By Alex Colucci ~
In the far-reaching scope of social and philosophical theory, sport features rather infrequently—and rather unsurprisingly disc golf, given its relative infancy, features not at all—as a subject of concern for many notable philosophers, at least in their principle works.
That, however, does not mean philosophers have never engaged in a variety of ways.
Famously, Jacques Derrida was an avid footballer as a teenager in segregated Vichy-controlled Algeria: dreaming of, one day, becoming a professional (Isidori 2010, 15). Albert Camus was an accomplished footballing goalkeeper: winning two North African Cups and two North African Champions Cups as a teenager with club Racing Universitaire d’Alger (Eurosport 2011). Roland Barthes contributed a script to the Canadian documentary film Le Sport et les hommes (Aquin 1961), the text of which was later reproduced in total as the short book: What is Sport? (Barthes 2007). Plato and Aristotle understood the important complimentary connection between body and mind, advocating for athletics in education as a pathway for a more complete and well-rounded human life (Devine and Lopez Frias 2020).
But do they, and other philosophers, have anything to contribute to our understanding of sport (or disc golf)? It’s arguable (because what isn’t) but I think so. After all, social theory is a field concerned with the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of knowledge making, and asking questions at the level of ontology: questions about the nature of reality itself. When the mind cannot exist without the body and its capacity for movement, and vis-à-vis (what is consciousness without the social relations produced through material interactions?), there’s sure to be something, somewhere, to be assembled.
What follows is a series of musings loosely exploring connections between random bits of philosophical knowledge and disc golf.[i] As with anything else, take this all as a thought exercise floating, purposely, somewhere between mundane, whimsy, and seriousness. I encourage consumers of this work to interpret it all as a ‘writer’ (reading a writerly text; see Barthes 1974, 5; Allen 2003, 88) and eschew notions of authorial intent or omnipotence, to instead write your own meaning into what any of these people quoted below have said, to draw your own connections and produce forms of meaning.
A. This all started rather innocuously. I was in my office, in a mostly empty building, half working on some writing, half doomscrolling through the twitterverse. I have been reading, writing, and re-reading, re-writing, a paper on displacing the default positions of geography; ’scrolling, I see Parked’s tweet.
B. Barthes (2007, 65), contemplating “what is sport?”
“Ultimately, man knows certain forces, certain conflicts, joys and agonies: sport expresses them, liberates them, consumes them without ever letting anything be destroyed…in a word, it is to communicate. … Sport is made in order to speak the human contract.”
C. Credit to @MrRascalKing for hitting the replies with some Camus. Disc golf as a Sisyphean existence is, perhaps, too real.
D. Forget Sisyphus, Derrida (1978, 292) reminds us to liberate ourselves from any centralized referent through the free play of the sign and the endless motions of pure
“Play is the disruption of presence…Being must be conceived as presence or absence on the basis of the possibility of play and not the other way around.”
F. Michel Foucault (1972, 175):
“The appearance and disappearance of positivities, the play of substitutions to which they give rise, do not constitute a homogeneous process that takes place everywhere in the same way.”
No two throws or rounds, no matter the result, can be replicated: embrace change and difference as the only constants.
H. Derrida’s concept “hauntology” can be understood as a kind of logic of the ghost: something that leaves a trace but is neither present or absent from the current moment; something between the reality of the present and the non-reality of never having been (Derrida 2006, 10, 63).
What ghostly specters do we encounter in disc golf? Perhaps something as simple as: the memory of a past tournament at the same course at which you’re currently competing? Or a ghoulish snowman that derails your whole round? Perhaps as pressing as disc golf’s lack of diversity?
All specters return with a certain frequency.
M. “…is Achilles possible when powder and shot have been invented? And is the Iliad possible at all when the printing press and even printing machines exist? … The difficulty is that they still give us aesthetic pleasure and are in certain respects regarded as a standard and unattainable ideal” (Karl Marx 1970, 216–17).
As disc golf expands—and its reproduction becomes all the more heightened, routinized, and easily replicable to appeal to the lowest common denominator—what does the community lose?
P. Giorgio Agamben (1999, 178) on potentiality:
“For everyone a moment comes in which she or he must utter this ‘I can,’ which does not refer to any certainty or specific capacity but is, nevertheless, absolutely demanding. Beyond all faculties, this ‘I can’ does not mean anything—yet it marks what is, for each of us, perhaps the hardest and bitterest experience possible: the experience of potentiality.”
Q. A gem on disc golf and the avant-garde art movement Dadaism from @TimDallas0. We can relate.
S. Is your playing style like Spivak? Who, in disc golf, has access to discourse? Who has a platform to speak? Who is listened to? #repectHERgame
X. Deconstruction, another oft (mis)used concept from Derrida; one that belies concrete explanation but rather emerges from the process of it, which is always already occurring.[ii]
How does one approach the project of a disc golf hole (the sport as a whole)? The view from tee-to-green? Its inversion? Pull apart the green, the fairway, the look from the teebox. (Where do we want to be and how might we get there?) And then remake it for ourselves.
Z. This blog has found a nadir / the O.B. / a zenith / the chains / an end.
Agamben, Giorgio. 1999. Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy. Edited and translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
Allen, Graham. 2003. Roland Barthes. New York: Routledge.
Aquin, Hubert. 1961. Le Sport et Les Hommes. Documentary. Montreal, Canada. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNd-TojHMDs.
Barthes, Roland. 1974. S/Z. Translated by Richard Miller. New York: Hill & Wang.
———. 2007. What Is Sport? Translated by Richard Howard. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.
Derrida, Jacques. 1978. Writing and Difference. Translated by Alan Bass. University of Chicago Press.
———. 2006. Specters of Marx. Translated by Peggy Kamuf. New York: Routledge.
Devine, John William, and Francisco Javier Lopez Frias. 2020. “Philosophy of Sport.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Fall 2020. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2020/entries/sport/.
Eurosport. 2011. “Top 10 Sporting Philosophers.” Eurosport (blog). August 5, 2011. https://www.eurosport.com/all-sports/top-10-sporting-philosophers_sto4708124/story.shtml.
Foucault, Michel. 1972. The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Discourse on Language. Translated by A. M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon Books.
Isidori, Emanuele. 2010. “Deconstructing Sport: When Philosophy and Education Meet in Derrida’s Thought.” Physical Culture and Sport. Studies and Research 48 (1): 15–20.
Marx, Karl. 1970. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. New York: International Publishers, Inc.
Royle, Nicholas. 2003. Jacques Derrida. Routledge Critical Thinkers. New York: Routledge.
Alex Colucci is an adjunct instructor at Kent State University where he also earned a PhD in geography. His research sits at the intersection of political economy and political ecology, and he has published on the subjects of capital punishment, violence, and social theory. He has published extensively on disc golf as a former managing editor and full-time reporter at Ultiworld Disc Golf.
Parked is made possible in part by a grant from the Professional Disc Golf Association.
[i] I am unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, limited in the selections below by my own training.
[ii] There is a lot out there to read from Derrida and others on deconstruction; for those interested, perhaps begin with Nicholas Royle (2003).