homo ludens revisited

Download Homo Ludens Revisited

Post on 27-Nov-2014




4 download

Embed Size (px)


Homo Ludens Revisited Author(s): Jacques Ehrmann, Cathy Lewis, Phil Lewis Source: Yale French Studies, No. 41, Game, Play, Literature (1968), pp. 31-57 Published by: Yale University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2929664 . Accessed: 21/05/2011 09:05Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=yale. . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Yale University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Yale French Studies.


JacquesEhrmann Homo Ludens revisited

In writing about play, it is impossibleto ignore Huizinga's book, Homo Ludens1, whichinaugurates anthropology play expressing an of views of remarkable scope and insight. Huizinga is in fact the first in to have undertaken, a systematic way,to establishcertainrelationships betweenvarious human activities(law, war, poetry, art, etc.) whichat first glance mightappear to have nothing common.His in greatmeritis specifically have discoveredin the play-element to of and an important factorof these activitiesa commondenominator culture. Extending, completing ground-breaking the workof Huizinga but also modifying contesting and certain his theses, of Roger Caillois criticizes Huizinga's conceptionand definition play as being simof ultaneously broad and too narrow.2 too Too narrowinsofaras Huizinga retainsonly one characteristic of play,its competitive aspect,whereasaccordingto Caillois's typolalea: ogy play falls into four basic categories (agon: competition; ilinx:vertigo); theseare subjectto anchance; mimicry: simulation; otherclassification a superimposed the first, continuum on running fromludus (controlled play) to paidia (spontaneousplay). Too broad insofaras Huizinga fails to delineatewithprecision the sphere of play, to draw the line betweenthat which,in each culture, belongsto the domainof play and thatwhichbelongsto the domain of the "sacred," the "institutional."'French translationfrom the Dutch by CUcile Seresia, Gallimard, 1951. The original text was published in 1938. The page numbers given in parenthesisafter the quotations refer to the French edition. 2As Caillois has published the same texts (with modificationswhich appear minor in as much as they do not affecthis thesis) twice or even three times (once in the form of articles in various reviews,again in his book Les jeux et les hommes, a third time in the volume of the Encyclopedie of La Pleiade devoted to "Sports and Games"), we will refer to his book Les jeux et les hommes, Gallimard, 1958, assuming that it representsthe most complete expression of his thought on this problem. The page numbers given in parenthesesfollowingthe quotations referto the pocket edition. For his critiqueof Huizinga's definition play, cf. p. 33. of


Yale FrenchStudies If Caillois has to his creditthe discovery certainaspects of of play neglectedby Huizinga,his debit,so to speak, is to have been to too categorical, have succumbedto his own classifications, believing thathe could confine play within them.On the otherhand, even if Huizinga erredin limiting play to one of its characteristics (competition),he had the meritof perceiving thatplay could not be enclosed in a separatedomain,identifiable such amonghumanactivas ities.Indeed, falling preyto a sort of hesitation he concludes,he as looks back on the theseshe has been advancingand, withcreditable honesty, insteadof maskinghis inability delimitthe fieldof play to in culture, exposes it in theseterms: he of Here once again is revealedthe troubling insolubility the problem: play or seriousness.We have graduallybecome thatcultureis groundedin noble play, and thatit convinced cannotneglectthe play-element stilldisplayits supreme and qualityof styleand dignity. Observance of the established berules is nowhereso indispensableas in the relationship tweenpeoples and States. If the rules are violated,society fallsintobarbarism and chaos. On the otherhand, we judge thatit is specifically war thatman lapses intothe agonistic in attitude which gave formand meaningto primitive games playedforthe sake of prestige.(p. 335) is treatedas a This alternative sometimes Play or seriousness. dialectic:play and seriousness which,in turn,impliesa whole series of others:gratuitousness and/orutility; play and/orwork;play and/ or everyday life; the imaginary and/or the real; etc. . . . The conin or ceptshere placed in opposition in parallel are foundconstantly and Huizinga- as in Caillois,moreover, in an even morepronounced of and way, since the latter'sdefinition classifications play lead him, as we have indicated, delimit the to too categorically sphereof play by opposingit to the real,to work,and so forth. Thus, althoughthere are divergencesbetween Huizinga and between spheresthe other Caillois (where the one findstransition once we have observedthat sees division), these appear secondary 32

JacquesEhrmann a rationalist theyare based on the same world-view, fundamentally view according whichhumanactivities to relate,on the one hand, to dreams,gratuitousness, etc. and on the other nobility, imagination, to consciousness, etc. utility, instinct, reality, A profoundly consequential cleavage. Each of these terms, loaded withmeaningand tacit implications, evidently needs quotation marksto sustain itself (is it the sign of unacknowledged uneasinessiftheseauthorsuse themabundantly whenever theyare concernedwith"ordinary and all theirsynonyms?) and life," "reality," to sustainthe assault of efforts question,to define, analyze to to efforts which,to be sure, are neverundertaken. For finally, the statusof "ordinary if is life," of "reality," not thrown into questionin the verymovement thought of givenover to play,thetheoretical, bases on whichthis logical,and anthropological is thinking based can only be extremely precariousand contestable. In other words, we are criticizing these authors chieflyand most for seriously considering "reality," "real," as a givencomponent the of the problem,as a referent needingno discussion,as a matterof course,neutraland objective.They defineplay in oppositionto, on the basis of, or in relationto this so-called reality.As the criteria againstwhichplay is measuredare externalto it, its natureremains necessarily second in relation the "reality"thatservesas its yardto stickand is therefore considered"primary"(cf. Huizinga: "Play always represents something," 35). But it is legitimate wonder p. to by what right"reality"may be said to be first, existing priorto its components play in this case (althoughit mightjust as well be some other object of the social sciences) - and servingas their standard. How could "reality" serveas a normand thereby guarantee normality even before having been tested and evaluated in and its through manifestations? - we need not insiston it - there For is no "reality"(ordinary extraordinary!) or outsideof or priorto the manifestations the culturethatexpressesit. of The problemof play is therefore linkedto the problemof not "reality," itselflinkedto the problemof culture.It is one and the same problem.In seekinga solution would be methodologically it un33

Yale FrenchStudies a sound to proceed as if play were a variation, commentary an on, To interpretation, a reproduction this reality. pretendthatplay or of is mimesis would supposetheproblemsolvedbeforeit had even been It formulated. is essentialthen to reversethe order of the analysis note (thisprecautionary is valid not onlyforthestudyof play but for all other objects of inquiryin the social sciences). This "reality" which is consideredinnocentand behind whose objectivity some scholarssheepishly take shelter, mustnot be the starting-point any of analysisbut must ratherbe its finaloutcome. A necessarily disappointing outcome,because it is impalpableand fleeting the extent to thatit is dissolvedin the manifestations analyzed,i.e. to the extent thatit has no othercontent beyondthesemanifestations. a We shall attempt show this through critique,first the of to play-reality relationship, thenof the play-culture relationship, seen as in Huizinga,Caillois, and the linguist Benveniste.3

I. "Reality," Play, The Sacred of It willbe simplest beginwiththe respective definitions play to givenby theseauthors. Huizinga: From the standpoint form, can define of we play in shortas a free activity, experiencedas "make-believe"and situated outsideof everyday life,nevertheless capable of totallyabsorbingthe player; an activity entirely lacking in material and in utility. transpires an explicitly It interest in circumscribedtime and space, is carriedout in an orderly fashion according givenrules,and givesrise to grouprelationships to whichoftensurround withmystery emphasize themselves or fromthe ordinary through disguisestheirdifference world. (pp. 34-35)3Emile Benveniste,"Le jeu comme structure,"Deucalion, 1947, no. 2, pp. 161-167.


JacquesEhrmann Caillois: .