Only Playing

To be able to play the games of culture with the playful seriousness which Plato demanded, a seriousness without the 'spirit of seriousness', one has to belong to the ranks of those who have been able, not necessarily to make their whole existence a sort of children's game, as artists do, but at least to maintain for a long time, sometimes a whole lifetime, a child's relation to the world.

(All children start life as baby bourgeois, in a relation of magical power over others and, through them, over the world, but they grow out of it sooner or later.)

This is clearly seen when, by an accident of social genetics, into the well-policed world of intellectual games there comes one of those people (one thinks of Rousseau or Chernyshevsky) who bring inappropriate stakes and interests into the games of culture;

who get so involved in the game that they abandon the margin of neutralizing distance that the illusio (belief in the game) demands; who treat intellectual struggles, the object of so many pathetic manifestos, as a simple question of right and wrong, life and death.

This is why the logic of the game has already assigned them rĂ´les - eccentric or boor - which they will play despite themselves in the eyes of those who know how to stay within the bounds of the intellectual illusion and who cannot see them any other way.

[Pierre Bourdieu]
Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, p.54

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[...] one may question the bourgeois paradigm, only not in any way that is effective or has results;

one may play with the symbols of radical politics, but one must not act on them; anyone can say the emperor has no clothes or even scream it within the closed walls of a gallery, but no one may cut off his head.”


[Gene Ray]
Art Schools Burning and Other Songs of Love and War, chap. 2, para. 8

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Daughter: Daddy, are these conversations serious?

Father: Certainly they are.

D: They're not a sort of game that you play with me?

F: God forbid ... but they are a sort of game that we play together.

D: Then they're not serious!

--

F: Suppose you tell me what you would understand by the words "serious" and a "game."

D: Well ... if you're ... I don't know.

F: If I am what?

D: I mean ... the conversations are serious for me, but if you are only playing a game ...

F: Steady now. Let's look at what is good and what is bad about "playing" and "games." First of all, I don't mind - not much - about winning or losing. When your questions put me in a tight spot, sure, I try a little harder to think straight and to say clearly what I mean. But I don't bluff and I don't set traps. There is no temptation to cheat.

D: That's just it. It's not serious to you. It's a game. People who cheat just don't know how to play. They treat a game as though it were serious.

F: But it is serious.

D: No, it isn't - not for you it isn't.

F: Because I don't even want to cheat?

D: Yes - partly that.

F: But do you want to cheat and bluff all the time?

D: No - of course not.

F: Well then?

D: Oh - Daddy - you'll never understand.

F: I guess I never will.


F: Look, I scored a sort of debating point just now by forcing you to admit that you don't want to cheat - and then I tied onto that admission the conclusion that therefore the conversations are not "serious" for you either. Was that a sort of cheating?

D: Yes - sort of.

F: I agree - I think it was. I'm sorry.

D: You see, Daddy - if I cheated or wanted to cheat, that would mean that I was only playing a game with you.

F: Yes, that makes sense.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Metalogue: About Games and Being Serious'), p.14-15

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'[...] But there's no reason to be surprised if we can't convince the majority of people. They have never seen our words come true. They are used to carefully matched phrases, not the kind of spontaneous argument we are having now; and as to a man who will live up to our ideal of excellence and do his best to match it both in word and deed, and who rules a state as good as himself - that, surely, is a thing of which they've never seen a single instance.

[...] Nor have they heard enough free and fair discussion, which strains every nerve to discover the truth out of sheer desire for knowledge, and gives a wide berth to subtle tricks of argument whose only object is to make an effect or contest a point, whether in law-court or lecture-room.

[...] I think a lot of people fall under it quite unconsciously, and fail to see the difference between scoring points in a debate and arguing seriously. They are unable to draw the distinctions in kind needed for the discussion of a subject, and so get sidetracked into purely verbal contradiction; they aren't really arguing, but only scoring points.

[Plato]
The Republic (Penguin Classics Edition), p.163, 221-2

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Among the Qabbalists of the Middle Ages were a great number of black magicians who strayed from the noble concepts of the Sepher Yetzirah and became enmeshed in demonism and witchcraft.

They sought to substitute magic mirrors, consecrated daggers, and circles spread around posts of coffin nails, for the living of that virtuous life which, without the assistance of complicated rituals or submundane creatures, unfailingly brings man to the state of true individual completion.

[Manly P. Hall]
'Ceremonial Magic and Sorcery', The Secret Teachings of All Ages, p.293

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‘Man plays only when he is on the full sense of the word a human being, and he is a perfect human being only when he plays.’

It is through the experience of beauty, Schiller argues, that one reaches the experience of freedom. The reason is that in every other activity one is under some degree of constraint.

[…] play is one’s own pluralism, a release from the orthodoxy of discourse.

“There are thus two interpretations of interpretation, of structure, of sign, of play. The one seeks to decipher, dreams of deciphering a truth or an origin which escapes play and the order of the sign and which lives the necessity of interpretation as an exile.

The other, which is no longer turned toward the origin, affirms play and tries to pass beyond man and humanism, the name of man being the name of that being who […] throughout his entire history has dreamed of full presence, the reassuring foundation, the origin and the end of play.”

Derrida’s main authority for play is, of course, Nietzsche, ‘the Nietzschean affirmation, that is the joyous affirmation of the play of the world and of the innocence of becoming, the affirmation of a world of signs without fault, without truth, and without origin which is offered to an active interpretation.’ This affirmation ‘then determines the noncentre otherwise than as loss of the centre’; and plays without security.

What does Derrida’s distinction between interpretation and play amount to? It accords with Nietzsche’s distinction between responsive, receptive woman and productive man; between consumer and producer. 

Derrida wants to retain of words nothing but their primordial gesture: he regards as so much dross the discursive commitment of words. He is a Manichee, not merely a Nietzschean; for him, the bourgeois domain of good and evil is enforced by language in its logical, discursive, semantic character. Play is what is left; it corresponds to the primordial cry, the speech before the fall into words and the sin of grammar.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 64-7


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Related posts:-
A Familiar Story | Post-script
A Safe Distance 
Nobody knows, and nobody can ever know
The Perils of Radical Subjectivity 
The Real Thing
Battles and Challenges
High Stakes
Tasteful Distance
Arrows pointing at Arrows  
You or The Work
A Higher Power
Childish Rebellion 
Leaving the Vessel
Structural Integrity
The Role of Charities 
The Game Goes On  
Taking the Rough with the Smooth

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