In the first paragraph of his Beyond the Limits of Thought, Graham Priest notes that we have long speculated about limits, limits that may be unknown but are known to be there nonetheless. ‘For example,’ Priest claims, ‘we can only guess what the limit time for running a mile is; but we know that there is a limit, set by the velocity of light, if not by many more mundane things.’ For the longest time, the 4-minute mile was thought to be such a limit time. From 1852 to 1954 race times slowly crept down from 4:28 to 4:01.3 by Gunder Hagg in 1945. It was nearly 10 years later when, on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister ran a time of 3:59.4. Here’s the race, with commentary by Bannister.
After LeBron choked – or became imperceptible – in game 5 against the Celtics it became clear “King James” is no Kobe Bryant. He’s more interested in his public persona than winning (not that Kobe is not concerned with his public persona). This is no surprise, of course. Since the 80s the NBA has increasingly become about the marketing of entertainment and cashing in on the next high profile superstar. It would be interesting to know how much this has changed since the era of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, etc., or whether it is simply the case that basketball has simply caught up with baseball. Regardless, last night’s “LeBron infomercial” fiasco brought to mind Deleuze’s Nietzchean proclamation – which one finds in Benjamin as well – that all that is great and significant occurs far from the marketplace. Deleuze addressed this theme most directly in his essay “Mediators,” where he argues that the market’s demand for a fast, predictable turnover of products entails a myriad of control mechanisms to maximize the efficiencies that will lead to this result. Markets want the becoming-perceptible nature of work, a becoming that is predictable and easily harnessed, controlled and measured. For those who followed the campaign to save Middlesex’s philosophy program, you’ll recall the Dean’s decision was based, in large part, on the belief that the philosophy program produced no ‘measurable benefits.’ From this perspective, however, the work of the next Kafka, Proust, etc., cannot be predicted, nor can the bureaucracy associated with neoliberal management techniques of control foster the conditions for such work. These thoughts in turn led me to think of Coe’s world record race (in 1981) in the 800m (1:41.73), a record which stood for 16 years and is still the second fastest of all time. For anyone who’s run an 800 meter race competitively they will know that ‘becoming-imperceptible’ accurately describes the event, especially the final 100-200 meters. When Wilson Kipketer finally broke Coe’s record, it was not on a dirt track and he had much stiffer competition (click here to see that race); thus for me Coe’s run, and not any of LeBron’s efforts to date, is one of the top athletic performances of all time, in any sport, but as you can see it occurred far away from the glitz and glamor of today’s wide world of McSports.