Extracted from The Genius of Play
"The question, “Who am I in this game?” and “How must I be as my new self?” is a major preoccupation for most young players. Through imaginative play, and in particular through socio-dramatic play, children are able to express and explore their own viewpoints and feelings, and as Jane Hislam perceptively observes, they are also able to explore those feelings which are not necessarily their own. (Moyles, Hislam et al, 1994). In the magic of empathetic imitation, which is quite different from copying, children live imaginatively into the experience of “the other.” Then, guided by the inspirational spirit of play, the ability to “read” the thoughts and feelings of others begins to awaken and the journey towards emotional literacy begins.
This capacity, is absent in most children with autism. In his book, The Development of Play, David Cohen argues that although autistic children do play with objects, by moving them around and so on, they hardly ever engage in pretend or imaginative play. He suggests that this is because autistic children find it impossible to develop a theory of the other mind. Like adults with Asperger's syndrome, they might know what tears are, but not what they mean. Most autistic children are unable to perceive what another person might think or feel because, sadly, they are locked into their own worlds. (Cohen 1996:166). Tina Bruce gives an example of a child who begins to explore, through unsentimental imitation, the very different thoughts, feelings, and experiences of someone else.
“A new girl called Jo joined a nursery class. Jo had an artificial arm and two girls, Nadia and Jody were fascinated when she took it off at story time because she did not want to wear it all the time. That afternoon, the children played together and Nadia was Jo. Through her play, Nadia entered an alternative world to her own, in which she had no arms. She used all her knowledge of what arms are for and she came to know about Jo as she hadn't before.” (Bruce 1994: 117)
A society that is unable to live into the experience or feelings of “the other” is one which can be described as culturally autistic. It is my belief that through their own play, children can foster and develop the very qualities which will provide a powerful antidote to the “cultural autism” which threatens our society today."
Sally Jenkinson Publisher Link
Extracted from the Cornell Chronicle...
Diane Ackerman is serious about play
"It is exquisitely human to play; we relish and require it to feel whole. It is our refuge from ordinary life," she told a David L. Call Alumni Auditorium audience.
In her July 9 Summer Session lecture titled "Rapture, Ecstasy and Play," Ackerman, a Cornell alumna, poet, essayist and naturalist, enveloped the audience in her world by offering prose about love and personal anecdotes to explain her perspective on life's special moments, which she described as "deep play."
"The language of play has always fascinated me," said the author of A Natural History of the Senses and A Slender Thread: Rediscovering Hope at the Heart of Crisis.
According to Ackerman, "Every element of the human saga depends on play. Even language is a playing with words," she said. "We, as human beings, require a poetic version of life. All human beings of all ages and all cultures use the elemental poetry of everyday language."
Swimming with dolphins and communing with nature, she said, led her to the question, "What are we to make of dolphins and humans playing together?" The answer, she found, is that humans and animals alike understand play.
"Play is ingrained in the matrix of childhood and we take it for granted," Ackerman said. Though children rejoice in play, adults have a "deeper, transcendent form of play," she said.
The uncertainty and illusion of play can take place in countless venues, she suggested. "We can play anywhere that is set off from reality, whether it be a playground, a field, a church or a garage."
Ackerman explained there are many ways in which adults engage in deep play.
"Deep play doesn't have to do with an activity, like shallow play. It has to do with attitude or an extraordinarily intense state."
Furthermore, she said, "Deep play is an absence of mental noise -- liberating, soothing, and exciting. . . .We spend our lives in pursuit of those moments of feeling whole, or being in the moment of deep play."
The idea of deep play, Ackerman said, was originated by the philosopher/utilitarian Jeremy Bentham. However, she said, "he despised it and thought it was irrational." He felt that what could be lost far outweighed what could be gained.
Ancient people had their own forms of deep play, Ackerman said, and termed deep play to be rapture and ecstasy. "Rapture is being seized by force ... rape, ravage, usurp," she explained. "Ecstasy is a Greek word meaning a symbol of standing, or to stand, outside oneself. When you are experiencing ecstasy, you fly out of your mind and watch the known world dwindle in the distance."
Ackerman explained that one of the manifestations of deep play is love. "Love is a cult of two, full of mysticism, where you romp with your playmate and there is a feeling of ecstasy. When the couple breaks up, their secret world is shattered, leaving the partner disavowed. The illusion and the game are over."
Another form of deep play can come when one is in a moment of extreme danger, she explained. When Ackerman fell while mountain climbing and had to climb down with three broken ribs, she was in that state, she said. "I had to muzzle into life and drink from the source."
"Deep play means no analysis, no explanation, no promises, no goals, no worries. You are completely open to the drama of life that may unfold."
Diane Ackerman's Webpage
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