Examines a different subject or problem from a comparative framework. Satisfies the Gateways major/minor requirement. Offered: AWSp.
Cultural historians and critics have long held that play lies at the heart of our very cultural formation; that in fact, any type of cultural, social, physical or aesthetic development formed like play or is play. Indeed, we find references to the game and to play in such different fields as architecture, war, physics, the arts, history and the biosciences, to name only a few. However, what exactly is play? To what does play refer? Too often it appears to function as a stand-in for what marks the point at which language cannot adequately grasp that which it seeks to name? In this course we will explore the phenomenon of “play” on two different levels. Firstly, we will engage play on a thematic level in the context of selected British, German, Swiss and Austrian literary texts from various time periods and genres. Secondly, on a theoretical level we will engage the question of how the concept of ‘play’ has functioned within intellectual history. Drawing on the writings of philosophers, cultural historians and literary critics we will trace the diverse notions play has come to denote. On the one hand, play functions as an object, an activity at human beings’ disposal. In this framework human beings actively involve themselves in constructing their internal and external anthropological universe through playing. On the other hand, there is the notion of a self, which no longer stands over and against the game. In fact, while players might engage in play, it is the game that takes center-stage and becomes the “subject”; it takes hold of its players. Given the often cited characteristics of game and play as at once essentially free and spontaneous, yet rules-bound; apparently unserious, yet often intensely serious; disciplined and engaging, yet non-real; exclusive, yet voluntary—we have to ask: what in the end, escapes the totalizing grasp of the term play? Or, put differently, what is intrinsically antithetical to play?
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