J. Huizinga, Homo Ludens

📜 Huizinga, Johan. 1949 [1938]. Homo Ludens: A Study of Play Element in Culture. [Translated by Richard Francis Carrington Hull]. London, Boston and Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul‎

Huizinga's Homo Ludens was written in 1938. It gives a very broad perspective on relations between music and games. After all, games are just one kind of playing and music is a small element of culture. Author's analysis centers on a very abstract "ludic element" and descriptions of actual practice don't happen very often (if they do, they are often niche). The book is accessible and doesn't need any theoretical preparation to read. Here is the beginning of the chapter Play-forms in art (p. 158):

PLAY, we found, was so innate in poetry, and every form of poetic utterance so intimately bound up with the structure of play that the bond between them was seen to be indissoluble. The same is true, and in even higher degree, of the bond between play and music. In an earlier chapter we noted that in some languages the manipulation of musical instruments is called "playing", to wit, in the Arabic language on the one hand and the Germanic and Slavonic on the other. Since this semantic understanding between East and West can hardly be ascribed to borrowing or coincidence, we have to assume some deep­rooted psychological reason for so remarkable a symbol of the affinity between music and play.
However natural this affinity seems to us it is far from easy to form a clear idea of its rationale. The most we can do is to enumerate the elements which music and play have in common. Play, we said, lies outside the reasonableness of practical life; has nothing to do with necessity or utility, duty or truth. All this is equally true of music. Furthermore, musical forms are determined by values which transcend logical ideas, which even transcend our ideas of the visible and the tangible. These musical values can only be understood in terms of the designations we use for them, specific names like rhythm and harmony which are equally applicable to play or poetry. Indeed, rhythm and harmony are factors of all three - poetry, music, and play - in an absolutely equal sense. But whereas in poetry the words themselves lift the poem, in part at least, out of pure play into the sphere of ideation and judgement, music never leaves the play-sphere.

In later chapters you may find deliberations on Plato's and Aristotle's approach to music, historical view on changes in musical performance, and relations between music and competition.

Homo ludens has a spot as a classic reference in the field of game studies (to the extent of not being cited anymore ;) ), but it's role is hard to overstate as it was the first modern scholarly book that took games and play seriously as its subject. It's acclaimed for providing also a definition of play. According to Huizinga, play is an activity that:

  1. is free,
  2. is not "ordinary" life,
  3. is distinct as to locality and duration,
  4. creates order that is absolute and supreme,
  5. is connected with no material interest.

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