adjust, Adjust? Stay the same‘. But through a process of subjective engineering, the erection of a second ‘world’ :  ‘Cold and wind is the world. Outside, yes ? On the tennis court the you the player: this is not where there is cold wind…Different world inside. World built inside cold world of outside world of wind breaks the wind, shelters the player…if you stay inside….there is in this world you, and in the hand a tool, there is a ball, there is  opponent with his tool, and always only the two of you, you and this other, with always the purpose to keep this world alive….This is not adjusting…Not ignoring ‘as if’…No cold wind where you occur…here there are no conditions’. No adjustment then, but a permanent habitation of this second world, the construction  of a ‘New type of citizen…of this sheltering second world we are working to show you each dawn’.

For those who bridle at the sacrafices, the demands behoven of those who seek admission to this second world, two options are presented: the first recalls a Beuys performance piece ‘ If it is hard, difficult for you to move between the two worlds…it can be arranged for you gentleman not to leave, ever here, this world inside the lines of the court. You know. Can stay here until there is citizenship…Sleep bags. Meals brought to you. Never across the lines…A bucket for hygenic needs. At Gymnasium Kaiserslautern where I am privilged boy whining about cold wind, we live inside tennis court for months…’. The second is expulsion ‘…leave here into large external world where is cold and pain without purpose or tool–not worry anymore about how to occur

Allowing for comic exaggeration, Schitt’s philosophy is suggestive. Tennis as agon with the self, in which each contestant is the occasion of the other’s confrontation with self. The creation of a world of infinite possibilities through the imposition of limits. Limits that cannot be merely acceded to, but must be creatively grasped, that constitute a narrow aperture, a perilous defile through which each must struggle to pass in order emerge within the space of a second world. Naturally, this second world cannot be identified with the physical boundaries of the court, the construction of the second world is a perpetual work in progress, and exile , banishment, only a moment’s inattention away. Citizenship is forever temporary.  Every game is a visa application, every point raising the spectre of it being revoked. Last week, Schitt’s vision was literally realised, as Mahut and Isner became  citizens of the second world, in a spectacle so surreal that the appearance of a ‘bucket for hygienic needs’ would not have seemed amiss.Fortutiously, that three day epic, coincided with a return to the 15th series of Deleuze’s Logic of Sense which opens with a meditation on the time of the battle, of the battle as event.

Let us recall its terms: the event is ‘impassibility’ , it is inviolate neutrality, indifferent to all determinations of ‘the inside and the outside’. These determinations are in a certain sense its medium or residua, their expression determines that the event has occurred, or will occurr, but,  set apart by an infinitely narrow but unbridgeable hiatus, the event retains its neutrality under all circumstances. The battle is pure event by virtue of the polyvocity of its determinations (‘because it is actualized in diverse manners at once, and because each participant may grasp it at a different level of actualization within its variable present’). The battle qua Event hovers over its site, ‘neutral and impassive in relation to victor and vanquished…Never present but always yet to come and already passed, the battle is graspable only by the will of anonymity… “of indifference”.

Is the battle-event, the second world ?  Are points, games, sets, and matches temporal actualizations? For when watching the finest matches, the finest players, we can see the traces of the pure event: the stratagems  and rituals by which it is invoked (players who visibly expunge from their being all impedimentia to its realisation, time and time again), and the cost of a failure to maintain this purity (the collapse of will, the concern of a point that is not the present point, and thus the point of loss).The Event-battle is of the order of Aion, in contradistinction to the temporality of Chronos. Chronos is the time of the first world, of traces, of distributions, of actualizations, Aion the second world an elusive and evanescent eternity, changless by virtue of its infinite speed.

While the perimeter of the court may constitute the physical borders of the second world, the latter being metaphysical cannot reside there, likewise while points, sets and games, comprise the register of its passage it cannot be reduced to such mundane avatars, it is elsewhere always. Even  those (not-quite) ‘indiscernables’ frequently and increasingly desperately invoked in the course of Mahut-Isner, are of the order of Chronos, ‘“Where” is the battle ?’  Deleuze asks rhetorically; and provides a seemingly contradictory answer; it is here. Amongst the points, games, sets and matches; and what is more we the spectators, preterite citizens of the first world, are fully able to discern its advent, celebrate its arrival and mourn its departure, it is what we await …

The combatants of the second world must be ‘determined to consider each temporal actualization from the height of the eternal truth of the event which incarnates itself  and…in his own flesh’, arriving at a ‘pure grasping of the event by means of the will that the event creates within him’, that is beyond success and failure. Thus attaining ‘the willing of the event’, the chiastic ‘of ‘; at once a will toward the event, which attained becomes the will of the event-this marks the threshold of the second world, where the will of the individual and will of the event dissolve. Nevertheless, the concept of ‘attainment’ is problematic, since ‘the question is less that of attaining the immediate than of determining the site where the immediate is “immediately” as not-to-be-attained’ . The immediate is forever poised on the cusp of its temporal actualization in embodied states of affairs, in points, games, sets, and can only be attained in the form of the latter, but since such states are by definition never the immediate ‘itself’ but its declension their attainment cannot be the immediate…The ‘not-to-be-attained’ is that which haunts, frequents, the ‘cutting edge of the sword or the stretched string of the bow’, it is fugacious (fugitative and fleeting), and eludes every instance as a state of affairs.

This ‘attainment’ of ‘willing the event’ implies a ethics or praxis. Speaking of Zen and archery Deleuze observes that ‘the bowman must reach the point where the aim is also not the aim, that is to say, the bowman himself ; where the surface of the target is also the line and the point, the bowman, the shooting of the arrow, and what is shot at’. This demands a paradoxical condition of passivity and affirmation, the event is that which must be awaited, but also that which is supremely willed; the player must be able to discern and occupy that site within states of affairs upon which the event will dance. The task then is to ‘bring about the correspondence of the minimum time which can occur in the instant with the maximum time which can be thought in accordance with the Aion’

Schitt concludes his disquisition with a rhetorical question, namely ‘Where is where you apply for citizenship in second world…?’ eliciting this response from Hal:  ‘The human head, sir…Where I’m going to occur as a player. The game’s two heads’ one world. One world, sir’. To will the event then is to identify that point at which two heads are One world, and One world two heads. In this regard, the willing of the event is not the same as full embrace of a Oneness, understood as simple (sic) dissolution, or what Deleuze’s perjoratively describes as the ‘abyss of the undifferentiated’, it is rather the occcupation of that  juncture at which two apparently inimical orders intersect.

What then are we, the lowly spectators, to derive from this mastery, since we do not inhabit this juncture? Perhaps we enjoy a doubling of the event, we await its fluguration, its glittering advent amidst states of affairs. Indeed, tennis (or indeed any sport) might be understood as structure or framework for such a manifestation, the institution of system of determinate states of affairs, of binarity, of an agon between terms in which one must emerge as victor and an other as vanquished, to be enjoyed not solely, or primarily for this conclusion, but for the event that it facillitates. When we talk of a good game, as opposed to a good result, is it not because the event has flashed across our horizon? Something intangible, instantly recognizable but intrinsically elusive (hence slow motion replays, no matter how exacting their resolution,  how fine their quantisation, do not give us the event, but only a magnified insight into states of affairs). Tennis, then is both agon (the contention of agonists, of bodies and states of affairs) and aion (the second world of the evenescent event): it is the a(g/i)on

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