Monday, June 25, 2012

Health, Play, and Resistance

A polysemous concept, health may be defined in many ways. Among the varied definitions of health, ease - the negation of disease - allows for an articulation of a particular aspect of health. Ease, which is defined negatively as freedom from labor, pain, physical annoyance, and anxiety - and positively as comfort, casualness and rest - must be contrasted, however, from its mere semblance – sloth. Indeed, in some respects sloth is actually dis-ease, particularly when conditions of health are neglected. The distinction is crucial because while ease manages to perform various activities, with minimal effort and waste, sloth does not. In other words, ease does not neglect to satisfy the basic elements of health - which are those elements necessary for optimal health - and to produce, or reproduce, conditions of health. It accomplishes these with ease. Among other things, ease is rest, and the taking of one's time. Sloth, however, neglecting this basic duty-of-care to oneself, produces or reproduces conditions of disease.

Unlike sloth, ease may be defined as a type of radiance - as the emanating energy of health. And that the word radiance is etymologically linked to the Sanskrit word for play reflects more than a superficial relationship between the two concepts.

Contrary to Johan Huizinga's contention in his classic work Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, the antithesis of play is not ritual. Ritual, rather, should be seen as a mediating phase separating and connecting play from its true negation: work. In this dichotomy, play corresponds to liberty, and freedom. Work, on the other hand, corresponds not to free labor voluntarily performed so much, but to servitude. This should not be mistaken for a position dismissive of purposeful activity and effort. The feature designative of work as servitude is its sympathy with constraint, and compulsion. As such, it falls beneath the sway of dominating power - related to Ananke and Bia - whereas play is a form of radiance, manifesting liberating power.

Unlike Huizinga's assertion that play is voluntary, the opposite seems just as much to be the case - for play very often seeps out, or radiates, unconsciously. To be sure, even if, for example, one chooses to play a game, one may not be playful by willing this, for then it becomes work. However, playfulness may overtake the person, transforming him or her from a worker working at playing, into a player actually playing. Play, for example, often interrupts concentration. Perceived as inattentiveness, or restlessness, this may often be the conatus, the striving of the conatus, resisting some obstacle obstructing its radiance. Should that radiance overcome the obstacle in question, that person will most likely experience a sense of freedom. If the obstacle prevails, however, a sense of defeat, and depression, tends to result. It is not unrelated to these phenomena that rates of depression preponderate in societies where conditions of disease - and work - dominate and predominate. 

Aside from the material conditions of disease that form obstacles to radiance (such as long work hours, sleep-deprivation, lack of nourishment, etc.) are the immaterial obstacles, or mental pollution, such as those formed by ideologies, social conditioning, and individual psychological 'hang-ups' among other things. These factors may distort the impulse of play/liberating power, deforming it into obsessive, work-like compulsiveness, or into aggressive behavior, violence and other forms of dominating power. This is why it is not much of a game, and no fun, to ‘play’ against an unsporting challenger – because it isn’t even play at all, the activity never rises to it. This type of behavior belongs, properly, to either ritual or work.

Unlike with play, the satisfaction deriving from work – from the completion of some task, for example – is in actuality – as opposed to its mere appearance or phantom – the feeling of having freed oneself from a burden. In overcoming an obstacle one earns a degree of liberation, a stretch of autonomy - a measure of health. As such, there is little satisfaction when one reflects on the relations of arbitrary bondage that give rise to certain types of obstacles, unnecessary obstacles; these, though they may be unnecessary for health, are often quite necessary for the maintenance of the conditions of dis-ease. The line demarcating liberation and enslavement, ease and disease – each of which implies the other’s negation, or sublation – is observable in this relation.

Insofar as the obstacle, or burden, is regarded as necessary, its overcoming may be regarded as a relief, as a vindication, a moving beyond. This results in a type of satisfaction, or happiness. But if the burden or obstacle is regarded as unnecessary and arbitrary, the labor it demands for its overcoming may very well be recognized as not only unnecessary but insulting - for it is something of an insult, an abuse, or battery, or injury/a waste of one’s time/life. And what is its purpose? Generally, its purpose is to some degree the enrichment of the one(s) compelling the labor in the first place. That is, it is exploitative. The healthy resist such impositions. And the distaste, or disgust, or repulsion born of the recognition of one’s enslavement is in many respects the obverse of desire. In spite of all this, one may object, one may also actually derive true satisfaction from working and, moreover, have fun working. Insofar as this occurs, if it is experienced as fun, and one derives true satisfaction from the practice, then it most likely only appears to be work; in actuality such an activity is a variety of play. The two, to be sure, often overlap and intertwine. 

Play plays into situations through the constantly opening cracks - in the flexing - of a given situation’s unfolding. It is not, as Huizinga declares, outside of “ordinary,” mundane life so much as a perpetual invasion of daily life - as resistance to conditions of disease, and the radiance of health.

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