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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
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JacquesEhrmann

Homo Ludens revisited

In writingabout play, it is impossibleto ignore Huizinga's book,


Homo Ludens1,whichinauguratesan anthropology of play expressing
views of remarkablescope and insight.Huizinga is in fact the first
to have undertaken, in a systematicway,to establishcertainrelation-
ships betweenvarious human activities(law, war, poetry,art, etc.)
whichat firstglance mightappear to have nothingin common.His
greatmeritis specificallyto have discoveredin the play-elementof
these activitiesa commondenominatorand an importantfactorof
culture.Extending,completingtheground-breaking workof Huizinga
but also modifying and contestingcertainof his theses,Roger Caillois
criticizesHuizinga's conceptionand definition of play as being sim-
ultaneouslytoo broad and too narrow.2
Too narrowinsofaras Huizinga retainsonly one characteristic
of play,its competitiveaspect,whereasaccordingto Caillois's typol-
ogy play falls into four basic categories (agon: competition;alea:
chance; mimicry:simulation;ilinx:vertigo); theseare subjectto an-
otherclassificationsuperimposedon the first,a continuumrunning
fromludus (controlledplay) 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 paren-
thesesfollowingthe quotations referto the pocket edition.
For his critiqueof Huizinga's definitionof play, cf. p. 33.

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If Caillois has to his creditthe discoveryof certainaspects of


play neglectedby Huizinga,his debit,so to speak, is to have been
too categorical,to have succumbedto his own classifications, believ-
ing thathe could confineplay withinthem.On the otherhand, even
if Huizinga erredin limitingplay to one of its characteristics(com-
petition),he had the meritof perceivingthatplay could not be en-
closed in a separatedomain,identifiable as such amonghumanactiv-
ities.Indeed, fallingpreyto a sort of hesitationas he concludes,he
looks back on the theseshe has been advancingand, withcreditable
honesty,insteadof maskinghis inabilityto delimitthe fieldof play
in culture,he exposes it in theseterms:

Here once again is revealedthe troublinginsolubility of the


problem: play or seriousness.We have graduallybecome
convincedthatcultureis groundedin noble play, and thatit
cannotneglectthe play-elementand stilldisplayits supreme
qualityof styleand dignity.Observance of the established
rules is nowhereso indispensableas in the relationshipbe-
tweenpeoples and States. If the rules are violated,society
fallsintobarbarismand chaos. On the otherhand, we judge
thatit is specifically
in war thatman lapses intothe agonistic
attitudewhich gave formand meaningto primitivegames
playedforthe sake of prestige.(p. 335)

Play or seriousness.This alternativeis sometimestreatedas a


dialectic:play and seriousnesswhich,in turn,impliesa whole series
of others:gratuitousness and/orutility;play and/orwork;play and/
or everydaylife; the imaginaryand/or the real; etc. . . . The con-
ceptshere placed in oppositionor in parallel are foundconstantlyin
Huizinga- as in Caillois,moreover,and in an even morepronounced
way, since the latter'sdefinition
and classificationsof play lead him,
as we have indicated,to delimittoo categoricallythe sphereof play
by opposingit to the real,to work,and so forth.
Thus, althoughthere are divergencesbetween Huizinga and
Caillois (where the one findstransitionbetween spheresthe other
sees division), these appear secondaryonce we have observedthat

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theyare based on the same world-view,a fundamentally rationalist


view accordingto whichhumanactivitiesrelate,on the one hand, to
dreams,gratuitousness, nobility,imagination,etc. and on the other
to consciousness,utility,instinct,
reality,etc.
A profoundlyconsequential cleavage. Each of these terms,
loaded withmeaningand tacit implications,evidentlyneeds quota-
tion marksto sustain itself (is it the sign of unacknowledgedun-
easinessiftheseauthorsuse themabundantlywhenevertheyare con-
cernedwith"ordinarylife," "reality,"and all theirsynonyms?)and
to sustainthe assault of effortsto question,to define,to analyze -
effortswhich,to be sure, are neverundertaken.
For finally,if the statusof "ordinarylife," of "reality,"is not
throwninto questionin the verymovementof thoughtgivenover to
play,thetheoretical, logical,and anthropologicalbases on whichthis
thinkingis based can only be extremelyprecariousand contestable.
In other words, we are criticizingthese authors chieflyand most
seriouslyforconsidering"reality,"the "real," as a givencomponent
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
necessarilysecond in relationto the "reality"thatservesas its yard-
stickand is thereforeconsidered"primary"(cf. Huizinga: "Play al-
ways representssomething,"p. 35). But it is legitimateto wonder
by what right"reality"may be said to be first,existingpriorto 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 therebyguarantee
normalityeven before having been tested and evaluated in and
throughits manifestations? For - we need not insiston it - there
is no "reality"(ordinaryor extraordinary!)outsideof or priorto the
manifestations of the culturethatexpressesit.
The problemof play is thereforenot linkedto the problemof
"reality,"itselflinkedto the problemof culture.It is one and the
same problem.In seekinga solutionit would be methodologically un-

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sound to proceed as if play were a variation,a commentary on, an


interpretation,or a reproduction of this reality.To pretendthatplay
is mimesiswould supposetheproblemsolvedbeforeit had even been
formulated.It is essentialthen to reversethe order of the analysis
(thisprecautionary noteis valid not onlyforthestudyof play but for
all other objects of inquiryin the social sciences). This "reality"
which is consideredinnocentand behind whose objectivitysome
scholarssheepishlytake shelter,mustnot be the starting-point of any
analysisbut must ratherbe its finaloutcome. A necessarilydisap-
pointingoutcome,because it is impalpableand fleetingto the extent
thatit is dissolvedin the manifestations analyzed,i.e. to the extent
thatit has no othercontentbeyondthesemanifestations.
We shall attemptto show this througha critique,firstof the
play-realityrelationship,
thenof the play-culture relationship,
as seen
in Huizinga,Caillois, and the linguistBenveniste.3

I. "Reality," Play, The Sacred

It willbe simplestto beginwiththe respectivedefinitions


of play
givenby theseauthors.

Huizinga:
From the standpointof form,we can defineplay in shortas
a free activity,experiencedas "make-believe"and situated
outsideof everydaylife,neverthelesscapable of totallyab-
sorbingthe player; an activityentirelylacking in material
interestand in utility.It transpiresin an explicitlycircum-
scribedtime and space, is carriedout in an orderlyfashion
accordingto givenrules,and givesrise to grouprelationships
whichoftensurroundthemselveswithmysteryor emphasize
throughdisguisestheirdifference fromthe ordinaryworld.
(pp. 34-35)

3Emile Benveniste,"Le jeu comme structure,"Deucalion, 1947, no. 2, pp. 161-167.

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Caillois:
. . . the precedinganalysis allows us to defineplay as an
activitywhichis essentially:
1. free: the playercannotbe obliged to participatewithout
robbingplay of its natureas alluringand joyfuldiversion;
2. separate: it is circumscribedwithinlimitsof space and
timewhichare preciseand fixedin advance;
3. uncertain:itscoursecannotbe determined norits outcome
reached in advance, a certainlatitudefor innovationbeing
leftnecessarilyto the initiativeof the player;
4. unproductive:it createsneithergoods nor wealthnor new
elementsof any kind; and, exceptforredistribution of prop-
erty withinthe circle of players,it results in a situation
identicalto thatwithwhichit began;
5. controlled: it is subject to conventionswhich suspend
ordinarylaws and introducetemporarilya new body of
legislationendowedwithexclusiveauthority;
6. fictive;it is accompanied by a specificawareness of a
second realityor of straightforward unrealityin relationto
everydaylife.

Benveniste:
Beforeoffering his definition,Benvenisteis carefulto show the
"deep-seated relationship"existingbetween play and the sacred:
"The sacred presupposesa reality,thatof the divine;throughritual,
the faithfulare introducedto a separate world,more real than the
trueworld [sic]. Play, on the contrary,can be unhesitatingly distin-
guishedfromthe real. The sacred may be seen as pertainingto the
surreal,play to the extra-real.In addition,the sacred operationhas a
practicalend. . . Play in itselfhas no practicalgoal; its essence lies in
its verygratuitousness." (p. 164) Here now is his definition:

In shortwe have the elementsof a structuraldefinitionof


play. It originatesin the sacred,of whichit offersan inverted
and brokenimage. If the sacred can be definedby the con-

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substantialunityof mythand rite,we can say thatthereis


play whenonlyhalfof the sacred operationis carriedout -
when the mythalone is translatedinto words, or the rite
alone into acts. We are thus outsidethe devine and human
Play understoodin thisway will have
sphereof the efficient.
twoforms:jocique, whenthemythis reducedto its own con-
tentand separatedfromits rites; ludique, when the rite is
practicedfor itselfand separatedfromits myth.From this
dual standpoint,play incarnateseach of the two halves into
whichsacredceremonyis split.Furthermore, play character-
isticallyrecomposes,throughmakebelieve,themissinghalfin
each of itstwo forms:in word play,we act as if some actual
realityshouldresult;in physicalplay,we act as if motivated
by a rationalreality.This fictionallows the acts and the
wordsto be consistent,in an autonomousworldwhichcon-
ventionshave protectedfromthe fatalitiesof the real world.
(pp. 165-166)

it is apparentthatthe zone of play is


In each of thesedefinitions
caught,like limbo,betweenthe hell of "reality"subject to instincts
and theparadiseof the sacred,of the divine.Thus, fortheseauthors,
one escapes fromplayeithertowardthelowerrealm (reality,practical
life) or towardthe higher(the sacred, divineefficiency)- with,as
we shall note, the moral implicationsborne by the termshigh,low,
sacred,reality.
1. Play - "ordinaryreality"
Huizinga,forexample,explainsthatplay "representsa combat
or a contest."Representsin the sense of showingoff,as the peacock
lets himselfbe seen whenhe struts."If the bird adds dance steps,it
becomesa spectacle,an evasionof ordinaryreality,a transposition of
thisrealityto a higherplane. We do notknowwhatis goingon at this
point in the animal's head. Very early in human childhood,such
representations are alreadyfullof imagination.The childis represent-
ing somethingelse, somethingmore beautiful,nobler or more dan-
gerousthanwhathe usuallyis." (p. 35) (our italics)

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Withouttryingtoo assiduouslyto understandhow a peacock


escapes from"ordinary"towardsan "extraordinary" realitylet us
note simplythatHuizingaclearlydistinguishes two levels,thatof play
and that of ordinarylife,the firstbeing a transposition, an embel-
lished,ennobledrepresentation (mimesis) of the second.
The same notion of play as representation recursin Caillois:
"The pleasurelies in being differentor passingforanother. . . At
in
Mardi gras,themasqueraderdoes nottryto gain acceptanceas a real
marquis,a real toreador,a real redskin,he seeks to inspirefear and
to profitfromthe generallicensewhichresultsfromthe factthatthe
maskconcealsthesocial selfand liberatesthegenuinepersonality ..
(p. 64) (our italics)
Accordingto Caillois therewould thus be a "genuineperson-
ality"as opposed to a "social self."The "real" (vraie) personwould
be the one who appeared during Mardi gras while "passing for
another."The false personwould be the social selfwho plays a role
duringall the rest of the year. But, we mightwonder,if this false
personis playinga role,thenis he not morereal thanthe "real" per-
son who wantsto "pass foranother"duringMardi gras?This circular
logic leads to absurdity.
Nevertheless,in the passage we have just cited, Caillois adds:
"Nor does theactorseek to have us believethathe is "really"Lear or
CharlesV." But then,whichis the "genuinepersonality"in question
above, if not the one who wears the mask?
The same desireto delimitthe sphereof play,to enclose play in
a "pure" time and space, leads Caillois to devote a chapterto the
"corruption"of play: "If play consistsin providingthese powerful
instinctswitha formal,ideal, and limitedgratification removedfrom
ordinarylife,whathappens to it when everyconventionis rejected?
When the universeof play is no longersealed off?When it is con-
taminatedby thereal world.. .? Corresponding to each of thesebasic
categoriesof play thereis a specificperversionwhichresultsfromthe
absence of bothrestraint and protection.. ." "The principleof play is
corrupted... by thecontagionof reality."(pp. 103-104) (our italics)
The terminology is eloquent. "Reality" is seen as contagious,

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corrupting,perverting, impure.It is the domain of the "powerful


instincts"whichmustbe restrained.
And Caillois writesin concludingthischapter:

It is easilyunderstoodthatthey(the instinctsof competition,


pursuitof luck,mimicry, vertigo) can onlybe satisfiedposi-
tivelyand creativelyunder ideal and circumscribedcondi-
tions,thosewhichare providedin each case by the rules of
the game. Left to themselves,franticand ruinous like all
instincts,these elementaryimpulses can only lead to dis-
astrousconsequences.Games disciplinethe instinctsand in-
stitutionalizethem.Duringthe timethatgames grantthema
formaland limitedsatisfaction,they are being trainedand
fertilized, the soul being vaccinatedagainsttheirvirulence.
At the same time the games are preparingthe instinctsto
make a usefulcontribution to the enrichmentand the stabili-
zationof culturalpatterns.(p. 121) (our italics)

Caillois's languageis clear. It allows us to pinpointat once the


metaphysics thatgovernshis reasoning:on the one hand,naturerep-
resentsdisorder,chaos, the absence of laws; "these elementaryim-
pulses" are "like all instincts"(!) "franticand ruinous,"theircon-
sequences are "disastrous";on the otherhand, civilization(culture)
representsorder, the law which "institutionalizes" the instincts;it
"trains,""fertilizes,""enriches,""vaccinates" against "contagion,"
the "contamination"(cf. pp. 103-104) of reality.
From thisperspective, play (and by extensioncivilizationitself)
would act as a remedyfora naturewhichis inherently sick since it is
subject to destructiveinstincts.Play would thus have a "civilizing
role" whichwould oppose it to "naturalavidity"(p. 106). As com-
fortingas this thesismay sound to those who retaina "humanist"
vision of "civilization,"it appears untenableon the simple level of
logic,insofaras it poses in a contradictory way theproblemof origins,
as we willsee lateron. (cf. partII, Play and culture).
2. Play and thesacred
If in the sequence reality-play-the sacred, "reality"is for these

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authors"corrupted"play,play is, thenby way of contrast,the sacred


invertedand therebyimpoverished,degraded, devaluated. This is
explained by Benveniste,accordingto whom the efficiency of the
sacred act lies in the "conjunctionof the mythwhich sets forththe
storyand the ritewhichreproducesit." (p.165) Play occurs in two
forms:jocus, play in words,correspondsto the myth;ludus,play in
action,correspondsto therite.

Cut offfromits myth,the riteis reducedto an orderedbody


of acts which are thereafter to an inoffensive
inefficacious,
reproductionof the ceremony,to a pure "game." From the
divinestruggleforthe possessionof the sun thereremainsa
ball game in whichtheplayercan withimpunity- did a god
ever have such a privilege?- take possessionat will of the
solar disc. Such is ludus. (p. 165)

Once again,ludushas no independentexistencesince it is onlya


"reproduction"of somethingelse, of the sacred, and even then an
impoverished,gratuitousreproductionbecause it is "inefficacious,"
"inoffensive."
Thus we confrontthe same oppositionof the gratuitousand
theusefulwhichwe notedearlierand whichwill attractour attention
again: it is the gratuitousness,the very uselessnessof play, which
makes it "pure."
In relationto the sacred,play is perceivedas a deficiency,since,
cut offfromits myth,it has been deprivedof its voice, so to speak. If
play can say nothing,one would be temptedto concludethatit means
nothing.The senseof playwouldlie in itsfutility,in itsveryabsurdity.
The remainderof a subtraction,it is reducedto gratuitousrules,to
gratuitousgestures.Withinsuch a perspective,it would be usefulto
knowin whichdomain,thatof playor of thesacred,theauthorwould
place the Tour de France.
How could it be alignedwith"pure" play since we know,after
Barthes's admirableanalysis,that it is inseparablefromits accom-
panyingmythicdiscourse?

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locus offersa similarbut inversestructure.Here words in-


play,but theyare wordswhichincor-
stead of acts constitute
poratenothingbut theirown beingas words;theyare uttered
"as if" theyconveyeda reality,but withinthe convention,
acceptedby all participants,that theyhave in fact no true
content.locus is characterizedby the deliberatelyfictivena-
tureof the realityto whichit alludes. (p. 165)

Here Jocusis gratuitous, speech,"pure mythto which


ineffective
no corresponding ritegivesa graspon reality."Does Benvenistemean
therebyto characterizethe domain of poetry?It is difficult to affirm
this withcertainty.But how can we accept the distinctionbetween
efficacious and inefficaciousspeech exceptby relyingon the evidence
of a causalitywhichhas neverproved anything?
Huizinga'spointof view on the relationsof play and the sacred
appear muchless debatableinsofaras thesetwo domainsare not,for
him,incompatible.The passage fromone to the otheroccurs gradu-
ally. In contrastto Benveniste'sthesis (and Caillois's), Huizinga
observesno breaksplitting play offfromthe sacred. Whetherenigma
(cf. pp. 185-188), judicial conflict(156-157), or music (257), etc.
is in question,play can be transformed into "sacred play," or the
sacred into play. In the latter situationthere is a "giving way"
(flechissement; anothertermsynonymouswithdegradation)of cus-
toms whichwere formerly serious,as in the case of the riddle,for
example,or the duel (cf. p. 159). In the othersituationplay passes
througha subjectivemetamorphosis intothesublime,it is transcended
"upward,"as withmusicforexample: "the sensationsof beautyand
of sacredmystery minglewithone anotherin theenjoymentof music,
and in this confusionthe oppositionof play and seriousnessdis-
appears." (p. 257)
It is at this point thatHuizinga's intuitionappears to us more
accurate than his judgement.He warns us repeatedlythat "play
doesn'texclude seriousness"(p. 291), but by thissame statementhe
maintainsthemas two separate categories.Indeed, if in the sacred
game the oppositionof play and seriousnessdisappears,it is because

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this oppositionwas basically,or originally,presentsomewhere.Our


criticismbears preciselyon this point,namely on the possibilityof
groundingan anthropology of play in the dual oppositionof play and
reality,ofplayand thesacred,thisin turnentailinga divisionbetween
the serious (the real, the sacred) and the non-serious(play), with
play then being definedprivativelyas non-serious,non-real,non-
sacred.The precedinganalysispermitsus to concludethatthe opera-
tive value of such a classificationis highlycontestable,for it rests
on a simplisticand ethnocentric metaphysicsof consciousness.The
anti-oran-economicrole whichthese authorsassignto play will fur-
nish supplementary proof.
3. Play and economy
In these authorsthe play-seriousness oppositionappears, in ef-
fectin theeconomicdomaninthroughanotheropposition:gratuitous-
ness and utility.Gratuitousnessis one of the pointstheystressmost
readily.We may recall that it constitutesone of the common de-
nominatorsof theirthreedefinitions of play. A surveyof theirvocab-
ularypermitsus to establishthe followingparadigms:

seriousness play
usefulness gratuitousness
fecundity
f .)sterility
whichare opposed by leisure
work leisure
science literature
reality unreality

Whenhe drawsup theinventory of play at


of the characteristics
thebeginningof his book, Huizinga notes:

We see herethefirstfundamental traitof play: it is free,it is


freedom.To this traitanotheris directlyconnected.Play is
not "daily" lifeor life"properlyso-called."It offersa pretext
forevadingthelatterto entera provisionalsphereof activity
withits own characteristics. The small child is alreadyfully
conscious of acting "just because," "just for fun." In this
"just" of play,a feelingof depreciationis expressed,of joking

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as opposed to seriousness,whichappears primary.Neverthe-


less, the oppositionplay-seriousnessremains at all times
fluid.(pp. 26-27) (our italics)

This quote allows us to see clearlythe close connectionwhich


the authorestablishesbetweenplay and gratuitousness, seriousness
and utility,i.e., the an-economiccharacterattachedsystematically to
play in orderto preserveit fromthe "contamination"of economic
contingencies. But ifhe does not noticethatthisan-economyremains
an economy,even though turned upside down, it is because his
dialecticonlyoperatesat the level of conscioussocial structures. The
same criticismapplies to Caillois and Benveniste.Contraryto their
affirmations regardingthe so-called gratuitousness of play, Huizinga
unwittingly exhibitsin the quotation we have just given the tri-
partiteeconomicrole of play:
a. play as freeexpenditure.
We recallthatin his definition of play Huizinga was alreadyin-
sistingon its characteristicliberty: "free activity,experiencedas
'make-believe'. . . entirelylackingin materialinterestand in utility."
(p. 35) To insiston the freedomof play is to insistin the same
breathon its gratuitousness. If play is detachedfromordinarylife,it
mustalso be detachedfromits contingencies.
But even if play is understoodas a "pure" expenditure,an ex-
penditurefor nothing,it consumes somethingnevertheless,if only
timeand energy,but sometimesalso considerableproperty.It would
be appropriatethento account for this expenditure,to learn where
it went,whatit produced.It was consummatedand consumedin play
itself,say Caillois and Huizinga.That is why,in theirview,play must
be accomplished"in an expresslycircumscribedtime and place."
But theyfail to see that the interioroccupied by play can only be
definedby and withtheexteriorof the world,and inverselythatplay
viewedas an exterioris onlycomprehensible by and withthe interior
of theworld;thattogethertheyparticipatein thesame economy.Play
cannottherefore be isolatedas an activitywithoutconsequences.Its
integrity, its gratuitousness are onlyapparent,since the veryfreedom

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of theexpenditure made in it is partof a circuitwhichreachesbeyond


the spatial and temporallimitsof play.
On the level of conscious structures(where these authorsare
working) it may be that play is experiencedas an expenditurefor
nothing,thatits end lies in itself;but at the level of underlying(un-
conscious) structures thisexplanationprovesinsufficient: the ethnol-
ogists (the same ones whom are quoted by Huizinga and Caillois)
have taughtus thatthe "pure" giftis in factan exchange.One gives,
one spendsin orderto receive.The so-calledlibertyof the giftis in
fact liberality;the generosity, the gratuitousnessof play are ways of
acquiringprestigeand power. Thus Huizinga's interpretation of the
potlatch (pp. 102-110) as ennoblingplay remainspartial and er-
roneousinsofaras the authorrefusesto see thatthe potlatchis also
the ritualizationof an economyand even of a politicalexchange.4
b. play as "depreciation."
If we returnto the quotationfromHuizingawhichservedas the
starting-point forour analysisof the economiccharacteristics of play,
we note that play's share can be calculated by subtraction:what
remainswhen seriousnesshas been taken away. This remainderis
the "just" of play, activityin whichone engages "forfun,"or, as we
weresayingabove, fornothing.Thus play appears not onlygratuitous
but also withoutvalue, an activitywhose worthhas been withdrawn
as it has been weighteddown withthe "plus value" of seriousness.It
is thiswhichallows Huizinga to separateplay fromdaily life,to say
thatplay "is situatedoutsidethe mechanismof immediatesatisfaction
of needs and desires" (p. 27). However in our view this is by no
means correct.In play thereis no subtractionof value (deprecia-

41n spite of the superficial divergences, Caillois's position does not deviate significantly
from Huizinga's. He reproaches the latter for excluding bets and games of chance by his
definitionof play. He is indeed correct in pointing out that play is defined as an action
lacking in all material interest,the "implication is that play has no inherenteconomic in-
terest." We have seen that this is by no means the case. However, after the incursion into
the economic domain which allows him to retrievea sphere of play which Huizinga had
cast aside, he withdrawsat once by affirming that play "remains rigorouslyunproductive."
"It is in fact characteristicof play to create no wealth, no works. It differentiatesitself
therebyfrom work and from art." Once again Caillois is a victim of his own categories.
Within a series of activities running from basketball to dancing to ballet to comedy, it
would be interestingto know, indeed, where play stops and where work and art begin.
We come back to the same opposition of utilityand gratuitousness."Play is an occasion
for pure expenditure,"he writes (p. 36). And again: play is "always a contingentand
gratuitousactivity."(p. 115)

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tion) but relocation,redistribution . . . in pursuitof immediatesatis-


factionof needs and desires. We have seen that play consistsin
givingin orderto receivemore.
This mediationis none otherthan that of the law (or: rule of
the game), a detourwhich mustbe followedfor the satisfactionof
human needs and desires,the path of theirinstitutionalization. Far
frombeinga depreciation,the detourof law as an expressionof play
constitutes a transfer,a placingin reserve.
One could summarize,then,by sayingthat since play consists
in givingin orderto receive. . . lateron or . . . in a different form,it
fulfillsa dual functionof expenditureand savings.5
The necessityto conceive of play as economyis confirmedfor
us by game theoryinsofaras it can be consideredas a way to re-
cuperate,to utilizethe verygratuitousness of play - in otherwords,
to constructthe economyof chance. Economy in the dual sense of
expenditureand savings,of expenditure-savings, for to take chance
intoaccountis to preserveit in orderto investit, to spend it in order
to save it.
The gratuitousness of play is thusonlyapparent,i.e., it accounts
onlyforits superficial, external,conscious structure.But at the level
of underlyingstructuresthe division between gratuitousnessand
utility,the separationinto intra-andextra-economicspheres,an in-
teriorand an exterior,are no longer operative.We recognizehere
that,farfromcorresponding to a supposedlygratuitous,disinterested
aspect of culture,play in the fullestsense is coextensivewithculture.
This is confirmed by a critiqueof thenotionof play as a complement,
as a luxury.
c. play as "complement"and as luxury.
"Play appearsto us," writesHuizinga,". . . as an intermission in
daily life,as a relaxation.But by virtueof its regularalternationit
constitutes an accompaniment, a complement,and even a part of life

5Cf. Sigmund Freud, Le mot d'esprit et ses rapports avec l'inconscient,French translation
by Marie Bonaparte and M. Natman, Gallimard, 1953. See especially the second part (pp.
135-181) in which Freud presents an economy of witticismsprecisely in terms of psychic
expenditureand savings.

44
JacquesEhrmann

in general.It adornslife,compensatesforthe deficiencesof life and


in thisrespectis indispensable."(p. 28)
Huizinga deservescreditfor noting"the utility[of play] with
respectto culture" (a notionhe develops in the lines followingthe
precedingquote). He cannotbringhimselfto enclose play withinthe
limitshe had prescribedat the outset.Play, in the end, invades the
territory of culture;it becomes "indispensable"to culture,to life in
general.And yetthisconcessionis onlya last resort.
Huizinga's analyticprocedurecan be broken down into three
stages: 10, play is gratuitousin relationto the seriousnessof life;20,
play affectsall (or nearlyall) aspectsof culture;3?, play,because it
is gratuitous, is usefulto culture.We can see here how seriousnessis
privilegedin being granted precedence over play. Seriousness is
"primary,"he says. This pointof view tallieswiththe notionof play
as a representation of somethingwhichexistedpriorto play. We are
tryingto show the methodologicaldangers and the ideological im-
plicationsof such a pointof view.
Indeed, if play were secondaryin relationto a primaryserious-
ness, whateverconcessionsmay be made to the culturalutilityof
play,the latterremainsa contribution to culture,a "complement."It
could thereforebe cut off, substracted,without taking anything
essentialaway fromculture,in a word withoutdeprivingcultureof
what it is. Even deprivedof play, life would remainlife. It would
simplybe serious,dull, ordinary.In such a perspective,it is clear
that play representsthe gratuitous,the beautiful,the noble, the
artisticaspect of life,the Sunday of life. As a costumehides nudity
and embellishesit, so play "adorns life"; it is life'sluxury.6
Caillois says so explicitly:"play is a luxuryand impliesleisure.
The hungryman does not play." (Encyclopelie des jeux, p. xv).
This last statement,designedto forestallany objection,nonetheless
strikesus as highlycontestable.We can replyepigrammatically: the
hungryman beguileshunger,and therebyplays. This answer,suf-
ficientin itself,can be supportedby another,which is more "pro-

6Was this not already Rousseau's point of view on science and art, civilization's (cor-
ruptive) luxuries?

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found:" if play as the capacityforsymbolizationand ritualizationis


consubstantialwith culture,it cannot fail to be presentwherever
thereis culture.We realize then that play cannot be definedas a
luxury.Whethertheirstomachsare fullor empty,men play because
theyare men.
To say that play "impliesleisure" is to set forththe problem
while placingoneselfin an ethnocentric perspectivethatfalsifiesthe
basic data to be analyzed: it is to oppose the notionof work to that
of leisure (an oppositionwhichcarrieswithit all the otherswe have
alreadynoted: utility-gratuitousness, seriousness-play,
etc.). Such an
oppositionmay be valid in our society (and even there,less and
less), but it certainlycannotbe generalizedto includeculturesother
thanour own. On the veryfirstpage of the prefaceof the Encyclo-
pedie des jeux et sports,Caillois writes:

[play] evokes an activityfreeof constraintsbut also without


consequencesforreal life.It is opposed to the seriousnessof
real life and is thus termedfrivolous.It is opposed on the
otherhand to work,as timelostis opposed to timewellspent.
In effectplay producesnothing:neithergoods nor works.It
is essentiallysterile.(vii)

And severallinesfarther:

It is condemnedto establishnothing,to producenothing,for


by its verynatureit cancels out its results,whereasworkand
sciencecapitalizeon theirsand transform the world,more or
less. (xv) (our italics)

Clearly,the oppositionleisure-work(science) correspondsto a


conceptionof culturelimitedto the industrialphase of our civiliza-
tion.It seems to give rise onlyto rudimentaryand simplisticMarxist
analyses. In point of fact, alienationin and throughwork can no
longerbe automaticallyopposed to leisure-freedom in a society-
our society- whereleisureis beingindustrialized and work is being
automated.
The value attributedto accumulation,to capitalizationthrough

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JacquesEhrmann

work and scienceis thuspart of this same utilitarianand materialist


attitudetowardculture (time lost as opposed to time well spent)
whose ethnocentric position- as we have alreadyhad occasion to
observe entailstheexpulsionof play intothe exteriorof gratuitous-
-

whereit becomestheutopiancomplementof serious-


ness and futility,
ness.
This utilitarianismand this materialismare accompaniedby a
contradictory impulsetowardidealisminsofaras the "purityof play
is guaranteedby its gratuitousness,by the fact that it costs nothing
(as opposed to work,of course): "lost time,"it is pure loss but also
- beingdisinterested "Sterile,"it is clean; in con-
- pure generosity.

trast,money,earnings(paymentfor work) are defiling,degrading.


Whenmoneycomesintoplay,play is corrupted.Hence thedistinction
made by Caillois and Huizinga betweenthe activitiesof professional
actorsor athletesand amateurs,a distinction whichappears moreand
moredubiousifwe are to judge by theincidentsit provokesin various
internationalathleticcontests.7
This distinctioncorrespondsto the industrialphase of our his-
tory.The veryphase in whichplay and work have become antithe-
tical. The veryphase whichhas witnessedthe birthof the notionof
"realism" in literatureand the arts. This convergenceis not ac-
cidental.It correspondsto the materialist-idealist
metaphysicswhich

7The explanations given by Caillois are confusingand hardly convincing (cf. pp. 65, 105,
149-150). Huizinga too denounces the corruptionof play by professionalism,by money:
It now appears that the ever-increasingsystematizationand discipline of play are
going to suppress in the long run somethingof the pure play-element.The behavior of
the professional is no longer appropriate to play, no longer carefree and uncon-
cerned . . . (p. 315)
Then he observes the same "sliding toward seriousness" in certain card games: "With its
manuals and its systems,its important instructors and professional trainers, bridge has
become a deadly serious affair." This sentence is followed directlyby another which does
not appear very appropriate in the developmentof the argumentbut which by its almost
involuntarycharacter emphasizes to what extentseriousness and gratuitousnessare opposed
in the mind of the author: "A recent newspaper item estimated the income of the Cul-
bertson couple at more than $200,000." (p. 317) The indignationis transparent.Must we
conclude that to play "well" one must be neithertoo rich nor too poor? Being too rich
preventsenjoymentof play - for play is no longer a complementto the needs of ordinary
life. Being too poor, too hungry,as Caillois puts it, creates a thresholdbehind which these
needs totally occupy the mind, and since not even the essential ones can be satisfied,there
is surely no room for a complement.However, adds Huizinga:
The attemptto uncover the play-elementof the confused present leads us constantly
to contradictoryconclusions . . . In opposition to the tendency of play to turn
into seriousness,certainphenomenaseem to manifestthe opposite tendency.(p. 318)
He is referringthere to a certain "gratuitous" form of rivalry among major enterprises,
rivalry which takes on an agonistic character; wherever industrial production takes on a
sportingcharacter,the desire for settingrecords has free rein: "the liner with the greatest
tonnage,the blue ribbon for the most rapid maritimecrossing . . ." (pp. 319-320)

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has been circulatingduringthe last hundredand fiftyyears of our


civilization.
We have still to carryout the critiqueof the anthropological
framework on whichHuizinga and Caillois base the relationof play
and culture.

II. Game and Culture

"The play attitudemusthave been presentbeforehumanculture


or a linguisticfaculty of expression existed" (p. 230), writes
Huizinga. In otherwords,one mightsay: in the beginningtherewas
play. We would subscribeto thisformulaif it allowed us to account
for the passage fromanimal to human play, i.e., that fault (faille)
whichis foundin everyinstanceof play and due to which thereis
"play,"i.e., chance.Corresponding to cosmicplay wouldbe biological
chance.
However,nothingpermitsus to say thatHuizinga attributes this
meaning,suddenlyenlarged,to play. It seems more reasonable to
believe- ifwe relyon thecontextprovidedby the entirebook - that
it is stillin theperspectiveof a dialecticbetweenplay and the serious,
betweenplay and utility,that this "play attitude"which antedates
culturetakeson itsmeaningforHuizinga.8We have triedto show the
ideologicalpresuppositions of thisconceptionof play; corresponding
to it thereis a conceptionof culturethroughwhich Huizinga and
Caillois, by failingto call it into question,reveal unwittingly their
implicitvalues and underminetheirown analyses. It will be noted
thatforthemthe word culture(and its synonym,civilization)has a
double meaning.The first, technicalor ethnological,simplydesignates
the diverseformsthat human societiestake. The second, whichwe
may call "metaphysical,"refersto the trajectory of a historyof man-

80rtega y Gasset develops the same point of view, but in a more categorical, almost
caricatural fashion in his essay on "The sportingorigin of the state." He writes:
Utility creates nothing,inventsnothing; it simply approves and registerswhat has been
createdindependently.
Life's original, primary activity is always spontaneous, playful, superfluous in its
intent.It is freeexpansion of a pre-existing
energy.
What is most necessaryis the superfluous.
Needless to say, we can hardly subscribe to this view, with its rather naive idealism.

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JacquesEhrmann

kind whichwould also be that of a progression,of a historywhich


startingwithprimitiveman would lead necessarily,in its "superior"
stage,to civilized (cultured)-western-man - to us.

Let us note, firstin Huizinga, this progressiveconceptionof


culturalhistory,and play's correlativefunctionwithinit:

. . .If religion,science,law, war and politicsseem to lose


littleby little,in more advanced formsof society,the abun-
dantcontactswhichtheyseem to have had withplay in these
remoteperiodsof culture,poetryforits part,whileit origin-
ated in thesphereof play,has not stoppedmovingout of this
sphere.Poiesis is a play function.It is located in a play space
of the mind,in a universeall its own createdby the mind,
wherethingstake on an aspect different fromthat of "daily
life"and are relatedto each otherby bonds whichdiffer from
those of logic. If we conceivedof the serious as thatwhich
is expressedexclusivelyin the termsof lucid life,thenpoetry
is never entirelyserious. It lies beyond seriousnessin the
primordialdomainpeculiarto the child,the animal,the sav-
age, the visionary,in the domain of dreams,of ecstasy,of
intoxication,of laughter.(pp. 197-198) (our italics)
The quotationis long,but crucialin as muchas it drawstogether
all the threadsof the conceptionof play and of culturewhichwe are
examining.We findhere in fact that play is assimilatedto: 1) a
particularstage of human historywhere culture in its entiretyis
articulatedin play (the "most remoteperiods" which are implicitly
opposed to the most recentperiods,i.e. the present); 2) a type of
mentality(infantile,animal, savage, visionary,as opposed to an
adult,"civilized,"reasonablementality);3) a typeof behaviorand
a form of awareness (playful,illogical, non-lucid as opposed to
serious,logical,lucid). Poetrywould be the connectinglinkbetween
"primitive"and "civilized" mentality,the bridge which the adult
takes to rejoin the child: "To understandpoetry,one mustbe able
to adopt the soul of a child,as one would put on a magic cloak, and
admitthe superiority of the child's wisdom over that of the man."

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(p. 198) Corresponding to nostalgiaforchildhoodthereis nostalgia


forprimitive life (the modernformof themythof the noble savage),
for a life whichis "played" thus gratuitous,a life in which poetry
impregnates all humanactivity:"In all civilizationwhichis alive and
flourishing,and especiallyin archaiccultures,poetryhas a social and
liturgicalfunction."(p. 199)9
But curiously,in spiteof the value attachedto childhoodand to
the primitive-poetic mentality,we note a reticencewith respectto
the unreasonableillogicalityof thissame mentality where "the play-
seriousnessoppositionhas not yet taken hold," in contrastto what
appears in the superior,logical, adult stages of civilization (our
own!):
The line betweenthatwhichis conceivedas possibleand that
whichis nothas been drawnonlygraduallyas civilizationhas
developed.For the savage withhis limitedlogical conception
of theworldeverything, in short,remainspossible. Myth,in
its absurditiesand its enormities,in its exaggerationand its
confusionof relationships, and
in its tranquilinconsistencies
its hecticvariations,does not yet troublehim as something
impossible.(p. 213)

Caillois subscribes to the same conception of history as


Huizinga,a historywhichwouldhave meaning(direction),i.e., which
would move from originalmeaninglessnessto presentmeaningful-
ness; a historyin whichthe "civilizing"process would have allowed
men graduallyto rid themselvesof the illogicalityof the "earliest
ages"; in a word, a historyof the conquests of reason. He writes:
"Spread over the whole surfaceof the globe, [the wearingof masks]
appears as a false solution,obligatoryand fascinating,before the

9Cf. the entire chapter on "Play and poetry" and in particular pp. 210, 212, 217-220.
Huizinga expresses too his nostalgia for an art unaware of itself, of its "civilizing" role,
in these terms:
Since the eighteenthcentury,art, manifestinga new awareness of itself as a factor in
civilization,has to all appearances lost more than it has gained in play quality. Does
this signifya raising of its level? It would not be impossible to show that it was
formerlya blessing for art to be in large measure unconscious of the meanings it
transmitsand the beauty it creates. In the pronounced feeling for its own greatness,
somethingof its worldlyingenuousnessis lost. (p. 323)

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JacquesEhrmann

slow, painful,patientand decisive advancementof civilization.The


way out of thistrapis nothingless thantheverybirthof civilization."
(p. 193)
It now appearsevidentthatthe relationsof play and cultureare
fortheseauthorsbased on two "acknowledgments":on the one hand
thatman becomesmoreand morecivilized,on the otherthatciviliza-
tion becomes less and less play-likein the course of history.There-
fore,if play has a civilizinginfluence(that is theirthesis!), it be-
comes impossibleto reconcilethe contradictionsimplicitin such a
pointof view.Indeed,ifplay is essentialto culture,civilizationshould
become, not less and less play-like,but constantlyand consistently
more so.10
If neitherHuizinga nor Caillois manages to resolve this con-
tradiction,it is because theyare both prisonersof a contradictory
notionof theoriginof civilization,whichitselfrestson a contradictory
idea of the presentof theircivilization.In theirview,both innocence
and brutalityare presentin the origin.Brutalitywhen the instinctof
competition, of rivalryis not checkedby any rule.Nature'slaw is the
law of the jungle. We have then a returnto primordialchaos and
disorder,"perversionsof the agon," as Caillois explains:

Outside the arena,afterthe bell, beginsthe veritableperver-


sion of the agon, the most widespreadperversionof all. It
appears in each antagonismno longertemperedby the rigor
of thespiritof play.Now absoluterivalryis nothingbuta law
of nature,which resumesin societyits originalbrutalityas
soon as it findsan open path in the networkof moral,social
or legal constraintswhich,like those of play, are limitsand
conventions.For this reason frantic,obsessive ambition,in
whateverdomainit breaksout, providedthatrespectforthe
rules of play or forfreeplay is lacking,mustbe denounced
as the decisivedeviationwhich,in the particularcase, brings

lOThis contradiction.although not avoided by Caillois, is particularlynoticeable in Hui-


zinga who, writingjust before the Second World War, had good reasons to be alarmed
at the returnto barbarism which the rise of Hitlerism symbolized for every "conscience."

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about a returnto the originalsituation.Nothingshows the


by whichit
civilizingrole of play betterthan the restraints
habituallycountersnaturalgreed. (p. 106) (our italics)

This text (like the one frompage 121 whichwe quoted in the
firstpart of thisessay) obligesus to formulatecertainquestionsnot
resolvedby Caillois: do the play-instinctsexist priorto play itself?
The authorforwhomthecompetitive instinctis a law of natureseems
to be sayingthis (we may recall thathe considersplay to be a puri-
fiedreproduction of "ordinaryreality").However,if thisis the case,
one wondershow theseinstinctscould have createdthe conditionsin
whichplay is possible,since theyare describedas "disastrous,"de-
structive,manifesting "primordialbrutality."On the otherhand, if
games existpriorto the play-instincts - in otherwords,if law pre-

cedes nature,as one would logicallyhave to suppose in order that


the verypossibilityof law, of civilizationmightcome to light- we
do not see how games could be "perverted"into instincts(i.e., into
an unbridled"nature"whicheludes thelaw; does thelaw of thejungle
not remainlaw?) since theselaws would have been presentfromthe
beginningand even the animalswould obey them (for, accordingto
Caillois himself,animalsdo play)."
But forthese authors,as we have alreadyshown,the originof
civilizationis also innocent,insofaras play and civilizationare not
distinguishable, but on thecontraryparticipatein a full-blownworld-
view whichis "poetic,"childlike.This view, theysay, is opposed to
theirown, whichtheycall "realistic."
This very "realism" which we examined criticallyin the first
partof thisessaylies at theheartof thedual and contradictory vision
of thepresentperiodof our civilizationseen in Huizingaand Caillois.
In fact (like the origin,but inversely),the presentis simultaneously
experiencedas more "civilized" insofaras we do not committhe
error (!) of confusingplay and reality(which neitherchildrennor

"Law, nature! It seems that we have not taken a single step forward since Rousseau. See
also, in regard to the relation of law and natural savagery, Huizinga, po. 168-170. While
leaving open the possibilityof returningto this problem, let it sufficeto point it out here
and to say that it could only be resolvedby a new approach to play.

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JacquesEhrmann

savages knowhow to do!); we mighteven say insofaras we do not


let ourselvesbe takenin by play. Thus the morewe are consciousof
play, of thefactthatthe game is onlya game,thatwe mustnot take
it seriously,themorewe are supposedto be civilized,polite,orderly.
The ideal beingtheBritishfairplay - an ideal of nobility,of respect
fortherules,of moraland estheticdetachment(perhaps also of indif-
ference? ):

It is understoodthatthegood playeris one who can envisage


withdistance,detachmentand some appearance at least of
composurethe unhappyresultsof the most sustainedeffort,
or the loss of exorbitantstakes.The decision of the arbiter,
even if unjust,is approved on principle.Corruptionof the
agon beginswhereno arbiterand no arbitration is recognized.
(Caillois, pp. 106-106)

The same attitudeis foundin Huizinga:

... trueculturecannotexistwithouta certainplay-element,


forculturepresupposesa kind of moderationand masteryof
self,an abilitynot to see ultimateperfectionin ones own
propensities,but to understandthatcultureis confinedwith-
in certainfreelyaccepted limits.Culture will always in a
sense be played accordingto given rules based on mutual
agreement.True civilizationalwaysrequiresfairplay in every
respect,and fair play is nothingbut, in the terminology of
play, the equivalentof good faith.Whoeverbreaks up the
game breaksdown cultureitself.(p. 337)

"True culture," "true civilization,"must thereforelift itself


toward "true play," "pure" play. Whence the ethical functionat-
tributedto play,or ratherplay consideredas an ethicalstandard.[cf.
Huizinga,pp. 336-337, and:

In orderthattheplay-element of civilizationbe productiveof


cultureor favorableto it, thiselementmustbe pure. It must
not consistin deviationfromor in the repudiationof the

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normsprescribedby reason,humanityor faith.It mustnot


be pretensewhich masks the objective of attaininggoals
determinedby means of intentionaldevelopmentsof play
forms.True play excludes all propaganda.It is an end in it-
self.Its spiritand its climateare thoseof joyous exaltation,
not of wild hysteria.The currentpropagandawhichis taking
hold of all areas of lifeutilizesthe hystericalreactionsof the
masses. Thus even when it takes the formof play it cannot
be admittedas the modem expressionof the spiritof play,
but onlyconsideredas a falsification. (p. 337)]

What Caillois calls "perversion"Huizinga calls "falsification."


These termsbear witnessto the nostalgiafor a "pure" society,rid
of the violenceof the instincts,
to the same consternationin the face
of a present- and more justifiably, of a future- which does not
square withtheirutopianvision of them (a vision derivedfromthe
image theyhave of the originof time). This present,stillburdened
and soiledby a "reality"whichhas not yetbeen transformed by play,
contradictsthe ideal of "reason,humanity,and faith"throughwhich
our civilizationthinksit can proclaimitselfsuperiorto its predeces-
sors. Whereto turn,then,if thisperspectiveis incapable of keeping
its promises?Mightrevolutionbe the answer?These authorsreject
it, for revolutionbreaks down the play (fair play) of civilization.
"Whoeverbreaksup the game breaks down cultureitself."
We arrivenaturallythen,througha see-saw effect,at the other
side of thevisionof thepresent:a presentwhichthreatensconstantly
to fall back into the instinctive,primordialbrutalityof which the
signs are all the more visibleto the observersince theyare closer,
more "real." To break up the game is to lower civilizationback
towardits originalbarbarismand chaos . .. and also towardthatfirst
"reality,"the knowledge12of which,our authorstell us, nonetheless
constitutesour superiority over primitivemen who were ignorantof
it, just as theywere unaware of seriousness.This ignoranceof the
12Hence the care with which Huizinga and Caillois distinguishplay from science. In their
view, science is on the side of work. Like work it "transformsthe world," it comes to
grips with the "real," in contrastto play which has no grasp of it. Needless to say, we do
not share this view.

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JacquesEhrmann

"real" and of the seriousdovetailswiththeirmoral ignorance(play


does not constitutea standardof "value" forthem,theircivilization
being completelyimmersedin play!), in other words with their
innocence.So we have returnedto our starting-point aftersurveying
the variousstages at whichthe circularity of these authors'thinking
comes to light.
We can concludethenthatifneitherHuizinganor Caillois succeeds
in resolvingthesecontradictions it is because theydo not see them,
although- or because - the contradictions are at the veryheartof
the viewpointtheyadopt. Their formulation of the problemof play
makes no allowance for the problemof understanding culture.Cul-
ture,theiridea of culture,is at no timecalled into questionby play.
On thecontrary, it is given:a fixed,stable,pre-existent element,serv-
ing as a frameof referencein the evalutationof play.
Thus just as in our firstsectionwe reproachedthemforevaluating
play in oppositionto and on the basis of a "reality"which was
neverquestionedeven thoughit was onlyvalid in relationto a given
culture,itselfrelativeto the observer,we can now reproachthemfor
evaluatingplay in oppositionto and on the basis of a conceptionof
culturewhichis neverquestionedeven thoughit is onlyvalid in rela-
tionto a given"reality,"whichis relativeto the observer.
In otherwords,in an anthropology of play, play cannotbe de-
finedby isolatingit on the basis of its relationshipto an a priori
realityand culture.To defineplay is at thesame timeand in thesame
movementto definerealityand to defineculture.As each termis a
way to apprehendthe two others,they are each elaborated,con-
structedthroughand on thebasis of thetwo others.None of thethree
existingprior to the others,they are all simultaneously the subject
and theobjectof thequestionwhichtheyput to us and we to them.
Huizinga and Caillois erredprincipallyin never doubting(ex-
cept Huizinga perhaps,timidly,at the end) that the player (them-
selves!) is the subjectof play; in believingthat,presentin the game,
at thecenterof play,theydominatedit. They forgotthatplayersmay
be played; that,as an object in the game,the playercan be its stakes
(enjeu) and its toy (jouet).

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III. Conclusions

They need not be very elaborate. They will have become ap-
parentduringthe readingof our text.Let it sufficeto recapitulate:
1. Play is not playedagainsta backgroundof a fixed,stable,reality
whichwould serveas its standard.All realityis caughtup in the play
of theconceptswhichdesignateit. Realityis thusnot capable of being
objectified,nor subjectified.
However,it is neverneutral.Nor can it
be neutralized.Thus,
2. the role of the literarycritic (since that is our department)is
not to tryto measurethe gap whichwould separatea so-called "real-
ity"fromthe domain of the so-called "imaginary",in orderto reach
a verdict:one textis realistic,anotherunrealistic.Such an approach
makes no sense. Each textcontainsin itselfits own reality,whichin
essence (or by nature!) is put into play by the wordswhichmake it
up.
3. At the methodologicallevel, play and reality,being inseparable,
can onlybe apprehendedgloballyand in the same movement.
4. In otherwords,the distinguishing characteristic
of realityis that
it is played. Play, reality,cultureare synonymousand interchange-
able. Nature does not exist prior to culture.The role of the critic
is specificallyto understandand to explain by language (literary
language in particular) how this nature-culture manifestsitselfin
different historicaland culturalcontexts.
5. Justas cultureis, in the last analysis,communication, so is play
. . . and game. Thus, any theoryof communication(or of informa-
tion) impliesa theoryof play ... and a game theory.And vice versa.
Here arises the necessityof a dialogue with our colleagues in the
sciences.
6. The player,like the speaker - thatis, each of us - is at once
the subject and the object of the play. The pronounsI, you, he
are the differentmodes of the play structure. The subjectivity-object-
ivitydualismis abolishedbecause it is inoperative.
7. Play is articulation, openingand closingof and throughlanguage.

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JacquesEhrmann

level that it can and must be appre-


It is only at the intermediate
hended.
8. All of our criticalmethodsmust be reconsideredaccordingto
thesenew norms.

Translatedby Cathyand Phil Lewis

57

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