Saturday, May 12, 2007

Homo ludens

Reflecting yesterday on what I might really be doing here on this blog, I thought of the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga's (1872-1945) suggestion that Homo sapiens could have been named more accurately Homo ludens: playful man, playing man. For I realized that what I do here, however seriously I may on occasion take myself and my "pronouncements," is to assume poses, try on costumes, make faces, strip...have fun...I play more than I do anything else.

And I'm reminded this morning that Shakespeare (1564-1616), as usual, got to it first—or before Huizinga did, at any rate:
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. [Macbeth1 V:v 24-28]
And yet, and yet...King Macbeth was at the end of his tether, at his lowest point, in despair for his lost chance, his wasted life, his wrong choices, his failing as a man. Macbeth was not admirable.

But Zorba, that grand creation of Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957), was someone to admire and emulate:
"Life is trouble," Zorba continued. "Death, no. To live—do you know what that means? To undo your belt and look for trouble!" [Zorba the Greek2 p. 8]

The highest point a man can attain is not Knowledge, or Goodness, or Virtue, but something even greater, more heroic and more despairing: Sacred Awe! [p. 24]
And I was also reminded this morning of the subtitle "un interlude" that I have sometimes used for my time-out posts, to quote something just for play before getting back to the seriousness of my blog. I see now that I was misusing the term. Those interludes were merely intermissions between...the acts of my true play.
  1. The Sixteenth Edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations devotes four 2-column pages to quotations from Macbeth.
  2. Brought to the screen powerfully by Mihalis Kakogiannis in his 1964 film starring Anthony Quinn as Zorba and Alan Bates as the "aimless Englishman [whose] joyless existence is disturbed when he meets Zorba, a middle-aged Greek with a real lust for life." –John Vogel

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