Sunday, February 15, 2015


Schiller's connection of play with art was likely influenced by Kant's discussion of art in his Critique of Judgment (1790). In distinguishing "art" from "handicraft" Kant holds that "the First is called free, the other may be called industrial art. We look on the former as something which could only prove final (be a success) as play, i.e., an occupation which is agreeable on its own account; but on the second as labor."5 Art, like play, is autotelic as opposed to handicraft which works to produce something for a purpose other than the making.6 Kant calls upon "play" to make clear what he means by "soul" [Geist] in his discussion of what constitutes artistic genius. Some works of art are deserving of being called art in their demonstration of "taste," yet somehow they are "soulless." "Soul" is the animating principle in the mind. Soul is "that which sets the mental powers into a swing that is final, i.e., into a play which is self-maintaining and which strengthens those powers for such activity."7 In his discussion of the three divisions of the fine arts, Kant identifies one division as the "play of sensations" or the "beautiful play of sensations," by which he refers to music and the "art of color." By "play" Kant refers to "the effect of those vibrating movements upon the elastic parts of our body that can be evident to sense."8 In Kant's usage, play is "agreeable on its own account," that is, it is autotelic, and it designates a self-maintaining swing or harmony of vibrating
2See Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L. A. Willoughby, translators and editors, Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man, in a Series of Letters (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1967), p. clxxxvi and Susanne Millar, The Psychology of Play (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1968), p.15.
3Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1950, trans. of 1944 German edition), p. 168.
4Huizinga's book may be cast in a much needed critical light once the discussion of play from Schiller to Derrida has been traced.
5Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement translated by J. C. Meredith (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973) as quoted in Mark Taylor Deconstruction in Context, p. 39.
6 Schiller here anticipates Baudrillard’s distinction between seduction and production. 7Ibid., p. 47. 8Ibid., p. 56.The Powerful Play Goes On 3 Friedrich Schiller to Jacques Derrida
movements. The association of play with vibrating or oscillating movement will be developed by others.
Schiller's Aesthetic Letters argue for the importance of aesthetic education, proposing that aesthetic education is essential to the realization of human potential. Foundational to his argument is Schiller's description of the two forces or impulses that drive human action, that define the human character. Schiller describes these two opposing forces in various ways. Analyzing the age in which he lived, heavily influenced by the French Revolution, Schiller felt that culture tended to bifurcate the individual placing him or her at odds within him or herself, with detrimental results,
either as savage, when feeling predominates over principle; or as barbarian when principle destroys feeling. The savage despises Civilization, and acknowledges Nature as his sovereign mistress. The barbarian derides and dishonors Nature, but, more contemptible than the savage, as often as not continues to be the slave of his slave.(IV.6)

The work most commonly cited since mid-twentieth century as the source or inspiration for contemporary studies of play is Johan Huizinga's Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (1944). Huizinga cites Schiller only one time. In his chapter "Play-forms in Art," he equates Schiller's Spieltrieb, play drive, with the human propensity to ornament, which he exemplifies by a reference to doodling.3 Huizinga gives no evidence of having read more than the Fourteenth Letter and he misrepresents Schiller.4

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