Archaeology of Play

The Re-Discovery of Platonic-Aristotelian Tripartivism in Interdisciplinary Discourses

by Lope Lesigues (Author)
©2019 Monographs 422 Pages


Archaeology of Play: The Re-Discovery of Platonic-Aristotelian Tripartivism in Interdisciplinary Discourses proposes that play’s antithesis is not seriousness but rather one-dimensionality. This book argues that the rediscovery of Platonic-Aristotelian tripartivism lends to a more expansive appreciation of play in terms of three rhetorical registers—namely, skholé, agon, and paidia. Scholastic play resides in leisure and contemplation. Agonistics is realmed in competition, contests, and power-play, while paidiatics is expressed in lowly ruses, trickeries, recreation, and amusement of the low-bred and the subaltern. By subjecting play to the tripartite lens, Archaeology of Play highlights vital surpluses and lacunae in the treatment of the subject matter and therefore yields a refreshing, re-politicized understanding of play dynamics in the different fields of human endeavor.
Furthermore, Bourdieu’s and Rancière’s lusory discourses redeem play from the pitfalls of triadic over-schematization by thinking beyond tripartivism. The lively interlocution with other play theorists—Pieper, Kant, Schiller, Marcuse, Gadamer, Veblen, Arendt, Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault, Bakhtin, de Certeau, among others—adds substance to the mix where play becomes a critical resource for politics, aesthetics, and the democratic reordering of sociality.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Mapping the Playfield
  • A Tripartite Habit of Organizing the World
  • Aristotle’s Tripartite Play: Skholé, Agon, Paidia
  • Archaeoludics: A Playful Search
  • Unchartable Play and Rhetorical Method
  • Chapter 1. The Scholastic Viewpoint—Play as Leisure and Contemplation
  • Skholé: Etymology and Semantic Drifts
  • Plato’s Paidia and Paideia
  • Aristotle’s Skholé and Contemplation
  • Extolling Skholé and the Erasure of the ‘Third Life’
  • Augustine’s Renunciated Play
  • Aquinas’ Eutrapelic Play
  • Otium: The Roman Legacy
  • The Play of Ratio: From Skholé to Aesthesis
  • Kant’s Aesthetic Play and the Judgment of Taste
  • Schiller’s Spieltrieb and the Warring States
  • Pieper’s ‘High’ Scholasticism
  • Agonizing Skholé: Marxist Receptions of Leisure
  • Marx’s Plea: A Productive Life of Leisure
  • Marcuse’s Social Theory of Play
  • Gadamer’s Ontology of Play
  • Satirizing Skholé: Veblen and the Leisure Class
  • Chapter 2. The Agonistic Viewpoint—Play as Power and Competition
  • Agon’s Etymology and Semantic Drifts
  • The Ancient Agonistic Fields: Pessoi, Olympics, and Gymnasia
  • Arendt’s Open Arena and the Appearance of Heroic Deeds
  • Burckhardt’s Sketches of Agonal Ideals
  • Performative Agon: The Quest for Immortal Fame
  • Contestative Agon and Kalokagathia
  • Political Agon by Way of Nietzsche, Gouldner, and Arendt
  • Agon in Sociology: Social Conflicts and Social Cooperation
  • Some Game Theories in Sociology
  • Huizinga: Homo Ludens and Civilization
  • Elias’ Agonal Game in the Civilizing Process
  • Goffman: Dramaturgical Games and Strategic Interaction
  • Simmel: The Game of Sociability
  • Agon in Postmodern Philosophy: The Heideggerian Route
  • Lyotard: Playing the Politics of ‘Phrase’
  • Derrida: The Play of Différance and Pharmakon
  • Foucault: The Agonistics of ‘Truth Games’
  • Chapter 3. The Paidiatic Viewpoint—Play as Amusement and Resistance
  • Paidia: Etymology and Semantic Drifts
  • Aristotle’s Motto: ‘No Leisure for Slaves’
  • Paidiatic Dispositions: Risible Antics and Wily Sophistics
  • Rethinking Theoria: Nightingale’s Rereading of Plato and Aristotle
  • Paidiatics: Outside Play and Playful Outsiders
  • Douglass’ and Stammp’s Accounts: The Paidiatics of Slavery
  • Hartman’s Exposition: The Case of ‘Innocent Amusements’
  • Speech and the Paidiatics of Bestial Inarticulateness
  • Detienne and Vernant on Metis and Cunning Ingenuities
  • Khôra: Play Beyond the Borders of the Polis
  • Bakhtin: The Sociopolitics of Carnival
  • A Short Segue: Scott’s Weapons of the Weak
  • De Certeau’s Strategic Games and Fragmentary Tactics
  • Chapter 4. Remapping Tripartite Play—Bourdieu and Rancière
  • Beyond Weberian Play Typologies
  • Bourdieu: The Practice of Game, The Game of Practice
  • Habitus: The ‘Feel for the Game’
  • Capital: The Stakes in the Game
  • Symbolic Violence and the Game of Domination
  • Champ: The Playfield and the Power of Relations
  • Rancière: The Play of Politics and Aesthetics
  • Equalitas: Leveling the Playfield
  • The Politics of Aesthetics: Le Partage du Sensible
  • The Aesthetics of Politics: Mesentente, Dissensus, and the Logic of Tort
  • The Game of Subjectivation
  • Chapter 5. Beyond Lusory Tripartition—Issues and Trajectories: Carnivalia of Interlocutors With Bourdieu and Rancière as Toastmasters
  • Skholé and the Virtue of Wisdom in Plato’s Tripartite Order
  • The Scholastic Debates: Appraising Leisure, Paideia, and Spectatorship
  • A Reflexive Look at the ‘Scholastic Point of View’
  • The Scholastic Method in Education
  • Rancière’s Critique of ‘Bourdieuan Effect’ in Education
  • Ocularcentrism: Vision and the Play of Theoros
  • Agon and the Virtue of Courage in Plato’s Tripartite Order
  • Agonistic Debates: Olympics, Contesting Senses, and Dissensual Politics
  • The Ideology of Appearance in Agonal Arena
  • Linguistic Agon: The Contest Between Orality and Écriture
  • Agon’s Democratic Contribution in the Heart of Plurality
  • Political Agonistics: Postmodern Provocations to the ‘Rules of the Game’
  • Paidia and the Virtue of Moderation in Plato’s Tripartite Order
  • The Paidiatic Debates: Fun System and Subaltern Survival
  • Notes on Popular Culture: Bakhtin, De Certeau, Bourdieu
  • Ontogenesis of Dominant and Dominated Senses: A Critical Evaluation
  • Recuperating Kant: Matter of Taste, Taste of Matter
  • Rancière’s Proposal: Back to Schiller’s Spieltrieb
  • Arbiter’s Play: The Virtue of Justice Beyond Plato’s Tripartite Order
  • Revisiting Plato’s Myth of the Three Metals
  • Tripartitas: From Division of Labor to Hierarchy of Nature
  • Plato and the Ruse of the Noble Lie
  • Rancière’s Progressive Populism, Bourdieu’s ‘Reverse Platonism’
  • Post-Ludens: An Enigmatic Tale of Hope
  • Index

| ix →


I would like to acknowledge the support of many people to bring this book to life. A huge debt is owed to the Faculteit Godgeleerdheid of K. U. Leuven (Belgium) under the leadership of Dr. Mathijs Lamberigts and the mentorship of the late Dr. Georges de Schrijver, S. J., and Dr. Jacques Haers, S. J. Fordham University in New York has provided a fertile ground for my research and pedagogic engagement, thanks to my students over the years, to Walsh Library at Rose Hill, Bronx, and to my colleagues in the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Studies including Dr. Tito Cruz, Dr. Kieran Scott, Dr. Bud Horell, Dr. Patrick Holt, Bill Slade and Francesca Falciano. My short stint in Harvard University was made worthwhile by Dr. Robert Alcala, Dr. Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, Dr. Robert Bordone, Dr. Florrie Darwin as well as Dr. John Nery and Dr. Zosimo Lee–both visiting fellows from the Philippines. I acknowledge the critical comments and worthwhile suggestions of my blind reviewers. I equally thank Meagan Simpson, my acquisition editor, Michael Doub and Liam McLean, editorial assistants and Luke McCord, production editor, for the trust and confidence in the book project as well as Christopher S. Ackerman for tirelessly editing my early manuscript. I also thank Al Salerno for translating my philosophical ruminations into a beautiful artwork and to Candice Lamberte-Dy for the design layout of the book. The ← ix | x → Leuven days with late-night discussions have certainly shaped a good deal of my philosophical orientation, thanks to Dr. Danny Pilario, Dr. Ino Cueto, Dr. Ed Guzman, Dr. Roland Tuazon, Dr. Delfo Canceran, Dr. Randy Odchigue, Rev. Dario Pacheco, Dr. Jade Principe, Dr. Ray Festin, Dr. Manny Ginete, Dr. Aloy Cartagenas, Dr. Ramon Echica, Dr. Agnes Brazal, Dr. Rhoderick John Abellanosa, and members of DaKaTeo. Other professors of life who have constantly carried my portable library on their shoulders are Edwin Elan, Mike Pepino, Emma Pepino, Janice Rallos, Ned Montecillo, Sid Bordadora, Boy Rojas, James Javanes, Boy Petesa, Ian Buno, Alfeo Pepino, and a slew of other BDG colleagues in the field.

Indeed, the writing endeavor is not only hewn in the academia but also in the day-to-day encounter with fellow travelers. Thanks to the abiding support of Bishop Antonio Tobias, Denise Rover, Larry Evans, David Lombard, Marietta Sibi and family, Salerno family, Tom Ivory, Ed Ciuba, Ellen O’Rourke, Rosemary Ervin, Luna Mae Aguja, Don and Peachy Alcuino, Ed and Linda Purcell, Vinny and Patty McLaughlin, John and Monika Matarazzo, Uta and Bob Trogele, Rene and Marilou Tenazas, Eva Alge and Ron Puso, Garcia family from Cebu, Henry and Claire Jabonero, Terri and Artie Rendina, Salerno family, Carmen Cabahug, Mayet Borres, Rosa and Dindo Medalle, Sony and Ramon Enriquez, Jude Palces, Johan and Alnel Barola, Mike and Anne Enriquez, Joy Roble, Bong Mendez, Abordo family, Dong and Eve Riña, Ginny Regala, Judy Agas, Miguela Gabisan, Roy Zapata, Sunar and Netty Tedjawinata, Virgie, Jacques and Matthieu Bertin, Virgie Triffoy, Marina Lesuisse, Helen Christophe, Winston and Ning Lim, Berto and Nelnel Barola, and the SJC HS Batch ’80. My buddies who are in ministry are hard to miss: Jed Bellones, Ric Cañete, Junjie Ybañez, Dave Vivero, Noli Rendon, Scipio Deligero, Melchor Urgel, Joy Danao, Phil Tumulak, Rey Matunog, Marvin Mejia, Rey Penagunda, Mike Alcuino, Eric Lozada and batch mates from SMSC. I cannot fail to mention friends in Hilongos, Caridad, Lelystad Maasin and Ibarra as well as barkadas closest to my hometown—Stan Mepico, Joy Macuto, Celso Faller, Tony Ong, Dennis Cagantas, Celso Rojas, Femie Gohetia and the Maasin clergy headed by Bishop Precioso Cantillas. A special note of gratitude goes to dear friends at Presentation Parish, Upper Saddle River, NJ and early adaptors of God’s Park, namely, the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office in Newark, NJ, St. Elizabeth in Wyckoff, Our Lady of Lourdes in West Orange, and St. Francis in Ridgefield Park. ← x | xi →

The Hartanto family—namely, Victor, Ina, Jonathan and Christopher—has truly inspired me while writing the book. They have been my lifeline and anchor through the transition years of my life. Other families have shown unwavering support as well—the Birthday Group of New Jersey and their abiding friendship, namely, the Beduyas, Bordadoras, the Bontias, the Bunos, the Elans, the Floreses, the Javaneses, the Montecillos and Crisologos, the Pisanis, the Josephs, the Mutias, the Pepinos, the Petesas, the Ralloses, the Grants, the Recuerdos, the Rojases, the Sisons, the Soques and the whole tribe. Still, there are other support groups: Gravalles, Sakdap, FFF staff, PACBC, and the intimate group of U.S.-Filipino doctors in N. J. and their families for guidance and wise counsel—Drs. Zenda and Iman Lat, Ros and Nilda Largoza, Emma and Rolly Aquino, Ramon and Nancy Alcala, Celia and Nestor Sagullo, Boots Miele, Hector Correa, Pabling and Fe Catangay, Irvin, David and Lucy Bough. Indri Latif has given such a huge boost and caring touch to the project. My relatives from the Alcuino-Lesigues clan have been a source of joy and inspiration as well.

Finally, I thank my dear family—Papa Mauricio and Mama Victoria; Hector, Leah and Cai Cayanan; Franklin, Loida and Carmel Ankrom; Luis, Rosanne, Rainiel and Raphael Lesigues; Lizette, Molly and Gianni Notarte; Jami and Clem Lesigues. Thank you for being there by my side and for believing in me.

| xiii →


Mapping the Playfield

A Tripartite Habit of Organizing the World

This book initiates a deeper inquiry into the tripartite motifs of play already contained, yet partially unexplored, in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics X: the sketches of which are comparable with the Pythagorean calculus where one finds linkages of asymmetrical lines to form a triadic order or unity. This is consistent with play’s proclivity to break loose from the tradition of considering seriousness as its antithesis. Rather, in Nachmanovitch’s words, “the opposite of play is one-dimensionality.”1 It is in this light that I begin to examine the contours of the tripartite framework.

Tripartite thinking is not new. It has been the structural blueprint of many ancient systems and civilizations that have used it to constitute plurality in unity in the social order. The following list highlights some of the more profound examples of the tripartite system: Porphyry’s Being-Life-Mind system;2 Pythagoras’ Tetractys;3 the tritheism practiced all over Ancient Egypt;4 tripartite calamities of injustice, war and famine afflicting old histories;5 the triad of a pair and the other in strategic game theories;6 Docta Christiana’s Trinity;7 and psychology’s consciousness of Denken, Fühlen, Wollen8—to name a few. Vernant identifies tripartite thinking in Plato’s theory of three social classes ← xiii | xiv → in Republic.9 Milbank adds to Pralon’s list of triadic elements in Aristotle, quoting from his Politics:

Hippodanus of Miletus divided the city into three parts: sacred, public, private, servicing worship, war and agriculture (Politics II, 8). Aristotle himself recommends a threefold division of the land of the city into public for gods, public for communal feeding (especially related to war) and private (Politics VII, 10); there are three ingredients of excellence: intellectual and moral, bodily (‘spiritedness,’, athleticism, health) and external needs (Politics VII, i); [and] one needs wealth to support religion, war and material needs (Politics VII, 9) and this gives rise to a division of social order into priests, judges and councilors, and [then], farmers and artisans.10

The great French historian of religions Georges Dumézil (1898–1986) explains a triadic classificatory system of Indo-European society. His three estates consist of: (a) the magical, religious rule; (b) the defense of society by arms; and (c) the tilling of the soil for provision of food and luxury. This tripartite order in societies projects into the heavenly order, with their corresponding patron-gods: the ruling estate under Jupiter (the king of gods and goddesses); the estate of power and force under Mars (the god of war); and the estate of toil and production under Quirinus (the god of agriculture).11 Later in the text, Dumézil writes: “the three Romulean tribes of Ramnes, Luceres, and Tities were respectively identified with the three castes of priests (and possibly of kings), of warriors, and of producers.”12 Within each of the triumvirate powers a further tripartite functionality is employed. He explains:

a Sovereign fonction that carried both sacred and secular leadership or dominance; a Warrior or Guardian fonction that defended or was supposed to defend society; and a Third fonction that fed and supported all, as the health and sustenance of the society was dependent on farmers, herdsmen, artisans and probably merchants … The triplex phenomenon is then expandable into a number of associated signs and significances.13

This includes traditions and myths, cultural codes and distinct ways of thinking. In other words “the idéologie tripartite [that is] associated with Dumézil’s name and scholarly production.”14 These examples highlight Dumézil’s tendency to think triadically when dealing with the Indo-European world and its social environment. The same tripartite analysis is made by Jacques Le Goff (1924–2014), who follows Dumézil in dividing society into three groups: the oratores (‘those who pray’); bellatores (‘those who fight’); and laboratores (‘those who labor’).15 Duby reiterates the same position, elaborating on the persistent traits, lingering perceptions and attitudes that underlie human institutions and practices to organize the world into triads. Duby appropriates Le Goff’s ← xiv | xv → trifunctionality as a social lens and employs the concept to ‘see’ and ‘read’ the medieval societies.16 However it can be assumed that these exponents of tripartite thinking were never far from the mentalités of an earlier Parisian parliamentarian—Charles Loyseau (1564–1627) who, in his work A Treatise on Orders, divided society into Clergy, Nobility and Commoners:

Some are devoted particularly to the service of God; others to the preservation of the State by arms; still others to the task of feeding and maintaining it by peaceful labors. These are the three orders … the Clergy, the Nobility and the Third Estate.17

This cluster of triadic structuration is an obvious appropriation of Plato’s patterns of tripartite order legitimized by the myth of the three metals in the ideal state, with rulers fashioned from gold, warriors from silver, and artisans from iron and brass.18

The habit of tripartite thinking is not unique to Indo-European culture, and has been applied to many cultures across the globe.19 In the early Philippines, for example, the tripartite order of Datu, Pandáy and Babaylan shows similar social mapping.20 Contemporary thinkers make equal use of tripartite frameworks. For instance Flyvbjerg, in search of a comprehensive methodology for the social sciences, designs a tripartite framework around Aristotle’s ‘three intellectual virtues’—episteme, techné and phronesis.21 A tripartite analysis of social structures provides a holistic understanding compared with dually constructed worlds, without pretensions to an all-encompassing field, like a Weltanschauung where one makes generalizations out of fragmentary elements of threes. Despite this book’s plea for the merits of tripartite analysis, it refrains from prescribing it tout court. Towards the end of the book, the question arises whether the tripartite order is a proper term set in a fixed hierarchy22 or an attributed analogy that accommodates possibilities for equality.

The compelling force of tripartite analysis is undeniable, especially in the fields of theology, philosophy and the social sciences. At the top of the list is Aristotle’s tripartite analysis of what constitutes the best life. Herein lies the book’s archaeological origin: the Nicomachean Ethics X, where Aristotle not only outlines the ‘three lives’ contending for the best life, but also a tripartite lineament of play. As with the examples above—and despite Foucault’s caveat to avoid approaching Greek thought as a form of nostalgic recyclism or an appeal to an emulative ideal retrofitted for contemporary times—we will illuminate a tripartite analysis of play that affords a richer, more sophisticated analysis than the unitary or binary treatments which dominate the ← xv | xvi → literature.23 Yet again, après Foucault, such insistence enlists the service of employing trifunctionality as a plain methodic moyen d’analyser.24

Aristotle’s Tripartite Play: Skholé, Agon, Paidia

This book highlights an important event in the Panhellenic festivals when Pythagoras pointed to the subject matter of play as a similar device to teach the lessons of the day.

[Pythagoras] compared life to the Great Games (panēgurei), where some went to compete for the prize and others with wares to sell, but the best as spectators; for similarly, in life some grow up with slavish natures, [others] competing for fame and gain, but the philosophers for truth.25

Aristotle took this imagery to task, especially when he began to muse about the question concerning human flourishing: what makes the best life? Is it a life of pleasure and recreation? Is it a life of action and visceral engagement? Or, is it a life of leisurely contemplation?26 It is widely held that he betted his drachma on the spectators, the ‘philotheoroi,’ who simply contemplate the ‘delicate things that appeal to the eyes’ and get away from the commotions of the agora or the competition in the palaistra. They have gold in their souls. Contemplative spectating captures the attitude of the philosopher who, by watching the game, detaches himself from the pettiness and transitory nature of the game itself. One still remains a player but of the lofty breed:

contemplat[ing] on the divine order and tak[ing] part in its eternity … Since the only activity conceivable in the gods was contemplation, a man who lived the ‘theoretical’ life had to be considered dearest to the gods and therefore, happiest.27

This life is known as bios theôretikos (Gk. bi,oj qewrhtiko,j) or almost interchangeably as bios scholastikos (Gk. bi,oj scolastiko,j). It contrasts with the life of politics, which is considered the second best life because it is the seat of worthy, human action28 and cultivates the passion for lasting honor and fame. This is known as bios politikos (Gk. bi,oj politiko,j) a life suffused in virtue, courage and competition. If theoretic life is said to be the route to eudaimonia (‘being happy’), bios politikos is centered more on eupraxia, (‘doing well’) as the measure of the good life.29 The warrior or politician who represents this life has a silver soul. ← xvi | xvii →

These two lives often figure prominently in exclusivist-inclusivist debates,30 pitted against each other for ascendancy. Many nuanced readers of Aristotle, however, make a ‘compromise,’31 arguing that the ‘two lives’ need not be in conflict, but could be complementary. The theoros is not truly able to watch the game without ‘acting it out’ just as one cannot act it out, either in the seat or in the arena, without ‘thought’ of being there in the first place. In studying the literature on what constitutes the best life, it is too easy to get locked into binary frameworks. What is ultimately ignored is the existence of a third life or the ‘third term.’ Many concede that this is rightly so, because in Aristotle’s judgment this “life of enjoyment” is characterized as “most vulgar” and “utterly slavish.” Its coarseness is exemplified by Sardanapallus, whose existence is so crude and low that it is categorized as a “life for cattle.”32 This ‘third way of life,’ which Pascal criticizes,33 is bios apolaustikos (Gk. bi,oj avpolaustiko,j), the life of diversionary pleasure and momentary amusements to avoid boredom. Others call it bios taktikos (Gk. bi,oj taktiko,j) to underscore a life lived in drab ordinariness according to simple enjoyments and indulgences that are a hallmark of the hoi polloi’s deficit in pure leisure or cultural capital, as they seek respite for greater efficiency in labor. They are brass-souled, always ready for work.

The ‘three lives’ evoke three corresponding subsystems of play, each with its complex network of logics, values, aptitudes and potencies, constantly interacting, contesting, influencing and (de)legitimizing each other to form an architectonic template of lives in the polis. Within the greater gamut of play, they blend like family resemblances34 that are rhetorically specifiable and identifiable. Aware of the dangers of over-schematization and promising to use this as a temporary heuristic, I suggest the following loose equivalences: bios theoretikos falls under the lusory rhetoric of skholé, while bios politikos is encompassed by the contestative ludism of agon. Bios apolaustikos is the class clown, the infamous player, the ludicrous scapegoat that bears the brunt of Aristotle’s ire. Paidia and anapausis are the ludic frames under which the life of (allegedly) vulgar pleasure thrives. Other rhetorical associations are persuasive.35 Extracting these three from Aristotle’s ‘three lives’ may not seem facetious after all, unless one forgets that the Pythagorean commentary (from where the tripartite text is sourced) draws its context from the Great Games!

The archaeological endeavor poses a daunting challenge because it entails the transgression of publicly-held traditions and privately kept secrets. However, identifying the Aristotelian lusory triad and giving each an in-depth scholarly look is an advance beyond the literature that has typically treated ← xvii | xviii → play in simple, descriptive terms. This book departs from such a genteel understanding of the lusory. The archaeological gesture attempts to re-politicize the playfields once again by bringing back to light hidden repertoires of play and delving deeper into issues as crucial as, say, ideological stratifications and power-differentials or rearranging our assumed hierarchy of things. Retrieving the variant rhetorics of play36 supersedes the flat generality in which most play discourses have been mired.

Archaeoludics: A Playful Search

As mentioned earlier, each of these lusory praxes—namely, skholé, agon and paidia—seems to hold corresponding internal ‘logics,’ constitutive virtues and coherent practices to make them identifiable as such. Most conventional cartographers of play, however, concede scholastic preeminence, pointing to Aristotle’s alleged bias for skholé. Seneca may be the spokesman for this long-standing disposition, stating that even if “any life should appear to be quite distinct, [be it] the life of pleasure, the life of contemplation, the life of action, all these seek the same end sub alio titulo; and that end is leisurely contemplation.”37 Burke’s marshaling of lusory concepts such as “divertissement, fete, jeu, loisirs, menus-plaisirs, passetemps, oisivete, recreation” or the English array of “‘repose,’ ‘idleness,’ ‘entertainment,’ ‘feast,’ ‘festival,’ ‘game,’ ‘holiday,’ ‘pastime,’ ‘recreation,’ ‘revels,’ ‘carnivals,’ ‘retirement’ (otium honestum), ‘sport’ or ‘disport’”38 under the canopy of leisure may serve the purpose of unifying play’s rhetorical roots; but it also legitimizes hidden ideologies and unquestioned suppositions by sheer conflation to generalities. The ‘lumping together’ of the lusory practices under the all-encompassing category of leisure implicates Burke in his own critique, especially since he ironically forewarns his interlocutors about the pitfall of examining pastimes and recreations outside their social contexts or apart from the discourses to which they owe their existence.39 In other words, under the all-encompassing logic of leisure, other lusory modes are rendered mute and invisible.

Regarding this unthoughtful conflation of concepts, two critical missteps immediately come to the fore. First, the valorization of contemplation over the rest of the ‘lives’ allocates skholé to a preeminent position in the discourse of play. This position of preeminence is imputed to skholé not as a historical invention reproduced by education and other capitals, but as a self-evident truth—that is, autonomous, selbständig and self-legitimating. Secondly, this ← xviii | xix → idealization of skholé commits to a distinction that subtly excludes ‘other lives’ and their attendant ludic configurations. Indeed as Aristotle second-guesses the life of agonistic politics and debunks the life of pleasurable paidiatics40 as merely fleeting and ad hoc, a critical judgment passes as a form of partiality, a revocation of rights, a repression of mercenary ludism unqualified to stand alongside skholé. Through this taming of agonistics and the dissimulation of paidiatics, many Aristotelian interpreters formed the habit to subsume all ludic oppositions under the category of ‘scholastic orthodoxy.’ This is a subsumption that shows a triple oversight.

The first oversight consists in downplaying agonistics as a worthy player in many theological, philosophical and scientific discourses. Whatever agonisticism may have been permitted to surface have been, in many instances, domesticated and scholasticized in a civilizing process, as will be demonstrated later in the book. Agon’s rhetoric, when un-tempered by skholé, is stereotyped as violent, recalcitrant, barbaric and combustive, hence its epistemic leash by scholastic watchdogs. Yet to present this partial understanding as a universal judgment of facts constitutes a negligent slippage because it fails to think of agon in its practices and contexts beyond the pale of the universalizing clout of skholé. Nietzsche and a handful of agonists playfully reassert the aristocratic ancestry and patrician pedigree of noble Agon.

The second oversight takes on a subtler form: the habit of accommodating both best- and second-best lives in discourse to the exclusion of the ‘third life.’ This negligence was ushered in, as contemplative and political life vied for ascendancy. Thomas Aquinas follows earlier Aristotelian redactions when he launched the debate, stating:

[a]ccordingly, since certain humans are especially intent on the contemplation of truth, while others are especially intent on external actions, it follows that a human’s life is fittingly divided into active and contemplative.41

The second oversight is the failure to account for the disappearance of a kindred play-spirit, that of paidiatics (the ‘third term’) within an originary tripartite structure. Whatever paidia is left on the field to play is viewed solely under recuperative, if not derogatory, impressions. Its invisibility in discourse is arguably another variant of an Aristotelian interpretation, wherein paidia is ill-fitted to stand in league with either highborn skholé or aristocratic agon as worthy contenders for eudaimonia. If one has to deduce that paidiatics falls within the range of the demos and their practices, there is reason to believe that this is one area that is not counted or accounted for, as Rancière contends. ← xix | xx →

The third oversight—the subtlest and the most difficult to account methodically—is the failure to unlink a rhetoric of play from the specificity of a predetermined ethos. It is almost natural to claim the assumed connection between a social class and the type of play rhetoric emanating from a group that, at face value, seems to betray the schematic allegiance of the book. While this habit pervades the treatment of most lusory discourses, this will be shown to be an arbitrary designation, (a point that will be explained towards the end of the book). Departing from a version of social atomism that limits or confines lusory potentials to a specific habitus, it is possible to see the underclass as a group of people who enjoy leisure rather than as a crass rabble that (like some drunken istambays stumbling to watch the circus starring Populo the adorable elephant)42 lives for depraved pleasure and vice. This odd way of viewing play practices requires unlinking lusory types with ethnological traits, so disrupting the prescribed arrangements in Plato’s tripartite order. One writer intimates this noble disruption, arguing that:

if we concede a larger role to leisure than the scholastic theologians troubled to imagine, the question arises with a new importance: how can our many, unserious activities in this sublunary existence achieve fulfillment in the life of the age to come? … We must take care not to write off so large a part of human potential.43

This is where the triple slippages lead to a hopeful positivity—that of rediscovering the untapped resources within and beyond the lusory tripartition. Since this project involves an archaeology of three rhetorical aspects of play—one which has been overvalued, another suppressed, and the third dismissed—the project shall be called archaeoludics.44

The first archaeoludics is an attempt to reconfirm an over-determined scholastic tradition dominating various play discourses in the field. It also veers away from a unisonal reading of it as a preserve of the learned, the rich, and the aesthete. The second archaeoludics is in search of agonistics weaned off a purely negative connotation and rediscovered for its life-affirming potentials. Historically, agon was an important facet in the early Athenian’s self-definition and self-understanding. Even a cursory look into its ethos yields invaluable practices that can inform our way of understanding contests, politics, and conflict in society. The third archaeoludics is of a deeper kind; the search for the long-lost paidiatics that have been practiced by the ‘little people’ living in the peripheries of ecclesio-political clout and power. Dismissed as far removed from theoria or stadia, anapausis is the play of discriminated alterity. Its mimetic persona takes the shape of play-forms ← xx | xxi → other than what is stereotypically attributed to it. The practice of other play discourses entering the portals of paidiatic field—without the remit of cooptation or contamination—implies an opening in rethinking a version of egalitarian play that creates conditions for democracy and freedom. Also, the valorization of one rhetoric of play over the other or its corollary blindness to the existence of alternatives instantiates a subtle ideological ploy to restrain certain types of play from reaching open discourse and participatory politics. In the latter case, it is not so much the intention of this archaeoludical research to, in Arendtian language, “doubt the validity of the experience underlying the distinction [of the ‘three lives’] but rather the hierarchical order inherent in them from their very inception.”45 This exploration will employ the guidance of various play interlocutors to navigate the complex lusory terrain.

Unchartable Play and Rhetorical Method

The book’s quandary is that its subject matter is largely uncharted. How does one commit to an archaeology of the nebulous and the unmappable? Victor Turner gives the impression that play is undecipherable and intractable—that it “does not fit in anywhere particular; it is transient and is recalcitrant to localization, to placement, to fixation … [It] is a liminal or liminoid mode, essentially interstitial, betwixt-and-between all standard taxonomic nodes, essentially ‘elusive.’”46 Given that play refuses to fit into set categories, there seems to be a difficulty to root the theory of play in any definitional and foundational framework.47 Theology, philosophy and literary theories have jointly wrestled with the search for such a foundation but with minimal success. Eventually thinkers in these discursive camps have begun to realize the misguidance of the search; for much of the controversies that surround the subject matter of play are linked to the deeper controversies over discourse on play. This means that research could only shed more light on play if, departing from the archaeology of essences and definitions, it instead studied the persuasive repertoires and the implicit narratives surrounding the discourse (that is, the reflection on and talk about play) and the kind of ideological environment to which that discourse is subjected. Here is the dawning of the rhetorical turn in play discourse.48

One contemporary philosopher of culture, Hans Blumenberg, approaches rhetoric from the purview of rationality itself.49 He claims that the rationality involved in the rhetorical field is no longer defined by the logocentric tradition ← xxi | xxii → of sufficient reason but is rather a rational discourse that finds itself at ease with the indeterminacy of “principium rationis insufficientis.” This principle of insufficient reason is consistent with Blumenberg’s approach to the human as a thinking being who is “deficient in essential respects.”50 The acknowledgment of an inherent ‘lack’ in the human condition and in one’s rational processes leads to an appreciation of play’s adaptability to the rhetorical situation, play itself being indeterminate and recalcitrant to being absorbed in a rationality that works with clear definitions. In the rhetoric of play the speakers may not produce precise definitions for the simple reason that the desire for clear-cut formulations will always be diminished by the richness of insights gathered from broader spectra surrounding the study of play.51 Play rhetoric establishes a sense of non-rigid connection between the familiar and the unfamiliar worlds by the discovery of “shared properties—common attributes, values and needs”52 within its grammar. In Miller’s terms, the rhetoric of play provides “a syntax, not a vocabulary.”53

The basic presupposition of the rhetorical study of play is that neither play nor its representations in life are pre–given. Spariosu argues that our “value-free or neutral descriptions” of play are “historical products of our culture.”54 The frequently assumed pregivenness of play—including the facts, constitutions and values it expresses—is a social construct, but this social construct is liable to change if one realizes that it is attributable to humanity’s acting and doing rather than to an unmediated act of Nature or the Deity. More recently, Sutton-Smith has mooted the challenging claim that it is only by rhetorically examining the “underlying ideological values” of play55—placing them in context and recalling that the responses to contexts are frequently products of deeper play-contexts—that a truer understanding of what play is will emerge. A rhetorical tripartition of play, then, is a query into ludic spaces out of which epistemic claims are shaped and molded in concrete situations. Moreover, the goal of the tripartite division is not to provide a Weberian taxonomy of identifiable play-types, as this would shunt every lusory rhetoric within one and only one of three rubrics. The division is not meant to separate play into rigorous compartments and exclusive logic of explication, as to explore the possibilities of rearranging these divisions, so disrupting the hierarchic order. The triadic schema is not meant to pigeonhole the discussion of play within their respective parameters but to provide a wider frame of analysis that enables the hidden rhetorics and substratal voices to surface, while acknowledging the tangent overlaps and ideological tensions between one playfield and another. ← xxii | xxiii →


1. Stephen Nachmanovitch, “This is Play,” New Literary History 40, no. 1 (2009): 12.

2. M. J. Edwards, “Porphyry and the Intelligible Triad,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 110 (1990): 14–25; R. Majercik, “Chaldean Triads in Neoplatonic Exegesis: Some Reconsiderations,” Classical Quarterly 51, no. 1 (2001): 265–96.

3. H. E. Stapleton, “Ancient and Modern Aspects of Pythagoreanism,” Osiris 13 (1958): 12–53.

4. H. te Velde, Some Remarks on the Structure of Egyptian Divine Triads,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 57, no. 1 (1971): 80–86.

5. John Brough, “The Tripartite Ideology of the Indo–Europeans: An Experiment in Method,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 22, no. 1 (1959): 70.

6. Theodore Caplow, “A Theory of Coalitions in the Triad,” American Sociological Review 21, no. 4 (1956): 489–93.

7. David Albertson, “Achard of St. Victor (D. 1171) and the Eclipse of the Arithmetic Model of the Trinity,” Traditio 67 (2012): 101–44. See Donald Gelpi, “The Importance and Promise of a Triadic Construct of Experience,” in The Turn to Experience in Contemporary Theology (New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1994), 121–57; Louis–Marie Chauvet, Symbol and Sacrament: A Sacramental Reinterpretation of Christian Existence (Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1995); Karl Rahner, The Trinity, trans. Joseph Donceel (New York: Continuum, 2001); Thomas Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (New York: T&T Clark, 2006); to name but a few.

8. Translated as Thought, Affect and Desire/Conation. See J. L. Stocks, “Plato and the Tripartite Soul,” Mind 24, no. 94 (1915): 212.

9. Jean–Pierre Vernant and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Myth and Tragedy in Ancient Greece (New York: Zone, 1990), esp. 97–98. See also Jean-Pierre Vernant, “Hesiod’s Myth of the Races,” in Myth and Thought Among the Greeks, trans. Janet Lloyd, and Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books, 2006), 25–51; Julian Baldick, Homer and the Indo–Europeans: Comparing Mythologies (London: I. B. Tauris, 1994).

10. Milbank concludes that indeed Aristotle “upholds also the hierarchic aspect of Indo–European tripartition.” John Milbank, “Sacred Triads: Augustine and the Indo–European Soul,” Modern Theology 13, no. 4 (1997): 469–70, fn.23.

11. Georges Dumézil, L’héritage indo–européen à Rome: Introduction aux séries “Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus” et “Les mythes romains” (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1949); Wouter W. Belier, Decayed Gods: Origin and Development of Georges Dumézil’s ‘IdéologieTripartie’ (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1991).

12. Arnaldo Momigliano, “Georges Dumézil and the Trifunctional Approach to Roman Civilization,” History and Theory 23, no. 3 (1984): 316.

13. Dean Miller, “Georges Dumézil: Theories, Critiques and Theoretical Extensions,” Religion 30, no. 1 (2000): 27–28.

14. In his later works, Momigliano notes, Dumézil attempts to nuance his position by adding “social mobility” to an otherwise steadfast system and ‘clan collusions’ to understand concursus and overlaps among stratal arrangements. Momigliano, “Georges Dumézil and the Trifunctional Approach,” 317, 318. ← xxiii | xxiv →

15. “For some the laboratores are not positioned on the same level as the first two categories, but are subservient to them: essentially, they constitute the peasant masses. For others, including myself [Le Goff], the overall schema designates three elite groups, all placed on an equal footing. The laboratores comprise the upper, innovative and productive strand in the stratum of peasants and craftsmen.” Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Europe, trans. Janet Lloyd (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), 6–13, 12.

16. Georges Duby, The Three Orders: Feudal Society Imagined (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).

17. Charles Loyseau, “A Treatise on Orders” in The Old Regime and the French Revolution, ed. Keith Michael Baker, vol. 7 of University of Chicago Readings in Western Civilization, ed. John W. Boyer and Julius Kirshner (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 13, as referenced in Georges Duby, The Three Orders: Feudal Society Imagined (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 1.

18. Plato, The Republic, ed. G. R. F. Ferrari, trans. Tom Griffith (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), III, 415a. See also Robert W. Hall, “On the Myth of the Metals in the Republic,” Apeiron: AJournal for Ancient Philosophy and Science 1, no. 2 (1967): 28–32.

19. G. M. Bailey, “Trifunctional Elements in the Mythology of the Hindu Trimūrti,” Numen 26, no. 2 (1979): 152–63; Atsuhiko Yoshida, “Japanese Mythology and the Indo–European Trifunctional System,” Diogenes 25, no. 98 (1977): 93–116; Todd Landman, “Paradigmatic Contestation and the Persistence of Perennial Dualities,” Political Studies Review 6, no. 2 (2008): 179–80.

20. This triadic framework is obviously a Western borrowing. Fatima Lasay, “The Philippine Triad and Western Dichotomous Philosophies: A Contest of Traditions in Three Audio–Performance Projects,” Leonardo 39, no. 1 (2006): 59–63.

21. “Whereas episteme concerns theoretical know why and techne denotes technical know how, phronesis emphasizes practical knowledge and practical ethics.” Bent Flyvbjerg, Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and How It Can Succeed Again, trans. Steven Sampson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 56, esp. Chapters 5 & 8. See also Brian Caterino and Sanford. F. Schram, “Introduction: Reframing the Debate,” in Making Political Science Matter: Debating Knowledge, Research and Methods, eds. Sanford F. Schram and Brian Caterino (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 8.

22. Is the Platonic tripartition a division of functions or proper of natures? Recall that rulers are trained to think for the State; warriors to fight for the State, and artisans to produce for the State. “This does not mean that the rulers are devoid of appetite or self–assertion, so that they cannot show courage, or that the soldiers must not think and can have no wisdom, or that the craftsmen … are [pure] appetite and nothing more.” J. L. Stocks, “Plato and the Tripartite Soul,” Mind 24 (1915): 213.

23. Peter Maas and David Brock, “The Power and Politics of Michel Foucault,” interview in Inside, The Daily Cal’s Weekly Magazine, April 22, 1983, 21.

24. “The trifunctional partition [is] to be understood as a mentality or ideology or principle of organization of the mental world … rather than as a formula describing” set fixities of a particular world or reality. Momigliano, “Georges Dumézil and the Trifunctional Approach,” 317.

25. Diogenes Laërtius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, trans. R. D. Hicks (London: Loeb Classical Library, 1925), 8.6 [modified]. For an earlier, more detailed reference of the ← xxiv | xxv → Pythagorean trilogy, see Marcus Tullius Cicero, Tusculan Disputations V.3, trans. Andrew Peabody (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1886), 255–56.

26. “For there are three specially prominent Lives, the Life of Enjoyment, the Life of Politics, and the Life of Contemplation.” Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, I, 1095b6–20. All subsequent notes by Aristotle will be taken from Aristotle, The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1984), unless cited otherwise.

27. Nicholas Lobkowicz, “Theory,” in Theory and Practice: History of a Concept from Aristotle to Marx (London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1967), 7.

28. “The life of politics … is happy only in a secondary degree. For political activities are purely human … [backed up by] other virtues we display in our intercourse with our fellows.” Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, X, 1178a9–14.

29. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, I, 1095a9ff.

30. Some samples of the inclusivist and exclusivist debate can be read in Lawrence Nannery, “The Problem of the Two Lives in Aristotle’s Ethics: The Human Good and the Best Life for a Man,” International Philosophical Quarterly 21, no. 3 (1981): 277; Richard Kraut, “The Conceptions of Happiness,” The Philosophical Review 88, no. 2 (1979): 167–97; Christopher Rowe, “The Best Life According to Aristotle (and Plato): A Reconsideration,” in The Ways of Life in Classical Political Philosophy, ed. Francisco Leonardo Lisi (Sankt Augustin: Academia Verlag, 2004), 121–33.

31. Some authors do not subscribe to the inclusive–exclusive debate concerning Aristotle’s constitution of “best life,” and sees the Aristotelian ‘lives’ as a continuum in his single vision of happiness. See Scott DeHart, “The Convergence of Praxis and Theoria in Aristotle,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 33, no.1 (1995): 7–27; Roopen Majithia, “On the Eudemian And Nicomachean Conceptions of Eudaimonia”, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 79 (2005): 364–88. Claudia Baracchi, Aristotle’s Ethics as First Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Gary Gurtler, “The Activity of Happiness in Aristotle’s Ethics,” Review of Metaphysics 56, no.4 (2003): 801–34; Lear Richardson, Happy Lives and the Highest Good: An Essay on Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics” (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2004).

32. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, I, 1095b1–5. Such ‘slavish’ attitude, although shared by top echelons like the Assyrian king, Sardanapallus, who is known to advocate the dictum: “Eat, drink, play, since all else is not worth that snap of the fingers,” is merely acquisitive and ascriptive of the attitudinal patterns originally attributed to the low class. See Rachman’s footnote in Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Harris Rackham (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962), 14.

33. Blaise Pascal, “On Diversions,” in Pensées (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2005), 139.

34. In the words of Wittgenstein, there is no such things as a ‘central station’ that is common to all because we are left with a network of overlapping similarities and crisscrossing relationships. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. Gertrude Anscombe (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1953), 31e–32e. See also Nis Bojin, “Language Games/Game Languages: Examining Game Design Epistemologies Through a ‘Wittgensteinian’ Lens,” Eludamos. Journal for Computer Game Culture 2, no. 1 (2008): 55–71.

35. With Wittgenstein’s “family resemblances” in mind, this coincides to Aristotle’s tripartative species of logic. First, “demonstrative” logic, which concerns scientific and axiomatic propositions without need of syllogistic proof, fits well with skholé. Second, “contentious” ← xxv | xxvi → logic pertains to commonly–held propositions (endoxa) which, because of its seeming reasonableness, has to be subjected to rigorous arguments to prove the proposition true. This is associable with contestative agon. The third called “pseudo–scientific” logic is faulty reasoning, a miscarriage of truthful propositions, which can readily be associated with the lowly paidiatics. See Aristotle, Categories, Part I of Topics.

36. Among those that treat the rhetorics of play include Brian Sutton–Smith, The Ambiguity of Play (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997); Mihai Spariosu, Dionysus Reborn: Play and the Aesthetic Dimension in Modern Philosophical and Scientific Discourse (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989); Mihai Spariosu, God of Many Names: Play, Poetry and Power in the Hellenic Thought from Homer to Aristotle (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991); Mihai Spariosu, The Wreath of Wild Olive: Play. Liminality and the Study of Literature (New York: State University of New York Press, 1997); Matthew Kaiser, “The World in Play: A Portrait of a Victorian Concept,” New Literary History 40, no. 1 (2009): 105–29.

37. W. Laidlaw, “Otium,” Greece & Rome 15, no. 1 (1968): 49.

38. Peter Burke, “The Invention of Leisure in Early Modern Europe,” Past & Present 146, no. 1 (1995): 140, 141.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XXX, 422 pp., 1 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Lope Lesigues (Author)

Lope Lesigues earned his M.A., S.Th.D., and Ph.D. in theology at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium). In 2012, he spent his sabbatical leave at Harvard University to write the foundational scaffoldings of Archaeology of Play. He has published a number of scholarly essays in various interdisciplinary discourses along the lines of aesthetics, politics, and digital catechesis. Lesigues is an adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Studies at Fordham University. He is also the founder-CEO of God’s Park, a gamified, interactive app with a backend learning management system for children in need of faith formation.


Title: Archaeology of Play