A transcription of the book called Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse. This is the first time that I wrote down almost everything in a book I’ve read, slightly rewording it and compressing it while still trying to retain its intention and meaning. It turned out that the further in I’ve got, the more I lost compression and the more blatantly I’ve started borrowing Carse’s turns and flourishes, since they felt appropriate.
There were a few places where I felt I had something to add, and those parts are emphasized for clarity. If you’ve already read the book and you are interested in my marginalia, you can find only the sections I made notes on in this reflection.
Chapter I - There are at least two kinds of games
There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, played for the purpose of winning, while the other infinite, played for the purpose of continuing the play.
If a finite game is to be won by someone, it must have a definitive end. Who wins is a matter of perspective, both from the players, referees, and spectators, but only the agreement of the players is absolutely required in determining who has won. Once the players are convinced that the game is over, they cannot play freely. There is no finite game unless the players freely choose to play it. No one can play who is forced to play. Whoever must play, cannot play.
On the other side of the coin, a finite game must also have a precise beginning, therefore we can speak of them as having temporal boundaries (in addition to their spatial and participatory ones).
Finite players cannot select themselves for play, and they can always be removed or refused to be played together with. The licence never belongs to the licensed, nor the commission to the officer.
Numerical boundaies take many forms but always apply to finite games, where their purpose of the constancy is to preserve the possibility that all contestants can agree on an eventual winner.
Having these boundaries means that the date, place and membership of a finite game is externally defined, from the perspective of what happened before its beginning and after its conclusion, and similarly with place and membership (played in that place, with those persons).
“The world is elaborately marked by boundaries of contest, its people finely classified as to their eligibilities.”
Even if only one person may win a game, others still participate for the possibility of obtaining the highest possible rankings, without expecting to win.
In exactly one respect, an infinite game is identical to a finite one: if infinite players play, they also play freely; if they must play, they cannot play. In all other respects, they stand in sharp contrast: they do not know or care when the game began, or for the reason for the lack of temporal boundaries. The only purpose of a finite game is to prevent itself from coming to and end, and to keep everyone in play.
Note that a finite game plays inside its boundaries, while an infinite game plays to push beyond boundaries.
In other respects, there are also no spatial or numerical boundaries (think about erosion over time), there are no worlds that are demarcated by such boundaries. Also, anyone who wishes to do so may play. Finite games are externally defined, infinite games are internally defined. Its time is not world time, but one that was created within the play itself. Because playing an infinite game eliminates boundaries, it opens those to its players.
“Finite games can be played within an infinite game, but an infinite game cannot be played within a finite game.” Wins and losses in infinite games are but moments in continuing play for its players.
Finite games also have agreed-upon internal limitations (the rules of its play) that limit what players can do to and with each other. They are not laws, per se, but restraints upon the players’ freedom, but note that they still allow room for choice within those restraints.
“The rules of a finite game are the contractual terms by which the players can agree who has won.”
“The agreement of the players to the applicable rules constitutes the ultimate validation of those rules”, that is, they are valid only if and when players freely play by them. There are no rules that require us to obey rules. If there were, there would have to be a rule to obey those, and so on.
If the rules of a finite game are unique to that game, they cannot change during the course of play (otherwise, it would be a different game). On the contrary, the rules of an infinite game must change in the course of play (exactly when the players agree to it). The rules change to prevent anyone from winning and to bring as many persons as possible into play.
“The rules of an infinite game are the contractual terms by which the players agree to continue playing.”
In the infinite case, rules are a way of continuing discourse with each other, while in the finite case, they are a way of bringing the speech of another person to an end. The rules of a living language must evolve (to guarantee the meaningfulness of discourse), while the rules of debate must remain constant.
Although the rules of an infinite game must change, not any rule will do. They are designed to deal with specific threats to the continuation of play. Rules should be designed to allow players to continue by taking these limits (exhaustion, destitution, hostility, death) into play, which also means that no limitation may be imposed against infinite play.
“Since limits are taken into play, the play itself cannot be limited.”
Although theory says that whoever plays a finite game plays freely, it it often happens that finite players are unaware of this absolute freedom, and come to think that whatever they do they must do.
Firstly, one senses a compulsion to maintain a level of performance, because the permission to play may be canceled. We cannot do whatever we please and remain in our roles, yet we could not remain in them unless we wanted to.
Secondly, finite games are played to be won, whatever is not done in the interest of winning is not part of the game. Tracking the progress of the competition too closely can lead players to believe that every move they make they must make (towards winning).
Thirdly, it may appear that life is meaningless and impossible without the prizes for winning. However, this line of thought should be reserved for finite games that are truly a matter of life and death.
Because they are chosen, the limitations of finite play are self-limitations.
How do we account for the large gap between the actual freedom to step off of the field, and the experienced necessity to stay at the struggle? As finite players, we veil this freedom from ourselves. One reason from some of this self-veiling is that unless players forget the voluntary nature of their play, competitive effort will desert them. Each role must be taken up with a certain seriousness, believing we are the persons those roles portray, and, we make that believable for others, too.
“To not see this woman as Ophelia, but to see Ophelia as this woman.”
Neither the actress, nor the audience is unaware that she and Ophelia are separate, nor the fact that she has veiled herself sufficiently to play the role, momentarily choosing to forget the difference. As her audience, we are complicit with her veil, allowing her performed emotions to affect us (but still, by choice).
Stepping into the role of a mother requires one to suspend their freedom in order to act as the role requires. Some may veil themselves so assiduously, they make their performance believable even to themselves, overlooking the distinction between a mother’s feelings and their own.
The issue here is not about the avoidance of self-veiling, but if we are willing to drop the veil and openly acknowledge, if only to ourselves, that we have freely chosen to face the world through a mask.
When the woman acting as Ophelia steps off the stage, does she not step into another role, one whose actions are just as carefully scripted and produced?
The issue is not with the morality of masking ourselves, but with the contradictory nature of self-veiling: it is a free suspension of our freedom. I cannot forget that I have forgotten, but I may have used the veil successfully enough to make my performance believable to myself.
“To believe is to know you believe, and to know you believe is not to believe.” (Sartre)
“If no amount of veiling can conceal the veiling itself, the issue is how far we will go in our seriousness at self-veiling, and how far we will go to have others act in complicity with us.”
Since finite games can be played within an infinite game, infinite players do not eschew the performed roles of finite play. They enter into finite games with the appropriate self-veiling, but without the seriousness of finite players, embracing the abstractness of finite games as abstractness, playfully (abstractness - substitution of a part of the whole for the whole, which is concrete - see Hegel). They regard other participants in finite play as “that person playing” and not as “a role played by someone”.
We are playful when we engage others by choice, when there is no telling in advance where our relationship with them will go - when no one has an outcome to impose on the relationship, apart from the decision to continue it.
Playfulness does not imply frivolousness. When we are playful with each other, the relationship is open to surprise, everything that happens is of consequence. Seriousness is a dread of the unpredictable outcome of open possibility, wanting to press for a specified conclusion.
“To be playful is to allow for the possibility whatever the cost to oneself.”
An infinite game cannot be abstracted, for it is not a part of the whole presenting itself as the whole, but the whole that knows that it is the whole. Players are infinite when we can only say that they played with each other in such a way that what they began cannot be finished.
As a finite game’s roles seem as if they are scripted and performed for an audience, we refer to it as theatrical, and as infinite game’s players avoid any outcome whatsoever, keeping the future open, making scripts useless, we refer to infinite play as dramatic.
“Dramatically, one chooses to be a mother; theatrically, one takes on the role of mother.”
While a finite game’s rules must be obeyed, they do not constitute a script, which is the record of actual exchanges between players, and they cannot be written down beforehand. Since the outcome is yet unknown (it wouldn’t be a true game otherwise), play during a finite game is still dramatic, it’s theatricality has to do with the fact that there is an outcome. Looking back, we can see how the sequence of moves made makes the winner’s victory inevitable. Hence, finite play is provisionally dramatic, because it’s the interest of each player to eliminate its drama by making a preferred end inevitable.
“A true Master Player plays as though the game is already in the past, according to a script whose every detail is known prior to the play itself.”
Surprise is crucial in finite play. If our opponent cannot plan for every move, we are most likely to win by surprising them. Surprise in finite play is the triumph of the past over the future. Finite players are trained to anticipate and to control the future, to prevent it from altering the past (in which they had a plan). This is the serious finite player, who dreads unpredictable consequence.
On the other hand, infinite players continue their play with the expectation of being surprised. If surprise is no longer possible, all play ceases.
“Surprise causes finite play to end; it is the reason for infinite play to continue.”
Surprise in infinite play is the triumph of the future over the past. Finite players must hide their future moves to prevent the future from altering the past. They must appear something other than what they are, keeping the unprepared opponent unprepared, everything about their appearance being concealing. Moves of a finite player must be deceptive: feints, distractions, falsifications, misdirections, mystifications.
Infinite players play in openness, preparing themselves to be surprised by the future. It is not an openness of candor or honesty, but one of vulnerability. Not the exposure of the one unchanging true self, but of the ceaseless growth of the dynamic self that has yet to be. They expect to not only be amused by surprise, but to be transformed by it.
“To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated. Education leads towards a continuing self-discovery; training leads toward a final self-definition. Training repeats a completed past in the future. Education continues an unfinished past into the future.”
What one wins for a finite game is a title, an acknowledgment from others that is public and its purpose is for being seen. They are expected from the outside, but unused intrinsically, unless you address yourself as other.
Titles are timeless (simply as they exist outside of time), but exist only so far as they are acknowledged, which is limited by how long they are remembered, with various ways of “setting them in stone”. The suggestion with the inheritability of some titles is that the winners have continued existing in their descendants. These heirs are obliged to display the appropriate emblems: coat of arms, style of speech, clothing, or behavior.
“It is a principal function of society to validate titles and to assure their perpetual recognition.”
Through the timelessness of titles, we can discern the importance of death to both kinds of games, and how differently it is understood in each. Finite games are won with a terminal move, which results in the death of the other as a player. Properly speaking, life and death as such are rarely the stakes of a finite game. Losing a finite game means becoming declared to be utterly without title - a person to whom no attention whatsoever need be given. Death, in finite play, is the triumph of the past over the future, a state in which no surprise is possible.
Death does not refer to a corporeal state, one can be dead in life, or one can be alive in death.
Death in life is a mode of existence in which one has ceased all play, not striving any further for titles. For some, it is misfortune, the resigned acceptance of a loser’s status. For others, it is an achievement, the result of spiritual to discipline, say, intended to extinguish all traces of struggle with the world, a liberation from the need for any title whatsoever.
Life in death concerns those who are titled and whose timeless titles may not be extinguished by death. Victors live forever not because their souls are unaffected by death but because their titles must not be forgotten. What the winners of finite games achieve is not properly an afterlife but an afterworld, not a continuing existence but continuing recognition of their titles.
There are games in which the stakes do seem to be life and death, such as in forms of bondage found in those persons who resort to expensive medical strategies to be cured of life-threatening illness. They seem to be giving life away in order to win it back. Those who seek to observe special diets or patterns of life designed to prolong their youth, to postpone aging and death indefinitely; hate their life in this world now, in order that they may have it later.
“And just as with slaves, the life they receive is given to them by others: doctors, yogis, or their anonymous admirers.”
When a finite player views life as the award to be won, death is a token of defeat, not chosen, but inflicted. A judgement, a dishonor, a sign of certain weakness. There is a contradiction here: if the prize for winning a finite play is life, then they players are not alive in some sense, as they are competing for it. Life, for them, is not play, but the outcome of play, not lived, but deserved and bestowed upon one. The contradiction is that finite play is play against itself, as it is played to end itself.
Death, for finite players, is abstract. It’s only an abstracted fragment of a whole person that dies in life or lives in death. In the same way, life is also abstract. It is not the whole person who lives. Winning life, they win an abstraction. Immortality, therefore, is the triumph of such an abstraction, a state of unrelieved theatricality. An immortal person could not choose to die or to live, as they play out their scripted role. Immortality is serious and in no way playful.
Immortality of the bare soul, cleansed from personality traces, is rarely what is desired in the yearning for immortality. More often what one wants to preserve is a public personage, a permanently veiled selfhood. Immortality is the state of forgetting that we have forgotten, overlooking the fact that we freely decided to enter into finite play.
“The information that my soul is to last forever could then be of no more personal concern to me than the news that my appendix is to be preserved in a bottle.” (Flew)
Immortality is, therefore, the supreme example of the contradictoriness of finite play: it is a life one cannot live.
The boundaries of death are part of infinite play, whose players die during its course, not at the end. Their death is dramatic, flowing into the continuiation of play. Therefore they do not play for their own life, they live for their own play. Since that play is always with others, they live and die for their continued life. Where the finite player plays for immortality, the infinite player plays as a mortal, not playing against others but with them. The finite play for life is serious, the infinite play of life is joyous.
“It is laughter with others with whome we have discovered that the end we ethought we were coming to has unexpectedly opened.”
The contradiction of finite play is that the players desire to bring play to an end for themselves. The paradox of infinite play is that the players desire to continue the play in others (they play only when others go on with the game, when they themselves become least necessary to the continuation of play).
Finite players acquire titles from winning their games, but infinite players have nothing but their names. Unlike titles, players are given their names at birth, at a time when they cannot possibly have done anything. Titles concentrate on a completed past, names on an open future. Titles are abstractions, names are concrete. It can happen that when persons are distinctly identified as winner that their names can have the force of titles, needing them to defend it or clear it of aspersions.
Titles are theatrical, each having ceremonial forms of address and behavior. The forms (or manner) could be shaking hands, kneeling, prostrating or crossing oneself, saluting, bowing, averting the eyes, or standing in silence. The behavior specifies the subjects suitable for discussion with, say, the Admiral of the Fleet or the District Attorney or the Holy Mother. Both of these are recognitions of the areas in which the titled player is no longer in competition, where they cannot be contested, where we withdraw from contest with them.
The titled are powerful. Others are expected to yield, withdraw, and conform their will in the arena of the title. This exercise of power presupposes resistance, it needs opposing forces to be evident. If no one strives for a title, no one will defer to it. My power is determined by the amount of resistance I can displace within given spatial and temporal limits, which make it possible to know how powerful I am in relation to others.
Power is a term of competition: how much resistance can I overcome relative to others? Power is a concept belonging only to finite play, and it’s only properly measurable after its end. To see power is to look backward in time. If power is determined at the end, one does not win by being powerful, but win to be powerful. If you have enough power to win the game before it has even begun, what follows isn’t a game at all.
Power is bestowed by an audience after the play is complete, therefore you can have only what powers others give you. It is contradictory and theatrical.
Because power is measurable only in competitive - that is, comparative - terms, it presupposes some kind of cooperation - us joining the game to win it - without which no one can engage us competitively. If we defer to titled winners it is only because we regard ourselves as losers, freely taking part in the theater of power.
There are certainly forces against which we have no contravening ability, but we wouldn’t consider ourselves losers in relation to them (changes in the weather, acts of national governments, the process of aging). These are real, but we do not play against reality, we play according to it, according to the limits these forces establish.
“If I accept death as inevitable, I do not struggle agaisnt mortality. I struggle as a mortal.”
Knowing the above, how do infinite players contend with power? Infinite play is always dramatic, its outcome is endlessly open. What good way could there be to look back to make a definitive assessment of the power or weakness of past play? Infinite players look toward an ongoing play in which the past will require constant reinterpretation.
We need a term that will stand in contrast to power as it acquires meaning in finite play. Let us say that where the finite player plays to be powerful the infinite player plays with strength. A powerful person brings the past to an outcome, a strong person carries the past into the future. Strength, as it unfolds only in the future, cannot be measured like power, which is finite. Power will always be restricted to a select few persons, but anyone can be strong.
“I am not strong because I can force others to do what I wish as a result of my play with them, but because I can allow them to do what they wish in the course of my play with them.”
While Carse admits that he redefines strength, it's more positive than the meaning it usually carries. For many, strength implies at least the potential for power, and that won't just go away. I think this is a good example of Carse trying to borrow from and to build upon known language, but ending up held back by the total meaning that language carries. In this instance, I think strength, as used here, is only used as a subset of a less comforting meaning that strength is already burdened with. Going back to this note, it feels like the definition of power and strength here hold up well enough. My problem with this is that it's easy to agree with Carse when you've already accepted his language. My point is that this language may not be congruent with the complicated and burdened language we use in the reality we inhabit together (the map and territory becoming more weakly related, if you prefer). It certainly felt incongruent when I first read it, and it may feel the same way to someone who you would try to explain strength to, as it appears here.
Evil is the termination of infinite play, coming to an end in unheard silence. The latter is not the loss of the player’s voice with their death, but the loss of listeners for that voice. It is when the drama of a life does not continue in others because of their deafness and ignorance.
“There are silences that can be heard, even from the dead and from the severely oppressed.” Much is recoverable from an apparently forgotten past, much that could be continued. As a counterexample, all but a very few of the native american tongues have been silenced, and they will never be heard again, their cultures forever lost to those of us who stand ignorantly in their place.
The termination of a finite game is not evil, for their players know the stakes. Evil is not the attempt to eliminate the play of another according to the rules, but do it regardless of them. Not the acquisition of power, but the expression of it.
Evil is almost never intended as such, it arises in the belief that history can be tidied up, brought to a sensible conclusion. It is evil to act as though the past is bringing us to a specifiable end. Foolish for a nation to believe it is the last, best hope on earth (return to Zion, classless society, islamicization of infidels, ubermensch).
“Your history does not belong to me. We live with each other in a common history.”
As before, attempting to eliminate evil in others, despite its likelihood, is the very impulse of evil itself, it is a contradiction. Paradoxically, infinite players attempt to recognize that impulse of evil in themselves.
“Evil is not the inclusion of finite games in an infinite game, but the restriction of all play to one or another finite game.”
Chapter II - No one can play a game alone
Without community, there is no selfhood, our humanity is defined by our relating to others. That relation has to be symmetrical to be possible, and therefore simultaneous. Our social existence (therefore, our lives) is fluid. As in Zen, we are the stream itself that flows, not the stones below, and this ceaseless change allows our continuity as persons.
“Only that which can change can continue: this is the principle by which infinite players live.”
It is the essential fluidity of our humanness that is irreconcilable with the seriousness of finite play. An unavoidable challenge: how to contain the serious within the truly playful, to keep our finite games in infinite play. This is commonly misunderstood as the need to find room for playfulness in finite games. Inevitably, seriousness will creep back in. Even the open playfulness of children is exploited through organized athletic, artistic, and analytic regimens as a means of preparing the young for serious adult competition.
With Bismarck describing politics as the art of the possible, implying how that the latter is to be found within the limits of social realities, we can sense the seriousness in how politicians represent themselves as champions of freedom unafraid to do what is necessary and even distasteful to enlarge the range of the possible.
This is the approach of finite players. Infinite players are more concerned with showing how freely we have decided to place these particular boundaries around our finite play.
How could infinite players remain political without having a politics (to attempt to reach a desired end by a set of rules)? To be political in the infinite sense is by no means to disregard the appalling conditions that many live under, the elimination of which is the professed end of much politics.
“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” (Rousseau)
We can see that the dream of freedom is universal, that wars are fought to win it, heroes die to protect it, and songs are written to commemorate its attainment. Warfare and heroism are not without their own contradictions, before I can have an enemy, I must persuade another to recognize me as an enemy. Once underway, warfare and acts of heroism have all the appearance of necessity, but that appearance is but a veil over the often complicated maneuvers by which the antagonists have arranged their conflict with each other.
Politics is essentially theatrical, and that’s why infinite players cannot take sides in it seriously. Instead, they must enter into conflict dramatically, attempting to offer a vision of continuity and open-endedness in place of the heroic final scene. In doing so they must at least draw the attention of other political participants not to what they feel they must do, but to why they feel they must do it.
If society is all that a people feels it must do, culture “is the realm of the variable, free, not necessarily universal, of all that cannot lay claim to compulsive authority” (Burckhardt). Society is still not a natural instinct, it remains within our free choice, applying only to those areas of action which are believed to be necessary.
“Just as infinite play cannot be contained within finite play, culture cannot be authentic if held within the boundaries of a society.” In that case, it is designed to serve societal interests by embracing that culture as exclusively their own.
Society and culture are not true opponents, but the former is a species of the latter contradicting itself by freely organizing an attempt to conceal the freedom of the organizers and the organized, attempting to forget that we have willfully forgotten our decision to enter this or that contest and to continue in it.
If we think of society as all that a people does under the veil of necessity, we could think of it as a number of smaller games within its boundaries. Those games bestow societally visible titles, and it is not uncommon to families to think of themselves as a competitive unit in a broader finite game for which they are training their members. Just like a finite game, society is numerically, spatially and temporally limited.
The power of citizens in a society is determined by their ranking in games that have been played. Preserving records of their entitlements is important to societal order, and large sub-societies (more specifically, bureaucracies) grow out of this need.
The power of a society is determined by its victory over other societies in still larger finite games. Heroes fallen in battles are among a society’s most treasured memories, but only heroes of victorious battles are memorialized.
These memories can only be protected by its citizens if it remains powerful in relation to other societies. Those who desire the permamence of their prizes will work to sustain the permanence of the whole. Patriotism in one or several of its many forms (chauvinism, racism, sexism, nationalism, regionalism) is therefore an ingredient in all societal play. For a society to protect itself, it is in its own interest to encourage competition within itself - establishing many prizes - as the holders of prizes are those most likely to defend the society as a whole against its competitors.
A society maintains temporal limits, with a definitive beginning (founders are especially memorialized) and an end (its victory repeatedly anticipated in official declarations; “to each according to their need, from each according to their ability”).
Culture, on the other hand, is an infinite game. Culture has no boundaries, and anyone can participate in it at any time. Culture has no temporal limits, therefore it understands its past not as destiny, but as history, a narrative that may have begun, but one that points towards the endlessly open.
Society is a manifestation of power, and it is theatrical, having an established script. Deviation from it is antisocietal and therefore forbidden by society under various sanctions. Otherwise, any number of rules could change or be dropped altogether, no longer warranting ceremonial recognition of past winner’s titles, like Russian princes after a revolution. This preservation of rules (academic accreditations, licensure of trades and professions, synodical ordination, official appointments, inauguration of leaders) is a highly valued function of society.
“Deviancy, however, is the very essence of culture. Whoever merely follows the script, merely repeating the past, is culturally impoverished.”
However, not all deviations, or divergences from the past, are culturally significant. Cutting the past off, attempting to cause it to be forgotten, has much lesser cultural importance than attempting to bring the tradition into view in a new way, allowing the familiar to be seen as unfamiliar, “requiring a new appraisal of all that we have been - and therefore all that we are”.
Cultural deviation continues what has begun in the past, but does not return us to it. Societal convention, however, requires that a completed past be repeated in the future. Because an infinite game cannot be brought to an end, it cannot be repeated, and this is characteristic of culture everyhwere. Works of art could not be composed or painted or constructed twice, society preserves these works as the prizes of those who have triumphed in their respective games.
Culture does not consider these works as the outcome of a struggle, but as moments in an ongoing struggle - the very struggle that culture is. Culture continues an original, or deviant, shaping of the tradition they received, original enough that it does not invite duplication of itself by others, but invites their originality in response. The ruleset of culture as an infinite game is its tradition, but properly speaking it does not have a tradition, it is a tradition.
“It is essential to the identity of a society to forget that it has forgotten that society is always a species of culture.”
Its citizens find ways of persuading themselves that their boundaries were imposed upon them, and not freely chosen by them. One of the most effective means of this self-persuasion is the bestowal of property.
To understand property’s peculiar dynamic, let’s return to one of the features of finite play. A winner of a finite game wins a title, an acknowledgement of others. Titles are theatrical, requiring an audience to bestow and respect them. Those who acknowledge a title agree that competition is forever closed in that particular game. For a title to be effective, it must be visible and visibly pointing back at the contest in which it was won. The purpose of property is to make our titles visible, it is emblematic.
Property may be stolen, but ownership cannot (nations will go to war over claims to the ownership of land going back centuries). Titles can be inherited, though, and they require not only a transfer of property to the heir, but their possession of the worthiness by which the inheritor originally secured the title (seeing as inheritance can be legally challenged by demonstrating the heir’s incompetence or immorality).
A thief, however, does not mean to steal the title, they do not compete with me for the articles I have title to, but for the title to those articles, believing that those things to which I claim title belong to no one and are there for the taking.
When we hear that a society will usually go about preserving its citizens’ property by the use of force, it introduces a dilemma. While there are ways of forcibly restraining a thief, no amount of force can lead them to truly acknowledge someone else’s title to some article, and they will remain a thief until they are freely persuaded otherwise. This is as close to an effective pattern of entitlement to property as society gets.
“No force will establish this agreement. Indeed, the opposite is the case: It is agreement that establishes force.”
Those who challenge existing pattern to entitlement in a society do not consider their officers of enforcement powerful; they are opponents to them in a struggle that will determine by its outcome who is powerful. One does not win by power, one wins to be powerful. In the same vein, law is powerful only because (when) it is obeyed.
Thus, a peculiar burden falls on property owners: since the laws protecting their property will be effective only when they are able to persuade others to obey them, they must introduce sufficiently engaging theatricality into their ownership so that their opponents will live by its script. This theatricality takes considerable labor to sustain.
The burden of this persuasion is twofold: they must show that the amount of their property corresponds to the difficulty they were in to obtain it (property must be seen as compensation), and they must show that the type of their property reflects the type of competition by which title to it was won (property must be seen to be consumed).
For property to be appropriately compensatory, there must be an equivalency between what the owners have given of themselves and what they have received from others by way of their titles.
Whoever fails to show the talent or risk required to acquire their property, will soon face a challenge over entitlement (the rich are regularly subject to theft, and an expectation of sharing wealth). To be fully compensated for what one gives is to be restored to the condition one was in prior to competition.
This attempt at recovering the past through acquisition of property is a theatrical one which can succeed only to the degree that it is conspicuous to its audience. Therefore, property must take up space, be somewhere - and somewhere obvious.
“Our property must intrude on another, stand in another’s way, causing one to contend with it.” See large estates and freedom of movement through society of propertied persons. At the same time, this has the effect of crowding and confining the less propertied (the very poor are regarded as aliens outside of the narrow geographical limits they are restricted to). Thus we see that for propertied people, the ability of such to draw an audience for whom it will be appropriately emblematic (convincing them it was just compensation) is just as important as its sheer amount.
The second theatrical requirement on the owners is to then consume what they have gained in a way that recovers the loss. The intuitive principle here being that we cannot be justified in owning what we do not need to use or plan to use.
Consumption is an intentional activity, consuming property is to use it up in a certain way (otherwise burning our earned money would suffice). As an activity, it is directly opposite to the very form of engagement by which the title was won. It also serves to convince all observers of the possesser’s title to it.
“The more powerful we consider persons to be, the less we expect them to do, for their power can come only from that which they have done.” After atheltic contests for major titles, the audience commonly lifts the winners to their shoulders, marching them about as they were helpless - in a sharp contrast to the physical skill and energy they have just displayed.
Consumption is an activity so different from gainful labor, that it shows itself in the mode of leisure (even indolence). We display the success of what we have done by not having to do anything.
“Conspicuous abstention from labour therefore becomes the conventional mark of superior pecuniary achievement and the conventional index of reputability; and conversely, since application to productive labour is a mark of poverty and subjection, it becomes inconsistent with a reputable standing in the community.” (Veblen)
“Just as compensation makes itself conspicuous by taking up space, consumption draws attention to itself by the length of time it continues. Property must not only intrude on others, it must continue to intrude on others.”
It is the common goal of the rich to establish a mode of visibility that will extend itself over generations by executing wills that prevent the rapid exhaustion of their fortune (endowing societally important institutions, erecting great buildings in their name). Persons of small victories, of lower rank, do not have property of great temporal value, what they have will be exhausted quickly.
“It is apparent to infinite players that wealth is not so much possessed as it is performed.”
If societies mainly form to protect property, and if property is to be protected less by power as such than by theater, then societies become acutely dependent on their artists - what Plato called poetai: storytellers, inventors, sculptors, poets, any original thinkers whatsoever.
Some societies believe they can eliminate thievery by guaranteeing all their members (including thieves) a certain amount of property - the impulse behind much social welfare regulation. “But putting a coin into the pocket of the Artful Dodger will hardly convince him that he is no longer a legitimate contender for the coin in mine.”
The more effective policy is to find ways of persuading thieves to abandon their roles as competitors for property for the sake of becoming audience to the theatre of wealth. This is why societies fall back on the skill of those poetai who can theatricalize the property relations - “and indeed, the inner structures of each society”.
This theatricalization must be taken with great seriousness, without it there is no culture at all, and a society without it would be too drab and lifeless to be endured.
Even the rigid authoritarian shell of Plato’s Republic will be “filled with a multitude of things which are no longer necessities, as for example all kinds of hunters and artists, many of them concerned with shapes and colors, many with music; poets and their auxiliaries, actors, choral dancers, and contractors; and makers of all kinds of instruments, including those needed for the beautification of women” (Plato).
Societal thinkers don’t overlook the importance of poiesis (creative activity), they also see it as dangerous, for the poietai are the most likely to remember what has been forgotten - that society is a species of culture. Weirdly enough, the governing bodies of the Soviet Union believed that since it is always possible to find true art that is compatible with socialist realism, those artists whose works do not conform to it may be punished without affecting the integrity of art as such. Plato did not expect his artists to compromise their art, but he did say that there must be “general lines which the poietai must follow in their stories. These lines they will not be able to cross.”
“The deepest and most consequent struggle of each society is therefore not with other societies, but with the culture that exists within itself - the culture that is itself. Conflict with other societies is, in fact, an effective way for a society to restrain its own culture.”
Societies do not silence their poietai in order that they may go to war, it’s the opposite. This is trying to encourage original thinkers through subsidy and flattery to praise the society’s heroes, saving the society the nuisance of repression.
To me, it seems that only artists who have no other choice play along with this subsidization. Perhaps even those who think they can keep up a facade for the oppressors. Original thinkers, in this parapgraph, for Carse, seems to conform not to its genuine, face-value interpretation, but to a broader, more lenient archetype he does not elaborate on (as he defined artists to be "any original thinkers whatsoever"). I'm not sure anyone would call a subsidized artist producing less obvious forms of societal propaganda an original thinker.
Another successful defense of society against the culture within itself is to regard artists as the producers of property meant to be consumed. Note that the largest collections of art in the world are the work of the very rich or of societies in the times of strongly nationalistic periods. Such museums are not designed to protect the art from people, but to protect the people from art.
“Culture is likely to break out in a society not when its poietai begin to voice a line contrary to that of the society, but when they begin to ignore all lines whatsoever and concern themselves with bringing the audience back into play - not competitive play, but play that affirms itself as play.”
A lack of seriousness is more confounding to a society than serious opposition. Art that is used against a society or its policies gives up its character as infinite play, and aims for an end. Such art is no less propaganda than that which praises its heroes with high seriousness. Once warfare has been taken into the infinite play of poiesis (so that it appears comical or pointless), it may happen that soldiers will find no audience for their prizes, and therefore no reason to fight for them.
“Since culture is itself poetical, all of its participants are poietai - inventors, makers, artists, storytellers, mythologists.” The creativity of culture has no outcome, no conclusion, artifact, or product.
“Artists do not create objects, but create by way of objects” (Rank).
Art is not its objects, but the creativity it engenders in its beholders. Whoever takes possession of the objects of art has not taken possession of the art. Since art is never possession, but always possibility, nothing possessed can have the status of art. Property draws attention to titles, points backwards towards a finished time. Art is dramatic, and opens forward towards an unfinishable future.
Artists cannot be trained, we cannot become artists by mastering skills or exercising techniques, although we can use them during artistic activity. Artistry can be found anywhere, and indeed, only anywhere, it cannot be looked for, one must be surprised by it. In people, the creative is found if they are prepared for surprise.
Poets do not fit into society. Not because a place is denied them but because they do not take their “places” seriously. “They see its roles as theatrical, its styles as poses, its clothing costumes, its rules conventional, its crises arranged, its conflicts performed, and its metaphysics ideological.”
To regard society as a species of culture is not to overthrow or alter it, but only to eliminate its perceived necessity. Infinite players have rules, but they do not forget that rules are an expression of agreement and not a requirement for it. They do not understand culture as the sum total of all that they individually choose to do, but as the congruence of all that they choose to do with each other. This congruence is intentional, and therefore cultural congruence is under a constant revision. The Renaissance was not something apart from its change, it was itself a persistent evolution.
“For this reason it can be said that where a society is defined by its boundaries, a culture is defined by its horizon. A boundary is a phenomenon of opposition. It is the meeting place of hostile forces. Where nothing opposes there can be no boundary. One cannot move beyond a boundary without being resisted.”
Since patriotism desires to protect the power of a society by ever increasing it, they have to create enemies if they happen to be in short supply, so that they can require protection from them. Patriots can flourish only where boundaries are well-defined, hostile, and dangerous. This is why the spirit of patriotism is associated with the military or other modes of international conflict.
“Because patriotism is the desire to contain all other finite games within itself-that is, to embrace all horizons within a single boundary - it is inherently evil.”
A horizon as a phenomenon is a phenomenon of vision, not one of the observed. One never reaches a horizon, it is not a line, it has no place, it encloses no field, its location is always relative to the view. To move towards it is simply to have a new horizon. “One can therefore never be close to one’s horizon, though one may certainly have a short range of vision, a narrow horizon.”
Every move an infinite player makes is toward the horizon. Every move made by a finite player is within a boundary. Every moment of an infinite game therefore represents a new vision, a new range of possibilities. The Renaissance - like all genuine cultural phenomena, was not an effort to promote one or another vision, but to find visions that promised still more vision.
“Who lives horizontally is never somewhere, but always in passage.”
To the degree that the Renaissance was true culture it has not ended, anyone may enter into its mode of renewing vision. This does not mean repeating what was done. To enter a culture (simulteneously entering and changing its context, similar to how each new speaker of a language both learns and alters it, and how a family exists before a child is born, but is nonetheless a new family after birth) is not to do what the others do, but to do whatever one does with the others.
This Renaissance’s capacity of changing our vision is unrelated to time, the fact that it has begun five centuries ago. As per the previous simultaneity, each person whose horizon is affected by it affects the horizon of it in turn.
“Any culture that continues to influence our vision continues to grow in the very exercise of that influence.”
Since a culture is what people do with each other, we may say that it comes into being whenever persons choose to be people, arranging their rules, moralities, and their modes of communication together.
The Renaissance is a people without a boundary, and therefore without an enemy - if someone is not of it, they cannot go out to oppose it, for they will find only an invitation to join the people it is.
However, a culture is sometimes opposed by suppressing its ideas, works, even its language, common strategies of a society afraid of the culture growing within its boundaries. They are doomed to fail, because they confuse the creative activity (poiesis) with the product (poiema) of that activity. Societies characteristically make this separation, granting power to ideas separated from their thinkers (original and current), as though they had an independent existence of their own.
“Abstracted thought - thought without a thinker - is metaphysics. A society’s metaphysics is its ideology: theories that present themselves as the product of these people or those. The Renaissance had no ideology.”
A people is not threatened when its apparent society is threatened, altered, or destroyed. Manipulation, usurpation, or abuse of power by people within or without the society cannot in itself affect the decision of a people to be a people.
In the same way a people has nothing and no one to attack, they have nothing to defend. One cannot be free by opposing another, my freedom does not depend on the loss of yours. On the contrary, since freedom is never freedom from society, but freedom for it, my freedom inherently affirms yours.
“A people has no enemies.”
“For a bounded, metaphysically veiled, and destined society, enemies are necessary, conflict inevitable, and war likely. […] If a state has no enemies it has no boundaries. To keep its definitions clear, a state must stimulate danger to itself.”
War is not an act of unchecked ruthlessness but a declared contest between bounded societies, or states. Under this constant danger of war, the people of a state are far more attentive and obedient to the finite structures of their society.
“War presents itself as necessary for self-protection, when in fact it is necessary for self-identification.”
“If it is the impulse of a finite player to go against another nation in war, it is the design of an infinite player to oppose war within a nation.”
Their opposition to war is similar in the way that they oppose the existence of a state, but their reasons and strategies for attempting to eliminate it are radically different. Finite players go to war against states because they endanger boundaries; infinite players oppose states because they engender boundaries.
Finite players attempt to kill a state by killing the people who invented it, but infinte players understand war to be a conflict between states, they cannot have persons as enemies.
“Sometimes it is possible to kill a state without killing a single one of its members; and war gives no right which is not necessary to the gaining of its object” (Rousseau).
Winning a war can be as destructive as losing one, for if boundaries lose their clarity (as they do in a decisive victory), the state loses its identity. A war fought to end all wars, in the strategy of finite play, only breeds universal warfare.
The strategy of infinite players is horizontal. They meet putative enemies not with power and violence, but with poiesis and vision. They invite them to become a people in passage. They make use of laughter, vision, and surprise to engage the state and put its boundaries back into play.
“What will undo any boundary is the awareness that it is our vision, and not what we are viewing, that is limited.”
Poets who have no metaphysics (and therefore no political line) make war impossible because they have the irresistible ability to show the guardians that what seems necessary is only possible. For Plato, poets were dangerous for their ability to imitate so well that it could make it difficult to see what is true and what is merely invented. Since reality cannot be invented, only discovered through reason, Plato would put them into the service of reason, to surround citizens of the Republic with such art as will “lead them unawares from childhood to love of, resemblance to, and harmony with, the beauty of reason.”
Plato’s intention to keep the metaphysical veil intact is shown by the use of the word “unawares”. Those who are being led to reason cannot be aware of it, they couldn’t have chosen it. Plato asks his poets not to create, but to deceive. True poets lead no one unawares. Awareness is exactly what they and other sorts of creators seek - they do not display their art to make it appear real, they display the real in a way that reveals it to be art.
We must not forget that Plato was still an artist, a poietes, and his Republic was an invention, just like the theory of forms and his idea of the Good. Since all veiling is self-veiling, we can’t help but think that behind the rational metaphysician stood a poet, fully aware that the entire opus was an act of play, an invitation to readers not to reproduce the truth but to take his inventions into their own play and to change them, continuing his art.
That is a very generous interpretation of someone's character who probably thought that slavery was not only okay, but even natural. Especially weird to read this when Carse admits that Plato's Republic was clearly authoritarian. Searching for the topic shows that since the description of The Republic contained no explicit mention of slavery, it is still highly debated whether it did contain them. However, even if it had no explicit slaves, the consensus seems to be that Plato treats everyone except the rulers (the elite) to be slaves to the state. But I guess we should let Plato speak for himself here. "...nature herself intimates that it is just for the better to have more than the worse, the more powerful than the weaker; and in many ways she shows, among men as well as among animals, and indeed among whole cities and races, that justice consists in the superior ruling over and having more than the inferior."
“We can find metaphysicians thinking, but we cannot find metaphysicians in their thinking.”
When we separate metaphysics from its thinker, we get an abstraction, a deathless shadow of a once living act. When metaphysics is most successful in its own terms, it leaves its listeners in silence (certainly not laughter). It is about the real, but it is abstract.
Poetry is the making of (poiesis) of the real and is concrete. Whenever what is made (poiema) is separated from the maker (poietes), it becomes metaphysical - an object to be studied not an act to be learned. One cannot learn the object, but only the poiesis, or the act of creating objects. To separate the created object from the creative act, is the essence of the theatrical.
“Poets cannot kill; they die. Metaphysics cannot die; it kills.”
Chapter III - I am the genius of myself
“I am the genius of myself, the poietes who composes the sentences I speak and the actions I take. It is I, not the mind, that thinks. It is I, not the will, that acts. It is I, not the nervous system, that feels.”
When I speak as the genius I am, I speak these words for the first time. To repeat words is to speak them as though another were saying them. To be the genius of my speech is to be the origin of my words, to say them for the first, and last, time. Even repeating my own words feels as if I were another person in another time and place.
When I forsake my genius and speak to you as though I were another, I also speak to you as someone you are not. I address you as audience, and do not expect you to respond as the genius you are.
When we perform actions we don’t act, when we entertain thoughts we don’t think. A dog taught the action of shaking hands does not shake your hand.
Since being your own genius is dramatic; it has all the paradox of infinite play: you can have what you have only by releasing it to others. If you never relinquish the sounds of the words on your lips to a listener, they never become words, and you say nothing at all. The words die with the sound.
Spoken to me, your words become mine to do with as I please, you lose authority over them, so too with thoughts. However you consider them your own, you cannot think the thoughts themselves, only what they are about. You cannot think thoughts any more than you can act actions.
“If you do not truly speak the words that reside entirely in their own sound, neither can you think that which remains thought or can be translated back into thought.”
This does not mean that speech has come to nothing, it has become speech that invites speech. When the genius of speech is abandoned, words are said not originally but repetitively.
To speak, or act, or think originally is to erase the boundary of the self, to leave behind the territorial personality. A genius is the center of a field of vision, which is only recognized as such when we see that it includes within itself the original centers of other fields of vision.
“This does not mean that I can see what you see. On the contrary, it is because I cannot see what you see that I can see at all. The discovery that you are the unrepeatable center of your own vision is simultaneous with the discovery that I am the center of my own.”
In simpler terms, I think Carse is saying here that you can know that you are centered and limited in your vision because you know you cannot see something that someone else can see.
As the geniuses we are, we do not look, but see. Looking at something is observing it within its limitations (how it stands apart from other things). Nothing limits itself though, their limitations are not their own. To look at something is to look for what we take it to be. We might interpret seagulls as a sign that land is not far, or that the sea is not far, or as forms to reproduce on canvas or in poems. Hence to look at is to look for (bringing the limitations with us). “Nature has no outline. Imagination has” (Blake).
If looking happens within limitations, seeing is observing the limitations themselves. A school of painting is new not because it contains material ignored in earlier work, but because it sees the limitations previous artists imposed on their work but could not see themselves.
To look is a territorial activity, observing one thing after another in a bounded space - as though in time it can all be seen. Some academic fields are more prone to having all their things defined (put into their proper places), but it is true in general that it becomes increasingly difficult to find something new to look at.
Passing from looking to seeing does not mean losing sight of the objects observed. Seeing does not disturb our looking at all, it rather makes us aware that our imagination does not create within its outlines but creates the outlines themselves. A physicist who invites us to see that the things we thought were there were not things at all lets us learn new limitations from them, and we learn not only what to look for with them but also how to see the way we use limitations themselves. “A physics so taught becomes poiesis.”
To be the genius of myself does not mean bringing myself into being (as though I were the product of my own action). But then neither am I the product of any other action (my parents may have wanted a child, but they could not have wanted me). To be the outcome of my past is to stand in causal continuity with it.
I had no part in deciding my genetics or the date and place of my birth (and noone else could have chosen them either). My birth does not mark an absolute beginning, it is only an arbitrary point in an unbroken process. It’s nothing new causally, it is a kind of change that conforms to the known laws of nature.
A reproduction is repetition, but birth as such repeats nothing, it is an event in the ongoing history of a family, even the history of a culture. The radical originality of a birth lies in the way it brings the dramatic into conflict with the theatrical in cultural or family history.
Theatrically, my birth is a plotted repetition (much of what I am is already decided by the content and character of the tradition I was born into). Dramatically, my birth is a rupture in that repetition, it is an event certain to change what the past has meant. In this case the character of a tradition is determined by who I am. Every birth is the birth of genius.
The drama underway at the time of my birth is moved forward by the presence of another genius within it. I also become the product and citizen of its politics, and I experience the conflict between the theatrical and dramatic in the felt pressure to take up one of the roles prepared for me: eldest son, favorite daughter, heir to the family’s honor, avenger of its losses. Of course, each of these roles comes with a script, the lines of which a person may spend a lifetime repeating. As Freud said, such a person “is obliged to repeat the repressed material as contemporary experience instead of, as the physician would prefer to see, remembering it as something belonging to the past”. The genius in us knows that the past is most definitely past, and therefore not forever sealed but forever open to creative reinterpretation.
Not allowing the past to be past may be the primary source of seriousness for finite players. They must not only have an audience (to whom they intend to be known as a winner), but they must have an audience to convince.
“Just like the titles of winners are worthless unless they are visible to others, there is a kind of antititle that attaches to invisibility.” It is as though we have been overlooked, forgotten, by our chosen audience. It is the winners who are presently visible, it is the losers who are infinitely past.
When we enter into finite play - seriously - the audience knows our antititle of invisibility, and thus we feel the need to prove to them we are not what they think they are (inasmuch as we know what they think we are at all).
A contradiction emerges: as finite players we will not enter the game with sufficient desire to win unless we ourselves are convinced by the audience we intend to convince. “Unless we believe we actually are the losers the audience believes us to be, we will not have the necessary desire to win”. The more negatively we assess ourselves, the more we strive to reverse the negative judgement of others. The contradiction is brought to perfection by the outcome: by proving to the audience they were wrong, we prove to ourselves the audience was right.
“The more we are recognized as winners, the more we know ourselves to be losers.” Winners of coveted and publicized prizes rarely settle for them and retire, as they must prove repeatedly they are winners. The script must be played over and over again. No one is ever wealthy enough, honored enough, applauded enough. The visibility of our victories only tightens the grip of the failures in our invisible past.
The past is so powerful in finite play, we must find ways of remembering what we have forgotten to sustain our interest in the struggle. “Remember Pearl Harbor!”… there is a humiliating memory at the bottom of all serious conflicts, and by remembering them, we may enter into competition with sufficient intensity, to be able to forget we have forgotten the character of all play: whoever must play, cannot play.
It is the genius in ourselves who is capable of ridding us of resentment by exercising what Nietzsche called the “faculty of oblivion”, not as a way of denying the past but as a way of reshaping it through our own originality. Then we may forget that we have been forgotten by an audience, and remember that we have forgotten our freedom to play.
In the culture we are born into, there are always persons who urge us to theatricalize our lives by supplying us with a repeatable past, but also persons (possibly the same ones) in whose presence we learn to prepare ourselves for surprise. It is in their presence that we first recognize ourselves as the geniuses we are. They do not give us our genius or produce it in us, the source of which is in no way external to itself.
Genius arises with touch, a paradoxical phenomenon of infinite play. It does not mean a distance reducing to zero, rather we are touched when we respond from our own center - spontaneously, originally. The source of touch is the center of another’s genius, and it is always reciprocal.
The opposite of touching is moving, where we are moved by another by pressing us toward a place already foreseen, it is a staged action that succeeds only if in moving us, the other remains unmoved themselves.
If I am moved to tears by a skilled performance, the actor of that performance is immune to the formula that moved me so, otherwise, if they brought themselves to tears (by their performance, not as their performance), they would become theatrically inept. This means that we can be moved only by persons who are not what they are.
I am touched only as the person I am behind all the theatrical masks, but at the same time I am changed from within - and whoever touched me is touched as well. Touching does not happen by design, it shatters designs. “We can be moved only by way of our veils. We are touched through our veils.”
The character of touching can be seen quite clearly in the way infinite players understand both healing and sexuality. To be touched is to respond from one’s center, and therefore a whole person. Whoever is whole is healthy, so whoever is touched is healed.
The finite player’s interest is not in being healed, but in being cured, or made functional, being restored into play and competition. Physicians who cure must abstract persons into functions, treating their illnesses and not them. To be ill is to be dysfunctional, and unable to compete in one’s preferred contests. The ill suffer a kind of death (either as a competitor or as a person) and become invisible. The dread of illness is the dread of losing.
One is never ill in general, but always in relation to some bounded activity. The loss of function itself cannot destroy my health. I am too heavy to fly by flapping my arms, yet I do not complain of being sick with weight. If I was a fashion model, a dancer, or jockey, I would consider excess weight to be a kind of disease, and would consult someone to be cured of it.
To be healed is to be restored in a way that my personal freedom is not compromised by my loss of functions, which means that the illness need not be eliminated before I can be healed. I am not free to overcome my infirmities, but I may still remain in play with them. I am cured of my illness; I am healed with my illness.
A touching sentiment probably meant for those whose illnesses do not cripple functions such as breathing, circulation and digestion, etc. If someone is brought into a near vegetative state by a pulmonary disease, cancer, or stroke, could you honestly tell them that they are "only ill in relation to some bounded activity"?
“Sexuality for the infinite player is entirely a matter of touch. One cannot touch without touching sexually.”
Because sexuality is a drama of origins, it gives full expression to the genius of all participants. This is a high challenge for a political ideologue, as genuine sexual expression can be at least as dangerous as genuine artistic expression. The sexual metaphysician can appeal to two solutions: to treat sexuality as reproduction, or to place it in the area of feeling and behavior. Reproduction, like every other natural process, is a phenomenon of causal continuity, having no inherent beginning or end. Therefore we do not initiate the process by any act of our own, we can only be carried along by it. No one conceives a child; a child is conceived. The mother does not give birth to a child; the mother is where the birth occurs.
The metaphysics of sexuality can therefore draw a boundary line around sexual activity that leaves the genius of parenting on the outside. This is the familiar view of some Christian theologians who say the only end of the sexual act is procreation. This metaphysics leaves the genius of the child entirely outside of the process. Thus the familiar view of theologians who say that the end of childbirth is to provide citizens for the kingdom of their god.
The second way of veiling genuine sexuality is to regard it as a feeling or behavior, in either case having the character of something under observation. Even when it is our sexuality we are concerned with, we can still look at it from the perspective of someone else. We ask ourselves and each other which behaviors are acceptable or desirable, we are puzzled over the proper response to sexual feelings - ours or another’s. In this way, sexuality is dealt with as a societal phenomenon, regulated and managed according to a prevailing ideology.
It’s convenient to think that sexual misfits violate rules, but it’s far subtler than that. They are not opposing the rules themselves but engaging in a competitive struggle by way of those rules. Sexual attractiveness or sexiness is effective only to the degree that someone is offended by it.
“Because sexuality is so rich in the mystery of origin, it becomes a region of human action deeply shaped by resentment, where participants play out a manifold strategy of hostile encounters.”
Finite sexuality not only requires the offended resistance of those who refuse to join, but the resistance of those who do join. Sexual plotting of one player is in fact stimulated by disinterest or fear or loathing on the part of the other. A Master Player of finite sexuality takes these attitudes not as refusals to participate in the game, but part of the game itself. Thus my indifference or revulsion can become sexual in nature in your masterful play. Suddenly I am no longer indifferent to your game, but indifferent to you within your game - and have ipso de facto made myself your opponent. The classical pulp novels or Hollywood romance’s plot: indifferent girl won by ardent boy.
Such sexual play is profoundly serious because it is the only finite game in which the winner’s prize is not the defeatment of the opponent, but the opponent themselves. In contrast, in slavery and wage labor what we possess is the labor of the slaves or workers, not themselves as persons. To use Marx’s phrase, persons are abstracted from their labor. In sexuality, persons are abstracted from themselves.
The seduced opponent is displayed to draw attention to the seducer’s triumph. It is common for partners in sexual plotting to play a double game in which each of them is winner and loser, and an emblem of the other’s seductive power.
A society has mastered the management of sexuality not when it sets out unambiguous standards for behavior or attitudes towards sexual feelings, but when it institutionalizes the display of sexual conquest. These institutions can be as varied as burning widows alive on the funeral pyres of their husbands or requiring the high visibility of a spouse at an elected official’s inauguration.
Finite sexuality is a form of theater in which the distance between persons is regularly reduced to zero but in which neither touches the other.
Insofar as sexuality is a drama of origin, it shapes society more than it is shaped by it, so it is somewhat misleading to describe society as a regulator of finite sexual play. We enter into societal arrangements by way of sexual roles more often than we take on the sexual roles assigned to us by society. Sexuality is more correctly understood as making use of society to regulate itself.
Society however is not absent in causing or preventing sexual tensions, it absorbs them into all its structures, becoming a larger theater for playing out patterns of resentment learned in the family. It is also the place where we prove to parents that we are not what we thought they thought we were. The emphasis is on the fact that we think what they thought we were, and thus they become an audience that easily survives their physical absence or death. For the same reason, we can also never win their definite approval.
To use Freud’s famous phrase, the civilized are, therefore, the discontent. We become civilized as losers, and the collective result of this sense of failure is that civilization takes on the spirit of resentment.
“Acutely sensitive to an imagined audience, they are easily offended by other civilizations.”
The only true revolutionary act, then, is not the overthrow of the father by the son - which only reinforces existing patterns of resentment - but the restoration of genius to sexuality. It’s not an accident that the only successful attempt at American citizenry to force the ending of a foreign war occurred simultaneously with a wide revision of sexual attitudes.
Society is shaped by the tensions of finite sexuality in another way, too: in its orientation toward property. If sexuality is the only finite game in which the winner’s prize is the loser, the most desirable form of property is the publicly acknowledged possession of another’s person (to which the possessed must freely consent). The true value of possession is less determined by its monetary value than by its effectiveness in winning me the declaration that I am the Master Player in our game with each other.
“The most serious struggles are those for sexual property. For this wars are fought, lives are generously risked, great schemes are initiated. However, who wins empire, fortune and fame but loses in love has lost in everything.”
As finite sexuality is another struggle in which participants mean to win, it is oriented towards moments, outcomes, final scenes. Like all finite play, it proceeds largely by deception, as sexual desires are concealed under a series of feints, gestures, dressing styles and showy behavior. “Seductions are staged, scripted, costumed. Certain responses are sought, plots are developed. Delays are employed, special circumstances and settings are arranged.”
Seductions are designed to come to an end. Only recollection remains - and perhaps a longing for its repetition. Seductions cannot be repeated, after its finite game is lost or won. Lovers often sustain vivid reminders of extraordinary moments, but are simultanously reminded of their impotence in creating them. The appetite for novelty in lovemaking - new positions, use of drugs, exotic surroundings, additional partners - is a search for new moments.
“As with all finite play, the goal of veiled sexuality is to bring itself to an end.”
In contrast, infinite players have no interest in seduction or in restricting the freedom of another to one’s own boundary of play. They may see archetypal desires in others or themselves, but they also see that there is no physiological or societal destiny in sexual patterns. Who chooses to compete with another can also choose to play with another.
For infinite players, sexuality is not bounded but rather horizontal, and therefore we can’t say of them that they are homosexual, heterosexual, adulterous or faithful, as each of these definitions has to do with limited areas of play. Just as with other boundaries, they play with sexual boundaries rather than within them. They are concerned not with power but with vision.
“In their sexual play they suffer others, allow them to be as they are. Suffering others, they open themselves. Open, they learn both about others and about themselves.”
What they learn is not about sexuality, but how to be more concretely and originally themselves, to be the genius of their own actions, to be whole. Their sexual engagements have no standards, no ideals, no marks of success or failure. Neither orgasm nor conception is the point of their play, although it may be a part of it.
There is nothing hidden in infinite sexuality. Sexual desire is expressed as itself (therefore without seriousness), and its satisfaction is never an achievement, but an act in a continuing relationship (and therefore joyous).
Infinite lovers may or may not have a family. Rousseau said the only human institution that is not conventional is the family, which for a brief time is required by nature. Rousseau erred. No family is united by necessity, they can convene only out of choice. A family of infinite lovers is thus different in that it is self-evidently chosen. Fathering and mothering roles are assumed freely, but always with the aim of showing them to be theatrical, and that they are truly concrete persons behind them. Therefore children also learn that they have a family only by choosing to have it, as a collective act.
Infinite lovers have no “private parts”, they do not regard their bodies as having secret zones that can be exposed to others for special favors. It is their persons, not their bodies, that they make accessible to others.
The paradox of infinite sexuality is that by regarding sexuality as an expression of the person and not the body, it becomes fully embodied play. It becomes a drama of touching. Infinite lovers conformance to sexual expectations does not expose something hidden, but unveils something in plain sight: that sexual engagement is a poiesis of free persons. Here they emerge as the person they are. They meet others with their limitations, not within their limitations. In doing so they expect to be transformed - and are transformed.
Chapter IV - A finite game occurs within a world
“A finite game occurs within a world. The fact that it must be limited temporally, numerically, and spatially means that there is something against which the limits stand.” There is an outside to every finite game, which determines at what time it is to be played, or by whom, or where. The rules indicate the temporal, spatial and numerical limitations of a game as intervals, but they do not, and cannot, determine the date, location, or the specific participants (there is nothing in the rules about professional teams composed of certain persons, earning salaries of specified amount, joining at the end of each season in a national championship). The rules do not indicate which persons are to enter these games - which kinds of persons; yes, but never their names.
“A world provides an absolute reference without which the time, place, and participants make no sense.” Whatever occurs within a game is relatively intelligible to everything else that happened within it (to have won an election by a few thousand votes after a campaign of ten months), but it is only absolutely intelligible with reference to that world for the sake of which its boundaries exist (to be the sixteenth president of the United States in the 1860th year of that world’s history).
“We cannot have a precise understanding of what it means to be the winner of a contest until we can place the game in the absolute dimensions of a world.”
World exists in the form of audience (persons observing a contest without participating in it). No one determines who they will be, just as no exercise of power can make a world. A world must be its own spontanous source: “a world worlds” (Heidegger).
The number of persons in the audience is irrelevant, and so is the time and space in which they occur. When and where a world occurs, and whom it includes, is of no importance to a finite game.
An audience’s identity depends on the events it observes, not the persons within it. Those who remember that 22nd of November, do so because it was at that moment that they became audience to its events.
If the boundaries of an audience are irrelevant, what is relevant is the unity of the audience. They must be a singular entity, bound in the desire to see who will win the contest. In the same way, if this desire is not primary for someone, they are not part of the audience for that contest, and they are not a person of that world.
The need of a finite game for an audience and the need of the audience being absorbed in the events of that game show the reciprocity between finite play and the world. Finite players need the world to provide an absolute reference through which they can understand themselves, and the world simultaneously needs the theater of finite play to remain a world.
Even if someone does not care for the admiration of anyone else, this state of non-caring, just as desire, requires an object - here, a world of admiring and envying spectators. “For if you are fond of looking stonily at smiling persons, the persons must be there and they must smile.”
“We are players in search of a world as often as we are world in search of players, and sometimes we are both at once. Some worlds pass quickly into existence, and quickly out of it. Some sustain themselves for longer periods, but no world lasts forever.”
“There is an indefinite number of worlds.”
The reciprocity of game and world has another, deeper effect on the persons involved. As the seriousness of finite play derives from low self-assessment, there is no audience required to be physically present (the player is their own audience, or hostile observer).
“I cannot be a finite player without being divided against myself.”
A similar dynamic is found in the audience, for when they are sufficiently absorbed and oblivious to their status as audience, they lose the sense of distance between themselves and the players. It is they, quite as much as the players, who win or lose. Thus they absorb in themselves the same politics of resentment that moves players to show they are not what they think others think they are.
“We cannot become a world without being divided against ourselves.”
“Occurring before a world, theatrically, a finite game occurs within time”. A finite game does not have its own time, it exists within the temporal limits of a world (an audience allows players only so much time to win their titles).
Early in a game, time seems abundant to use for developing future strategies. Late in a game, time runs out rapidly. As choices become more limited, they become more important. Errors are more disastrous.
Carse did not include this quote (as it dates eight years after his book), but I found it apt to do so here. I also find it beautifully melancholic. "Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting." (Haruki Murakami)
Youth is seen as a “time of life” rich with possibility because there still seem to remain so many paths open to a successful outcome. However, each passing year increases the competitive value of making strategically correct decisions (the errors of childhood are more easily amended than those of adulthood).
“For the finite player in us, freedom is a function of time.”
The passage of time is relative to that which does not pass, the timeless. The points of reference for all finite history are signal triumphs meant never to be forgotten: establishments of throne, births of religious figures, bloody battles and revolutions.
The time between the beginning and end of an era is theatrical, a scene between curtains not to be lived, but to be viewed - by both players and audience. “The periodization of time presupposes a viewer existing outside the boundaries of play, able to see the beginning and the end simultaneously.”
The outcome of a finite game is the past waiting to happen, because whoever plays towards a certain outcome desires a particular past. By competing for a future prize, finite players compete for a prized past.
The infinite player in us does not consume time but generates it. Since infinite play is dramatic and has no scripted conclusion, its time is time lived and not time viewed. As infinite player one is neither young nor old, for one does not live in the time of another (there is no external measure of an infinite player’s temporality). Time does not pass for an infinite player, each moment of it is a beginning.
Each moment is not the beginning of a period of time, but the beginning of an event that gives the time within it its specific quality. “For an infinite player there is no such thing as an hour of time. There can be an hour of love, or a day of grieving, or a season of learning, or a period of labor.”
An infinite player does not begin work with the purpose of filling up a period of time with work, but for the purpose of filling work with time. Work is not an infinite players way of arriving at a desired present and securing it against an unpredictable future, but of moving toward a future which itself has a future (and therefore engendering possibility). An infinite player cannot say how complete their work or love or quarelling is, but only that much remains incomplete in it. They are not concerned to determine when it is over, but only what comes of it.
“Just as infinite players can play any number of finite games, so too can they join the audience of any game. They do so, however, for the play that is in observing, quite aware that they are audience. They look, but they see that they are looking.”
Infinite play remains invisible to the finite observer. Such viewers are looking for closure, to bring matters to a conclusion, to finish whatever remains unfinished. They are looking for the way in which time will exhaust itself.
If, however, the observers see the poiesis in the work, they cease being observers. They find themselves in an unfinished time, aware that their reading of the poetry is itself poetry. Infected by the genius of the artist, they recover their own genius.
“If the goal of finite play is to win titles for their timelessness, and thus eternal life for oneself, the essence of infinite play is the paradoxical engagement with temporality that Meister Eckhart called eternal birth.”
Chapter V - Nature is the realm of the unspeakable
Nature is the realm of the unspeakable. It has no voice of its own, and nothing to say. We experience the unspeakability of nature as its utter indifferene to human culture.
The Master Player responds to this indifference as a challenge, as an invitation to struggle. If nature will offer us no home, we will clear and arrange a space for ourselves. We take nature on as an opponent to be subdued for the sake of civilization, holding technologies that allow us to do so in the highest regard.
This effort has largely taken on the form of theatricalizing our relation to nature. Like being patiently attentive to our opponent, we have prepared ourselves against surprise. Almost as if by learning nature’s secret script, we have learned to direct its play as well. There is little left to surprise us.
This assumption of there being a structure to nature is what guides our struggle against it (even if that is unintelligible to us). What we have done by showing that certain events repeat themselves according to known laws is to explain them.
“Explanation is the mode of discourse in which we show why matters must be as they are.”
All laws used in explanation look backward in time from a conclusion. It is implicit in all explanatory discourse that there is a discoverable necessity in future events just as there was in past events (the assumption of laws constant in time). If one knows the initial events and the laws covering the succession, what can be explained can also be predicted. “A prediction is but an explanation in advance.”
Because of its thorough lawfulness, nature has no genius of its own. Nature does have a voice, and its voice is in no way different from our own. We can then presume to speak for the unspeakable. As modern civilizations are better at finding patterns of repetition under the apparent play of chance, older civilizations deal with the threat of natural accidents by appealing to supernatural powers for protection. But the voices of the gods proved to be ignorant and false; they have been silenced by the truth.
The irony is that there is no such thing as an unnatural act. Nothing can be done outside of nature. We cannot have an unclouded observation of nature if we are a part of it. “We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning” (Heisenberg).
The previous paragraph is all that I am willing to transcribe from section 71. I think Carse is either ahead of his time or out of his depth when it comes to metatheories, no offense intended. He is arguing something that's worth arguing, just slightly ineffectively and with too much poetic flair for me to be able to make any sense out of it.
This irony does not come from an ordinary ignorance. It is not what we could have known but do not; it is unintelligibility: that which no mind can ever comprehend. This limitation against our looking is nature’s perfect silence, a silence so complete that we have no way of knowing what it is silent about - if anything. By confronting us with radical unlikeness, nature becomes the source of metaphor.
“Metaphor is the joining of like to unlike such that one can never become the other.” Metaphor requires this irreducibility; the falcon can be the “kingdom of daylight’s dauphin” only if the daylight could have no dauphin.
At its root all language has the character of metaphor, because no matter what it intends to be about it remains language, and remains absolutely unlike whatever it is about. We can never express the falcon, only the word “falcon”. Thus, the unspeakability of nature is the very possibility of language.
Our attempt to take control of nature is an attempt to rid ourselves of language. It is the refusal to accept nature as it is. To deafen ourselves to metaphor, and to make nature so familiar that it is essentially an extension of our willing and speaking.
The physicists who look at their objects within their limitations teach physics; those who see the limitations they place around their objects teach “physics”. For them, physics is a poiesis.
If nature is the realm of the unspeakable, history is the realm of the speakable (as no speaking is possible that is not itself historical). Students of history often believe they can find unbiased, direct views of events, but no one can look in on an age without looking out of an age as well.
“There is no such refuge outside history for such viewers, any more than there is a vantage outside nature.”
Since history is the drama of genius, its relentless surprise tempts us into designing boundaries for it. Historians speak of trends, cycles, currents, and forces as though they were describing natural events. In doing so they must dehistoricize themselves, believing that each observation is of history but not itself historical.
Genuine historians therefore reverse this assumption, they understand themselves to be historical, and abandon explanation altogether. The mode of discourse appropriate to such self-aware history is narrative.
Like explanation, narrative is concerned with a sequence of events and a conclusion. However, there is no general law that makes this outcome necessary (same is true for genuine stories).
“Explanations place all apparent possibilities into the context of the necessary; stories set all necessities into the context of the possible.”
Explanation can tolerate a degree of chance, but it cannot comprehend freedom at all. We explain nothing when we say that persons do whatever they do because they choose to do it. On the other hand, causation cannot find a place in narrative (showing what caused people to do whatever they did does not tell a story).
Explanations show that matters must end as they have, they settle issues. Narratives raise issues, showing that matters do not end as they must but as they do. Explanation sets further inquiry aside; narrative invites us to rethink what we thought we knew.
“If the silence of nature is the possibility of language, language is the possibility of history.”
In successful explanations, what is explained is not subject to history, as the laws used are assumed to be constant in time and space. That I choose to explain this to you in this time and this space, however, is historical, it is an event. There must be a reason for the speaking of this verity, as it is a part of the narrative of our relation with each other.
Explenations are not offered gratuitously, just because, say, ice happens to float. I first have to draw your attention to the inadequacies in your knowledge - “discontinuities in the relations between objects, or the presence of anomalies you cannot account for by any of the laws known to you”. Conversely, you will remain deaf to my explanation until you suspect yourself of falsehood.
Many of these suspicions require only a minor adjustment of one’s views, incurring no real doubt of them. Major challenges, however, are too serious to be met with argument, or with sharpened explanation. They call either for outright and complete rejection, or for conversion (one does not cross over from Lamarckianism to Darwinism by a mere adjustment of views).
Note: Darwinian mechanisms of evolution emphasize random, undirected variation whereas Lamarckian mechanisms are based on variation directly caused by an environmental cue that results in a specific response to that cue.
In true conversions, all that was once familiar is now seen in startlingly new ways. Theatrical as they are, they remain oblivious of the choice in passing from one world to another. Radical conversions, especially, veil themselves against their own arbitrariness.
Augustine (a famous convert of antiquity), was puzzled how he could held so firmly to so many different falsehoods; he was not astounded that there are so many different truths. His conversion was not from explanation to narrative, but from one explanation to another. When he crossed into christianity from paganism, he arrived in the territory of a truth beyond further challenge.
Explanations succeed only by convincing resistant hearers of their error. Explanation is an antagonistic encounter that succeeds by defeating an opponent. The dynamic of resentment typical of finite play is seen here: I will press my explanations on you because I need to show that I do not live in the error that I think others think I do.
The winner of this contest is privileged with the claim to true knowledge, the power to make certain statements of fact. In those areas appropriate to the contests thus concluded, winners possess a knowledge that can no longer be challenged.
Knowledge, therefore, is like property. It must be displayed emblematically, standing in others way so that they cannot but take account of it. It points backwards at it’s possessor’s competitive skill.
Knowledge and property are so close that they are often thought to be continuous. Those who are entitled to knowledge feel they should be entitled to property as well (scholars demand higher salaries), and those entitled to property believe a certain knowledge goes with it (industrialists sit on university boards).
“If explanation, to be successful, must be oblivious to the silence of nature, it must also in its success impose silence on its listeners. Imposed silence is the first consequence of the Master Player’s triumph.”
Titles win the privilege of magisterial speech, the higheest honor attaching to any title. We expect the first act of a winner to be a speech. The loser may also speak, but their speech is one to concede victory.
The silence to which losers pledge themselves is the silence of obedience. They have nothing to say, and no audience to listen. The victorious do not speak with the defeated, they speak for the defeated. Husbands speak for wives in the finite family, and parents for their children. Kings speak for the realm, governors for the state, popes for the church. The titled, as titled, cannot speak with anyone.
The power of winners resides mostly in magisterial speech. To be powerful is to have one’s words obeyed. This speech is how their emblematic property is safeguarded. Those entitled to their possessions have the privilige of calling the police, of calling up an army, to force the recognition of their emblems.
The power of gods is known principally through their utterances. The sicut dixit dominus (thus says the lord) is always a signal for ritual silence. Their speech can be so perfectly expressive of their power that they become one with it: “In the beginning was the word. The word was with God, and the word was God.”
One is speechless before a god, or silent before a winner, because it no longer matters to others what one has to say. To lose a contest is to become obedient. The silence of obedience is an unheard silence, one of death. This is why the demand for obedience is inherently evil.
Infinite speech is that mode of discourse that consistently reminds us of the unspeakability of nature. It originates from only the genius of the speaker, and bears no claim to truth. It is not command, but address.
Because language isn’t about anything, it is metaphor. Metaphor does not point at something there - never shall we find the kingdom of daylight’s dauphin anywhere. On the contrary, the role of metaphor is to draw our vision toward what is not there - and indeed, cannot be anywhere. It reminds us that it is our vision that is limited, not what we are viewing.
The meaning of a finite speaker’s discource lies in what precedes it - what is already the case whether or not it is spoken. The meaning of an infinite player’s discourse lies in what comes after it’s spoken - what is the case because it is spoken.
Finite language exists before it is spoken, we learn it afterwards, Infinite language exists only as it is spoken, it only exists when we learn to speak it. “It is in this sense that infinite discourse only arises from a perfect silence.”
Finite speakers come to speech with their voices alredy trained and rehearsed. Infinite speakers must wait to see what is done with their language by the listeners before they can know what they have said. It expects to share a vision with the hearer that the speaker could not have had without their response.
Speaker and listener understand each other not because they have the same knowledge about something, and not beceause they have the same likeness of mind, but because they know “how to go on” with each other (Wittgenstein).
Because infinite speech is address, attending to the response of the addressed, it has the form of listening. It does not end with the obedient silence of the hearer, but continues with the attentive silence of the speaker.
Infinite speakers do not give voice to another, but receive it from another. They do not speak before a world as audience, but present themselves as audience by way of talking with others.
It is for this reason that when the gods speak as the lords of this world, they speak before it, and are therefore unable to change it. Such gods cannot create a world, they can only be creations of one, idols.
“A god can create a world only by listening. Were the gods to address us it would not be to bring us to silence through their speech, but to bring us to speech through their silence.”
The contradiction of finite speech is that it must end by being heard. The paradox of infinite speech is that it continues only because it is a way of listening.
Storytellers do not convert their listeners; they do not move them into the territory of a superior truth. They ignore the issue of truth and falsehood, only offering vision, a return from knowledge to thinking. Storytelling is not combative; it does not succeed or fail. A story cannot be obeyed.
Storytellers enter the historical not when they speak about actual persons or themselves anecdotally, but when in their speaking, we begin to see the narrative character of our lives.
There is no narrative without structure, or plot. In a great story this structure seems like fate; an inescapable metaphysical causality that crowds out all room for choice.
“Fate arises not as a limitation of freedom, but as a manifestation of our freedom, testimony that choice is consequent.”
The exercise of your freedom cannot prevent the exercise of mine, but it can determine the context in which I am to act freely. You cannot make choices for me, but you can largely determine what my choices will be about.
There is a risk here of supposing that because we know our lives to have the character of narrative, we also know what that narrative is. It would be as though I could be audience to myself, seeing myself perform my life (rather than living it), from the opening scene to the final one.
Societal theorists are tempted to believe that they know the story of a civilization, and that they could script its final scene of triumph or defeat. It is by way of such end-of-history thinking that the discovered laws of behavior to which persons conform become the scripted laws of behavior to which they must conform.
True storytellers do not know their own story. In their poiesis, they listen to the disclosure that wherever there is closure, there is the possibility of a new opening, that they do not die at the end, but in the course of play.
Historians work to reveal continuity where we have assumed something has ended, to remind us that no one life, and no culture, can be known, as one would know a poiema, but only learned, as one would learn a poiesis. Historians become infinite speakers when they see that whatever begins in freedom cannot end in necessity.
Chapter VI - We control nature for societal reasons
We control nature for societal reasons. The control of nature advances with our ability to predict the outcome of natural processes. Prediction is the most highly developed skill of the Master Player, for without it, control of an opponent is all the more difficult.
A small group of physicists uncovered a predictable sequence of sub-atomic reactions that led directly to the construction of a thermonuclear bomb. While it’s true that the successful detonation of the bomb proved their predictions, it’s also true that we did not explode it (twice) to prove them correct, but to control the behavior of millions of persons (and to bring our relations with them to a certain closure). What this shows is not that we can exercise power over nature, but that our attempt to do so masks our desire for power over each other. This raises the question as to the cultural consequences of abandoning the strategy of power in our attitude toward nature.
The alternative attitudes toward nature can be characterized roughly by saying that the result of approaching nature as a hostile Other is the “machine”, while the result of learning to discipline ourselves to consist with the deepest discernable patterns of natural order is the “garden”.
The word machine here refers to the mechanical rationality of technology, to how even if it seems ingenious and surprising, it is still the exercise of a calculable cause-and-effect sequence.
The word garden here does not refer to a bounded plot at the edge of the house or the margin of the city. This is not a garden one lives beside, but a garden one lives within. It is a place of spontaneity. Gardening is not engaging in a hobby or amusement, but designing a culture capable of adjusting to the widest possible range of surprise in nature. Gardening is a horizontal activity.
Machine and garden are not absolutely opposed to each other. Machinery can exist in the garden quite as finite games can be played within an infinite game. The question is not one of restricting machines from the garden, but asking whether they serve the interest of it, or vice versa. The mechanized gardening we are familiar with has the appearance of high productivity, but looking closely we can see that it does not intend to encourage natural spontaneity but to harness it.
The most elemental difference between the machine and the garden is that one is driven by a force which must be introduced from without, the other grown by an energy which originates from within itself.
Certainly, some machines, like spacecraft, can sustain themselves for months in the void while performing their functions with great accuracy. But no machine has been made that has the source of its spontaneity within itself. A machine must be designed, constructed, and fueled.
Certainly, gardens can be treated with chemical and mechanical strategies that we can speak of the food we have raised as “produce”. But no way has been found by which organic growth can be forced from without. Fertilizers and herbicides do not alter growth but allow it, they are meant to consist with natural growth. A plant cannot be designed or constructed. Though we seem to “fuel” it in the form of rich earth and nutrients, we depend on it to make use of that fuel. A machine depends on its designer and its operator both for the supply of fuel and its consumption. A machine has not the merest trace of its own spontaneity or vitality. Vitality cannot be given, only found.
“Just as nature has no outside, it has no inside. It is not divided within itself and cannot therefore be used for or against itself.” Neither the living nor the nonliving in nature is less natural than the other. Even killing selected entities using agricultural poisons is not an unnatural act. Nature has not been changed, only the way we discipline ourselves to consist with its order.
Our freedom of change in relation to nature is not over it, but over ourselves. We could be free to design a culture that not merely respects the patterns of spontaneity found in nature, but celebrates them. The term “natural order” is somewhat veiling as it hides that we are not contending with its order but with its irreducible spontaneity. The fact that nature cannot be divided or moved by unnatural influence is not the expression of an order so much as it is the display of an indifference to all matters cultural.
This is not to say that, possessing no order, nature is chaotic. It is neither. Chaos and order describe the cultural experience of nature - the degree to which its spontaneity seems to agree with our current manner of self-control.
“A hurricane, or a plague, or the overpopulation of the earth will seem chaotic to those whose cultural expectations are damaged by them and orderly to those whose expectations have been confirmed by them.”
Paradoxically, the more deeply a culture respects the indifference of nature, the more creatively it will call upon its own spontaneity in response, the more it will embody a freedom to embrace surprise and unpredictability.
Human freedom is not over nature, it is the freedom to be natural, to answer its spontaneity with that of our own. However, we are not free by nature, we are free by culture, by history.
The contradiction is that the more power we exercise over natural forces, the more powerless we become before it, the more subject to its indifference.
“In a matter of months, we can cut down a rainforest that took tens of thousands of years to grow, but we are helpless in repulsing the desert that takes its place.”
Such contradiction is obvious in the matter of machinery, which we make use of to increase our power, and therefore our control, over natural phenomena. While the machine greatly aids the operator in such tasks, it also disciplines its operator.
Just as the machine can be considered the arms and legs of the worker, the reverse can also be true. All machines, especially complicated ones, require operators to perform functions mechanically adapted to the functions of the machine. To use the machine for control is to be controlled by the machine. To operate a machine one must operate like a machine.
Of course, machines do not make us into machines when we operate them; we make ourselves into machinery in order to do so. We set aside our own spontaneity ourselves.
There is no style in operating a machine.
If only Carse could see someone play a modular synthesizer the size of a smaller room... it seems we have arrived at another part of the book that has not aged gracefully since 1986. In the three decades since then, things have gotten a lot weirder.
The more efficient the machine, the more it either limits or absorbs our uniqueness into its operation. Indeed, we may come to think that the style of operation does not belong to the operator at all, but is inherent in the machine. Buying a “styled” artifact (one that standardizes the activity or taste of the consumer), we are asked to express our genius by giving it up.
“Because we make use of machinery in the belief we can increase the range of our freedom, and instead only decrease it, we use machines against ourselves.”
Just as we use machinery against ourselves, we also use machinery against itself. A machine is not a way of doing something; it stands in the way of doing something. When we use machines to achieve whatever it is we desire, we cannot have it until we rid ourselves of the mechanical means of reaching our intended outcome. Therefore, the goal of technology is to eliminate itself, to become silent, invisible, carefree.
By buying a piece of machinery, such as an automobile, what we buy is what we can have by way of it: a means of rapid transport between one location and another, an object of envy for others, protection from the weather. Similarly, a radio must cease to exist as equipment and become sound.
A perfect radio will draw no attention to itself, making us feel like we are at the very source of its sound. So it is with movie screens or televisions. We look at what is on screen, what is in the movie, and are annoyed when the equipment malfunctions and intrudes.
Machinery is also veiling in that it hides our inaction from ourselves under what appear to be actions of great effectiveness. We persuade ourselves that, comfortably seated behind the wheels, shielded from all weather, raising and lowering our foot by an inch or two, we have actually traveled somewhere. Such travel is not through space foreign to us, but in a space that belongs to us. We move in seats, trying to leave home without leaving home. To be at home everywhere is to neutralize space. This is also why we try to reduce the time of travel. As though space and time belonged to us, and not we to them.
“We do not go somewhere in a car, but arrive somewhere in a car. Automobiles do not make travel possible, but make it possible to move locations without traveling.”
The theatricality of machinery, then, is that such movement is but a change of scenes. The machinery sees to it that we are untouched by the elements, by other travelers, by those whose towns or lives we are traveling through.
Yet another contradiction of machinery is that by using it against itself and against ourselves, we also use it against each other. To the degree that my association with you depends on machinery such as telephones or computers, the connecting medium makes each of us an extension of itself.
If your business activities cannot translate into data recognizable by my computer, I can have no business with you. If you do not live where I can drive to see you, I will find another friend. In each case, your relationship to me does not depend on my needs but on the needs of my machinery.
“If to operate a machine is to operate like a machine, then we not only operate with each other like machines, we operate each other like machines.”
The inherent hostility of machine-mediated relatedness is most evident in the use of the most theatrical machines of all: instruments of war. Weapons are the equipment of finite games in the way that they do not maximize the play but eliminate it.
Take modern airborne electronic weaponry for an example. The operator deals only with the technology - buttons, blips, lights, dials, levers, targets - and never with the unseen opponent. This leads us to killing the unseen because they are unseen. The crudest spear is raised by an attacker because the independent existence of another cannot be countenanced - because the other cannot be seen as an other. Killers can suffer no suggestion that they are living into the open, that their histories are not finished, that their freedom is always a freedom with others, not over others.
The sophistication of the technology of slaughter at vast distances does not culturally advance its operators over club-swinging primitives; it only completes the blindness that was rudimentary in the primitive. It is the supreme triumph of resentment over vision.
“Not everyone who uses machinery is a killer. But when the use of machinery springs from our attempt to respond to the indifference of nature with an indifference of our own to nature, we have begun to acquire the very indifference to persons that has led to the century’s grandest crimes by its most civilized nations.”
If indifference to nature leads to the machine, the indifference of nature leads to the garden. All culture has the form of gardening: the encouragement of spontaneity in others by way of one’s own, the respect for source, and the refusal to convert it into resource.
Gardeners slaughter no animals. Plants and growths are collected when they are ripened, and when doing so is in the interest of the garden’s heightened and continued vitality. Harvesting respects a resource, leaves it unexploited.
Animals cannot be harvested (fine, let’s ignore the shearing of sheep). They mature, but they do not “ripen”. They are killed at the peak of their vitality, not when they have completed the cycle of their life.
Finite gardeners “produce” animals - or meat products - as though by machine. Animal husbandry assumes that animals belong to us. What is source to them is resource to us. Cattle are confined to pens to prevent such movement as would “toughen” their flesh. Geese, their feet nailed to the floor, are force fed like machines until they can be butchered for their fattened livers.
While machinery is meant to effect changes without affecting its operators, gardening transforms its workers.
An excellent euphemism for the callousing and burning of skin, and the stunting of spines that laboring in a large garden implies to some degree.
Gardening is not outcome-oriented. A successful harvest is not the end of a garden’s existence, but only a phase of it. Gardens do not “die” in the winter but quietly prepare for another season.
Gardeners understand that an abundance of variety is in the interest of vitality. The more complex the organic content of the soil, the more vigorous its liveliness.
So it is in culture. Infinite players understand that the vigor of a culture has to do with the variety of its sources, the differences within itself. The unique and surprising are not suppressed in some persons for the strength of others.
Inasmuch as gardens do not conclude with a harvest and as gardens are not played for a certain outcome, one never arrives anywhere with a garden.
A garden has its own source of change, one does not bring change to it, but comes prepared for change (and is therefore prepared to change). True parents do not see to it that their children grow in a particular way, according to a pattern or script, but they see to it that they grow along with them. The character of one’s parenting must be constantly altered from within as the children change from within. So, too, with teaching, or working with, or loving each other.
Inasmuch as genuine travel has no destinations, we do not journey to a garden but by way of it. Gardeners do not go somewhere, but constantly discover they are somewhere else. As gardening does not subdue the indifference of nature but raises our own spontaneity to respond to its unpredictability, we do not look on nature as a sequence of changing scenes but look on ourselves as persons in passage.
Nature does not change; it has no inside and outside, so it’s impossible to travel through it. All travel is therefore change within the traveler, and this is why travelers are always somewhere else. To travel is to grow.
“Genuine travelers travel not to overcome distance but to discover distance. It is not distance that makes travel necessary, but travel that makes distance possible.”
Distance is not determined by a measurable length between objects, but by the actual differences between them (the motels around airports are so similar that essential distance dissolves in their likeness). What is truly separated is distinct, unlike.
As a gardener pays attention to the spontaneities of nature, they acquire the gift of seeing minute differences (plant growth rates, insect populations, soil composition). So too will parents see the subtle changes in their children, or teachers the signs of increasing skill and wisdom in their students. Any place of human gathering - a garden, a family, a classroom - will offer no end of variations to be observed.
“So, too, with those who look everywhere for difference, who see the earth as source, who celebrate the genius of others, who are not prepared against but for surprise.”
Since machinery requires force from without, its use always requires a search for consumable power. When we think of nature as a resource, it is a resource for power. As we preoccupy ourselves with machinery, nature is increasingly thought of as a reservoir of needed substances. It is a quantity of materials that exist to be consumed - chiefly in our machines.
Society regards its waste as an unfortunate, but necessary consequence of its activities. But waste is not the result of what we have made. It is what we have made. Waste plutonium is not an indirect consequence of the nuclear industry; it is a product of that industry. (See also: the purpose of a system is what it does.)
Carse argues here that we do not consume or exhaust nature, that our waste is not unnatural per se. Nevertheless, waste is waste - material in a form society is no longer able to exploit for its own ends, and one that makes the natural environment unlivable to us.
Waste is unveiling. As we find ourselves standing in garbage that we know is our own, we find also that it is garbage that we have chosen to make, and having chosen to make it could choose not to make it. Because waste is unveiling, we remove it. We place it where it is out of sight. Dumping them in uninhabited areas, or filling them with our refuse until they become so. Since flourishing societies will vigorously exploit their natural resources, they will produce correspondingly great quantities of trash. Their uninhabited lands will quickly overflow with waste, and threaten to make their habitation a wasteland.
As waste is unveiling it is declared as a kind of antiproperty. No one owns it. We have treated nature as it belongs to us, and soon we will treat it as though it belongs to no one. Not only does no one own waste, no one wants it. Instead of competing to possess it, we compete to dispossess it. We force it on others less able to rid themselves of it. Trash accumulates in slums, sewage runs downstream, airborne particles are carried by the wind. Waste is the antiproperty that becomes the possession of losers. It is the emblem of the untitled.
Waste is unveiling because it persists in showing itself as waste, and as our waste. Waste is a reminder that society is a species of culture. Looking out into the wastelands into which we have converted our habitation, we can see that nature is not whatever we want it to be, and we can also see that society is only what we want it to be. A consequence of this contradiction is that the more waste a society produces, the more unveiling it is, and the more vigorously they deny that it produces any at all; the more it must dispose, hide, or ignore its detritus.
Since the attempt to control nature is at its heart an attempt to control other persons, we can expect societies to be less patient with cultures that express some degree of indifference to societal goals and values.
This is the parallel that societies that create natural waste create human waste. Waste persons are those no longer useful as resources to a society, and have become apatrides (noncitizens). They are placed out of view - in ghettos, slums, reservations, camps, retirement villages, strategic hamlets, mass graves. All places of desolation, all uninhabitable. The last century has created many millions of such “superfluous people” (Rubenstein).
A people does not become superfluous by itself any more than natural waste creates itself, it is society that declares them to be waste. Human trash is not an unfortunate burden or indirect result of society’s proper conduct, it is its direct product. European settlers in the American, African and Asian continents did not happen to come upon populations of unwanted people whom nature had thrust in their way; they made them superfluous by the irreversible principles of their societies.
Strictly speaking, waste persons do not live outside societies, they are not their enemies. One cannot go to war against them, they do not constitute an alternative or threatening society; they constitute an unveiling culture. A society will try to “purge” them, to cleanse itself of them.
When society is unveiled, when we see that it is a species of culture with nothing necessary in it (not a phenomenon of nature or a manifestation of instinct), nature is no longer shaped to one or another set of societal goals. “Unveiled, we stand before a nature whose only face is its hidden self-origination: its genius”.
We abandon all attempts at an explanation of nature when we see that we cannot be explained, when our own self-origination cannot be stated as fact. We behold the irreducible otherness of nature when we behold ourselves as its other.
For the infinite player, seeing as genius, nature is the absolutely unlike, the unrecognizable. Nature not only display its indifference to human existence but its difference as well.
Nature offers no home, it does nothing particular to feed us. In Jewish and Islamic mythology the deity has provided humans with a garden but did not, and could not, do the gardening for them. We were to notice its variabilities and features, to name the animals, separating one from the other. This garden was not machine-like, automatically providing food for us. Neither were we driven from without, according to their myths, the deity has breathed life into humans, but to continue living they had to do their own breathing.
Responsibility for the garden does not mean that we can take possession of it, though. We stand before genius in silence. We cannot speak it, we can only speak as it, and not for it. I cannot give nature a voice in my script. I can not give others a voice in my script - without denying their own. To do so is to cease responding to the other. No one and nothing belong in my script.
“The homelessness of nature, its utter indifference to human existence, disclose to the infinite player that nature is the genius of the dramatic.”
Chapter VII - Myth provokes explanation but accepts none of it
Myth provokes explanation but accepts none of it. Where explanation absorbs the unspeakable into the speakable, myth reintroduces the silence that makes original discourse possible.
Explanations establish islands, even continents, of order and predictability. But these regions were first charted by adventurers whose lives are narratives of exploration and risk, who ventured on mythic journeys into the wayless open. The less adventurous later settlers who domesticate these spaces forget that all this firm knowledge does not expunge myth, but floats in it.
Few discoveries were greater than Copernices’, for they projected an order into the heavens that no one has successfully challenged. Many think that this great statement of truth dispelled clouds of myth keeping humankind in darkness. Copernicus dispelled other explanations, not myths. Myths lie elsewhere. Knowledge is what successful explanation has led to; the thinking that sent us forth, however, is pure story.
What we hear in the story of Copernicus, a traveler with a hundred pairs of eyes, is the ancient saga of the solitary wanderer, the peregrinus, who risks anything for the sake of surprise. True, at a certain point, he did stop to look, setting down bounded fact as a Master Player. But the journey making knowledge possible resounds stronger in the myth of Copernicus than the knowledge that made the journey successful.
That myth does not accept the explanations it provokes we can see in the boldness with which thinkers in territorial endeavors reexamine the familiar for higher seeing. The liveliness of a culture is determined not by how frequently these thinkers discover new continents of knowledge but by how frequently they depart to seek them.
“A culture can be no stronger than its strongest myths.”
A story attains the status of myth when it is retold, and persistently retold, solely for its own sake (not to brace up an argument or to amuse an audience). To tell it for its own sake is to tell it for no other reason than that it is a story. Great stories have this feature: to listen to them and learn them is to become their narrators. Our first reponse to hearing a story is the desire to tell it ourselves. We will go to considerable time and inconvenience to arrange a situation for its retelling. It is as though the story is itself seeking the occasion for its recurrence, making use of us as its agents. We do not go out searching for them, it is rather that they have found us for themselves.
Great stories cannot be observed, any more than an infinite game can have an audience. Once I hear a story, I enter its own space and time. I understand my experience in terms of the story, not the other way around. Stories that have the enduring strength of myth reach out to touch the genius in each of us.
It was not Freud’s theory of the unconscious that led him to Oedipus, but the myth of Oedipus that shaped the way he listened to his patients. “The theory of instincts,” he wrote, “is so to say our mythology.” So too then, the theory of the unconscious that follows from it, and the superego, and the ego. This is a mythology of such poetic strength that it has altered not only the way we understand our experience, but our experience itself.
Myths also make collective experience possible, not just individual ones. Whole civilizations rise from stories - and can rise from nothing else. It is not the historical experience of Jews that make the Torah meaningful. The Torah is no more the description of the creation of the earth and early Jewish life than the theory of instincts is a description of the psyches of a handful of bourgeois Viennese of the early twentieth century. The Torah is not the story of the Jews; it is what makes Judaism a story.
However seriously we might regard myths as inert poiema, and attach metaphysical meanings to them, they spring back out of their own vitality. When we look into a story to find its meaning, it is always a meaning we have brought with us to look at.
Myths, told for their own sake, are not stories that have meanings, but stories that give meanings.
Storytellers become metaphysicians, or ideologists, when they come to believe they know the entire story of a people. This is a theatricalized histoy with a beginning and an end. Psychoanalists who look for the Freudian myth in patients impose a filter that lets nothing through they are not prepared to find. The Freudian myth does not repeat itself, but rather resonates in the relationship between patient and therapist.
We resonate with myth when it resounds in us. A myth resounds in me when its voice is heard in mine but not heard as mine. I do not resonate when I quote a person or when I speak as them, but only when that person’s speech touches an original voice in mine. The speech of New Yorkers resonates not because they talk like New Yorkers, but because when they talk we hear New York in their voice.
The resonance of myth collapses the apparent distinction between the story told by one person to another and the story of their telling and listening. It’s one thing to tell the story of Muhammad, and another thing to tell the story of telling the story of Muhammad. Ordinarily, we confine the story to the words of the speaker, but in doing so, we treat it as a story quoted, not a story told.
In your relating, and not repeating, the story of Muhammad, I am touched, and you are touched in turn. Something has begun between us, and our relationship has opened forward dramatically. As this drama emerged from the telling of the story of Muhammad, our story resonates with Muhammad’s, and Muhammad’s with ours.
As myths continue to resound in their retellings, they come to us richly resonant.
“The stories they are sound deeply with the stories of their telling. Their strength as stories lies in their ability to invite us into their drama.”
This drama contains an entire history of voices, sounding and resounding from a thousand sources in our culture. For this reason myths are unresolved in the same sense an infinite game is - they have rules, or narrative structure, that allow any number of participants at any time to enter the drama without fixing the plot or bringing it to a closure.
“In such stories much will be said about closure, or death, but their telling will always disclose the way death comes in the course of play and not at its end.”
Myths of irrepressible resonance have lost all trace of an author. Even when sacred texts are written down by an identifiable prophet or evangelist, it is invariably thought that these words were first spoken to their recorders, not by them.
Moses received the law and did not compose it. Muhammad heard the Quran and did not dictate it. Christians do not read Mark but the gospel according to Mark. Hindus understand their most authoritative texts, the Vedas, to be heard, and the literature that derives from the Vedas to be composed.
Myths do not exist by themselves, neither do they have a discoverable origin (who could we name as the first New Yorker?). Even when it is a deity that is heard by the prophet, it is one who speaks in the language and idiom of the prophet, and not in locutions restricted to divine utterance.
“Indeed, myth is the highest form of our listening to each other, of offering a silence that makes the speech of the other possible.”
There is an additional conclusion Carse draws here: "This is why listening is far more valued by religion than speaking. Fides ex auditu. Faith comes by listening, Paul said". However, I would say that the reason why religion values listening more is far less flowery. Religion needs people to spread. According to the principle of "you can't make coffee if you're dead", not being questioned, invalidated and forgotten is an immediate subgoal of spreading. It's in the interest of religion to not be questioned by speaking, or reinterpreted in a way that could change it, once it has reached a form where it proliferates the most effectively. Sometimes I feel that the meta-reasoning of Carse takes much longer and precarious routes to lead to a conclusion that you could have arrived at in a shorter, more stable route by just looking at how something works in base reality. Therefore, my counter to his conclusion "faith comes by listening" would be that "faith comes by not speaking".
The opposite of resonance is amplification. A choir is the unified expression of voices resonating with each other; a loudspeaker is the amplification of a single voice, excluding all others. When a single voice is sufficiently amplified, it makes any other voice impossible to hear. We listen to a loudspeaker less for what is being said, and more because it is all that is being said. Magisterial speech is amplified speech; it is speech that silences. The amplified voice seeks obedient action on the part of its hearers and an immediate end to their speech. There is no possibility of conversation with a loudspeaker.
“Ideology is the amplification of myth. It is the assumption that since the beginning and end of history are known, there is nothing more to say. History is therefore to be obediently lived out according to the ideology. Just as the warmakers of Europe regularly melted down bells to recast them into cannons, the metaphysicians have found the meaning of their myths and announced those meanings without their narrative resonance.”
The myths themselves are now regarded as falsehoods or curiosities, and therefore to be disregarded, if not forbidden. Ideologists hide the choral nature of history, the sense that it is a symphony of very different, even opposed, voices, each nonetheless making the other possible.
If it is true that myth provokes explanation, then it is also true that explanation’s ultimate design is to eliminate myth. Bells do not simply make it possible to forge cannons, but cannons are forged to silence the bells. The highest contradiction of finite play is that it is played in such a way that all need for play is eliminated.
When a loudspeaker mutes all other voices, making conversation impossible, it loses its own voice and becomes mere noise. Julius Caesar originally sought power in Rome because he loved to play the dangerous style of politics common to the Republic; but he played the game so well that he destroyed all his opponents, becoming unable to keep doing what he sought power for. His word was now irresistible, and he could speak to no one, his isolation was complete. “We might almost say this man was looking for an assassination” (Syme).
If we say that explanation is meant to silence myth, it follows that whenever we find people deeply committed to explanation and ideology, whenever play takes on the seriousness of warfare, we will find persons troubled by myths they cannot forget they have forgotten.
“The myths that cannot be forgotten are those so resonant with the paradox of silence they become the source of our thinking, even our culture, and our civilization. These are the myths we can easily discover and name, but whose meanings continually elude us, myths whose conversion to truth never quite fills the bells of their resonance with the sand of metaphysical interpretation.”
Abraham is an example of such a simple story. Altough only two children were born to Abraham (one of them illegitimate), he was promised that his descendants would be as numberless as the stars of the heavens. All three of the West’s major religions consider themselves children of Abraham, though each has often understood itself to be the only and final family of the patriarch, an understanding threatened by the resounding phrase: numbered as the stars of the heavens. This is a myth that always has a future, there is no closure in it.
The myth of the Buddha’s enlightenment has the same paradox; a provocation to explanation, but with little possibility of settling the matter. It is the story of a mere mortal, completely without divine aid, successfully undertaking a spiritual quest for release from all forms of bondage, including the need to report this release to others. The unspeakability of this event has given rise to an immense flow of literature that shows no signs of abating.
Perhaps the Christian myth is the most disturbing to the ideological mind. It is a tale of a god who listens by becoming one of us, a god “emptied” of divinity, who gave up all privilege of commending speech and “dwelt among us”, coming “not to be served, but to serve”. But the worlds to which he came received him not. They preferred a god of magisterial utterance, a commanding idol, a theatrical likeness of their own finite designs.
“Those Christians who deafened themselves to the resonance of their own myth have driven their killing machines through the garden of history, but they did not kill the myth. The emptied divinity whom they have made into an Instrument of Vengeance continues to return as the Man of Sorrows bringing with him his unfinished story, and restoring the voices of the silenced.”
Carse, I think, is being very generous with the myth behind Christianity. Maybe it would be more enlightening here to look at how the Instrument of Vengeance just keeps manifesting itself in base reality, and how the Christian religion is a colonising one.
None of the above, nor any myth is necessary, even if they are exemplary. There is no story that must be told. Stories do not have truths that someone needs to reveal, or someone needs to hear.
The myth of Jesus makes itself unnecessary; it is a narrative of the word becoming flesh (of language entering history); a narrative of the word becoming flesh and dying (of history entering language). Who listens to this myth cannot rise above history to utter timeless truths about it.
It is not necessary for infinite players to be Christians; indeed it is not possible for them to be Christians (or Buddhists, or Muslims, or atheists, or New Yorkers) - serously. All such titles can only be playful abstractions, mere performances for the sake of laughter.
And wars of holy bloodshed.
Infinite players are not serious actors in any story, but the joyful poets of a story that continues to originate what they cannot finish.
There is but one infinite game.