The problems of games and play, a basic ontological category of thought and action, have long occupied culture historians like Huizinga and Caillois as well as mainstream modern philosophers from Heidegger to Gadamer. The present volume traces the concept of the ludic in its generative as well as in its violent and destructive potential, and relates the traditional concepts developed in particular by Romantic aesthetics in drama and poetry to those developed in modern times in literary genres by Bakhtin with the emphasis on the tropes of the performing body. In the present collection of essays, the great variety of theoretical frameworks is grounded in and connected to empirical data on ritual processes and mythic structures across a wide spectrum of ethnographic evidence. The collected essays connect notions of the ludic as framed performance (proposed by Bateson and Goffman) with the ludic as "free play" with the potential to possess the player, crossing disciplinary boundaries and discourses from theatre-studies to anthropology. Forms of ritual processes, of mythic games and of cultural reflexivity, together with intriguing and universal tropes of myth and literature such as the figures of the trickster and the fool, are treated in cross-cultural perspectives. These include Indian, Greek and Germanic mythologies, Indian ritual dance and prophetic theatre plays in Ancient Israel, Bushmen syncretic religious services, the diverse forms of self-reflexive play among Brazilian Kayapo Indians, and the plays and games among the inmates of concentration camps. The volume should appeal to students of anthropology, of theatre and cultural studies, as well as to culture historians and philosophers concerned with the interface between ritual and play, or player and audience, and the larger issue of the rules of games and the freedom of the hermeneutic interpretation of text through performances.
Klaus-Peter Köpping is Professor for Anthropology at the Ruprecht Karls University Heidelberg.