Logistics and Improvisation

Today, I ask myself: What is the relation of improvisation and choreologistics? Therefore, to start with, a citation from the book ‘Operational Logistics: The Art and Science of Sustaining Military Operations’ by Moshe Kress. (It also points to the question: Where do logistics originally come from? For the origins of logistics lie within the military domain. Something, I will look into more deeply.) But here it comes:

“Operations are very seldomly executed as planned. The German theoretician Van Clausewitz attributed this statement to the effect of friction. Friction at the battlefield exists even when there is no enemy around. It is created by fatigue, fear, misunderstanings among commanding officers, misinterpretation of commands, shortfalls in C3 systems, technical failure of weapons, and the effects of the elements. Therefore, commanders must be capable to alter, sometimes at very short notice, existing operational plans. In particular, the operational logistician may have to find fasts and effective solutions to emerging unpredicted logistical requirements. In many cases he must improvise.

Generally speaking, improvisation is more prevalent at the tactical logistics level than at the operational level. Improvisation is typically manifested as a local iniative to solve an ad hoc problem. However, despite its tactical and local level, the effect of an improvised solution may extend beyond the tactical level and have an impact on the entire operation. For example, changing quickly and effectively the original designation of certain means of transportation may facilitate supply of a critical resource that otherwise could not have reached the destination where it is needed.

The potential capability for improvisation depends on a flexible logistic structure (…) and reliable and updated information (…) regarding the availability of resources. The ability to improvise also depends on the mental creativity of the campaign commanders and logisticians, and on the command and control capabilities. It should be pointed out that improvisation does not replace foresight; it complements it when things do not happen as anticipated.

[Example 3.20

The Allies invasion in northwestern Europe during WWII required that large amounts of supplies be transported onto the continent. The Germans, aware of the need for deep-water ports by the Allies, fortified every major port on the French and Belgian shores. To facilitate the mass transportation of supplies, the Allies created artificial harbors from sunken ships, concrete boxes (caissons), and pontoons. The improvisation effort of getting supplies across the Normady breaches was crucial for Allies’ success.]” (p. 53)

It seems that choerologistics tries to avoid improvisation wherever possible. But it knows full well that it will always have to rely upon it. Full logistical optimisation, total choreologisticality, may always be a fantasy. Something similar is expressed by Kate Hepworth in her article ‘Enacting logistical geographies’ (Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2014, vol. 32, pp.1120-34) where she seems to define the logistical city as unattainable ideal. What does it do? “Through the rationalisation and optimisation of the relationship between sites to achieve maximum efficiency in storage capacity, distribution, and manufacture, logistics enacts new geographies of organisational integration and dispersal.” Yet, the movement of optimisation results in a conflict, or struggle. Hepworth argues, that what comes into focus, really, is “the messiness and tensions embodied in the encounter between the ideal, logistical city and the lived spaces of a particular no longer industrial city.”

She highlights the constitutively paradoxical nature of logisticality. For one, while the logistic city is fully integrated with all sorts of other flows, operations and systems, it also becomes more and more dispersed: “As an assemblage, the logistical city exceeds particular urban localities. It embeds particular localities in material, discursive and symbolic relations that link them to more or less distant sites and jurisdictions. (…)”It hints at what Timothy Morton, in his book on Hyperobjects, calls nonlocality. The logistical city is described as a “sociomaterial entity” that forges “relational processes that can be engaged in by human and nonhuman actors”. But the most disturbing aspect of logisticality maybe is the temporality that is enact and enforces: “The present state of the assemblage is always understood in relation to historical and potential future formations.”

Let me then sum up the constitutive paradoxes that I find in these two texts cited here. One is spatial: choreologistics is always already more than local. This constitutive nonlocality has two aspects: While it forges relations and connections to distant places and systems, it constantly distributes, re-distributes and dilutes locality to the point is seems to become non-existent. Logistics seem to fade in an out of the terrain. Secondly, choreologisticality seem to produce an ambivalent temporality: While processes need to be transparent, secured and managed to the optimal here and now, while it claims a rigid presentism, choreologistics constantly projects a future ideal of even great optimisation according to which any now has to be measured, for “(…) the encounter between the already existing city and the ideal logistical city can only ever result in partial optimisation.” (all citations p.1121/2) It seems, thus, that choreologisticals can never really arrive anywhere or any time.

Finally, then, between the ideal future optimum that consist in total distributedness – a total space-time control, a total extension both in time and space – and the actual reality of the here and now of however small and particular actions or movements from which the overall choreologistic operational matrix ist composed, the gap seems to become bigger and bigger. The infinite distance – both temporally and spatially – between the ultimate ideal choreologistic protocol, program, chain of operations or diagram, managed for an infinitely distant vantage point, and the reality of the field needs to be bridged by an infinitely recursive process of control. Logistics and improvisation. Any movement, at any time and any place, needs to be monitored, documented and analyzed so that whatever small portion of fraction, messiness or deviance it carries into the choreologistical matrix can be dealt with and incorporated by means of recalibrating. Thus, the need for a total flexibility of choreologistics.

I get dizzy even when trying to think about this, or while writing it down. Suffice maybe to say that total choreologisticality necessarily remains a fiction. Something similar, then, seems to be expressed by Moten and Harney in their book The Undercommons: “The […] transport of things remains, as ever, logistics’ unrealizable ambition.” (p. 92)


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