Homo Ludens
Johan Huizinga

I am reading this text in the Paladin edition reprint of 1971 of the translation published by Routledge & Keegan Paul in 1949. It has an interesting introduction by George Steiner.

There are some textual matters that require verification. Although the Paladin edition has a Translator's Note, I am unable to find anywhere inscribed the name of the translator. I assume by the use of singular in the note that the translation was accomplished by a single worker and not a team of translators. I am curious about the identity of the translator. The translator was also an editor as the note explains:

This edition is prepared from the German edition published in Switzerland, 1944, and also from the author's own English translation of the text, which he made shortly before his death. Comparison of the two texts shows a number of discrepancies and a marked difference in style; the translator hopes that the following version has a achieved a reasonable synthesis.

This becomes interesting when one considers the second chapter of Homo Ludens in which the linguistic evidence is set out for Huizinga's contention for not only the universal character of the play element but also the alignment of that element with contest and warfare rather than erotic dalliance. The translator's footnotes indicate that a segment does not appear in the German edition. It would be interesting to discover what role the translator played in formulating the rather convoluted argument that concludes that the Greeks

possessing as they did two distinct words for play and contest, failed to perceive the essential play-element in the latter very clearly, with the result that the conceptual and hence the linguistic, union never took place.

There is a particular acuteness in ascertaining just what the ends of union maybe for the player named on the flyleaf, a certain Johan Huizinga, Professor of General History at the University of London. Leyden is where the author of Homo Ludens taught. Bloopers here and there do not inspire confidence especially when a vowel change alters a Latin quotation from II Samuel 2:14. The quotation in question is in Steiner's introduction. The Biblical passage also points to an other segment of that problematic second chapter. The Paladin edition in the chapter called "The Play-Concept as Expressed in Language" offers the correct Latin. Huizinga seems to be stretching every available philological resource in an attempt to prove the point that war and play are one. Huizinga marshalls the Latin of the Vulgate, the Greek of the Septuagint and the Hebrew text to conclude the "indivisibility of play and battle in the archaic mind". How such a conclusion fails to contradict the evidence and arguments presented for the non-occurrence of conceptual and linguistic unions might lie in the complicated assertion that consciousness of the play element emerges late.

It is intriguing how proofing leads one to read more carefully. It was the Latin that struck me as odd and sent me to dictionaries, grammar books and editions. From there I wondered about the accuracy of the subtitle. The English respects the German upon which it is based. However, along the way, I also discovered a French edition with "essai sur la fonction sociale du jeu (1951) I know of one Italian edition which avoids the subtitle. I have not had the chance to examine it though I look forward to the opportunity of doing so and reading its learned introduction by Umberto Eco and comparing it with George Steiner's. It would be interesting to place that comparison alongside a little tour of the subtitles of the German editions which vary from "Versuch einer Bestimmung des Spielelement[e]s der Kultur" (1939) to "Vom Ursprung der Kultur in Spiel" (1956). One may ask if this is more than a new subtitle? Be it from origin to definitional destiny, be it a genetic study or reception analysis, this textual matter deserves some more attention.

Addendum: On October 26, 2003, I received from Dr. Herbert Wender, a reader of the Humanist discussion list, a very kind, learned and witty message which pointed out an error in the transcription of one of the German titles [corrected above]. Dr. Wender also sent along a URL to the Biographisch-Bibliographischen Kirchenlexikon entry for Huizinga. For a far more accurate and complete listing of bibliographic entries, see http://www.bautz.de/bbkl/h/huizinga_j.shtml.

Addendum: November 10, 2018, I received communication from Dr. Wender pointing to the a case of reception of the Eco forward:

Umberto Eco, another important critic of Huizinga's thesis, elaborated his view in a forward to the 1973 Italian edition of Homo Ludens, a very intriguing text that, however, has not received any attention in the Huizinga literature for a long time. According to Eco, Huizinga was unable to distinguish between game and play, because the Dutch language has just one word for both: "een spel spelen," whereas the English say "let's play a game." A game consists of a matrix of combinations and is constituted by a certain amount of rules. Basically, it offers the players a number of options to act, so the eventually one player can win the game. A play, on the other hand, is the role one plays to express the situation at a certain stage of the match. Huizinga showed interest only in the performance, as linguists say, and not in the competence, that is, the game as regulating system, in which a certain matrix of combinations is produced. According to Eco, the crux of the matter is the fact that for Huizinga the element of "play" remained, in the final analysis, an "aesthetic" category. From his aestheticizing perspective, Huizinga was unable to admit that the "decay," the wars and the "crisis," were, in fact, also moments of play in a played culture.

This is from Léon Hanssen "Games of Late Modernity: Discussing Huizinga's Legacy" in Halina Mielicka-Pawłowska (editor) Contemporary Homo Ludens

Valid HTML 4.01