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02.02.2009 18:57
At the stadium
Heidegger's Media of Topology
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At the stadium. Heidegger's Media of Topology

by Christina Vagt

In 1951, Martin Heidegger delivered a brief history of topology to architects and philosophers at a conference in Darmstadt. It ranged from the Greek stadion - which was both the site of games for gods and mortals and the source of the Greek Olympic length of 192m - to the general field theory of physics.

The unity of word and thing, of mathematical unit and place had already lost meaning with the early Latin translation of spatium and space becomes abstracted by various communal and religious implications: spatium signifies an empty "space in-between." (1) Now, space is conceived as a "mere gap" between things, as bare spatium. Soon it was perceived as bare extension and at the next step we're already with Heidegger in the mathematical topology of the 19th century and Bernhard Riemann and the "purely mathematical constructs of multiplicity with any number of dimensions." (2)
Heidegger's philological lecture on the stadium addresses the architecture of the newly founded Federal Republic of Germany. The conference "Men and Space" was held during an exhibition in Darmstadt, which also featured photographs of three stadiums in the "Educational Space" section: Nuremberg and Vienna, both constructed in 1927 based on designs by Otto Ernst Schweizer and the Olympic Stadium built in Berlin by Werner March in 1936. Otto Ernst Schweizer gave a lecture on urban planning, which recounted the history of progress in public construction, from stadium constructions in ancient Greece based on the Hippodamian plan to his personal stadium project in Nuremberg without political references. (3) In contrast, Heidegger speaks in his pastoral chant on Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. about the decline of living resulting from two world wars and the industrialization – while completely omitting the recent history of Nazi stadiums.

Heidegger discusses the topology of people and space with the term „living“ as a historical and medially alterable ontology implanted in bridges, power plants and stadiums. Space is no longer, or not yet understood as a relationship-bearing action between people and things (Greek: pragmata) but as bare interspace („blosse Abständigkeit“). Conceived as a world concept ("Weltentwurf“) of place, dwelling is defined as a philosophical reassessment of architecture and its responsibility, as architecture assists in building the house of being. (4)
Audio recordings and transcripts of Heidegger's lecture do not contain heckles or the expected questions at the conclusion. Except for one architect's ears, it appears to have faded away without notice: in the discussion following Heidegger's presentation, Hans Scharoun counters the hostilities from the Reich's autobahn designer Paul Bonatz, that his structuralist architecture would „think in pieces“ the imaginative construction, with Heidegger's topological reflection on space as something that must be „placed in“. (5)
In Heidegger's presentation, Scharoun rediscovers the position of his own buildings, the striving for an organic connection between landscape and architecture, while maintaining a topological, structuralist position. According to Scharoun, architecture (like community) is not derived from addition, surface area, or territory but should be imagined coming from the space of an individual, resulting from local „force points“ and "time conditions“. Scharoun employs physical field metaphors as well.
In the midst of a prospering Germany during the Adenauer era, with Germans cultivating nothing more than their retreat into private life, the newly rehabilitated Heidegger speaks of the „loss of home and homeland.“ Already in his „Letter on Humanity“ from 1946, Heidegger had explicitly distanced himself from the terminology of life and anthropology; instead he intoned the forgotten „dwelling“ as „abidance among things“ of gods and mortals. (6) He used the term "Ge-stell“ (framing) to criticize a science-rationalized and technically medialized world, whose greatest affliction is „homelessness“ and the loss of „things“ (Verlust der „Dingheit“). For Heidegger, the history of dwelling is also media history: the stadium was followed by the printing press and the printing press was succeeded by television.
In a 1966 interview with Der Spiegel, Heidegger talked about his fear of the first electronic images that were being sent from the moon to Earth at that moment.
„Everything is working properly. The most frightening aspect is that it works and that functioning always drives additional functions and that technology is increasingly uprooting people and tearing them away from the Earth. I don't know if you were, but I was definitely frightened when I saw the images of the Earth from the moon. We don't need any atomic bombs. People are already being uprooted. We live in purely technical circumstances.“ (7)
The „total uprooting“ of people doesn't require atomic bombs. It is already taking place on television screens, which eliminate any distance. And thus, the images from American spacecrafts transmitted from the moon to Earth in 1966 via radio waves are not a window to the moon; they are an expression of the Ge-stell (framework) that operates here as a telegenic and bio political control regime and produces an event space called the universe.
Heidegger's fear of the television had only one exception: soccer. As an old man, he enjoyed watching European Cup matches on television and is a well-known fan of Franz Beckenbauer's „precision ball-handling“. (8)
With Heidegger and a brief media history of live soccer broadcasting, we are no longer in Foucault's space age, of the simultaneous, of the near and far or of juxtaposition; (9)  we are in a game, event, and probability space and in the age of simulation. From a medial perspective, the stadium has long been a part of the television disposition.

The easing of soccer's offside rules in 1925 made the sport feasible for radio - transmission of a fully live broadcast, allowing for the commentator coverage to be synchronized with the background noise of the stadium, providing an exciting home listening experience. The game became faster and higher scoring. (10)
The images listeners had in their minds was evoked by medial rhetoric on the radio. Since exceptionally gifted soccer commentators are as rare as exceptionally gifted soccer players, the control over the mind's eye of spectators was soon transferred to the visual telecommunications media.
Initial attempts were made in England using coordinate systems. Radio listeners at home could follow the course of a match through player and ball coordinates, which were announced by commentators. The BBC Radio Times published the first playing field diagram for a match between Arsenal and Sheffield on January 22, 1927. Announcer H.B.T. Wakelan described the action while his assistant C.A. Lewis provided information on which quadrant the ball was in. (11)


But soccer is not like a game of Battleship. The scope of the game results from the limits of the field, the distribution of players and the movement of the ball. Therefore, the portrayal of movement is also subject to a grid, fragmented into lines, and the signal is modulated into a carrier wave and transmitted alongside the announcer's words.

In 1936 television broadcasting begins in Germany. The Olympics featured a live broadcast from the Berlin stadium daily from 10am to noon and 3pm to 7pm. Because so few people had their own televisions, viewers did not watch at home but in the approximately 25 public television parlors in Berlin. This public viewing became extremely popular during the event and the Reich broadcasting company tallied 162,228 viewers during the games. For some events, it was more difficult to find a seat in front of a television set than in the stadium, which may have been due to financial as well as visual reasons. Despite small and distorted screens, the visual impact of numerous cameras and telephoto lenses were superior to viewing possibilities in the huge stadium. (12)
In addition to unsystematic television technology, synchronizing commentary and camera images was also problematic. Cameramen could follow announcer commentary with headphones, but the announcer had no video monitor available. To the disappointment of the propaganda ministry, verbal conflicts repeatedly erupted between video and audio and thus the cursing of a cameraman found its way into the broadcast. (13)
Successfully attempted for the first time in Berlin in 1936, the usage of stadiums as television studios continues after World War II, despite poor standards. What began as simultaneous or synchronization problem, is today subordinate to a simulation option. The stadium as a community-building scene of sports reporting, increasingly assumes the form of a green screen. It is actually a component of the television studio but virtually impossible to detect on television.

As seen during the 2008 European Cup in Austria and Switzerland, soccer stadiums allow a clear bird's eye perspective characterized by a right-angle to the field or monitor, thus providing exceptional proximity to the field and resolution of boundary lines in the television image.

During some corner kicks, functionally separated groups in the stadium such as players, fans and cameramen, can no longer be clearly differentiated. 

No track separates players from spectators, allowing soccer stadiums to become a new form of social staging on television, as seen in the carrying of players' children or direct physical contact with fans after a goal.

Klaus Theweleit knows that modern stadium construction attempts to increase the experience of such proximity, (14) but the latest Olympics in China actually proved the exact opposite. Here, it was shown how poorly soccer functions without the visible proximity of fans on television.

The gigantic stadium in Beijing is not appropriate for soccer, as the distance between the playing field and spectators is too great. The Olympic Games and its stadiums are still strongly focused on track & field (and political) events. The camera holds the appropriate distance and overview for the 100m race. Even when someone like Usain Bolt runs so extraordinarily fast that he can hardly witness his own victory.

[ Video Usain Bolt >> ]

Electoral events of American presidential candidates in mega-stadiums as that in Denver were less about proximity than distance and masses of people. 

According to Peter Sloterdijk, modernity has developed the first cooperative games (team sports), which express a new social idea: „modern soccer with its fascination of the rolling object is a modern cult of Fortuna. The ball stands for injustice that we can't do without: the unfairness of luck.“ (15)
The problem of „lost community“ and the „retreat of the political“ is not superfluous in modern soccer and well-known to later philosophy. (16) The „gathering at a spectacle“ is part of the Ge-stell. In the television disposition of live coverage, the apparent difference of (ancient) humanism, between „the anthropomorphizing, patience-forcing, reflection-stimulating lesson“ and „the dehumanizing, impatient, explosive sensation and intoxicating maelstrom disappears in stadiums.“ (17) Political cesura and continuities are visible in equal measure under the conditions of television.

Following a 3:2 victory in Bern, Germany becomes world soccer champion in 1954. As in previous matches, the fans in the stadium begin singing the fascist first verse of the German national anthem. The horrified Europeans have no other option but to interrupt the broadcast of the match. The game nevertheless becomes a legend in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany. (18)


(1)  In printing, spatium signifies a hot type for an empty space. The stadium assumes a similar function for buildings, like the printing press and typewriter are for writing: it medializes the situation and heterotopologises space.
(2)  Heidegger, Bauen Wohnen Denken, p. 150. cf. Bernhard Riemann, Über die Hypothesen, welche der Geometrie zugrunde liegen (1854), in: ebd. Gesammelte mathematische Werke, 1990, p. 304-319.
(3)  cf. Otto Ernst Schweizer, Die architektonische Bewältigung unseres Lebensraumes, in: Mensch und Raum. Das Darmstädter Gespräch 1951, p. 65-73.
 (4)  Dwelling has always meant staying among things. Bridges and stadiums are buildings, not homes; but they stand in residential areas. Buildings house people and people inhabit buildings. cf. Heidegger, Bauen Wohnen Denken, p. 139 u.152f.
(5)  cf. Sharouns Replik, in: Mensch und Raum, S. 113.
(6)  cf. M. Heidegger, Brief über den Humanismus (1946), in: ebd., Wegmarken (GA 9), Frankfurt a. M. 1976, p. 319.
(7)  Heidegger's interview with Der Spiegel, 23.09.1966.
(8)  cf. Rüdiger Safranski, Ein Meister aus Deutschland. Heidegger in seiner Zeit, Frankfurt a. M. 2001, p. 472.
(9)  cf. Michel Foucault, Andere Räume, in: Karl Heinz Barck u.a. (Ed.), Aistheis, Leipzig 1990, p. 34.
(10)  cf. Bernhard Siegert, Ein höheres Walten des Wortes, in: Matías Martínes (Ed.), Warum Fußball? Kulturwissenschaftliche Beschreibungen eines Sportes, Bielefeld 2002, p. 137.
(11)  cf. BBC Radio Times, 22.01.1927; On the following Monday, January 25 1927, the Manchester Guardian published a positive critique of the radio diagrammatics.
(12)  cf. Heiko Zeutschner, Die braune Mattscheibe. Fernsehen im Nationalsozialismus, Hamburg 1995, S. 139ff.
(13)  Ibid., 128f
(14)  Klaus Theweleit, Fußball und Gewaltabfuhr, in: Winfried Nerdinger (Ed.), Architektur und Sport: vom antiken Stadion zur modernen Arena, Wolfratshausen 2006, p. 141-151.
(15)  Peter Sloterdijk, Spielen mit dem, was mit uns spielt. Über die physischen und metaphysischen Wurzeln des Sports zwischen griechischem Stadion und römischer Arena, in: NZZ online, June 14, 2008.
(16)  cf. Jean-Luc Nancys Arbeiten zur Gemeinschaft, insbesondere Ebd., Singulär plural sein, Berlin 2004, p. 86f.
(17)  Peter Sloterdijk, Regeln für den Menschenpark, p. 4.
(18)  cf. Arthur Heinrich, 3:2 für Deutschland. Die Gründung der Bundesrepublik im Wankdorf-Stadion zu Bern, Göttingen 2004, p. 100.

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