A Human is completely human only when s/he plays


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A Human is completely human only when s/he plays

”Our repressed desires are the desires we had, unrepressed, in childhood; and they are sexual desires…The axiom on which Freud constructed…his basic hypothesis is that the pattern of normal adult sexuality is not a natural (biological) necessity but a cultural phenomenon.”

Properly understood, Freud’s doctrine of infantile sexuality is a scientific formulation and reaffirmation of the fact that children seek pleasure. In childhood innocence, as displayed in their delight with their body, remains wo/man’s indestructible unconscious goal.

Children on one hand pursue pleasure and on the other hand are active in that pursuit. A child’s pleasure is in the active pursuit of the life of the human body. What then are we adults to learn from the pursuits of childhood? The answer is that children play.

“Play is the essential character of activity governed by the pleasure-principle rather than the reality-principle. Play is ‘purposeless yet in some sense meaningful’…play is the erotic mode of activity. Play is that activity which, in the delight of life, unites man with the objects of his love, as is indeed evident from the role of play in normal adult genital activity…the ultimate essence of our being is erotic and demands activity according to the pleasure-principle.”

As a religious ideal childhood innocence has resisted assimilation into rational-theological tradition. Although there is a biblical statement that says something to the effect that unless you become children you cannot go to heaven, this admonition has affected primarily only mystics. However, poets have grasped this meaning in its philosophic-rational terms.

In his “Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man” Schiller says that “Man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays.” Sartre says “As soon as a man apprehends himself as free and wishes to use his freedom...then his activity is play.”

H. H. Brinton, modern American archaeologist, considers the essence of man is purposeful activity generated by desire. The perfect goal generated activity is play. Play expresses life in its fullest. Play as an end, as a goal, means that life itself has intrinsic value. Adam and Eve succumbed when their play became serious business.

Jacob Boehme, a German Christian mystic, concluded that wo/man’s perfection and bliss resided not in religion but in joyful play.

John Maynard Keynes noted modern economist, takes the premise that modern technology will solve wo/man’s need to work and thereby lead to a general “nervous breakdown”. He thinks we already experience a manifestation of this syndrome when we observe the unfortunate wives of wealthy men who have lost meaning in this driving and ambitious world of economic progress. He says “There is no country and no people who can look forward to the age of leisure and abundance without dread.”

From the Keynesian point of view it will be a difficult task to transfer our ambitions from acquiring wealth to that of playing. But for Freud this change is not as difficult because beneath the habits of work acquired by all wo/men lay an immortal instinct for play.

Huizinga, a noted anthropologist, testifies to the presence of a nonfunctional element of play in all of the basic categories of our sapient cultural activity—religion, art, law, economics, etc. He further concludes that advanced civilization has disguised this element of play and thereby dehumanized culture.

The author, Norman Brown, concludes that psychoanalysis have added to these expressed statements regarding the importance of “The play element in culture provides a prima facie justification for the psychoanalytic doctrine of sublimation, which views ‘higher’ cultural activities as substitutes for infantile pleasures.”

Quotes from “Life against Death” by Norman Brown