Monday, July 15, 2019

On Play and Friendship, Agonistic Leanings and History in Prague #philosophy@play





This blogger giving a talk in Praha at the Philosophy of Play Conference and a demonstration the day before the conference.   

I read about Thomas and Theresa, revisiting Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness, as I always do on the way to Prague.  When is the weight  of living and  acting too much?  When should we endure it vs lightening up?  These questions s always accompany me here. On responsibility and friendship, history and obligation, which is the best way forward?
Increasingly, I’ve wondered about friendship.  In his 1969 novel Laughable Loves, Kundera writes in praise of friendship.  Martin and the novel’s protagonist walk into a park in Prague looking at looking at couples sitting  about, wondering who is in charge.  “Is there  some special law,” the protagonist asks Martin, wondering who benefits most, the least or most attractive of the two. 
“[I]t follows that our friendship is subjected to continuous trials.  And it is precisely this that I value, that we will never leave the choice to the random development of events, not even to some mutual struggle; choice for us is always a matter of courtesy.  We’d offer each other the prettier girl like two old fashioned gentleman who can never enter a room because neither wants to be the one who goes first.”
“Yes,” replies Martin with emotion.  “You’re a great buddy.  Come lets sit down for a while, my legs are aching. “
And thus we sat comfortably with our faces turned up toward the face of the sun, and we let the world around us rush unnoticed.” (P. 53).
Conversely, the women in question make their own choices. We are all active agents in history. Along the way, our friendships are subjected to continual trials. Such is the currency of friendship.  Yet, how does it sustain itself over time?   How do we endure it together?
Arriving in Prague, I was supposed to be giving a keynote talk at a play and philosophy conference.  
Wondering, how do we dream of a better world? How do we create an image of a more liveable world and then create it? Every action creates a reaction? Our carnival is their disorderly conduct. Doing so, we engage in a dialectical clash. Such conflicts are an inevitable parts of life.
Yet, how we get there counts. The personal is political. To do so, have  to  think of content and process. Can we all be pleasure activists enjoying the struggle as Keith Cylar taught us. The plays the thing right?  But what if we’re not  feeling playful?
I dedicated my talk to Jan Palach, who self–immolated, and the others  who felt despair after the tanks rolled in, crushing Prague Spring in ‘68, the Stonewall  Girls who formed a kick line in  1969.   We live in tragicomic times.
Lately the conflict  seems to be everywhere.
“I  feel assaulted by it all,” my mother confessed earlier in the day.
Afterall, these are anything but funny times:

– War in Iran,
- Climate denial,
- War on immigrants, detention centers,
- Nationalism on  the rise.

But here  we were in Prague, land of butterfly protests, Velvet Revolutions, 

and Surrealists talking  about play and democracy.

Kids with butterfly placards and homemade signs, families,  people drinking beer,  a DJ. 
Here  we were – thousands of us – meeting and talking, planning and drinking and wondering what to do – in  other words living democratically. Without access to public space questions about democracy go out the door.


So what is democracy – but a city on  a hill – a community garden, a park.



A place to play, a place to imagine. 



How do we use play to resist, building bridges between philosophers and modes of engagement ?

How do we play and experiment with  content?
The theme of the  conference was play and democracy.
Yet, the problem of a corrupt prime minister is not just in Prague, we are seeing it everywhere.
With nationalism on  the rise, we are seeing  a crisis of democracy everywhere. 
So what is the relationship between the two notions – free play – and participatory democracy?
Does play subvert or undermine this  question?
Can we play differently in our discussion?
Can we think of it in new ways, gathering fragments  of knowledge in  our sharing?
Tony Fisher gave the first talk on theater and  its discontents.
Highlighting the agonistic idea of theater or a philosophy of conflict.


Play allows for  dangerous expression. 
We are in  a crisis of governmentality, argued Fisher.
Inequality creates a threat to democracy.
Is democracy in a crisis?
Habermas suggests democracy has become reified. 
Democracy weakens authority, with its aims contradicting themselves. 
Between Freud, happiness, and unhappinss, it is  happiness that is hardest to achieve, imposing modestly unhappily. 
Civilization and  Its Discontents repressing primal impulses. 
Where there is conduct, there is counter conduct.
Identified in 1973, the legitimation  crisis is anything but new.
When we become  too hostile to our institutions, Freud suggests civilization must come in to  remind us to be social.
The  wicked play of democracy, of theater can be dangerous, with bad play, as the polis descends into anomie  and pathology.
The theater makes spectators unafraid, grasping for freedom.
The flip side of this is that the loss of civilization undoes individual norms. 
Herein radical egalitarian impulses a tension between ruler and ruled.
Plato describes seven governing functions, including rank,  age,  and  rule of law.
Under  theatrocracy, these are destroyed.
Tyranny is the unhappy daughter of democracy.
Using resentments to divide the polis.
Huizinga identifies two kinds of play, children’s and theater. 
But  Plato identifies an additional concept, dark play.
The bad play is the unanticipated, the uncontrolled leads us to misuse, to tyranny, agonistic coups; freedom is lost and  flattened.
Civility is lost in the spirit of revenge.
Differences become irreconcilable, notes Janah Ganesh:
Friends become enemies with the descent of the social sphere into antagonism?
Schiller points out that man in “only human when he plays.”
Calling  for  a “playful resistance” Fisher concludes:
Yet, play and praxis involves difference.
Can democracy endure pluralism?
Carl Schmidt suggests that democratic pluralism only occurs within homogeneity.
While Hannah Arendt suggests plurality supports the process.  Let everyone have feelings to act with collectively. Of course, this sort of action  cuts  both ways, in  multiple directions, from liberation  to social  control.
So we find ourselves in a protracted battle between cosmopolitans comfortable with multiculturalism and reactionaries hunkering for a whiter, more segregated bygone era. Until the Trump era, I believed the former.  But lately, I’m left wondering if pluralism can endure, hoping  the kind of multiethnic polis we see in my home down of Brooklyn can endure.
The theater teaches us to play.
It opens spaces for engagement, a theater of public life, taking place in the commons, a general assembly.  The question is can be there.  Who is represented?
Engaging in a politics of rehearsal, the democratic project is always unfinished. Play and radical democracy is rehearsed.
Embrace mutual play posits Schiller.
Embrace playocracy.
Here the aesthetic domain offers a solution, in a way to live.
The living theater is a way to rehearse, allowing opposing viewpoints.
If we  want better  politics,  then we need more  free  play, not less, even  if it involves risk.
Politics is affective.
Play is to and from,  allowing for  more  dialogue.
Yet Freud warns it can be coopted and sublimated by antagonism.
Yet how can we engage difference within the clash between plurality and homogenaety?
Can play lead us out?
Can we make a song about democracy?
Between love and hate?
Listening,  participating, acting, learning, engaging?
Can we write a new script?
Afterall, its now or never.
If we want a saner politics, then we need more  free play, more risk, more interaction.
Play is to and from, dialogue that allows fusion of horizons.
Conversation  is the basis of shared understanding, not the final  word.
The ludic realm resists totalization.  
To be in the world playfully means we are not self-important.  Nothing is sacred or fixed, not  people or ideas or any kinds of systems.
It is a space to imagine possibilities beyond trauma.
“The street is a place to play,” notes Henri Lefebvre.
There is a universe we want to know but it is unknowable.
Accept this and try to understand it anyway, counsels Camus.
Absurdity leads to revolt.
Freedom.
Passion.
But it involves participation.
It involves communication.
Street art.
Colors splashed on walls.
“If graffiti changed anything it would be illegal,” Banksy reminds.
Walter Benjamin  explores the spaces where  these colors find expression in “spielraum”  or free play, making  his ways through arcades, walking  the curvilinear streets of  “Naples” (1925), “Building and action interpenetrate in the courtyards, arcades, and stairways. In everything, they preserve the scope to become a theater of new, unforeseen constellations. The stamp of the definitive is avoided. No situation appears intended forever, no figure asserts it ‘thus and not otherwise.”
Beyond automobility, these are spaces where authentic journeys take shape, reviving  possibilities for transitional spaces, for a magic circle, for transformation, for subversive ways of being. 
In Prague we are left to wonder, who are the winners of the Velvet Revolution: capitalism or democracy?
Can  we try to bypass polarization and  enhance communication?
Can we laugh at ourselves?
Can we protect spaces of play?
So how do we take  the clash  and  turn  it into a 

street party?






















































































































































18 comments:

  1. My sense is that friendship is forged through social engagement while working on common goals in community. Play is the practice of various kinds of society. It binds people closer. When humans existed in small groups struggling to survive play allowed for comity and deeper social connection. That is why dark play, transgressive play irrespective of morality binds people so closely. Nothing like fear of death or the unknown or transgression to bring people closer. But as free agents and moral beings, each of us has choices to make, to choose purpose, aim and intent. That is where destructive paths intersect. Capitalism has distorted the role of purpose in social engagement. Play has became an excess commodity at times. The cohesion of purpose that benefits the group can be damaging to individuals as they are victimized and exploited even in play. It was just a joke as they say. Play has real purpose. Play without values, in the moral sense, can easily devolve into something destructive. Capitalism has had an interesting effect in that. Capitalism thrives where there is friendship, but it has also decoupled its underlying purpose from certain kinds of good.

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    Replies
    1. there's a lot to unpack here ken... thanks for all you do friend. hasta pronto.

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  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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