Play as Symbol of the World
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Play as Symbol of the World

And Other Writings

Eugen Fink, Ian Alexander Moore,Christopher Turner

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  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Play as Symbol of the World

And Other Writings

Eugen Fink, Ian Alexander Moore,Christopher Turner

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Eugen Fink is considered one of the clearest interpreters of phenomenology and was the preferred conversational partner of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. In Play as Symbol of the World, Fink offers an original phenomenology of play as he attempts to understand the world through the experience of play. He affirms the philosophical significance of play, why it is more than idle amusement, and reflects on the movement from "child's play" to "cosmic play." Well-known for its nontechnical, literary style, this skillful translation by Ian Alexander Moore and Christopher Turner invites engagement with Fink's philosophy of play and related writings on sports, festivals, and ancient cult practices.

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Información

Año
2016
ISBN
9780253021175

Chapter One

Play as a Philosophical Problem

1. Play as a Possible and Worthy Topic for Philosophy

To choose play as the theme of a philosophical treatise may sound strange. Our commonplace understanding of philosophy finds it hard to reconcile the rigorous business of abstract thinking and its gloomy seriousness with play’s carefree cheerfulness and the image-laden joy in presentation. Playing and thinking seem to belong to opposed modes of life; the naïveté of play, which delights in the senses and without qualms mixes the actual and the fantastical and is not “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,”1 is evidently far removed from every critical and careful examination of things that skeptically inquires as to whether they are, what they are, and how they are. What seems strange in our attempt to contemplate play presumably lies in the fact that a phenomenon is to be interrogated that in itself appears to be characterized on an elementary level as unquestionable. Is it at all possible to raise a question about what is intrinsically unquestionable? Of course, on the linguistic level it is always possible to raise a question about anything and everything. Here there is a cheap pseudo-radicality that hides behind the philosopher’s cloak yet is indeed always directed toward given things and relations, in order to practice and exercise its obsessive skepticism upon them. It takes pride in being able to deny every naïve belief, to negate everything that presents itself as existing and thus to assert the empty Ego in its power to negate. Yet this Ego that thinks itself great in its power of negation continually needs the material of the world in order to be able to maintain itself in such ongoing denial and is only conveyed to itself through that which it denies. This is the fundamental position of an extreme skepticism that in its constant flight from every dogmatic commitment has indeed already fallen into the dogmatism of negation and thus displays an impotence on the part of thinking, because it can no longer immerse itself in the life of the things themselves. To doubt everything, to withdraw in the face of everything into the attitude of the Ego’s refusal to believe, is no more a comprehending position of the human being toward the world than is the unthinking, naïve abandon to things in everyday life. Philosophy certainly stands in proximity to all those phenomena of life in which the immediacy of carrying on with our lives becomes unsettled; it stands in the vicinity of the uncanny experiences of existence such as angst, dread, guilt, doubt, and despair, of mistrust and suspicion, of the gnawing and agonizing question: everything that to some degree distances us from our own Being and the Being of all things also marks the experiential character of philosophy. Yet it does not stop with this “distantiality.” Rather, what is decisive for philosophy is to understand and grasp, from out of the distance afforded by the question, human life in its unquestioned character. Our immanent stance within the Being of the world as understood, our immersion in things, our embeddedness in nature, our entire and primordial naïveté of life, which is borne by an abyssal trust in Being—this is what remains to be comprehended. Therefore, philosophy too is close to the great passions, the storms of the heart and spirit, the elemental piety that binds the living to the dead, the sensuous delights with which we feel the local and earthly. It is close to the gleam of the beautiful over all worldly things. It is itself a unique marveling amazement over the wonder that beings are, and in its amazement an admiration for the world resonates as well. From the distantiality of the question, we seek to understand the indwelling of our worlded existence. This constitutes the tension of philosophical thinking, that it must at the same time be at the furthest remove from and most intimate proximity to Being, have critical vigilance and life’s elementary élan, reflection and primordiality in one. Thus considered, a philosophical interrogation of play appears to be thoroughly possible and meaningful.
But then other concerns present themselves. If play can be a possible topic for philosophical contemplation, if it does not, in its naïveté that is immediate to life, contradict the critical spirit of philosophy, because, indeed, the naïveté of life as such signifies the reproach of thinking—then it is to be asked whether play presents a worthy topic for philosophy. Play initially appears to us as a marginal phenomenon in the landscape of human life, which is determined and marked in decisive fashion by more serious phenomena. Play stands opposed to the seriousness of life, to care and work, to the concern for the salvation of one’s soul—it appears as something “non-serious” and “non-binding,” as the occasional relaxation of the tension of life, as a “break” or “rest,” as a pastime for idle hours, as dalliance and merry mischief. At best one grants a restricted worth to play in the adult economy of life; one acknowledges it as a therapeutically effective remedy for overloads of work, worry, or seriousness. But considering it as a means of relaxation puts it precisely in the service of those phenomena of life from which it is otherwise demarcated disparagingly. Play, however, is not at all taken seriously in its own right. It is, no doubt, recognized that in the child’s existence it plays an important, indeed fundamental, role and is at the center of the child’s life. But one interprets the growing-up of the young human being as a process in which play is ever more displaced from the center of life and is supplanted by other phenomena of existence. Play moves on the periphery of life; it does not completely disappear but acquires the characteristic of being an occasional diversion or restful break. Play appears to be reserved more legitimately for the small child who still lives secure in the care of the family before the beginning of serious life. In the small child, playing is manifestly the pure enactment of existence. That may signify an eminently important matter for child psychology, for pedagogy. But can play, evidently a primarily infantile affair, be a worthy topic for philosophy?
What are, in general, the worthy topics for philosophy? The systematization of philosophical questioning carried out by the Stoics divided philosophy into “Logic,” “Physics,” and “Ethics”; the great and worthy objects of thinking were thinking itself, insofar as human thinking coincides with the world-prevailing logos; then nature as the comprehensive concept [Inbegriff] for all things existing of their own accord; and, finally, the human being as that being which is free and determines itself in social communication. To the extent, however, that the Stoics conceived the world-logos as the “divine,” their basic division of philosophy blazed a trail that has broadly determined the Western tradition and even still had a late reflection in Kant’s systematization of philosophy. There, too, the great and worthy topics for philosophy are declared to be God, nature, and human freedom. These three titles delimit distinct regions of beings. Of all that is, God, nature, and human freedom are the worthiest of contemplation. The worthiness of these great topics manifestly marks them off from a general unworthiness of many insignificant and negligible things. In what—so one could now ask—is the difference between the worthy and unworthy grounded? Does philosophy already have an appraisal of innerworldly beings at hand in advance, in order to share out the favor of its interests accordingly? In pre-philosophical life the entirety of actuality is already structured for us, not merely in fields and dimensions according to the types of things; we also have at our disposal a hierarchy according to which we classify and assess manifold beings. For the most part these are mythical interpretations of the world’s context. The human being interprets his position in the cosmos; from the ancient point of view, for instance, he finds himself on the back of the all-bearing earth beneath the open sky, around him land and sea, flora and fauna, with an intimation of the gods above in the constellations of the firmament. The regions of the world high in the heavens and deep below the earth, which are removed from the dwelling of mortals, are considered to be the distinctive realms of the gods. The land of human beings lies between the regions of the gods and is itself visited by the epiphanies of the heavenly ones. In the fertility of the field, in the boon of the weather, in the escape and return of Persephone, the power that divinely prevails is revealed. The human being knows of his dependence, of the futility of his plans and aspirations, knows of the superior power of the gods. From his mythical-religious disposition he acquires an evaluation of worldly things as a whole. The status of all things is measured in relation to divine power. What is most powerful is most worthy of veneration. When, however, philosophy awakens, it does not accept without question the hierarchy of the mythical interpretation of the world. Gods, land and sea, human beings, animals, plants, and human artifacts—all of them, after all, coincide in the fact that they are, that they are in each case a being. All differences of power are, after all, subtended by the one basic feature that holds equally for all. What in general is a being? The radiant god, who as Phoebus Apollo illuminates the world-totality and fills it up with gleaming sunshine, is a being—but the earthworm in the darkness of the soil is also a being. Must not this commonality in all things first of all be conceived before one commits oneself to hierarchically ordered differences? And in fact it becomes a decisive question of philosophy to ask about and to investigate beings to the extent that they are beings, beings as such, the on hēi on. With this question about beings as such, one at the same time also asks about all beings, because being a being plain and simple belongs to each and every thing that appears at all within the unity of the world. With this basic question of “metaphysics” concerning beings as such and as a whole, the hierarchical differentiation of things and with it an assessment of them according to “worthiness” and “unworthiness” appear to be eliminated. That is, however, by no means the case. To be sure, the mythic hierarchy is no longer employed uncritically, but philosophy, which develops as the question about Being, attempts in thought to determine the being a being of things according to their proper degrees: Being is, for example, understood vis-à-vis nothingness, but not in the manner of a simple and strict separation, rather more in the sense that things are grasped as an enigmatic combination of Being and nothingness, as a blending of these primal opposites. Finite things are considered to be permeated by nothingness in their Being; they have, one then says, a nugatory Being, have a lesser degree of Being, are not, to use Plato’s expression, “being in the mode of being [in seiender Weise seiend],” are not ontōs on. That becomes more apparent when things are considered in regard to their temporal character, when their “Being” is interpreted from their temporality. Then that which always is and always comports itself in the same way, which does not arise and does not pass away and does not change, which is immutable, unmoved, and permanent, counts as the strongest Being. That which, though it now is, nevertheless once was not and will someday no longer be, that which is constantly subject to alterations and exhausts its power of Being in time, has a lower status of Being. Permanence or impermanence in the flow of time thus forms a basis for an evaluation of beings in their “ontological status.” No longer the degree of a mythically understood “power,” but rather the degree of a “strength of Being” interpreted in regards to “permanence” decides the hierarchy of all worldly things that is thought philosophically. It thereby belongs to philosophy, which does not pose questions merely to things but also to itself, that it does not have in advance an unquestionable measure for the assessment of things according to their rank of Being, but rather time and again seeks to forcefully pull back into questionworthiness the measure that guides it. The most problematic of all philosophical problems is the guiding pre-projection of the essence of Being. Without such a pre-projection philosophizing cannot begin, and in its pre-projection it cannot remain and make itself at home. That means, among other things, that philosophy must both set up a hierarchy of worldly things and also time and again destroy it; it must investigate the worthiest and highest beings and at the same time must also cast the pre-projected measure, according to which it appraises the highest rank of Being, into radical doubt. It arrives at no conclusive knowledge; the work of human wisdom resembles the activity of Sisyphus.
This character of philosophy is easily obscured where it still addresses with mythical names what for it is the being that is most of all, calling it the “divine” and bringing about a disastrous intermingling of theology and ontology. When Plato also calls the idea of ideas, the idea of the good, the theion, the “divine,” he does not thereby understand this highest idea from the perspective of the concept of God in Greek popular belief, but rather, conversely, he wants to present philosophical knowledge of the agathon as the inner truth of myth. This tendency of the great thinkers to address what to them is supremely worthy of thought with the solemn names of mythical-religious language and to make use of a preformed human pathos has just as much harmed philosophy as it has religion. Philosophy is a finite possibility of the finite human being; it is the understanding of Being that is moved to question; it is the glow of twilight in which a being in the midst of all other beings, embedded in nature, seeks to understand and to grasp itself and all things in the universe and ultimately abides in its highest wisdom. We mortals never know in the manner of God; it is senseless to measure ourselves in reference to him or to determine our finitude solely on the basis of our distance to him. The words of the serpent, eritis sicut deus,2 should have no further seductive power for the human spirit that takes up finitude as its fate. In religion God speaks and, through the mouth of the prophet and herald, gives a superhuman explanation of the meaning of life and of the world as a whole to be known. Philosophy is a self-interpretation of human existence and of its sojourn in the world, religion is an alien interpretation. This distinction is fundamental and irreconcilable. In no way are we thereby contesting that a religious interpretation of human life can proceed further, endlessly further beyond every immanent self-understanding of human existence. It would be rather astonishing if it did not do this. We may be as transparent as clear glass for the eyes of the gods; they may see into every hidden recess of our hearts—we are never laid bare for ourselves in a shadowless unconcealment—but the knowledge of the gods about human beings must, in order to be understandable to human beings, be “translated” into human words and human sense. As imparted revelation, the celestial light of divine truth is itself clouded by the human medium in which it is professed and promulgated. Put in terms of our problem: that which, from the perspective of myth, has the character of being worthy, venerable, and holy, does not necessarily also need to be considered what is worthy in philosophy, such that a solid and stable hierarchy would already be reliably pre-given for thought that questions.
What is worthy of question and of thought, what is question-worthy and thought-worthy, is not definitively decided in advance for philosophy but rather proves itself as such only in thought that questions. Nothing in the vast universe is too small for wonder to be aroused by it; and no being stands too high for human amazement and its sudden transformation into a question. Everything that is at all is already wonderful and enigmatic in its being a being. Socrates was able to begin a philosophical conversation with everyday things; he could set out from the banausic occupations of the saddler, weaver, or helmsman in order to discuss the essence of human activity, of good or bad activity, and to lead his interlocutor up to the question concerning the virtue of the statesman, the sage, to the question concerning virtue as such and true human felicity. He led from that which was low to that which was highest through a skillful, crafty way of posing questions. This midwifery of spirit already in antiquity enveloped this midwife’s son with enchanting renown—and is cited time and again as the great, classical example for the free impartiality of philosophy vis-à-vis all things. Perhaps one should even doubt this in order to not let philosophy itself become a myth. Has Socrates ever set out (insofar as we know from the Platonic dialogues) from insignificant things or activities and from them unfolded a philosophizing question? Or, in turning to banausic activities, has he already moved in an unexpressed pre-projection of the essence of human eudaimonia? Were not the paltriest and most indifferent actions—in his view—also already permeated by the structure of human self-concern, thus led by the approach that in whatever we do we strive after a complete state of our life that would be at once happy and successful? If eudaimonia is what human life in its essential depth is about, then this is also at work down to the narrowest, most specialized subordinate activities, even when we, caught up in what we are doing, no longer see this fundamental motive. Socrates’s method consisted in questioning his interlocutor to ferret out the concealed interconnected motive of all his activities, to bring him to present the sense [Sinnvergegenwärtigung] of the totality of life in every isolated moment of life. In truth Socrates was, for his part, already determined by a pre-projection, what to him was the highest and most worthy as an object of human contemplation, namely virtue as the state of living the true, happy, and successful life. However, he thereby initially kept up a pretense toward his interlocutor and guided him with “maieutic” questions in the direction of a reflection upon aretē. To be sure, he in no way asserts this pre-projection “dogmatically”; he proves it, in a certain way, through the gradual uncovering of the motive of life that is interwoven in manifold ways and united in the ultimate goal, but he also does not transcend this guiding pre-projection. In contrast, Plato surpasses the Socratic pre-projection insofar as he makes the difference, always employed there, between particular, more or less good activities and the good in itself, between virtuous activities and virtue itself, into a radical new problem and extends the difference into the universal as the difference between sensible thing and idea.
This reference to Socrates and Plato, in our present context, only has the significance of a critical and wary reserve. It is not easy to trust the philosophers when they profess to want to think about and interrogate all things in the same way with complete “impartiality,” to attend equally to the lowest as to the highest. Are they, against their will, the secret prisoners of a pre- and extra-philosophical assessment and evaluation of beings? Certainly there is always this danger. However, the problem lies deeper. It lies in the nature of worlded things themselves, that they all coincide in a universal fundamental feature that is “indifferent” and equivalent for all, namely, that each is in each case a being, and that they at the same time differ from each other according to the degrees of their ontological strength, whereby the measure of the “being that is most of all,” the summum ens, itself vacillates and is problematic. It is perhaps a prejudice to cling to an equal status of all things in principle for the perspective of thought, just as, conversely, it may also be a prejudice to insist solely on a graduated hierarchy of things. Both moments, which appear to exclude each other, belong to the problematic ontological constitution of worldly beings. All hierarchical ordering of things presupposes the equality of all beings as beings—and, conversely, things do not vanish into a uniform sameness. Difference and contradiction pervade the unity of worldwide Being.
According to this seemingly abstract but thoroughly preliminary characterization of philosophy, insofar as it asks about beings as such and as a whole and about the highest being (a questioning that from time immemorial bears the name “metaphysics”), we again take up the consideration as to whether play, too, is a worthy topic for philosophy. Can it, like any thing or occurrence whatsoever, matter for philosophy, insofar as nothing may be too paltry for thinking? Is play just as valid, just as indifferent, as the algae-covered pebble on the seashore? Or is it distinctive in belonging to the human being, in being a special mode of human understanding? The weighty and great emphases of human life lie not in play, not in the unencumbered, cheerful pastime, but rather in the earnest carrying out of our existence, in the toil of work, in the hardship of battle, in the firmness of ethical institutions, in the struggle to prove oneself, in the conflict of duties, in sacrifice and in prayer. Does not the dream-woven world of play disperse as soon as sorrow, need, and deprivation afflict us, but also as soon as we proceed to free actions, to the self-actualization of our freedom in the harsh world of affairs? Does play have a human reality worthy of the name—beyond the years of childhood? Even the human status of play appears slight. The title of this text, however, designates, alongside the “human” problem, also a “worldly” problem of play. Can, then, what appears so peripheral in human life have, beyond that, a cosmic significance? Does play belong not merely to the finite human being but also to the world-totality? This idea initially appears absurd to us, at best allowable as a poetic way of speaking, as an illicit metaphor, which—app...

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Estilos de citas para Play as Symbol of the World

APA 6 Citation

Fink, E. (2016). Play as Symbol of the World ([edition unavailable]). Indiana University Press. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/569310/play-as-symbol-of-the-world-and-other-writings-pdf (Original work published 2016)

Chicago Citation

Fink, Eugen. (2016) 2016. Play as Symbol of the World. [Edition unavailable]. Indiana University Press. https://www.perlego.com/book/569310/play-as-symbol-of-the-world-and-other-writings-pdf.

Harvard Citation

Fink, E. (2016) Play as Symbol of the World. [edition unavailable]. Indiana University Press. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/569310/play-as-symbol-of-the-world-and-other-writings-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Fink, Eugen. Play as Symbol of the World. [edition unavailable]. Indiana University Press, 2016. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.