Quirks and Perks: Playfulness

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To be playful is to let go; it is to seduce and to be seduced, though perhaps in a small way. Finally, solemnity is the virtue from which we may someday perish, while playfulness is the vice that may yet redeem us.

—Crispin Sartwell, Obscenity, Anarchy, Reality (1996)

Playful is light-hearted, or light of heart.

It means jumping up because you can.

It means embracing the slight uncertainty of landing because nothing can be certain anyway.

It means reaching for the stars and grabbing handfuls of air because air is what we need, anyway, to breathe.

Sartwell is radical: he’d have you dancing outside, open to life’s thunderstorms as well as to its rainbows, keeping it real, rather than escaping into (or exploring) the “safe” worlds of science-media-literature, which keep raging life at a distance from the coziness of your protective cocoons. His book aims towards affirmation of what is, precisely as it is, with the end goal of having you love the world as it is, rather than as it ought to be. That means accepting you’re addicted or accepting that your friends are unpleasant, if that’s the case, or accepting that you’ll never learn a foreign language or own a penthouse; that also means accepting that you have little control over your dealings with the world, and that rather than living in imaginary alternative realities where you’re some princely other, you ought to make the best of your lot immediately, as it stands now.

Aptly, Sartwell acknowledges the paradoxical nature of his suggestion on page one: his book says you ought to affirm the world unconditionally, though he categorically stands against anything that ought to be. His is the starting quandary: there ought to be no oughts. On a more fundamental level, Sartwell wrote a book which requires extensive rumination before its core ideas could be applied, and that rumination, in turn, requires removing yourself from the turbulent outside world for a while (not to mention a general literacy acquired by years of such removal). He essentially wants you to withdraw to the safe world of his book, which will tell you not to withdraw to the safe world of books.

This paradox is ancient. Plato’s condemnation of the written word, delivered through the mouth of Socrates in Phaedrus, is similarly strange when you consider that Plato was such a prolific writer himself, and one which chose to deliver his condemnation in written form.

The best paradoxes serve as irritants that prod us into resolving them—as best we may—so that our level of self-knowledge is increased as a result. Or perhaps I should say, the best paradoxes are such great toys.

Let’s play.

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