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Archive of posts published in the category: play

“What if…?”:

What if we just took the “what if?” state of mind to be playing? I find I really need a definition, and this is both simple and versatile (I can’t be the only one who finds the concept of play both critical —…

Flusser, “Games”

This is my translation of a very brief, very early essay Flusser wrote about games, which makes homo ludens the designation for the human specie from the start. But this is not as a means of setting humans apart from, say, animals —…

Play and Games

In German, the two words are the same, or at least have the same root. “Spiel” is a game, and “spielen” is the verb — roughly “to spiel.” They’re two different words in English, “game” the traditional noun, and “play” the traditional verb…

This is Play

This is the title of an article (Stephen Nachmanovitch, New Literary History, Vol. 40, No. 1, Winter, 2009), pp. 1-24.) about play in general, but specifically about Gregory Bateson’s theoretical approach to it – involving studies with dolphins and monkeys and dogs and people,…

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Aesthetic Education

I hope against hope that someday “aesthetic” might be widely understood as something that is NOT always, inevitably, associated with art. If that were the case, perhaps more people would see that we are all making aesthetic judgments, decisions, “gestures” as Flusser put it, all the time (“gestures” include speech and writing as well as, say, genuflection), and that such expressions “say” a great deal about us, what’s basic about us. For human beings’ most logic-resistant loyalties, ranging from harmless preferences to the fiercest commitments, are fundamentally aesthetic.  “I like it” or “I don’t like it” is probably the most familiar expression of an aesthetic judgement (although it can, sometimes, misleadingly refer to a logical or ethical decision).  An aesthetic judgment aligns the speaker on his or her own grounds, without implying any logical or ethical foundation or imposing any tacit obligation to explain or defend.  There is invariably some aesthetic dimension in any of our judgments, whether other people, ideas, rituals, institutions, substances, sounds or tastes. It is NOT restricted to arts!

If you are in conversation with someone about an activity that involves aesthetic decisions (this is likely to be cooking or gardening or shopping for clothes, but it could be anything), the sentences in the exchange will probably include plenty of logical or ethical propositions: does the object or material or plant or fabric serve an intended purposes, fit in a given space, appropriately mark an occasion?  But there will also be statements about aesthetic preferences. When you hear a phrase such as “If it were me, I’d buy that one” or, “That recipe is too complicated for me,” your conversation partner is acknowledging the aesthetic dimension in what you are doing, expressing an awareness that aesthetic responses will differ, and offering reassurance that he or she is prepared to accept this particular difference.   

Suppose that big commitments, such as religious belief or sexual orientation are just as aesthetic at heart as more familiar, less binding ones, such as what you like for breakfast, or which art works resonate with you, or how you feel about trying something new. If the aesthetic dimension really is critical with respect to the big questions, it would be worth building it into even the most basic education.  If people could be more aware of their own aesthetics – their own values – and of how these differ from other people’s, we might be able to heal some of the rifts that currently make us so miserable.  

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