Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Homo Ludens: The Nature of Play 2

After outlining the formal characteristics of play, Huizinga narrows his focus to what he calls "the higher forms" of play, a clarification that I take to mean the more formal play—mostly of adults—in more advanced societies. Huizinga then explores the two basic aspects under which we confront the higher forms of play:
  • as a representation of something
  • as a contest for something
Representation means displays of some kind from peacocks strutting their plumage or a child acting a super hero to actors becoming a character on a stage or a shaman becoming a god in a sacred ritual. This act of re-presenting some aspect of reality through play is far more than mere imitation of reality; rather, it allows both the players and viewers to participate in the reality being represented. At its most sublime, then, play merges into and shares formal characteristics with ritual: "The Platonic identification of play and holiness does not defile the latter by calling it play, rather it exalts the concept of play to the highest regions of the spirit. We said at the beginning that play was anterior to culture; in a certain sense it is also superior to it or at least detached from it. In play we may move below the level of the serious, as the child does; but we can also move above it — in the realm of the beautiful and the sacred" (38). I think that Huizinga makes a mistake in characterizing the play of children as not serious. He may be speaking more of his opinion about children than his opinion about play.

Huizinga does not address play as a contest in the introduction.
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