Theory Games and Other Esoteric Endeavors

Postmodernists love playing with the “definable” so that what was once definable is now thoroughly destabilized; played out, indefinable, and thus, simply, play. Ah. Defeat of the definable. Postmodernists like Kant, Heidegger, Lyotard, and Levinas relish in the “postmodern playing” of language games. Not “the language game” but language games: language is “games” – to illustrate, let’s play with the term “games” as a game in and of itself. In saying “games” to describe “playing with language” I am saying that language is games (noun), that language possesses gameness (noun), and that we will game (verb) language, in that language can be a mode of gaming or that it can be gamed, and that language is gamely (adjective), and that language itself is game (adjective) as in, “Are you game for this?” In gaming “games,” I am enabling it freedom – specifically, I’m playing with it, un-enframing it, revealing its multiple “truths” – the games of “games.” Whereas “the language game” implies one (enframed, absolute, formulaic) rule of The Game, Kant, Heidegger, Lyotard, and Levinas are definitely (but not “definitely” or absolutely) playing games. Ok, so that was an amusing diversion and all, but let’s move on to more fun and games: specifically, playing with the utility of language through the previously “definable” – concepts of freedom and ethics. First, the business (literally) of the utility – the employment – of language. No games here. In postmodern fashion, Kant, Heidegger, Lyotard, and Levinas play with, destabilize, the utility of language. Each has a nuanced interpretation of the utterly non-playful “utility,” which we’ll call “utility un-gamed.” Each theorist’s interpretation is simplified as follows: Kant: utility is the immature obedience to language rules and formulas; Heidegger: utility is “disciplinary pedantry” and employment of standardized tests to assess language “skills” and to measure “performance”; Lyotard: utility is the task of language as defined in a concrete, direct, and absolute relationship with reality; Levinas: utility is the production, the manifestation, of ideas. Having employed the ungamely work of “utility ungamed,” let the games begin! When Kant, Heidegger, Lyotard, and Levinas “game” utility, we arrive at – er, approach – the destabilization of the previously foundational concepts of freedom and ethics. As a post-postmodernist (we won’t play the “what is post-postmodernism” game quite yet… well, ever) I’ve decided to make a game of this destabilization – a game in which I’ve teamed Kant and Heidegger “The Freedom Fighters” and Lyotard and Levinas “The Ethics Ensemble.” Team “Freedom Fighters” plays to win autonomy (versus obedience) and the poetic (versus the enframed). Their game plan is this: 1. Ace obedience; 2. Volley with rules and formulas; 3. Win autonomy and the poetic; emergence. Kant aces obedience by taking a swing at the “guardians,” who “having first made their domestic livestock dumb, and having carefully made sure that these docile creatures will not take a single step without the go-cart to which they are harnessed … [they] show them the danger that threatens them, should they attempt to walk alone.”  Instead of easy obedience (because “it is so easy to be immature”) Kant volleys with the rules and formulas [“the shackles of a permanent immaturity” – immaturity being “the inability to use one’s understanding” to win the game of enlightenment (emergence from obedience; immaturity)]. In essence, Kant is playing by his own rules (which aren’t rules, per say, but the exercising of the freedom to reason publicly): 1. Do not play by others’ rules – play with immaturity; reason!; 2. Do not play alone – reason publicly; play with others!; 3. Do not hire a coach – you won’t need him; dare to teach yourself, dare to know the game! Heidegger employs, no – reveals – how an obedient university system, one “…in which research has become little more than disciplinary pedantry and [where] teaching [has become] a hollow, misdirected excuse for standardized tests” is simply playing the game by the rules; that this mode of “play” is not play at all, but knowledge conveyance. What is the danger of such rule-following, such adherence to perpetual concealment? For Heidegger, if the university system continues to enframe – to store – an orderly and finite agenda for what is allowed to be known, said, learned, etc., then they’ll continue to eschew the poetic, that which is essential; true understanding. For Heidegger, the poetic cannot be unconcealed without playing, being, caring. “Care becomes a term signifying the burden of being, because our existence is tied to concern “for something, producing something … accomplishing … determining …” In terms of language games and freedom, Heidegger’s revealing of the university system’s resistance to games (i.e. games without rules, games that risk) can be explained via an agricultural metaphor: “ … a new yoke beset throughout language by modern technology as an intensification of the desire for order that has always dominated the being-there. A new orientation to language can lead to a more authentic revealing of being (and humanity as the human-being-there-then).”In tandem with his teammate, Heidegger wins language games by revealing the poetic. His rules (which aren’t rules but revelations … the mastering of “comprehending knowing … becoming secure in one’s sense for what is essential/poetic” are as follows: 1. Do not play by others’ rules – play boldly; take risks!; 2. Do not play alone – this is not possible; play your opponent with concern “for accomplishing;” you must play to exist!; 3. Do not hire a coach – you do not need knowledge of the game to be conveyed to you; learn to play the game by not understanding it (it will be revealed)!In essence Heidegger understands enframing as a play into the hands of obedience; as disinterest (lack of care; lack of being) and enframing’s opponent – the poetic – as interest in (care for, being) as the revelation that is truth: “The rule of enframing threatens man with the possibility that it could be denied to him to enter into a more original revealing and hence to experience the call of a more primal truth.” The “Ethics Ensemble,” Lyotard and Levinas, doesn’t play to win; they play to be. Being is play. For them, language games cannot be played to “win” – because to win is to conquer. For Lyotard, “Language isn’t a concrete/direct relationship with reality as much as it is a medium through which we encounter and negotiate with language itself”; we do not defeat, conquer, or define language via rules, because “the meaning of words is regulated by use in everyday life and social situations.” Similarly, for Levinas, language must be played by the “not-rules” of form and content. Concerning the ways in which Levinas’ language games are played, like his teammate, Levinas doesn’t play to win (to conquer) but to be: to express the existent, which “…breaks through all the enveloping and generalities of Being to spread out in its “form” the totality of its “content,” finally abolishing the distinction between form and content.” Concerning the team’s motto (not “game plan,” here, because such language would imply a plan to win the game) they are concerned with ethics in terms of how responsibility and the saying and the said is negotiated through language games. Specifically, they play games within the games of language. This means that they’re not the least bit concerned about working with reality, with capturing the totality of events, but rather with playing within the confines of language, playing with the events that are expressions (sayings) of truths. It can’t be said that they are necessarily playing for anything at all; I’d suggest that they are playing with discourse (Lyotard) and with witnessing (Levinas). Lyotard explains what I’m calling the “saying and the said” as “the said and the not-yet-said”; the “saying” being congruent with the “not-yet-said” as the saying is the “something” that exists prior to meaning (the said). Lyotard plays language games with the said and the not-yet-said/saying in that whatever is said ought not be understood as efficient, productive, working (i.e. employed) but rather that whatever is said possesses a tension which enables the process of discourse, or the continuation – the negotiation – of “saids” and “not-yet-saids”/sayings. Levinas negotiates the saying and the said as ethical in that “Saying opens me to the other, before saying something said, before the said is spoken in this sincerity forms a screen between me and the other.” Levinas’ claim interpreted: When I am saying – dis-closing – something to you, I am doing just that – dis-closing; opening. Therefore, in opening myself to you, I am making myself vulnerable to you. In my saying – my dis-closing, my vulnerability – I am enacting the ethical response-ability to you, the other, because I am exposing myself to you in a way that is always/already accepting of your alterity (because I cannot assume that you will be saying whatever I would be saying if I were to respond to whatever I was saying to you). In the end (well, there is no end, no “ace,” no win,) it is the response-ability to say something to the other’s “said,” that is the ethical way to play.



About klangbehn

Doctoral Candidate: Rhetoric of Science University of South Florida 4202 E. Fowler Avenue Tampa, FL 33620-5550 View all posts by klangbehn

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