Page 1



Acknowledgements This research would not have been possible





contributions of a number of student research assistants.



student, for the cover design and report layout. The researchers kindly acknowledge

candidate in Sociology, assisted in the design

financial support from the Social Sciences


Humanities and Research Council of Canada











conducted student interviews, analyzed data,


and edited the final report. Nicholas Morine,

program) and the Office of Research at

M. Phil. (Humanities) candidate, assisted in





the design of the survey and interview





questions, conducted student interviews, and

SSHRC/Vice-Presidentâ€&#x;s Research Grant). We

analyzed data. Kyle Nickerson, undergraduate

would also like to thank the Registrar's Office


at Memorial University for assisting with the





preparation of data. We also thank Lesley


sampling and selection of data.


Playing with Boundaries, Barriers, and Thresholds: Individual and Communal Renewal via Ritual

Nicholas Morine Master of Philosophy, Humanities Journal Submission August 19th, 2011

Playing with Boundaries, Barriers, and Thresholds: Individual and Communal Renewal via Ritual Table of Contents Abstract, Keywords, Acknowledgments … 1 Introduction … 2 Wrestling with Philosophy … 8 Preface to No Gods, No Masters … 33 No Gods, No Masters … 39 Imagining Utopia … 60 Preface to A Poor Play Named Prohibition … 78 A Poor Play Named Prohibition … 82 Escapist Artists … 101 Concluding Thoughts … 118 Supplemental Materials … 124 List of Reference Works … 142

1 Keywords: play, ritual, liminal, liminoid, threshold, boundaries, barriers, individual, individuation, community, communitas, Barthes, Nietzsche, Turner, Huizinga, Thoreau, play-community, metamorphosis, metamorphosis of spirit, dionysian, appolonian, alexandrian, wrestling, professional wrestling, death metal, extreme metal, heavy metal, video games, gaming, role-playing games, rpg, cannabis, prohibition, utopia, dystopia, authoritarianism, libertarianism, populism, popular culture, freedom, potential, agency, marxism, capitalism, collective effervescence Abstract: This journal, a collection of essays on subjects ranging from death metal to professional wrestling, engages the theories of Nietzsche (self-mastery, the Dionysian performance), Barthes (symbolic myth and semiotic association), Victor Turner (liminal and liminoid ritual and thresholds), and Johan Huizinga (play, play-communities) amongst others. An examination of various populist ritual performances and play-communities and the philosophical underpinnings which inspire or are inspired by them. A particular focus is given to spheres of activity which exist apart from everyday life and seek to constitute and exert their own transient sovereignty, a demarcation from the alienation or banality many individuals feel within their parent culture. Acknowledgments: I would like to thank first and foremost my family and friends who have supported me through thick and thin and who – I would expect! – will continue to do so. My long-time girlfriend Jessica Walsh has also been a steadfast companion and managed to remind me of the light at the end of the tunnel when the workload seemed overwhelming or too much to bear. My supervisor, Dr. Christopher Lockett, has been a great source of advise and knowledge and deserves my thanks. The director of the M. Phil program, Dr. Jennifer Dyer, is especially worthy of my praise for having prodded me always in the right direction and for being uncompromising in her commitment to her students, including – but certainly not limited to – myself. Dr. Jay Foster must also be mentioned in particular for spurring my research in several directions as well as challenging my ideas, demanding at least some degree of logic and consistency despite all protest. Working with Dr. Dale Kirby has been a pleasure; he has afforded me remarkable opportunities in order to gain experience that I will always appreciate. Dr. Gordon Jones, and Ms. Martha Wells also deserve mention as having been especially inspirational in their support during my tumultuous undergraduate career and advocating for my scholastic legitimacy. I am deeply thankful for the help and the support that all of these people have lent to me over the years and, without it, it is unlikely that I would ever have succeeded.

2 An Introduction in Brief The scope of this journal has changed drastically since the first crossed my mind three years ago to try my hand at undertaking an advanced degree. Initially conceived of as a project focused on visual art and political film as a cultural influence, I instead found myself studying philosophers I had never read before within fields I never knew existed. As a lifelong generalist the feeling of expanding my understanding of several fields of knowledge at once was extremely gratifying, yet presented many problems in terms of then being able to focus such seemingly divergent interests onto a handful of common themes. To satisfy each of these themes and research areas my interests needed to become much broader while each individual task needed to become much concentrated – that is perhaps the most effective demand made of the M. Phil / Humanities program. As these papers and interests seemed to become more disparate, despite writing them from a conscious thematic position, the necessity of trying to figure out precisely what was offered up by this constellation of research became a pressing concern. This thesis is centrally focused upon an argued cycle of life that holds these liminoid events or instances of cathartic escapism as their keystone – the battleground upon which Nietzschean dragonslayers and lions do symbolic battle. Far from serving as mere forms of entertainment, these events transform or metamorphose the spirit and provide membership within other, more amenable communities – even if only temporarily. Essentially, this human cycle progresses as following: individuals are emotionally or spiritually burdened during their engagement with the impositions and obligations of everyday life (exacerbated or aggravated due to personal circumstance, alienation, or larger social unrest or fracture), and eventually seek out closed horizons of consciousness or ritual / play events in order to engage in cathartic escapism, to enter into unhistorical time in the Nietzschean sense, and to emerge from these events revitalized and reconstituted, though perhaps not in precisely the same configuration as previous. It is important not only to note the distinct use of catharsis in my

3 terminology as that posited by Nietzsche (see footnote 49) rather than by Aristotle, but also to note that this journal regards this form of escapism as wholly positive and productive rather than casting the word as a pejorative term as is more common. Further, there is a general assertion that impositional moral codes and increasingly circumscribed social behaviours are to blame for a great deal of this burdening, and that the play communities chosen by individuals – particularly secular liminoid rituals – afford a more 'natural' or 'permissive' environment which adheres, naturally or socially, to the precepts of the harm principle. This coincides directly with the recurring language of “apartness” or “unreality” that is often ascribed to the liminoid, the unhistorical, and the play-community. As laws stack upon laws and norms upon norms with little sign of repreive nor repeal – in Alexandrian or Appolonian individuation or compartmentalization of consciousness – this body of work seeks to make the case that freedom from these impositions and demands represents a positive step forward for both the individual psyche as well as for the collective spirit. Throughout, there is also a suggestion being made that human beings are generally selflegislatory and adhere, in the strictest sense, to the harm principle without any sort of exterior governance – in other words, the social contract is not generally necessary at all times to pronounce all universal morality or ethics (ex. murder is universally and deeply offensive across human cultures of all size and composition). Therefor we understand that, in tune with Nietzsche's argument that a great deal of moral codification imposes itself upon life as morality solely – a rather arbitrary movement – and not with the goal of enhancing life, the state of becoming. In this sense we distinguish what is moral – merely to persecute or restrict that which can be argued to be natural and essential – from what is honourable and ethical in a more personal as well as holistic view inasmuch as it both adheres to Mill's harm principle and promotes the expression of a more masculine and assertive self. The moralist finds very little traction in this work, found to be a negative and cloying personality from the philosophical

4 viewpoint espoused by the essays of this volume. The telos in which morality robes itself – the Nietzschean dragon's imperative demand of “thou shalt”, oft-times both hypocritical and without logical nor empirical substantiation – is argued to be destructive, unnecessary, and alienating both sociologically as well as philosophically. We are also meant to note the striking similarity of a few separate philosophical concepts, namely: Nietzsche's concept of unhistorical time as a closed horizon of experience – which can be seen in itself as a relation to Gadamer's language – Victor Turner's liminal and liminoid ritual events, and Johan Huizinga's play-communities, which he himself describes in terms of ritual. All of these encapsulated concept-events are escapist in nature, and provide a venue both spatially and temporally for greater degrees of self-expression and self-assertion as well as a general respite from the weight of everyday life. These similarities are made obvious in each of the works contained within this journal and we will be returning to them frequently. Further, I think it can be seen that these brief periods of respite and of unhistorical time, of becoming, are vital signs gesturing towards a yearning for a freer, more playful experience of time. Which leads to the central philosophical concept permeating all of the essays contained within this volume – the concept of play. More than anything else, the concept of play (between morals, ethics, practices, and narratives considered alongside the worthiness of espousing or protecting them) seemed to speak for all of the best work, with Huizinga's trifold definition of the term serving as the basic premise for understanding. “First and foremost, then, all play is a voluntary activity. Play to order is no longer play: it could at best be but a forcible imitation of it. By this quality of freedom alone, play marks itself off from the course of the natural process... Play can be deferred or suspended at any time. It is never imposed by physical necessity or moral duty. It is never a task. It is done at leisure, during 'free time'... Here, then, we have the first main characteristic of play: that it is free, is in fact freedom.” (7) The voluntarism of play is a fundamental aspect to most of the research essays in this volume,

5 as well as to my own personal philosophy. Play can never exist in situations of coercion or forcible induction into a rite; at this point it ceases to become play and becomes oppression to a lesser or greater degree. This personal choice – though Huizinga is determined to leave greater questions of determinism off the table – to commit to a playful act is, in and of itself, a rejection of normative seriousness so pervasive in what Huizinga terms the 'ordinary' world, which Debord might call a 'world of appearances and representations'. How strange is it then that the 'play worlds', so full of glowing life and life in its periods of passions and excesses, become more representative of the goals of life than the banality of everyday life on offer in our contemporary time. In each of the five essays within this volume, actors within each of these cordoned off slices of life are there voluntarily – they play freely and express a more natural and primordial liberty than can ever be afforded by a social contract. Huizinga introduces the second pillar of the play concept to us: “A second characteristic is closely connected with this, namely, that play is not 'ordinary' or 'real' life. It is rather a stepping out of 'real' life into a temporary sphere of activity with a disposition all of its own. Every child knows perfectly well that he is 'only pretending', or that it was 'only for fun'... the consciousness of play being 'only a pretend' does not by any means prevent it from proceeding with the utmost seriousness, with an absorption, a devotion that passes into rapture and, temporarily at least, completely abolishes that troublesome 'only' feeling. Any game can at any time wholly run away with the players. The contrast between play and seriousness is always fluid... Play may rise to heights of beauty and sublimity that leave seriousness far beneath. Tricky questions such as these will come up for discussion when we start examining the relationship between play and ritual.” (8) There are two very important facets of this second characteristic of play. The first thing to note is the erection of a metaphysical barrier between worlds or modes of existence – in cultural anthropologist Victor Turner's terms, a threshold between everyday worlds and liminal or liminoid ones (see footnote 11). Within these play-worlds or liminal-like experiences all connection to the outside world is severed, here unhistorical time rules, and just as often, the individual is dissolved into a larger, temporary community. Of course, all of these occurrences exist contextually, on a continuum from lesser to greater absorption and enclosure, highly dependent on a variety of environmental and personal

6 factors. The second aspect of this characteristic which bears noting is the fact that they players know that they are playing. Huizinga gestures towards almost a slight cognitive partition which, like a safety line, serves as an emergency buffer that reminds the players of their game, of the unreality of their current reality. This would seem logically to act in agonistic fashion against the complete absorption or incorporation into the play community, but nowhere does it seem to hamper incorporation too greatly. The fact that the players remain aware of their gaming is important in conjunction with the voluntarism of play in that it denies the accusation of brainwashing or propagandizing quite flatly – there is a higher consciousness at work which is wholly cognizant of the play, working beneath what may appear to be a primitive, primordial play-ritual. This dispenses with false interpretations of barbarism or cruelty associated with more visceral or aggressive play communities.1 Gadamer as well as Nietzsche might term these temporary demarcations as 'closed horizons' of experience. In fact, this is the final marker of play, its temporality and spatial transience. “Play is distinct from 'ordinary' life both as to locality and duration. This is the third main characteristic of play: its secludedness, its limitedness. It is 'played out' within certain limits of time and place. It contains its own course and meaning... While it is in progress all is movement, change, alternation, succession, association, separation. But immediately connected with its limitation as to time there is a further curious feature of play: it at once assumes fixed form as a cultural phenomenon. Once played, it endures as a new-found creation of the mind, a treasure to be retained by the memory. It is transmitted, it becomes tradition. It can be repeated at any time, whether it be 'child's play' or a game of chess, or at fixed intervals like a mystery... More striking even than the limitation as to time is the limitation as to space. All play moves and has its being within a playground marked off beforehand either materially or ideally, deliberately or as a matter of course. Just as there is no formal difference between play and ritual, so the 'consecrated spot' cannot be formally distinguished from the play-ground. The arena2, the card-table, the magic circle, the temple, the stage3, the screen4, the tennis court, the court of justice5, etc., are all in form and function play-grounds, i.e. forbidden spots, isolated, hedged round, hallowed, within which special rules obtain. All are temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart.� (9-10) 1 2 3 4 5

In terms of this body of research, most obviously the death metal and professional wrestling subcultures. Examined in the chapter entitled Wrestling with Philosophy. Examined in the chapter entitled No Gods, No Masters. Examined in the chapter entitled Imagining Utopia. Examined in the chapter entitled A Poor Play Named Prohibition.

7 The secludedness and limitedness of play acts is exemplified in each of the major works that constitute this research. Each of these activities and attendant subcultures or communities rests quite close to notions of privacy and transience – this is in keeping with the restorative or cathartic nature of these pockets of unhistorical time, time lived in the moment and apart from the flow of everyday life. The oppositional forces of the social contract as well as the bonds of more intimate relationships and social obligations are inverted as they cross the threshold – individuals choose play communities which reflect their preferred 'set of rules and activities', the community self-enforces this atmosphere for the duration of the ritual event in order to ensure success – herein lies the appeal of the effect of the playspectacle or the liminal-like event – a temporary, healthy, restorative escape.6 While somewhat disparate, all five essays collected are about playing, in particular with the boundaries of culture and consciousness in ways both personal and political. It is this common thread that I think pulls such idiosyncratic, individuated subjects together and binds them to a cause. What greater cause than the vibrant freedom of life as play, the attendant metamorphosis of spirit, and a damn good story to preserve and recall to one's memory? “It [play] is a significant function – that is to say, there is some sense to it. In play there is something 'at play' which transcends the immediate needs of life and imparts meaning to the action. All play means something. If we call the active principle that makes up the essence of play, 'instinct', we explain nothing: if we call it 'mind' or 'will' we say too much. However we may regard it, the very fact that play has a meaning implies a non-materialistic quality in the nature of the thing itself...Some find the principle of play in an innate urge to exercise a certain faculty, or in the desire to dominate or compete. Yet others regard it as an 'abreaction' – an outlet for harmful impulses, as the necessary restorer of energy wasted by one-sided activity, as 'wishfulfillment', as a fiction designed to keep up the feeling of personal value... the fun of playing, resists all analysis, all logical interpretation.7 As a concept, it cannot be reduced to any other mental category.” (Huizinga, 1-3)

6 Further examined in the closing chapter entitled The Escapist Artist. 7 So much for the Alexandrian / Socratic / theoretical man's approach to the indefinite of play!

Nicholas Morine -- Portfolio -- Academic Publications  

A short selection of academic publications with Nicholas Morine as contributing researcher or author.

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