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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Nicole Calian
CHID 498
Seattle Campus

Special Colloquia

Each colloquium examines a different subject or problem from a comparative framework. A list of topics is available from the CHID office.

Class description

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 when becomes a stand-in for what often 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 the game/play has come to denote. On the one hand, games and play function 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? What is intrinsically antithetical to play?

Towards the end of the course, students will analyze the parameters of a game (board game or computer game) in terms of one of the established theories discussed in the course.

Student learning goals

Critical reading of literature

General method of instruction


Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading

The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Nicole Calian
Date: 05/14/2012