Contemporary research in the cognitive sciences provides tools for humanities scholars to make explicit the nature of creativity in the arts and their importance in the development of human cognition. From this perspective, the notion of the arts as play takes on new meaning. In his book, Finite and Infinite Games, James P. Carse explores through the metaphor LIFE IS A GAME the way we are both finite and infinite players in the worlds of human life and nature. Three elements define the distinction between finite and infinite play: an infinite game is boundless, dramatic, and open; finite games are bounded, theatrical, and self-limited. These elements of the finite and the infinite occur as themes in both Eliot and Dickinson. For the novelist, they are played out through the lives of her characters. For the poet, they reflect the dynamic tensions of her literary personae in their encounters with others and with the natural world. The characters of Eliot's Middlemarch fall on a scale from most finite to most infinite in their interactions with each other. At the two extremes are Rosamond Vincy and Will Ladislaw. In our encounters with nature, we act either as finite players in believing that it can be ultimately known and controlled, or as infinite players, recognizing that something lies always beyond our reach, beyond the ever-changing horizons of our perceptions. In her poems, Dickinson creates lyric personae who experience the infinite play of life, looking and moving always beyond the boundaries of the known.


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pp. 37-58
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