Stuart J. Murray (2005) on Massumi on Foucault, technologies, agency, play

Hello my few dear readers,

I found this thing whilst looking for another thing on t’interweb ( known as WWILFing, pronounced wiffling, meaning ‘what was I looking for?’)

Not wanting to infringe copyright,  I’ll say that it was found here:

Now the thing is, I’m not unintelligent, yet I genuinely have no idea what this is on about. I suspect it is to do with only having a hammer yet needing a screwdriver or a chisel or a left-handed thoiling plane.

So anyway- have a gander…



Stuart J. Murray (2005) on Massumi on Foucault, technologies, agency, play

”Moreover, just as the player is not a traditional philosophical subject, we must say that the ball is not a traditional object to be handled. We might even reverse the relation, polemically, and say that the players do not play with the ball, but the ball plays with them. The ball is a catalytic force, a “quasi-subject,” Massumi writes, and I would suggest that the players borrow its kinetic energy as their own, its “agency” as “theirs” (these quotation marks are mine, indicating a manner of speaking, a rhetorical element that is nevertheless not unreal). “The player’s body is a node of expression.”[24] A good game, then, has very little to do with the technical expertise of each individual player, strictly speaking. And while we might say that the rules of the game provide the ontological conditions of play, it is obvious to every spectator that a strict obedience to the rules, regardless of the technical competence involved, will make for a lacklustre performance. If the field is conceived as a linguistic field, the nexus of a language, with rhetorical forces and effects, then what the spectator wants to see is poetry in motion. Importantly, there is an aesthetic component, which Massumi calls “style” — “more than the perfection of technique.”[25] I agree, and see in his idea of style a wonderful resonance with Foucault’s ethics and the kind of relational subjectivity that we see in the self-self relation, as the self struggles to craft for herself the terms of her own existence. Foucault suggests that in the subject’s ethical relation to herself, there must also be a style, a manner in which the relation becomes a vital force, the mode in which self-transformation proceeds, not technically, according to strict rules or current grammars of self-expression, but rather her self-transformation is enacted stylistically, rhetorically, through what Foucault calls a “style of life.”[26] Like the player, she works from within a field of given possibilities, in relation to herself and to others, to imagine new and creative forms of life. For Massumi, it is the star player who makes the most of this aesthetic style: “The star player is one who modifies expected mechanisms of channeling field-potential. The star plays against the rules but not by breaking them.”[27] In other words, the star player “bends” the rules and “bends the ball” itself (as they say), enough to make a difference in the play, really putting into play and actualizing a potentiality that is implicit in the field nexus. To extend Massumi’s analysis, if the ball is the intersection of multiple vectors of potentiality, a surcharged node in the field of play, we might also call it a technology of sorts. By this I do not mean that the ball is a techné or a tool to be taken up and used, but like language, it is that which engages us, actualizing the field-potential, potentially subjectivizing us. Like language to the one who speaks, the ball is that which allows for a relational transformation insofar as it can assume and catalyze a nexus of potential; it is a site of sublimation, and in this respect, always overdetermined. After all, no ball, no game. If we consider the field of play as a linguistic field, the ball is like a mobile and momentary expression, a spoken word that is put into play, a speech act that erupts from and punctuates the linguistic field, and an “agency” that belongs to the player as much as she belongs to it. Dynamically binding and releasing potential, transforming it. This helps to illuminate what Foucault means by ethical self-transformation, because the self’s relation to the self is mediated by terms that are similarly in flux, and the self relies on such “technologies” to provide the catalytic vehicle for its own styles of life, engendering a way of being. We might think of how we work on the body through physical exercise (all those hateful machines at the gym), or the project of writing and critique, or engaging in political demonstration and social reform — all of these might constitute transformative “technologies of the self,” the terms by which we might work to fulfill the project of an ethical life. ”


2 thoughts on “Stuart J. Murray (2005) on Massumi on Foucault, technologies, agency, play

  1. I don’t know what it means either. I kind of wanged it on my posterous (my much-less-busy version of your scraplog) in the hope that I might revisit it and if I re-read it enough it might make sense, a bit like those Magic Eye thingies. To the extent that I do understand it, it relates to issues I am hmmming about to do with technology, imagination and (duh) play.

    Thanks for the credit, though there’s little to be credited for other than copying and pasting it from


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