what has skateboarding become?

THESE DAYS, Skateboarding is undergoing immense changes. It becomes more mainstream and more diverse. It’s a part of the fucking Olympics, for crying out loud. Despite these changes, or rather because of them, there are many who’d rather see skateboarding remain true to the underground (wherever the fuck that is). Some think of skateboards as wooden toys, others believe skateboarders subscribe to a certain lifestyle. Some even insist their passion is a form of performative art. It sure seems that there are more ways to think about skateboarding than you could shake a stick at. Long story short, there is no definitive “essence” of skateboarding any two people can agree on. And yet, understanding how skateboarding is expressive of individual creativity will result in a deeper knowledge of what it can be. Skateboarding never is: skateboarding always becomes.

 

Helping us explore the complex, and oftentimes contradictory, ways of becoming- skateboarding, are French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. In the course of their collaborative work, Deleuze and Guattari developed two key concepts: schizoanalysis and the Body without Organs. On first glance, those seem to be pretty abstract notions – D+G were post-structuralists, after all. But bear with me: both schizoanalysis and the Body without Organs are deeply involved with actual practice.

get shizo’d

So let’s talk schizoanalysis. In their seminal work Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari draw inspiration from the medical condition of schizophrenia to explore how true newness is achieved. At this point, it is important to note that they do not romanticize a serious mental illness: it is not their goal to turn their readers into schizophrenics. They may be post-structuralists, but they’re not crazy. Instead, they develop the concept of schizoanalysis as a counterweight to psychoanalysis. Essentially, psychoanalysis holds that human desire is based on lack: our incentive for doing virtually anything is promoted by the urge to satisfy our desire. Desire, as far as psychoanalysis is concerned, is a negative force.

 

To D+G, on the contrary, desire is a fundamentally positive force. Roughly speaking, desire seeks out new ways to interact with things – to form new assemblages, as Deleuze and Guattari would have it. Schizoanalysis is thus conceived as a rebellious practice that overcomes the confines of norms and rules, and thus is able to establish connections between previously unconnected things. Think of a painter like Jackson Pollock: the artist connected his body to the canvas (by way of gravity) to create something inherently new and ground-breaking. Pollock had to move around the canvas, approaching it from all directions, instead of simply standing before it. The erratic lines of paint that define his work are thus diagrams of his movement, of his desire to find new ways of assemblage.

©2020 Philipp Schäfer
©2020 Philipp Schäfer

A Schizo, then, in Deleuzoguattarian terms, is a nomad, someone who wanders in all directions. In so doing, the Schizo destabilizes and disintegrates the “truths” we accept day by day: for instance, what “real” art or “real” skateboarding is. To the Schizo material reality is not solid but fluid and always in motion. In this context, D+G also speak of the rhizome, a term they borrow from botany, to illustrate a way of thinking and acting that has no beginning or end, but is always happening “in the middle.” Fixed meanings thus lose their authority: they become secondary to the process of desire-production. Is this not exactly what happens in skateboarding?

A SKATEBOARD HAS A BODY BUT NO ORGANS

Closely tied to the practice of schizoanalysis is the Body without Organs (BwO), a theoretical construct describing the manifold potentials any given body possesses. A BwO can be literally anything. It could be a human body freeing itself from the set of traits, habits, and movements it is subjected to. Now, Deleuze and Guattari certainly weren’t talking about disembowelment: instead, they use the word “organ” as in “organizing.” Every body, human or other, is organized in some distinct way; organization is vital for its existence, but it can prevent newness from happening. This is why making yourself a BwO doesn’t involve taking a knife to your abdomen (please don’t): rather, it’s about shaking up the organ-ization of habits, traits, affects, and habitual movements that define your Dasein. Essentially, it’s about re-configuring the arrangement of parts – the “organs” – of virtually any body in an effort to create new assemblages to paint or to skate with.

At this point, it’s probably best to point out that this is not meant allegorically (at least not exclusively). Case in point: the popular skate crew The Fancy Lads regularly turn their skateboards into Bodies without Organs. One of their unique selling points, in fact, is the disintegration and reconfiguration of regular skateboards. Sometimes, they turn tail and nose into rotating contraptions. Other times, they skate two boards simultaneously, treating them as if they were one. Standing out is a moment in their video Trampoline Jump, when they mount ridiculously oversized trucks onto a board so they can ride it “upside-down” across two parking blocks. In this short moment, it becomes evident that the act of skateboarding has no organization, no fixed meanings, no ultimate direction, no telos – only desiring forces that flow through it.

ok but who fucking cares?

What does it matter whether the Fancy Lads go all Inspector Gadget on their boards? Then again, Fancy Lad’s skateboarding demands generous amounts of brain juice, too. It’s not easy to come up with rotating contraptions or skateboards you can ride upside- down – if it were, everybody’d be doing it, and it wouldn’t be worth doing in the first place.

 

Anyway, here’s the TL;DR: skateboarding is always becoming because it defies fixedness and instead promotes fluidity. It creates Bodies without Organs. It is a schizoanalytic practice. In other words, it is a force-field of possibilities. That it shares with art. Simply put, the act of skating, in itself, has no essence that would define, once and for all, what skateboarding really is. This is not to say that skateboarding has no meaning, or that everything about skateboarding is relative. It is to say that skateboarding, at its best, is dis-organized.

 

The nomadic attitude of skateboarding is expressive a productive desire. As a result, skateboarding is not by definition underground, or a toy, or art, or a lifestyle. It can become any number of things – but there is nothing inherent in the act of skateboarding that would predetermine what it is. This is what makes it a creative effort. This is why even the most untalented enjoy throwing themselves at tricks. This is why it never ceases to be fun. As a result, we should refrain from judging skateboarding according to some assumed essence, and rather try reflecting on the infinite relations it can enter into. And there’s a great way to start doing it, too: just go skating.

©2020 Philipp Schäfer