Thursday, April 27, 2006


I guess I've come a little late to the Chris Bliss juggling act. In fact, "juggling act" doesn't cover it, as you discover pretty quickly when you check out the video. It's pure poetry, on-stage transcendental meditation, a perfect synthesis of body and mind. Just look at Bliss' face while he's performing--there's a kind of radiance and raptness shining forth, a transfiguration, like that indescribable expression on Tiger Woods' face as he swept the 2001 Masters, stroke after stroke; the club, ball, and indeed the course itself were an extension of his body. Deleuze and Guattari, anyone?

The parody by Jason Garfield, using five balls instead of three, is just a put-down exercise. Never mind the deliberate, and very clever, setting--alone in a basement, cutting to an imagined audience and so on. The performance imitates but does not either repeat or surpass the original. It's all over-skill, self-conscious, "I can do better" sort of stuff. On one level he does, but the magic is missing. It's the difference between haiku and limerick.

Mikhail Bakhtin's notion of parody is more appealing to me, subversive play with high and "received" cultural language, forms of overturning and resistance. What we have here, on the other hand, is the parody of late modernity: anything can be mocked and derided, everything is fair game. There's no longer a political edge, it no longer has that appealing counter-hegemonic ring. It's just competition, individual against individual, the atomized subjects--or objects--of the New World Order. There's no content to it. There's a kind of hopelessness to it all, a momentary crabs-in-the-bucket advantage substituting for more far-reaching changes in the human condition. Technical routines supplant the merely human; our abilities and practices are misused against each other instead of combining in a project of community.

Turning for a moment to larger balls--basketballs, in fact--I am pleased to report that a downtown Ottawa basketball court is about to be restored to its players. St. Luke's park, host for maybe a quarter-century to some professional-level basketball on the weekends, ran into a snag a few days ago--a city crew lowered one of the hoops, after a handful of neighbours alleged that the predominantly Black players were (as the Ottawa Citizen helpfully repeated day after day) using drugs, drinking, swearing, fighting and publicly urinating. Naw, no whiff of racism there, eh?

The Ottawa police, who have never held back when there have been perceived infractions by visible minorities in the city, reported this time that there has been little or no trouble over the years at the park, and that no arrests have ever been made. The progressive city councillor in the ward, Diane Holmes, initially jumped too soon and supported the petitioners. But to her considerable credit she has since admitted she had been wrong, apologized, and will have the court restored. Everybody wins--except, of course, the folks who wanted "those people" out of the area.

As a side-note, when one basketball player called the local talk-show hosted by vulgarian Lowell Green, and put the case, Green's response was that "you people always play the race angle." The player, who is white, subsequently sent Green a photo of himself. But don't hold your breath waiting for an apology from that guy.

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