Language, Game, Freedom, Play, Reality

[Notes for Class Presentation]


Alan Gullette


University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Religious Studies 3750: Theology and Literature

Dr. Ralph Norman

Winter 1976



Ehrmann, Jacques, ed.  Game, Play, Literature.  Yale French Studies (1968)

Pitcher, George.  Philosophy of Wittgenstein.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1964.

Van Buren, Paul, The Edges of Language: An Essay In The Logic of a Religion.  New York: Macmillan, 1972.


I. Importance of Language: its role


Language gives us the world:

"The only world we have is the one we can speak of.  The world is ours, therefore, as we speak of it."  (Van Buren, 57)

"Man lives with his objects chiefly – in fact, since his feeling and acting depends on his perception, one may say exclusively – as language presents them to him." (Wilhelm von Humboldt, in Cassirer, Language and Myth, 9)


II.  Nature of Language


As game:

"Using language… is playing language-games." (Pitcher, 244)

"In language we play games with words." (Ibid.)

"Words are not pictures, but pieces used in various language-games.  Just as the significance of a piece in chess depends on its role in the game – i.e., how it can be moved, how one behaves with it – so the meaning of a word is its role in the various language-games in which it figures, the kind of behavior that surrounds it s use, the kind of behavior in which it is embedded." (Ibid.)


As behavior:

"Language is characteristically human behavior, though which we experience and relate to objects and each other, and with which we think and understand." (Van Buren, 57)

"To understand is to be able to behave in a certain way." (Van Buren, 56)


As rule-governed behavior:

"To say that language has limits … is another way of saving that language is rule-governed behavior." (Van Buren, 78)


As limited:

"To dispense with the rules of use [(the rules which govern language)] is to dispense with language." (Ibid.)


The language-game as ruled:

"Beneath the conventions and tactics which allow the games [which take place in language and society] to endure lie the structural axes of language and society, rules of grammar and rules of conduct, indispensable frames of reference for an analytic assessment of the quality o f play.  In their respective domains the rules set limits and open possibilities – projecting a formal construct of boundaries, procedures, errors, and conventions…" (Philip Lewis, "La Rochefoucauld: The Rationality of Play," in Ehrmann, 140)


III. Game


As structured freedom:

"Game for Robbe-Grillet has come to mean structural freedom, absence of traditional rules of transition, viewpoint, chronology, and other parameters of previous fiction and, on the constructive side, an invitation to create new models, to develop new combinations…"  (Bruce Morrissette, "Games and Game Structure in Robbe-Grillet," in Ehrmann, 167)


As possibly inescapable:

(Escape from/destruction of old game the step to/creation of new game.)



IV. Freedom


In dialectic (Nietzsche):

"Freedom, if we define it absolutely as freedom from being involved in a game, merely is the dialectical moment when one game is being discarded, and the rules of the new game, which will necessarily replace it, are not yet experienced as rules, but as the waning of the former rules."  (Michel Beaujour, "The Game of Poetics," in Ehrmann, 67).


Words as inescapable; no freedom:

"By the same process whereby he spins language out of his own being, he ensnares himself in it; and each language draws a magic circle around the people to which it belongs, a circle from which there is no escape save by stepping out of it into another."  (Von Humboldt, quoted in Cassirer 1946). 


World as escapable: freedom possible

(Mention of Carlos Castaneda.)



V. Play


As spontaneous act:

The mode of play is that of spontaneous act, of vital impulse."  (Eugen Fink, "The oasis of happiness: toward an ontology of play," in Ehrmann, 20)


As existence:

"Play is, as it were, existence centered in itself… In the autonomy of play action there appears a possibility of human timelessness in time.  Time is then experienced, not as a precipitated rush of successive moments, but rather as the t one full moment that is, so to speak, a glimpse of eternity." (Fink, 20-21)


In relation to Being:

Fink talks about "the concept of the play world as symbolic representation and reenactment of Being… Each plaything represents the totality of objects: play is always a confrontation with Being."  (Fink, 22-23)

"Human play is the symbolic act of representing the meaning of the world and of life." (Fink, 28)


In relation to reality:

"All reality is caught up in the play f concepts which designate it." (Jacques Ehrmann, "Homo Ludens revisited, ' in Ehrmann, 56)


Nietzsche thought of the world as play and of thinking as "the creative structuration of a play-world whose dimensions are in continual formation, and whose validity is not undermined by the assumption of one privilege 'real' world." (Elizabeth Gehnke, "Toward an Understanding of Play," Main Currents in Modern Thought, Vol. 31, #5 (May-June 1975), 157.

World – "a basic set of metaphors in terms of which everything is interpreted." (Ibid.)

World-metaphor – "a fundamental way in which our world is present to us.  'It is a conceptual formula of the essence of the world developed from a model within that world.' (Fink)" (Fink quoted in Behnke, 157n.)

"Play is a world-metaphor: play is a spectacle which might make the whole present as in parable." (Fink quoted in Behnke, 157)


Play as reality:

Play and reality are inseparable, though "the distinguishing characteristic of reality is that it is played." (Ehrmann, in Ehrmann, 56)

"Play, reality, culture are synonymous and interchangeable." (Ibid.)



VI. Argument Concerning Reality


Communication establishes a reality.

Culture establishes reality.

"Just as culture is, in the last analysis, communication, so is play… and game." (Ibid.)

Culture is sharing ereality.

"Each text contains in itself its own reality." (Ibid.)

(Mention of Crossan and Ernst Cassirer.)

(Agreement on real; God in common; Zen; Castaneda; Vedanta; etc.)

"Reality" a description, nothing more.

"World" an organization of experience (or real world).

Description of what? Posit: substantial reality, real world.

Don Juan: you are your description of the world; you are an illusion =. Individuality an illusion.



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