Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture

By J. Huizinga | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

A HAPPIER age than ours once made bold to call our species by the name of Homo Sapiens. In the course of time we have come to realize that we are not so reasonable after all as the Eighteenth Century, with its worship of reason and its naive optimism, thought us; hence modern fashion inclines to designate our species as Homo Faber: Man the Maker. But though faber may not be quite so dubious as sapiens it is, as a name specific of the human being, even less appropriate, seeing that many animals too are makers. There is a third function, however, applicable to both human and animal life, and just as important as reasoning and making -- namely, playing. It seems to me that next to Homo Faber, and perhaps on the same level as Homo Sapiens, Homo Ludens, Man the Player, deserves a place in Our nomenclature.

It is ancient wisdom, but it is also a little cheap, to call all human activity "play". Those who are willing to content themselves with a metaphysical conclusion of this kind should not read this book. Nevertheless, we find no reason to abandon the notion of play as a distinct and highly important factor in the world's life and doings. For many years the conviction has grown upon me that civilization arises and unfolds in and as play. Traces of such an opinion are to be found in my writings ever since 1903. I took it as the theme for my annual address as Rector of Leyden University in 1933, and afterwards for lectures in Zürich, Vienna and London, in the last instance under the title: "he Play Element of Culture. Each time my hosts wanted to correct it to "in" Culture, and each time I protested and clung to the genitive,* because it was not my object to define the place of play among all the other manifestations of culture, but rather to ascertain how far culture itself bears the character of play. The aim of the present full-length study is to try to integrate the concept of play into that of culture. Consequently, play is to be understood here not as a biological phenomenon but as a cultural phenomenon. It is approached historically, not scientifically. The reader will find that I have made next to no use of any psycho-

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*
Logically, of course, Huizinga is correct; but as English prepositions are not governed by logic I have retained the more euphonious ablative in this sub-title. -- Trans.

-ix-

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Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Table of Contents v
  • Translator's Note vii
  • Foreword ix
  • I - Nature and Significance of Play as A Cultural Phenomenon 1
  • II - The Play-Concept as Expressed In Language 28
  • III - Play and Contest as Civilizing Functions 46
  • IV - Play and Law 76
  • V - Play and War 89
  • VI - Playing and Knowing 105
  • VII - Play and Poetry 119
  • VIII - The Elements of Mythopoiesis 136
  • IX - Play-Forms in Philosophy 146
  • X - Play-Forms in Art 158
  • XI - Western Civilization Sub Specie Ludi 173
  • XII - The Play-Element in Contemporary Civilization 195
  • Index 214
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