Philosophical perspectives on play from Homer to Hegel
Play has undergone a "process of abjection" in western philosophical thinking: It is considered to be repulsive and loathsome, yet it is also fascinating and desirable, that is, the more reason disavows play and unseriousness, the more it desires to incorporate them. Even though play has to be denounced, philosophers seem unaware that their own activity is inherently playful. In my dissertation I trace a malediction of play in western metaphysics to Aristotle who eclipses tragic, Dionysian play in his ethical and political theory. In the archaic ludic beginnings of Homer and Hesiod, play is not yet put in binary opposition to seriousness; this conceptual shift occurs in the pre-Socratic classical Greek period. While Plato maligns certain mimetic practices in his infamous critique of the poets, I aver that he does not turn against the Dionysian aspects of play. This is clearly shown in his uses of masks and mimicry, in his mockery of the sophists and in his endorsement of divine inspiration.
I pursue the Aristotelian thread of the malediction of play in Kant's and Schiller's discussions of the concept and function of play. Although Kant parts from Aristotle in important ways in The Critique of Judgment, e.g. with the modern conception of the artist as not merely being a follower but also a creator of standards, I argue that Kant still remains committed to an Apollonian, rationalistic play of the imagination. In this dissertation, Kant serves as a transition figure between Aristotle and Hegel. In Nietzsche's thought, we see an important ludic turn, as argued by many play theoreticians. However, I argue that this reversal has been paved by Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. In good Heraclitean terminology, truth becomes a "Bacchanalian whirl," an interplay of drunken frenzy and calm repose, i.e. of Dionysian and Apollonian impulses. This trope serves as a key category for the interpretation of Hegel's play theory. Hence, I will argue against critics, who narrowly view Hegel's dialectic as carrying a notion of 'resentment' and a 'spirit of gravity.'