Monday, June 27, 2011

Joyous Kingdom of Play and of Semblance

In the midst of the fearful kingdom of forces, and in the midst of the sacred kingdom of laws, the aesthetic impulse to form is at work,unnoticed, on the building of a third joyous kingdom of play and of semblance, in which man is relieved of the shackles of circumstance, and released from all that might be called constraint, alike in the physical and in the moral sphere.

Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man, Wilkinson and Willoughby, trs., Letter 27.8. The 'fearful kingdom of forces' is the physical world, in which everything works by physical laws; and the 'sacred kingdom of laws' is the moral world understood in Kantian terms, in which everything works by imperatives; the two are governed by necessities, albeit of different kinds. But our aesthetic impulse, or play impulse, as Schiller also calls it, is devoted to free play; as he puts it in the next paragraph, "To bestow freedom by means of freedom is the fundamental law of this kingdom."


  1. Brigitte2:26 PM

    As a young teenager during the late 40s in Germany, I read and adored Schiller's poetry and plays.  We waited often discussed and fervently hoped for such "joyous Kingdom of play".  Having arrived in America in the early 60s I thought perhaps that such a kingdom was possibly on its way.  Alas, looking back now on my past naivity, I wonder if even Schiller could have known what such a "play impulse" might also lead to.

  2. branemrys3:38 PM

    It's a problem with every Romanticism, I suppose. I guess Schiller would say, though, that the problem is not the play impulse, but the fact that people confuse the drive for play with a drive for pleasure (pleasure having more to do with the 'fearful kingdom of forces', being all stimulus and response). What you'd need is people using the play impulse to unite their whole being, which requires that we cultivate play so that it becomes art.

    Of course, Schiller never gives us much of an idea of how to do this (although in fairness he was at the time simply trying to argue that a view of human beings as moral laws on top of physical laws was missing something essential). And he doesn't seem to talk about the ways such a drive could go wrong (or, at least, I can't remember a passage where he does so). I too wonder what book he would write today, looking out on modern America rather than eighteenth century Weimar.

  3. Brigitte10:25 PM

    Play becoming art.  I like that. Thanks.


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