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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Children's Games


Children's Games: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1559-60, oil on wood, 118 x 161 cm (Kunsthistorisches Museum. Vienna)

The system of a game in which everyone is a player
The game an enclosed system
There is no outside. The roadside is not an outside.
To play the game you need the tokens
which permit
you to make the moves
that keep the game going.
(Outside and inside are the same.)
Some do well at this game
but it's getting dark now
and some don't want to play.

Blind Man's Buff: Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, 1788-89, oil on canvas, 269 x 350 cm (Museo del Prado, Madrid)




A beautiful poem, sandwiched between the Bruegel and the Goya --

"but it's getting dark now
and some don't want to play."


light coming into sky above still black
plane of ridge, red-tailed hawk calling
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

repeated same view but more
than that, restricted

tentative, scale of figures,
two pictures together

grey white of sky reflected in channel,
shadowed green pine on tip of sandspit

TC said...


Perhaps it is fitting that as the senior tenured fellow of this blog you have compressed into a few succinct words the ekphrastic regime of the joint, Bruegel and Goya today as virtual playmates,

repeated same view but more
than that, restricted

tentative, scale of figures,
two pictures together

making a poetry sandwich.

Wooden Boy said...

There is no outside.

This sentence has a terrible clarity.

Goya's little circle is the whole world.

TC said...

The Goya is a sketch for a cartoon intended for a tapestry to decorate the bedroom of the Infantes in the Palace of El Pardo. The sketch is now in the Prado. The puppet-like figures gathered on the banks of the Manzanares, attired in the latest Parisian fashions, are engaged in a popular aristocratic society pastime. Everyone is in on the game, though some are also on the outside -- to be blinded is to be excluded from society, if only for a time. This seems a figure applicable in a larger sense to social institutions in general. As the world gradually draws into a "global unit", knitted together by the networks stitched into everyone's private arrangements, there is increasingly an objective penalty for being excluded from these networked arrangements. At the same time, however, seeing these arrangements clearly and objectively from the inside is impossible. Only by being cut adrift, stranded on the outside, does one begin to make out the workings of the game, in general outline -- indeed, to make out that it is a game, and not a "natural" state of things. The "natural" state of things, if such a thing ever existed, is now forgotten. All that is left, effectively, is the game, and the players, who, enclosed by their socially enforced subscription to what is perceived as an inevitable and necessary condition, would not be able to escape even if the inchoate impulse to escape became a conscious motive.

The social world of Goya can be seen as closer to our own than that of Bruegel. The medieval children's games depicted by Bruegel have the sprawling variety of a less strictly organized world. There are collective games, games played by small groups and pairs, and solitary games; there are children playing cooperatively, and gently; but there are also the bullies, the ones who play roughly. The system of arrangements is more open and various, less well defined, less easily mistaken as an absolute.

We have moved away from the world of Bruegel, through the world of Goya, to the world we have now.

Nin Andrews said...

I love this--esp. "and some don't want to play." That was always--is always the problem. The one looking on as if to say, maybe not.

TC said...

Yes, Nin, that's the moment this arrives at, albeit not very happily -- the maybe not.

Some might apply the figure to, for example, the literary game, but that's too narrow, merely a little game within the many bigger games ... Chinese boxes.

And as to all the games, I'm feeling, lately -- maybe not.