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<nettime> Cycling in the Age of Empire.
martin hardie on Sat, 30 May 2009 20:02:56 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Cycling in the Age of Empire.


*the season of the tours is upon us!
*

*From Barthes to Foucault and beyond ? Cycling in the Age of Empire. *

 *Martin Hardie*

*May 2009*

A paper to be delivered at FOUCAULT: 25 YEARS ON CONFERENCE - UNI SA , 25
JUNE 2009.


 *'Whilst the onomania lasted, bickerings and divisions endured.'*

 Barthes is right in that he tells us that there is an onomastics of the
Tour.

 But in the time since Barthes, in a manner the semiotician may not have
envisaged, that onomastics has descended from the heights of myth and epic
having the status of Greek gods. They have descended from being these lofty
signs of the valor of the ordeal, of beings signs of old European ways and
ethnicity ? *Brankart le Franc*, *Bobet le Francien*, *Robic le Celte*, *Ruiz
l?Ibere*, *Darrigade le Gascon*; to being patronymics of the biopolitical,
of *homo sacer* and the spectacle that sustains Empire.

 Although Barthes' idea of an onomastics of the Tour still holds fast,
sadly, in the time in which we live, Barthes' classic piece on the Tour de
France as Epic no longer depicts the essence of events such as *la Grande
Boucle*.

 Cycling, entangled in the process of its own globalisation, is a game in
flux. It is no longer the pure myth or epic as Roland Barthes wrote. *Mont
Ventoux* remains a moonscape, bare, barren, rising out of the lavender
plains of Provence and on this landscape those playing this game are no
longer heroes of epic proportions but bare life, *homo sacer*.

 The precarity of existence better depicts the state of the peloton today:
Free as the birds to soar to the greatest heights ? Pantani, Rasmussen,
Dajka, Valverde, Vinnicombe, Vinokourov ? the list is endless; but unlike
those Greek gods of the time of Barthes in this age they are free to be shot
down at a whim.

 The onomastics of the Tour today is an onomastics of criminality.

 Cycling has always been an assemblage and a line of flight ? from the
factory, the farm, from the peloton itself. Cycling finds itself in the eye
of the storm as the processes of globalisation seek to reform it in their
own image. On the frontline is the very body of the cyclist ? this is the
object of control.

 Can we contextualise the globalisation of professional cycling in the age
of Armstrong, the successive doping crises and the responses to them as
events which signify the coming of Empire and the permanent state of
exception?

 A few brief scattered observations might provide some signposts for future
work and thinking about sport, doping and control in the society of the
spectacle that is Empire. There are a number of ways in which Foucault, and
of those that have come since, might provide us with the tools to rethink
what is at play.

 How is cycling situated in the state of exception? What relation does it
have to the management and administration of bodies through discipline and
control? What can the position of these cyclists tell us about the condition
of *homo sacer*?

 *A few events for example:*


   -

   *Operacion Puerto *and its onomastics is not related to heroics, but to
   bags of frozen blood, and the mystery of their identity and the performances
   they produced - Names such as *Birillo*, *Amigo de Birillo*, *USA*, *Hijo
   de Rudicio*, and *Piti,* treatments such as *Siberia, Vino, * *Alubias,
   Pelas, *and *Polvos de la Madre de Celestina*, events such as *San
   Isidrio*, *San Fermines *and *Vendimia*;


   -

   *Puerto* and noology, or the distance between the discursive processes of
   the media and the material process of 'tardy' (i.e. dysfunctional) Spanish
   justice and the manner in which in the spectacle it has been played out, so
   that the old ways and law of old Europe and ideas like the rule of law have
   become expedient and are forgotten so that 'law' simply becomes a servant of
   the pure functionality of preserving the integrity of the investment of
   state and capital;


   -

   Of Pantani, Dajka and Rasmussen, all appear deemed to be lives no longer
   worthy of living. In Rasmussen's case of becoming unnameable. None failed a
   positive doping test set forth by the rules, but all were banished for,
   respectively, failing a health test, or for not telling the truth. Cases of
   the law being tossed aside in the name of pure functionality. Cases of death
   by media, Pantani and Dajka's horrible, slow, real deaths and in Rasmussen's
   case a living death; or


   -

   The issue of surveillance, the Whereabouts system, of tracking bodies by
   Blackberries and Biological Passports and the proposed final solution of a
   24 hour a day GPS-based surveillance of athletes.

 *Beyond Epic, beyond Foucault:*

 The old notions of law based upon a definable state, its boundaries, its
people and its sovereignty seem to have vanished before our eyes. What is at
stake in politics is the very control of the body, where the cyclist can be
killed but not sacrificed.

 The current moral panic surrounding doping in cycling is complete with its
own *Sonderkommando* leading these bodies off to the slaughter *[What role
does the South Australian of the Year play here?]*. Lynch mobs bring to the
fore the question as to what actually is at stake in the game? What is the
role of sport today and why do we put so much effort into being so vigilant
about maintaining the apparitions of fairness and normalcy? Is this moment
of normalcy, as Agamben asks, the true horror of our times?

 Why the moral panic and crusades to ensure that sport is made to seem to be
fair, to the point that in the United States more is spent by the Government
on anti doping than is spent on research into blood diseases? What is the
link between this focus on the body and a society founded upon immaterial
labour where possibly the only use that the body is now put to is that of
sport and sex?

 These are questions for contemplation as the season of the Tours are upon
us, while we try and recall the heroics that were played out in the day of
Barthes. It is not a question of trying to return to those days of grandeur.
But it is necessary to contemplate those days so that we can try and
understand the processes currently occurring, to situate the debates about
sports, drugs, of sports people and their behaviours.

 Can we learn from the way 'law' is played out in the game of cycling in
order to inform our understanding of what law is about within the broader
parameters of Empire? All I can hope to point to are problems which this
intersection of theory and sport throw into the air.

 I do not claim cycling is unique, only that here we find the exception
attenuated - is it the vanguard, so to speak, of the times in which we live?
If law no longer is that thing that we believed it to be in those more
certain times of Barthes - and if my hunch is correct, and cycling and the
problematic of doping are symptoms of the state of exception, what must be
addressed in the end is the 'age old' Foucauldian problem, as to whether the
the door to justice in our times is 'more law' or whether is it an ethics of
life? What does it mean if it is correct that life should no longer be lived
looking above to the barren peak of *Mont Ventoux* for an answer, but should
be made in the village, situated in the *Vaucluse, *below?

 The starting point in all of this should be an examination of the way the
Tour and it's participants are no longer the epic or mythical heroes they
were once viewed in pre Foucauldian times. It brings us back to the state
and the changes that have been wrought upon its integrity.

*A few briefs words about the role of the Tours:*

In those times the Grand Tours played a role in marking out and defining the
territory, the nation and the people. Unlike any other sporting events the
three Tours of the year embody the dramatics of life played out over a full
three weeks. To those involved they seem to be a lifetime. These races
embody all the aspects of life in such a way that they are so much more than
sporting events. They are above all human dramas of an intense, immense
stature. Each is part and parcel of the consciousness of societies, and a
search for some truth and meaning to the human condition. All are built upon
an idea of moulding the individual, the land, and people through a spectacle
of involving superhuman figures that seek to mark out their own territories
and conquer the boundaries of their precarious existence.

 In their marking out of a territory, of a nation and of a people, the Tours
were as much a part of creating the Europe of the 20th century as was the
documentation and administration of life as Foucault so very well describes
in his lectures entitled of *'Society Must be Defended'* ? the people,
customs, fetes, fairs and fiestas, each day complete with the local version
of cheese, chorizo and champagne. The Tours were created and maintained by
an alliance of the state, industrial capital and the media. *[In France, the
Tour was started by the newspaper L'Equipe, its impetus to sell more
editions of a motoring magazine, putting cycling to work in the pay of an
intersection of the car and newspaper industries. With its resumption after
the Civil War in 1941 Spain's La Vuelta covered the longest route in its
history demarcating the victor's territory across the country and
particularly the former Republican strongholds. For some years it was
restricted by Franco to only Spanish participants.]* In modernity these
races all played their role in reinforcing the status of a unified
territory, a people, a nation and its capital.

 The Tours have also been the place that traditionally have allowed Europe
to think of itself as the place where subjectivity could still 'do' rather
than the place where subjectivity was simply relegated to 'being'. The Tours
were centres of action in lands that might otherwise be petrified into
museums of the old world amongst the chaos of the new world and modernity. *[Is
this the problem with the American?]*

 But with the coming of the age of Empire, things changed. It was with the
coming of those from outside continental Europe that the practices of the
peloton and in particular doping first become problematised.

 It is with Simpson's death ? the Englishman who helps start the process of
globalising the Tours - that doping first becomes a political matter. Still
it remains an internal issue, something for the sport to deal with. *[The
mid sixties also coincide with the demise of national teams and the
introduction of what are known as the Trade Teams.]* The late 1990?s mark
the point at which it becomes a matter for the sovereign ? it is here with
the '*Festina Tour*', with borders being crossed that we see doping becoming
criminalised. It is here that we first see cyclists being taken from their
bikes to the jail cells. But it is in the age of Empire, an age that arrives
with the American,* [a Texan no less]* that things really start to escape
their bounds.

 *The State of Exception:*

 Agamben tells us when writing of the camp as *nomos* *[his is a concept not
to be forgotten, here in Adelaide where young cyclists enter a camp ? the
AIS; at an early age, either to emerge 'victorious' or on the
scrapheap]*that it is at the point when the modern nation-state enters
into a lasting
crisis that the sovereign decides to assume directly the care of biological
life as one of its proper (or quite possibly its principal) tasks. This
nation state had been founded upon the functional nexus of a determinate
territory, a determinate order, and a determinate people.

 It is when the Tours begin to exceed their national boundaries, both by
entering into foreign territory and by bringing those from outside Europe
into its ranks on a permanent basis that we see the body of the cyclist
becoming an issue for the sovereign. And it is at precisely this point, when
the body becomes the focus of politics that the old rules of law and justice
no longer seem to apply.

 It is at this point ? and this is what is at issue since Pantani, with
Rasmussen, Valverde and Dajka; that the those who have taken it as their
task to undertake the administration of doping, and to ensure the fairness
of sport, the normalcy of the game, no longer orientate themselves according
to a rule or a situation of fact. The decision maker no longer needs to
decide whether a given fact falls within the rule. What is decided at once
is a rule and a criterion ? what becomes 'natural' is a rule that decides
the fact and decides upon its own application without reference to any norm
other that of preserving the integrity of the investment in the spectacle.
As the coming of the Biological Passport tells us, the law of doping is
neither now definable as a rule nor as a breach but upon what is said to be
'natural' or 'normal' values - in the world of cycling the formation and the
execution of the rule are indistinguishable moments.

 There is one thing (well, many in fact) that I have missed here and it
relates to the double sided nature, or the two faces of *homo** sacer *itself.
Is it a matter again that may relate to the problem of the American? In
describing the relation between *homo sacer* and the sovereign, Agamben
introduces the wolf man (a subject also taken up in another vein in *A
Thousand Plateaus*), the one subject to the ban and its special proximity to
the sovereign. Does this proximity help us understand in any way the problem
of the political interest in the body of the cyclist? - '*this animal has
wits and intelligence/ ? I will give my peace to the beast/ and for today I
will hunt no more'*. For today not only is the cyclist subject to the
banishment of which I have alluded, at one and the same time, he is also
brought in from the cold to live with the sovereign ? even it seems to be
the sovereign. As we saw in Adelaide this last January, with the third
coming of the American, this proximity is such, that it may be, that now it
is not the wolf that licks the feet of the sovereign, but that, in some
cases, it is the sovereign that comes to lick the feet of the wolf.

  *References*

 Agamben, G 1998, *Homo Sacer, Sovereign Power and Bare Life*, Stanford
University Press, Stanford.

 Agamben, G 2005, *State of Exception*, The University of Chicago Press,
Chicago and London.

 Agamben, G 2002, *Remnants of Auschwitz, The Witness and the Archive*, Zone
Books, New York.

 Barthes, R 1997, The Tour de France as Epic, in *The Eiffel Tower and Other
Mythologies*, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London.

 Barthes R 2007, *What is Sport?*, Yale University Press, New Haven and
London.

 Brohm J-M 1978, *Sport, A Prison of Measured Time*, Ink Links, London.

 Debord, G 1995, *The Society of the Spectacle*, Zone Books, New York.

 Deleuze, G & Guattari, F 1987, *A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia*, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

 Deleuze, G 1988, *Foucault*, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

 Foucault, M 2003, *Society Must be Defended*, Allen Lane, The Penguin
Press, London.

 Foucault, M 1998, *The Will to Knowledge, The History of Sexuality, Volume
1*, Penguin Books, London.

 Foucault M, 1986, *The Care of the Self, The History of Sexuality, Volume 3
*, Vintage Books, New York.

 Hardt, M & Negri, A 2001, *Empire*, Harvard University Press, Cambridge,
Massachusetts.

 Waterworth, W 1854, *England and Rome*, Burns & Lambert, London.




-- 
Martin Hardie,
Law Lecturer,
School of Law,
Deakin University (Geelong Campus)
Pigdons Road,
Waurn Ponds,
Victoria, 3216,
Australia.

Tel: + 61 (0) 3 522 71307

http://newcyclingpathways.blogspot.com/

http://auskadi.mjzhosting.org/

mhardie {AT} deakin.edu.au

martin.hardie {AT} gmail.com

skype/irc: auskadi

Edward Said teaches us that the role of the academic has an edge to it and
it cannot be played without a sense of being someone whose role is to ask
embarrassing questions and whose raison d'etre is to represent those whose
issues are routinely swept under the rug.


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