photo by SG

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Things I Am Currently Grooving On

1. Three-Sided Soccer. Seriously, what will those crazy Situationists think of next? I like the idea, I like the transcendence of what is most problematic about sports: the referee-state. Much as I love American Football, I can only love it as I love to watch shitty television. Brett Favre is a great athlete and a hero to many of us Wisconsinites, but his game has no liberatory potential. American Football is a complex web of rules that are irrational and unchangeable, interpretable only by referees. Perhaps that's why the working class in the U.S. loves it so much: it corresponds to the morass of rules and laws that the capitalist system places over us, but we feel as though we have no agency over.

It brings to mind Bakunin's statement in God and the State about Protestantism: "In this respect Protestantism is much more advantageous. It is the bourgeois religion par excellence. It accords just as much liberty as is necessary to the bourgeois, and finds a way of reconciling celestial aspirations with the respect which terrestrial conditions demand." Catholicism is, by the other token, the perfect religion of the working class because it gives no liberty, subsumes all worship under the watchful eye of the official Church. Which is why it has been such a popular faith, traditionally. (Note that this has changed remarkably around the world in the last few decades. There's something important about evangelical Christianity and the working class imagination. I wonder if Marx's words about religion in the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right may be worth considering: "Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering.")

Three-sided soccer, and other liberatory sports, aim to transcend these traditional roles. American Football, like traditional Catholicism, is rooted in confusing tradition, not freedom. Soccer, like traditional Protestantism, is based on what appears to be freedom, but is in fact simply a new form of control.

This is not to denigrate either sport, because I love them dearly. But in our search for the creation of new modes of organizing, an exploration into new modes of play is integral. If we wish to create a better society, we must place play in a key role. As someone (Breton, I think? Or Franklin Rosemont maybe?) said, and my friend Joe is fond of reminding me, "You can't fight alienation with alienated means."

2. Did you know that Rimbaud basically stopped writing poetry by the time he was twenty-one? But in the few years that he did so, he wrote some of the finest poetry that I've ever read. No wonder the Surrealists were so inspired by him. He's the quintessential bohemian poet. Ambiguous sexuality, anti-social behavior, aimless traveler: he's about as cool as they come.

His early poem about the French Revolution, "The Blacksmith" is so laden with righteous violence that you can't help but cackle. The blacksmith torments the captured King with descriptions of the oppressed people, ready to rise up and rend him limb from limb. A few particularly great lines:

To fake laws, and stick bills out of jars
Full of pretty pink decrees and sugar-coated pills,
To amuse themselves by cutting down a few sizes,
Then holding their noses when we walk near them,
-Our kind representatives who find us dirty!-
In order to fear nothing, nothing, save bayonets...
That is fine. Let's get ride of their humbug speeches!
We have had enough of these flat-heads
And these belly-gods. Ah! Those are the dishes
You bourgeois serve us, when we are in a frenzy,
When we are already breaking sceptres and croziers!...

Yeah, it's sweet.


Anonymous said...

How does strategy board gaming fit into your first point? I'd say nearly all high-quality strategy board games emulate aspects of capitalism. Do you consider this negative? Is there any way that the idea of strategy board gaming could be preserved if society moved entirely towards rules-free play? Do you believe it to be impossible to play at capitalism but not support it/participate in it?

Setanta said...

I think your assessment of strategy games is dead on. They emulate the closed-set mentality of zero-sum capitalist ideology.

I guess it's not so much "negative" as it is not new. Strategy games may be fun and may hone our understanding of how to strive for success in capitalist society, but it is difficult for such closed games to envision new things.

That said, I don't think strategy games are inherently reactionary. I think free-form strategy games, with your Adaman as a prime example, create many choices that otherwise aren't allowed in traditional board games. The added element of physicality is also an important difference from table-top gaming. Of course, Adaman still has closed-set choices (how you win, etc) but it's a step in the right direction.

Ultimately, the question that I think you're getting at is how can we play in organized ways that still strive towards creating free-play. I think that's a fundamental question of politics, actually, and one that I can't answer on my own. My inkling though, is that more experimentation a la three-sided football should be attempted by conscious revolutionaries and game theorists (not in the mathematical sense, obviously.) I'd like to see an Adaman-style game that can be opened to other possibilities, with conclusions that challenge win/loss dichotomies and discrete time periods.