Sunday, June 25, 2017

Agon, mimesis and chaos

The remarkabe endurance of play and games across centuries, generations, cultures and countries is quite a story. Both natural and man-made playgrounds change with geograohy, time, and necessity. Technology, culture, and interest change children’s toy choices, but their games, laws and seasons for playing them endure in modified fashion.
Frost, 2010

In my previous write up, I had mentioned three words, ‘Agon, mimesis and chaos’, which are the three routes for understanding play. It was Spariosu (1989), who had interpreted these words, explained it’s meaning and significance for the present situation. A more detailed explanation is available in his book on ‘Play and the aesthetic dimension in modern philosophical and scientific discourse’. Let’s look in brief the significance of these three words.

‘Agon’, meaning  conflict, is one way of considering play. It was a belief that, it was the Greek Gods, who put humans to challenges in the form of war, politics and other forms of conflict, that would test the physical and social capabilities. It was believed that the one who was able to overcome the challenges, had the blessings of god. The Ancient Greeks created a sport version of Agon, where different groups would compete against each other, instead of fighting real war, like throwing lances (javelins), heaving stones (shot put), shooting arrows (archery), and other forms of physical competition to know which individual or group had the blessings of god. These form of competitive play in the form of sports and games is still practised.

‘Mimesis’ meaning mimicry. It is believed that the Ancient Greeks would mimic Gods, in various representational forms , to show their devotion towards God. Spariosu says that the greeks acted in ways that were thought to be pleasing to gods. The Greeks imagined God’s way life and interpreted it through dance forms, which they felt would bring them closer to Gods and would possibly beget God’s favour. The Ancient Greek players used masks to take on new roles, scenes of Gods were depicted as symphonizing human actions has evolved into theatre (plays) ,rituals (religious rites) and other symbolic or dramatic portrayals. Mimesis may be interpreted as imitative or expressive, but it involved acting. Imitation, dramatic presentations or enacting by adults or children are forms of symbolic play which is still seen even today as a form of recreation.

‘Chaos’ or the order and disorder of nature, is a way by which ancient people tried to relate to Gods and understand the purpose of humans  in the world. Predictions were considered as a way in trying to understand the actions of gods. By predicting,  Ancient Greeks took a trust in chance, that all actions had godly interventions and will mark one’s path of life. Predictions were done by tossing bones, studying patterns and drawing lots which was believed to reveal the future of a  person. According to Spariosu, this games of chance is also another form of play, that is seen to this day in the form of gambling, board games, flipping coins and so on.

The Ancient Greeks were very clear about the fact that these three forms are a basis for their philosophy of life and had no relationship with play. But thinkers like Spariosu and Lonsdale interpretation has led us to think of the links between play and agos, mimesis, chaos. In the beginning of the blog there is a quote about play by Frost, where he also opines, that with changing times there is definitely a change in the choice of games, but the rules and ways of playing it will always reamin the same, maybe modified to suite particular conditions. For example, a game called Pagade got modified as Ludo, but people play both forms of games. 

 The forms of play that the ancients have discussed applies to both children and adults. However, there is a lack of supportive literature and recordings of children’s play in ancient times. Children’s play came into limelight during the 17th century, where thinkers began to reconsider, and shifted their focus from religion and beliefs. So wait up for the next blog to see the wave of these thinkers magic wand on the philosophy of child’s play.

Dr. Srividya R.

No comments: