English | Studies in Literary Theory & Criticism
L707 | 21932 | Elmer

L707  21932  ELMER (#6)
Studies in Literary Theory & Criticism

10:10a – 1:10p M

“Play is older than culture.”  So writes Johan Huizinga, in Homo
Ludens:  A Study of the Play Element in Culture.  Huizinga seems to
have re-ignited interest in play as a master concept for analyses of
aesthetics, psychology, and social structure:  linguists
(Benveniste), sociologists (Caillois), and philosophers (Gadamer)—
all responded directly to Huizinga’s provocation.  This course will
range widely in the literature on play.  We will look at some
paradigms from the ancient world, and then move to the use of the
concept of “play” (spiel) as that informs romantic and post-romantic
aesthetic theory (we’ll read some Kant and Schiller, but look also
at twentieth-century legatees of the thought of the “as if,” for
example, Vaihinger and Iser). Psychology and psychoanalysis will be
part of our discussion as well, and we’ll probably read some Piaget
and Freud, and certainly read Winnicott.  We will try to get a sense
of the significance of animal play on this question, reading Gregory
Bateson and Gordon Burghardt. Finally, we will explore the new life
given to the concept of play by the versions of “as if” experience
made available through digital media, and look at work by IU’s own
Ted and possibly Mackenzie Wark.  Philosophical treatments by
Derrida, Fink, Wittgenstein, and Agamben may also get some
attention.  Brian Sutton-Smith and Clifford Geertz both have
important statements on play that we will read.

As you can see, this is a theory class.  We will always be
interested, however, in examples, for the clarification as well as
the friction they provide the more abstract formulations.  I have
not yet come up with a clear plan for student assignments, but
everyone will be asked to do some summary and presentation work over
the course of the semester, contribute to whatever conversations
(including written ones) we devise, and produce a seminar paper of
approx. 30 pages.

Because this concept is so multi-faceted, it lends itself to many
potential applications.  I will be open both to theoretical essays
for final projects, or more “applied” explorations, of literary or
cultural sorts.

I will almost certainly assign some reading in advance of the first
meeting, so we can hit the ground running.