Thursday, February 02, 2012

Playful Man

Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture
Homo Ludens
A Study of the Play-Element in Culture 

“Play is older than culture, for culture, however inadequately defined, always presupposes human society, and animals have not waited for man to teach them their playing.” - Johann Huizinga

Homo Ludens or "Man the Player", written in 1938 by Dutch historian, cultural theorist and professor,  Johan Huizinga, discusses the importance of the play element of culture and society. Huizinga uses the term "Play Theory" within the book to define the conceptual space in which play occurs.
One of the most significant (human and cultural) aspects of play is that it is fun.  Huizinga suggests that play is primary to and a necessary (though not sufficient) condition of the generation of culture. In his discussion of this Huizinga has much to say about the words for play in different languages. Perhaps the most extraordinary remark concerns the Latin language. “It is remarkable that ludus, as the general term for play, has not only not passed into the Romance languages but has left hardly any traces there, so far as I can see".  The cultural aspects of play range widely over law, war, poetry and philosophy.  While ludus is seen as fundamental for human civilization and even myth-making it is the beginnings of play in the observation of the activity of animals that impressed me.  Huizinga makes it clear that animals played first - this along with his other observations make the book a fascinating take on an essential aspect of human activity.

Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga. Beacon Press, Boston. 1971 (1938)

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