The Play of the World

The Play of the World

The Play of the World

The Play of the World

Excerpt

Play has always had a place in the world, but most often it has been relegated to a minor and peripheral role in our culture. The term "play" is found everywhere in our discourse, from "playing the odds" to the "play of light," but we seldom think of the connections inherent in our many uses of the word, largely because the meaning always seems obvious. As a concept, play has often been taken seriously, yet little has come from the scholarly study of it. Johan Huizinga argued that play is central to human culture, and others such as Roger Caillois, Jacques Ehrmann, and Eugen Fink have also directed our attention to the importance of play. Yet we still tend to connect the word to leisure-time activity and to the less significant aspects of our lives. In the past few years, however, play has become more and more important as a philosophical concept. The work of Jacques Derrida, for example, relies on a notion of freeplay that he traces back to Nietzsche; likewise, Hans-Georg Gadamer, working out of the Heideggerian tradition, bases his hermeneutic phenomenology on play. And whereas Derrida and Gadamer move in different directions in their work, their importance as thinkers is based in large part on what they have in common, a desire to take play seriously.

Play has come into the foreground of thought at the same time as our conception of a centered, continuous world has been called into question. One could date this shift to the work of Nietzsche, but play really began to come into its own only . . .

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