A philosophical inquiry into engagement with connectivity in the fabric plane of play
What can be shown, cannot be said.
– Ludwig Wittgenstein
This paper is written in review of presentations at the Philosophy at Play conference, University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham (April, 2011). In keeping with one of the dominant thought processes at this conference, I’m occupied by the realisation that is: have my on-going considerations of the notion of connectivity affected the colouring of my perspective of the presentations, or have the presentations coloured my thinking on connectivity? In the analogy, do we play play or, as Gadamer (1960) writes, does play play us?
This paper has evolved, from consideration of presentation review and connectivity, to embrace connection of play and art, space, being, presentation, stage, playspace and words. In the admittedly linear structure necessitated by the frame of the page and the direction of typeface (whilst also acknowledging my acceptance of the idea of multiplicity of thought), I present ontological considerations regarding connectivity and perspectives of the texture of being-in-play.
Play and art
Vilhauer (2011) suggests that without openness to one another there is no genuine human bond. She draws on Gadamer (1960, 2004) in stating that understanding, or the striving for it, is our fundamental mode of being (in the world). I would add that, in seeking meaning, we engage. Following on from the philosophical inquiry that Gadamer pursued, what is it that this understanding is? What is it that is the connection of child at play, or child in play – or indeed, adult - and any given other, including this adult?
Vilhauer pursues Gadamer’s hermeneutic inquiry, regarding the understanding of art, which I shall draw on here in analogy. We engage in a form of dialogue, a dialogue-play, with that artwork in question, that which is under consideration; the spectator has an engagement with it, must devote to it. I add that it is an agitation of the mind, this devotion, this emotion that breeds in between. It is a play, and here I don’t refer, necessarily, to the noun of theatrical connotation. Phenomenologically, play is a thing-in-itself (Vilhauer, after Gadamer). It is, Vilhauer notes, a thing that absorbs the player: play absorbs the player, not necessarily the other way around. Allison (1983) expresses Kant’s notion of thing-in-itself as, essentially, what the object in question is, independent of what it is perceived to be. This thing-in-itself which is play, which is in between, liminal, which is an agitation, which is a movement, I suggest is a continuous process of movement. In returning to the analogy: play is art. It is a form of art in itself, but also it is art. It is something we observe, us spectators, playworkers, workers in play, and if we are to believe Gadamer: the art, the play, plays us.
Thus, I consider, in the moment, this understanding and this connectivity, as things-in-themselves. The situation arises whereby, if we are to fully regard the texture of this connectivity, we must comprehend our position towards it. In Gadamer’s construct, we must devote. We must immerse in different spatial realms, I suggest. This immersion of depth, or indeed of heightening, is surely not merely a case of the adult bringing themselves to the ‘level’ of the child, but to the spatial plane, where child and emergent play – as art – reside, are; in media res.
Play and space
What is it that the texture of this spatial realm is? Let us consider thought: Lester (2011) presents us with the notion, according to Deleuze (1980), that thoughts are creations in themselves; that there is more to the world than can ever be accounted for. I read this as an allusion to realms beyond the norm of our everyday lives: if thoughts themselves can live and be things-in-themselves, we are operating within the realm of a plane, in this consideration, not of the levels we ordinarily perceive. In Lester’s presentation of the Deleuzian ‘playground’, as I comprehend it, there is a correlation between ourselves and our relationship to this plane. This plane, perhaps, is also of art - us spectators who must devote to it, engage. We cannot see if we do not look. This playground is, therefore, a plane of our existence, if we should be able to see it. It would be reasonable to place play as thing-in-itself to reside here.
Lester goes on to extrapolate from Deleuze: how might one live a life? That is, not how one should live a life. One might live, I surmise, in media res, in the fabric, within the plane of the Deleuzian playground of relating; that is, not on a plane, as if superficially. Lester presents Deleuze’s notion of rhizome: botanically, that of a ‘flat structure’, a multiplicity, one with no focus on origin or ending; a structure opposed to that of an arborescent model, such as a tree (which has both origin and end in its vertical and linear composition). It is, in Deleuzian terms, the rhizome that is representative of the thought, as thing-in-itself: that which is not conventionally connected; unlike traditional Western thought structures. In the model of the rhizome, we can comprehend our relations to one another, to the space, to the things-in-themselves in markedly different manners, because there is no necessary linear process. We are, in this manner, in a continuous process of becoming, we are immanent: existing, remaining within (Lester, after Deleuze). It is an opposition of transcendence.
In comprehension of our place in this spatial arrangement, we are therefore in a position to engage with that which is outside our normal realm.
Lester draws attention to other aspects in this Deleuzian playground structure: desire, he notes, is the notion of the power to affect, where ‘feeling’ is merely the surface level, but there is a deeper level; assemblages can be seen as accumulations of various people’s affects on a given object (for example, a toy passed around) - we invest in this artefact, we engage with it, a desire, we connect; deterritorialising is a movement away from linear progression or development – something taken out of its usual context appears to us in other fashions. In the Deleuzian playground, these are all ‘molecular moments’ of being different, not linear.
So, this Deleuzian playground, this spatial realm, plane, is configured - in the rhizomatic manner - in multiplicity, without linear progression; it is concerned with molecular transformation, being outside the norm of our usual perceptions (in the strata of desire, in the investment to assemblages, in deterritorialisation). Devote, and see.
Play and being
What is the modus operandi by which we are able to see? Devotion is reliant on belief, and to believe one must be oriented towards the blinding faith that is the study of the moment. If philosophy can be seen as a matter largely concerned with semantic perspective and usage, I choose my words deliberately in the polar opposite of ‘seeing’ and ‘blinding’: both because of the words themselves and because of the polarity in itself.
Wall (2011) describes the polarities of Western philosophy’s learning from play in terms of top down- and bottom up thinking. He also asserts that Heidegger, for example, in his phenomenological investigations, focuses on the polarities in life of ‘being towards death’ (a life-long struggle, anxiety, dealing with the prospect of death), and a ‘sense of history’, that of ‘being towards birth’. Wall discusses the third way: that of being now. This is not new thinking: in the greater philosophical sphere, it links easily with Zen Buddhism conceptualisation; however, it does highlight the arguably dominant Western mindset of polarity. He adds, ‘By being in the world you are, necessarily, engaged in the creation of meaning.’
We must be here now. We must be here, to believe and to be able to devote and to see. However, our faith (that which our compasses are oriented towards), with regards to children in our surface world, must be realigned in order that we might operate in other depth and heightened realms and planes.
To engage in the fabric, the plane, we must be here now and, in so doing, we will build our culture – not in arborescent fashion, but in rhizomatic multiplicity.
Play and presentation
Gillespie (2011) cites Gadamer in asserting that ‘all play is a form of self-presentation’: spectators get drawn in to watching play. Play as art. Gillespie draws on theatrical analogy to demonstrate that we must play. It will be noted that this paper has shifted focus from children’s play back to play per se. We are all included. We are connected, or we might live our lives this way.
In our being in the world (in the fabric, the plane, that rhizomatic multiplicity of connectivity), we play many parts, suggests Gillespie. He draws on the lament of Shakespeare’s As You Like It: ‘All the world’s a stage.’ Players play a play, Gillespie notes; yet, as Gadamer invites us to consider, play plays us. Carlson (2011) also refers to this paradigm: ‘Am I the player or being played?’; as does Eichberg (2011): ‘What if play plays us?’ It appears that what might be in operation, under conducive conditions, is not only a connection between players but a connection between player and play as a thing-in-itself.
What is it that the player presents though? That is, in the many facets of one player, under the spotlights of the world-as-stage, which ‘me’ is that player? Gillespie asks, ‘Am I truer in a private closet than I am on the street?’ In the theatrical analogy, he suggests that actors must break from ‘reality’ in order to perform. The medium is play. The actor brings the character to life. He must be. The ‘truest experience’, according to Gillespie, is for the actor playing the role, rather than – presumably – the author or spectator. So, for the player, the role of being, in play, is ‘true’?
In the context of the connectivity of being in the world, in that fabric and plane where play resides, are we always in this state of self-presentation, as in playing, as Gadamer suggests? I suggest, in the act, in the doing of play, play may manifest, be born into, a thing-in-itself; it becomes, be-comes in the world. At the same time, and in no-time, in other-time, play-in-itself already in the world plays the player. Neither precedes the other. Regardless of these considerations, Gillespie maintains that play absorbs the spectator, subsumes him into it.
Should we also be concerned by questions of authenticity? That is, are our roles inauthentic, or are we, as Gillespie asserts, truest in experience in the act of acting? If all the world is a stage, our lament may be that we may never utterly be. I would like to take more of a positivist perspective, in interpretation of Hackett (2011), who quotes Paul Tillich: ‘That which we are potentially, we are essentially.’
Play and the stage of playspace thought
I will refer to ‘stage’ from two angles, as the linguistic flexibility of the English language affords us this opportunity: stage as in movement, as in a step, progression of sorts; stage as in a platform, dais, where we present.
Eichberg (2011) presents the dominant phenomenologies of ‘everything is play’ and the antithesis that is ‘not everything is play’, but he adds that we need what he terms ‘a differential phenomenology.’ This is a necessity due to the ambiguity that is, in the first instance, if all is play, is work play? In the second instance, if not everything is play, do adults not play? Our mode of existence is not so clear cut. In the differential phenomenological model, Eichberg suggests that we consider ‘the playification of work’ and ‘does unproductive work exist?’ In the notion of stage as step, where we are at in consideration of play and connectivity, Eichberg’s suggestion is reasonable.
In the context of stage as platform, acting space, Eichberg asserts: ‘Space is not just out there, it is a fellow player.’ Flint (2011) offers up: ‘We’re never looking at just one thing, we’re always looking at something with a relationship to ourselves.’ I read this with an eye on the playspace and its agency in the effect on the player. Carlson (2011) draws attention to the voluntariness, or otherwise, of the player. Human agency or other? That is, are we being played by the environment? He likens this interplay of player and playspace, this intertexture, with two humans playing: ‘When two humans play, who has primacy of agency? Who is the initiator?’
In combination of ‘where we are at in our consideration’ and ‘the playspace stage as thing-in-itself’, I refer to Barton (2011) who quotes Fink: ‘Play is a cosmic symbol. The world is play without the player, the play of the world is not the same as the play of a person.’ Although Barton doesn’t fully subscribe to this ‘mystical approach’, I would like to draw attention to the fact that we are all a part of the fabric of the cosmos, we cannot be removed from this, but at the same time we don’t always connect with it. It is each individual’s stage to discern the stage we inhabit.
In this discerning of the stage we inhabit, I reflect on Barton’s review of Heidegger’s (1927, 1962) tool analysis. To paraphrase, when an object/tool is operating normally (readiness-to-hand) it essentially recedes into the background, is taken for granted; when in disrepair (presence-at-hand) we notice it, and it becomes present to us. Barton presents that objects oscillate between these two modes and further refers to Latour’s notions of space as a network of objects in relation. Space is something experienced and lived, rather than something we merely move through.
I reflect on the playspace, as thing-in-itself, as inhabited by objects that relate or exist in relation to one another, and in relation to the player; on objects in oscillation between states of readiness and presence; of the liminality of not only those objects but of their relations and connectivity, of the liminality of the playspace. Barton concludes, ‘Play is, on the spectrum, oscillating in a liminal zone [as thing-in-itself], like an object.’
Play and words
In the context of philosophical investigation, words are objects that breathe colour into our considerations, and vice versa. Everything is object: play artefact, player, play, playspace, cosmos, etc. We often do not consider what we see as anything other than what we see it as. Flint (2011) cites Heidegger: ‘We’re caught up, being-in-the-world.’ However, this ‘being caught up’ is not a condition we’re necessarily aware of. Flint advocates that we must adopt the position equivalent to the bricoleur: a French word not easily translatable into English. He suggests, as a best fit ‘the DIY professional’. That is to say, as the bricoleur, we can work ‘with the things just available.’
If, in the context of that which affects our play – affectors (Carlson, 2011), those non-human forces that are out of our control, such as deadlines and civil obedience - it can be seen that we have different depths and heights we infuse different words with, do we colour words with our infusons, or are word things-in-themselves that colour our considerations?
Carlson (2011) suggests (and I connect this thinking to the fabric that we are in, the plane we might live in), ‘Play is out of our control, we must have our sails up to catch it.’
In drawing together the salient aspects of this philosophical inquiry into connectivity, in the fabric of play, I suggest a number of arrangements, mantras of possibility:
Seek meaning in the connections of things. There is liminality, not only in space and spaces but in movement of all kinds. Play is movement, in between, liminal. Yet, how do we comprehend our position towards play? We must devote. We must immerse in a different spatial realm. Have a multiplicity of thought. Be here now. Re-align faith, in order to be here now. See play as art. Comprehend stages as steps and platforms, multi-directionally in the fabric plane, in the rhizomatic middle. Understand the inter-relatedness of objects, where objects are all things-in-themselves. Have depth and height of words.
One might live in media res, in the fabric; open up to an understanding, connectivity.
Author’s note on references:
References have been included where possible and where research enabled this. Where references have not been given below, the source material has not been included in abstracts from the Philosophy at Play Conference, Cheltenham or have not been easily traceable.
Allison, H. E. (1983), Kant’s transcendental idealism. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Barton, F. (2011), A twist on Heidegger: the ambiguous ontology of playspace. Cheltenham: Philosophy at Play Conference.
Carlson, C. (2011), Making sense of play’s ambiguous agency. Cheltenham: Philosophy at Play Conference.
Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1980), A Thousand Plateaus (English Translation). London: Continuum, 2004.
Eichberg, H. (2011), Towards a differential phenomenology of play. Cheltenham: Philosophy at Play Conference.
Flint, K. (2011), Play as leading activity in the liminal space of Plato’s Cave: facing the monstrous arrivant in the information age. Cheltenham: Philosophy at Play Conference.
Gadamer, H-G. (1960), Wahrheit und methode. Tübingen: JCB Mohr.
Gadamer, H-G. (2004), Truth and method (English translation), 3rd ed. London: Continuum.
Gillespie, C. A. (2011), To play or not to play: theatrical analogies justified by play. Cheltenham: Philosophy at Play Conference.
Hackett, T. (2011), Play, free will and the sublime. Cheltenham: Philosophy at Play Conference.
Heidegger, M. (1927), Sein und zeit. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag.
Heidegger, M. (1962), Being and time (English translation). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Lester, S. (2011), Playing in a Deleuzian playground: lines of flight and planes of consistency. Cheltenham: Philosophy at Play Conference.
Vilhauer, M. (2011), The game of understanding: dialogue-play and opening to the other. Cheltenham: Philosophy at Play Conference.
Wall, J. (2011), The ontology of play: what is human being from the point of view of childhood? Cheltenham: Philosophy at Play Conference.
Joel D. R. Seath MIfL