Sour Grapes (1921)
by
William Carlos Williams

Play

Subtle, clever brain, wiser than I am,
by what devious means do you contrive
to remain idle? Teach me, O master.

Sources:

Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:
http://www.theotherpages.org/poems/wcw-sg2.html#25

1998 Nields album. The album is set up like a theatrical play program, with a prologue, cast of characters, act and scene notes (in the form of song lyrics), and a set design (in the form of a diagram of how the Nields arrange their instruments and amps at their concerts). In another clever twist of the word play, the lyrics are written as script dialogue.

Songlist:

Act One
Scene 1: Easy People
Scene 2: Georgia O
Scene 3: In the Hush Before the Heartbreak
Scene 4: Snowman
Scene 5: Art of the Gun

Intermission
(aka NUGEHTFOTRA)

Act Two
Scene 7:* Last Kisses
Scene 8: Friday at the Circle K
Scene 9: Check It Out
Scene 10: Nebraska
Scene 11: Train
Scene 12: Jennifer Falling Down
Scene 13: Innertube
Scene 14: Tomorrowland

* There doesn't seem to be a Scene 6.

The liner notes include several quotes on the nature of play. The prologue reads:

"Man is only fully human when he is at play."
--Friedrich Schiller
The Nields also quote Helen M. Luke:
Thoughts on Play

"The natural gaiety and laughter of the child within us is lost in exact proportion to the loss of our ability to play; and it is fascinating to remember the many contexts in which that word is used. We use it unconsciously without any thought of its fundamental meaning and therefore the word often loses its connection with that natural joy. Every kind of dramatic performance is called a play, and all actors are players, as are all musicians, and all ball and game players.

Tragedy, comedy, farce, and all kinds of music -- Bach, plainsong, jazz or rock and roll -- are brought to us by players, among whom there are those who appreciate audiences through their "playing" whether of dark truths or light.

But there are so many who have no perception of the meaning of play and whose striving motives are to acquire fame and money or self-satisfaction by sensational performances, often in productions without meaning -- the opposite of play.

...Through the enjoyment of such things we may discover at last that until our whole lives, whether working or at leisure, are infused by the joy and laughter of play for its own sake -- never for the sake of gain -- we are not truly alive at all. Work and play would then no longer be opposed to each other but at one in all the different aspects of our lives."

--Helen M. Luke
Play, as traditionally defined, are those behaviors and actions undertaken for the purpose of enjoyment. Common across the animal kingdom, play is traditionally associated with and most frequently engaged in by the young, though by no means exclusively. Part of many common definitions of play are implications of purposelessness, or of enjoyment as the only product. While fun may be the only direct or intended consequence, play is in fact far from purposeless, and very often serves to train or practice players in skills very relevant to "real life".

Some of the most obvious examples of this are seen among other animals. Wolves nipping at each other are learning how to hunt and perform in inter- and intra-pack conflict, and that cute kitten batting at a ball of string and dashing about for no apparent reason will grow up to be a cat that may have to pounce on rodents and flee from predators. These undertones of survival and hunting skills, often regarded as cute at best and primitive at worst, are fundamental to much human play, though we frequently overlook it.

Coming to humans, in the early years of life, we engage in simple recreation - playing peek-a-boo, touching and moving nearby objects, projecting fantasies onto the environment, and in doing so we develop a sense of our environment as distinct from ourselves and learn the underlying principles and ways we can interact with that environment. As mobile, slightly older children, we run about aimlessly, climb trees, and play at games like tag, hide and seek, sharks and minnows, and blindman's bluff. Yet too small, slow, and weak to put up an effective fight, we must learn to flee and hide from enemies and predators. Stealth is often our best or only weapon.

As we grow and get stronger, more direct contact begins to enter our games. In red rover we try to repel an attack. In king of the hill we take and defend territory. In smear the queer we knock the shit out of people, and in return, get the shit knocked out of ourselves. Wrestling and play-fighting are fairly transparent precursors to grappling and hand-to-hand combat, and capture the flag to actual battle. Of course, war isn't the only thing we're preparing for. As we gain command of speech, math, and fine motor control, we begin to play counting, verbal, and clapping games, practicing and refining these skills. At this point, you might want to take some time to look over the children's games metanode - almost every single game listed fits the models laid out here.

Further growth and the onset of adolescence brings more team and organized games - humans learned many millennia ago, before they were even humans per se, that hunting was most effectively done in coordinated packs, and soon after applied the lesson to combat. The physical realm aside, with the stabilization of a sense of self and the development of distinguishable personalities come the social games that are a big part of why so many children hate secondary school. We form and break alliances, maneuver for position and social advantage, attempt to influence others to adopt and support our positions, and take our first stabs at attracting a mate and creating a relationship, even in the absence of any intention to reproduce. (Aside: is sex with contraception play in this sense? Discuss.) We do this all so lightly because the games are not ends in and of themselves - indeed, as many geeks and outcasts reassure themselves, no one does care who you were or what you did in high school - but once again, practice of skills vital for later life among a social species.

Just as the development of skills through training and formal study doesn't end with childhood, neither does play, although the completed mastery of fundamental survival and life skills is as good an explanation as any for why adults tend to engage in it less often. Traditionally, soldiers have been known for violent recreation, but is it any surprise that individuals whose lives and livelihoods depend on personal fighting skill and the ability to function as part of a team might engage in sparring, barroom brawls, pick-up games of basketball, or as I encountered the better part of a Marine squad in the course of a 36-hour game last year, paintball? Higher up, in the officers' quarters, the playing of strategic games like chess and go has long been recognized as a useful way of developing a sense of tactics with regards to territory, maneuvering, and foresight in battle, and records suggest that they may have been developed for this exact purpose. (The key, as many edutainment producers have forgotten, is that the learning aspect should be as transparent as possible, and not fundamental to enjoyment.)

Again, war, while a fairly clear example, is not the be-all and end-all of play. My friends at school are mostly english majors, and when they assemble, before too long they often begin marathon sessions of classifying things, drawing parallels, and passing judgement - if all the famous German philosophers were at a party, which ones would be smoking pot on the porch and who would be leaning awkwardly against the wall? Now how about member states of the European Union? Schools of literary theory? Many of the mathematicians and computer scientists I know are big gamers, tending towards board and card games in which complex systems arise from simple numeric bases. Myself? Well, I'm in training to become a cultural historian, and for recreation I write things like this. If you look at your life through this lens, I'm sure you'll be able to find similar examples among those you know.

Of course, not all play fits this model. What, then, of golf? While there are certainly social aspects to it (q.v. dannye), those neither represent a central facet of the game nor anything particularly new for its players, and it certainly doesn't offer much applicable practice in the physical realm that couldn't be obtained elsewhere. If its association with the rich and the elderly, who would appear to already know all they need to be on top of things, might account for some of this, then the existence of cricket, at least, is proof that as institutional religion can be abstracted from spirituality enough to render the connection between the two weak or nonexistent, so can sport and recreation be abstracted away from any basis in play as a learning tool. Despite a tendency to lean towards functionalism, even I think it would be silly to demand ulterior motives of all play. The central concept, the reason it's so often effective as a learning, the thing that distinguishes it from more formalized learning, is that we like to do it, and that is the reason that we can fairly expect it to be a common feature of society as long as humanity remains.

Album: Play
Artist: Moby
Label: Mute Records Limited
Year: 1999
Rating: 5/5
Summary: A variety of emotionally charged pop songs.

After releasing several unsuccessful albums, Moby finally had a hit on his hands with Play. It's pretty formulaic, and he went on to copy Play's style in his later albums, but considering how long it took him to work out successful formulas in the first place, you can hardly blame him. These days it's easy to forget that Play was popular for a reason: it's very good.

For the most part, Moby used the same technique as Fatboy Slim to create Play: he sampled some very old songs, then built a modern sound around the old vocals, wrapping them inside catchy rhythms, basslines and riffs. Despite the similarity of their main formulas, however, the two musicians have distinctive styles that complement each other from a comfortable distance. Compared to Fatboy Slim's hit album from the previous year, You've Come a Long Way, Baby, Play is restrained and calm.

As you might hope from a musician with such a varied past, Moby contributes several different genres of music to Play: Porcelain, for example, is a sentimental love song filled with a dreamy piano; Everloving is a beautiful and emotionally rich instrumental piece built around some acoustic guitar plucking; and Natural Blues is a hook fuelled pop song. Despite this variety, Moby has managed to give Play a cohesive feel. Each cut has a clean sound, and most are either catchy or emotionally charged, if not both.

Play isn't art. It's entertainment. It doesn't offer much in the way of originality, and none of the songs will make you think. On the other hand, it uses simple formulas to good effect, and it will more than likely make you feel a variety of emotions. If you want to listen to complex music, you'd best look elsewhere, but if you want to unwind or lift your spirits, this album may just do the trick. It offers something for pretty much everyone.

Play (?), v. i. [imp. & p. p. Played (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Playing.] [OE. pleien, AS. plegian, plegan, to play, akin to plega play, game, quick motion, and probably to OS. plegan to promise, pledge, D. plegen to care for, attend to, be wont, G. pflegen; of unknown origin. √28. Cf. Plight, n.]

1.

To engage in sport or lively recreation; to exercise for the sake of amusement; to frolic; to spot.

As Cannace was playing in her walk.
Chaucer.

The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed to-day,
Had he thy reason, would he skip and play!
Pope.

And some, the darlings of their Lord,
Play smiling with the flame and sword.
Keble.

2.

To act with levity or thoughtlessness; to trifle; to be careless.

"Nay," quod this monk, "I have no lust to pleye."
Chaucer.

Men are apt to play with their healths.
Sir W. Temple.

3.

To contend, or take part, in a game; as, to play ball; hence, to gamble; as, he played for heavy stakes.

4.

To perform on an instrument of music; as, to play on a flute.

One that . . . can play well on an instrument.
Ezek. xxxiii. 32.

Play, my friend, and charm the charmer.
Granville.

5.

To act; to behave; to practice deception.

His mother played false with a smith.
Shak.

6.

To move in any manner; especially, to move regularly with alternate or reciprocating motion; to operate; to act; as, the fountain plays.

The heart beats, the blood circulates, the lungs play.
Cheyne.

7.

To move gayly; to wanton; to disport.

Even as the waving sedges play with wind.
Shak.

The setting sun
Plays on their shining arms and burnished helmets.
Addison.

All fame is foreign but of true desert,
Plays round the head, but comes not to the heart.
Pope.

8.

To act on the stage; to personate a character.

A lord will hear your play to- night.
Shak.

Courts are theaters where some men play.
Donne.

To play into a person's hands, to act, or to manage matters, to his advantage or benefit. --
To play off, to affect; to feign; to practice artifice. --
To play upon.
(a) To make sport of; to deceive.

Art thou alive?
Or is it fantasy that plays upon our eyesight.
Shak.

(b) To use in a droll manner; to give a droll expression or application to; as, to play upon words.

 

© Webster 1913


Play, v. t.

1.

To put in action or motion; as, to play cannon upon a fortification; to play a trump.

First Peace and Silence all disputes control,
Then Order plays the soul.
Herbert.

2.

To perform music upon; as, to play the flute or the organ.

3.

To perform, as a piece of music, on an instrument; as, to play a waltz on the violin.

4.

To bring into sportive or wanton action; to exhibit in action; to execute; as, to play tricks.

Nature here
Wantoned as in her prime, and played at will
Her virgin fancies.
Milton.

5.

To act or perform (a play); to represent in music action; as, to play a comedy; also, to act in the character of; to represent by acting; to simulate; to behave like; as, to play King Lear; to play the woman.

Thou canst play the rational if thou wilt.
Sir W. Scott.

6.

To engage in, or go together with, as a contest for amusement or for a wager or prize; as, to play a game at baseball.

7.

To keep in play, as a hooked fish, in order to land it.

To play off, to display; to show; to put in exercise; as, to play off tricks. --
To play one's cards, to manage one's means or opportunities; to contrive. --
Played out, tired out; exhausted; at the end of one's resources. [Colloq.]

 

© Webster 1913


Play, n.

1.

Amusement; sport; frolic; gambols.

2.

Any exercise, or series of actions, intended for amusement or diversion; a game.

John naturally loved rough play.
Arbuthnot.

3.

The act or practice of contending for victory, amusement, or a prize, as at dice, cards, or billiards; gaming; as, to lose a fortune in play.

4.

Action; use; employment; exercise; practice; as, fair play; sword play; a play of wit. "The next who comes in play." Dryden.

5.

A dramatic composition; a comedy or tragedy; a composition in which characters are represented by dialogue and action.

A play ought to be a just image of human nature.
Dryden.

6.

The representation or exhibition of a comedy or tragedy; as, he attends ever play.

7.

Performance on an instrument of music.

8.

Motion; movement, regular or irregular; as, the play of a wheel or piston; hence, also, room for motion; free and easy action. "To give them play, front and rear." Milton.

The joints are let exactly into one another, that they have no play between them.
Moxon.

9.

Hence, liberty of acting; room for enlargement or display; scope; as, to give full play to mirth.

Play actor, an actor of dramas. Prynne. --
Play debt, a gambling debt. Arbuthnot. --
Play pleasure, idle amusement. [Obs.] Bacon. --
A play upon words, the use of a word in such a way as to be capable of double meaning; punning. --
Play of colors, prismatic variation of colors. --
To bring into play, To come into play, to bring or come into use or exercise. --
To hold in play, to keep occupied or employed.

I, with two more to help me,
Will hold the foe in play.
Macaulay.

 

© Webster 1913


Play, v. t. --
To play hob, to play the part of a mischievous spirit; to work mischief.

 

© Webster 1913

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