This is Play


Context is everything. Playing, exploring, artmaking, religion, literature, are not activities but contexts. Play is the way we encounter the multilayered nature of communication in humans and animals, in art forms and nature. Living beings learn to say as-if and sort-of; playing with these messages is the starting place of creativity, and one of the great primal life functions. Without play, learning and evolution are impossible. In the 1950s, Gregory Bateson elucidated how all this works and set the stage for innumerable insights into how messages like “this is play,” “this is art,” “this is science,” affect our understanding of what we see and hear, do and say. “This is play” can be our great opening into artistic and metaphoric activity, but such messages can also be perverted to manipulate us in innumerable ways. Levels of communication connect over, under, around and through each other. Mixtures and degrees of play, mixtures and degrees of friendship or romantic love—all these contexts, like the Klein bottle, have no inside and no outside, and are more intricate than any idea we can have of them. To be able to function in joy and freedom is the gift of play. We come to understand that not only is all communication inflected, but the inflection is the communication itself.