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Zen and Carse's Infinite Games

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.zen,alt.philosophy.zen,alt.consciousness.mysticism,talk.philosophy.misc,talk.religion.buddhism,alt.religion.buddhism
From: I@no.self (!)
Subject: Zen and Carse's Infinite Games

smanning@INETWORLD.NET (Stephanie Manning):
#My question was:
#Would you please tell me a little bit about what you meant by "As a game
#other than football (something infinite...) zen may be a direct 
#participation in the only game there is"?

various out-takes from Carse; please compare with zen and alt.zen:

	A finite game is played for the purposes of winning,
	an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.

	Infinite players cannot say when their game began, nor do
	they care.  They do not care for the reason that their
	game is not bounded by time.  Indeed, the only purpose of
	the game is to prevent it from coming to an end, to keep
	everyone in play.

	There are no spatial or numerical boundaries to an infinite
	game.  No world is marked with the barriers of infinite
	play, and there is no question of eligibility since anyone
	who wishes may play the infinite game.

	While finite games are externally defined, inifite games
	are internally defined.  The time of an infinite game is
	not world time, but time created within the play itself.
	Since each play of the an infinite game eliminates
	boundaries, it opens to players a new horizon of time.

	For this reason it is impossible to say how long an
	infinite game has been played, or even can be played,
	since duration can be measured only externally to that
	which endures.  It is also impossible to say in which
	world an infinite game is played, though there can be
	any number of worlds within an infinite game.

	The rules of an infinite game are changed to prevent
	anyone from winning the game and to bring as many persons
	as possible into the play.

	...the rules of an infinite game are the contractual terms
	by which the players agree to continue playing.

	... [the rules of an infinite game] are like the grammar
	of a living language....

	The rules, or grammar, of a living language are always
	evolving to guarantee the meaningfulness of discourse....

	The rules [of an infinite game] are always designed to
	deal with specific threats to the continuation of play.
	Infinite players use the rules to regulate the way they
	will take the boundaries or limites being force against
	their play into the game itself.

	The rule-making capacity of infinite players is often
	challenged by the impingement of powerful boundaries
	against their play -- such as physical exhaustion,
	or the loss of material resources, or the hostility
	of nonplayers, or death.

	The task is to design rules that will allow the players
	to continue the game by taking these limits into play --
	even when death is one of the limits.  It is in this sense
	that the game is infinite.

	This is equivalent to saying that no limitations may be
	imposed against infinite play.  Since limits are taken
	into play, the play itself cannot be limited.

	...infinite players play with boundaries.

	...infinite players do not eschew the performed roles of
	finite play.  On the contrary, they enter into finite games
	with all the appropriate energy and self-veiling, but they
	do so without the seriousness of finite players.  They
	embrace the abstractness of finite games as abstractness,
	and therefore take them up not seriously, but playfully....
	They freely use masks in their social engagements, but not
	without acknowledging to themelves and others that they are
	masked.  For that reason they regard each participant in
	finite play as *that person playing* and not *as a role
	played by someone*.

	...when we are playful with each other we relate as free
	persons, and the relationship is open to surprise; 
	*everything* that happens is of consequence.... To be
	playful is to allow for possibility whatever the cost to

	Inasmuch as infinite players avoid any outcome whatsoever,
	keeping the future open, making all scripts useless, we
	shall reer to infinite play as *dramatic*.

	Dramatically, one chooses to be a mother; theatrically,
	one takes on the role of mother.

	Infinite players... contiue their play in the expectation
	of being surprised.  If surprise is no longer possible,
	all play ceases.

	Surprise causes finite play to end; it is the reason for
	infinite play to continue.

	Surprise in infinite play is the triumph of the future over
	the past.  Since infinite players do not regard the past as
	having an outcome, they have no way of knowing what has
	been begun there.  With each surprise, the past reveals a
	new beginning in itself.  Inasmuch as the future is always
	surprising, the past is always changing.

	Because infinite players prepare themselves to be surprised
	by the future, they play in complete openness.  It is not
	an openness as in *candor*, but an openness as in
	*vulnerability*.  It is not a matter of exposing one's
	unchanging identity, the true self that has always been,
	but a way of exposing one's ceaseless growth, the dynamic
	self that has yet to be.  The infinite player does not
	expect only to be amused by surprise, but to be transformed
	by it, for surprise does not alter some abstract past, but
	one's own personal past.

	To be prepared against surprise [as in finite games] is to
	be *trained*.  To be prepared for surprise is to be

	Education discovers an increasing richness in the past,
	because it sees what is unfinished there....  Education 
	leads toward a continuing self-discovery; training leads
	to a final self-definition....

	Infinite players die.  Since the boundaries of death are
	always a part of the play, the infinite player does not
	die at the end of play, but in the course of play.

	The death of an infinite player is dramatic.  ...infinite
	players offer their death as a way of continuing play.
	For that reason they do not play for their own life; they
	live for their own play.  But since that play is always
	with others, it is evident that infinite players both live
	and die for the continuing life of others.

	...the infinite player plays as a mortal.  In infinite
	play one chooses to be mortal inasmuch as one always plays
	dramatically, that is, toward the open, toward the horizon,
	toward surprise, whree nothing can be scripted.  It is a
	kind of play that requires complete vulnerability.

	Although infinite players choose mortality, they may not
	know when death comes, but we can always say of them that
	"they die at the right time" (Nietzsche).

	...the infinite play of life is joyous.  Infinite play
	resounds throughout with a kind of laughter.  It is not
	the laughter at others who have come to an unexpected
	end, having thought they were going somewhere else.  It
	is laughter *with* others with whom we ahve discovered
	that the end we thought we were coming to has
	unexpectedly opened.  We laugh not at what has 
	surprisingly come to be impossible for others, but over
	what has surprisingly come to be possible with others.

	Infinite play is inherently paradoxical....  Because it
	is the purpose of infinite players to continue the play,
	they do not play for themselves....  The paradox of
	infinite play is that the players desire to *continue
	the play in others*.  The paradox is precisely that they
	play only when others go on with the game.

	Infinite players play best when they become least
	necessary to the continuation of play.  It is for this
	reason that they play as mortals.

	The joyfulness of infinite play, its laughter, lies in
	learning to start something we cannot finish.

	...infinite players...have nothing but their *names*....

	Persons cannot name themselves any more than they can
	entitle themselves [the latter occurring as a prize in
	finite games for the win].  However, unlike titles,
	which are given for what a person has done, a name is
	given at birth -- at a time when a person cannot yet
	have done anything.  Titles are given at the end of
	play, names at the beginning.

	When a person is known only by name, the attention of
	others is on an open future.  We simply cannot know
	what to expect.  Whenever we address each other by name
	we ignore all scripts [the rules of finite games], and 
	open the possibility that our relationship will become
	deeply reciprocal.  That I cannot now predict your
	future is exactly what makes mine unpredictable.  Our
	futures enter into each other.  What is your future,
	and mine, becomes ours.  We prepare each other for surprise.

	How do infinite players contend with power [a matter of
	deference to titles]?  Infinite play is always dramatic;
	its outcome is endlessly open.  There is no way of looking
	back to make a definite assessment of the power or weakness
	of earlier play.  Infinite players look forward, not to a
	victory in which the past will achieve a timeless meaning,
	but toward ongoing play in which the past will require
	constant reinterpretation.  Infinite players do not 
	*oppose* the actions of others, but *initiate* actions of
	their own in such a way that others will respond by	
	initiating *their* own.

	...where the finite player plays *to be powerful* the
	infinite player plays *with strength*.

	A strong person is one who carries the past into the future,
	showing that none of its issues is capable of resolution.
	Power is concerned with what has already happened; strength
	with what has yet to happen.  Power is finite in amount.
	Strength cannot be measured, because it is an opening and
	not a closing act.  Power refers to the freedom persons have
	within limits, strength to the freedom persons have with 

	Strength is paradoxica.  I am not strong because I can force
	others to do what I wish *as a result of my play with them*,
	but because I can allow them to do what they wish *in the
	course of play with them*.

	Although anyone who wishes can be an infinite player, and
	although anyone can be strong, we are not to suppose that
	power cannot work irremediable damage on infinite play.
	Infinite play canont prevent or terminate evil.  Though
	infinite players are strong, they are not powerful and do
	not attempt to become powerful.

	*Evil is the termination of infinite play*.  It is infinite
	play coming to an end in *unheard silence*.

	Unheard silence does not necessarily mean the death of the
	player.  Unheard silence is not the loss of the player's
	voice, but the loss of listeners for that voice.  It is an
	evil when the drama of life does not continue in others
	for reason of their deafness or ignorance.

	Infinite players understand the inescapabe likelihood of 
	evil.  They therefore do not attempt to eliminate evil in
	others, for to do so is the very impulse of evil itself,
	and therefore a contradiction [this last a qualite of
	finite games].  They only attempt paradoxically to 
	recognize in themselves the evil that takes the form of
	attempting to eliminate evil elsewhere.

	Evil is not the inclusion of finite games in an infinite
	game, but the restriction of all play to one or another
	finite game.
	_Finite and Infinite Games_, by James P. Carse, Ballantine
		Books, 1986; excerpts from Ch. 1, pp. 1-42.
and inclusive of a specific mention of Zen:

	No one can play a game alone.  One cannot be human by
	oneself.  There is no selfhood where there is no
	community.  We do not relate to others as the persons
	we are; we are who we are in relating to others.

	Simultaneously the others with whom we are in relation
	are themselves in relation.  We cannot relate to anyone
	who is not also relating to us.  Our social existence
	has, therefore, an inescapably fluid character.  This
	is not to say that we live in a fluid context, but that
	our lives are themselves fluid.  As in the Zen image we
	are not the stones over which the stream of the world
	flows; we are the stream itself.  As we shall see, this
	ceaseless change does not mean discontinuity; rather
	change is itself the very basis of our continuity as
	persons.  Only that which can change can continue.

	The fluidity of our social and therfore personal
	existence is a function of our essential freedom -- the
	kind of freedom indicated in the formula "Who must play,
	cannot play."  Of course, as we have seen, finite games
	cannnot have fluid boundaries, for if they do it will be
	impossible to agree on winners.  But finite games float,
	as it were, in the unconstrained choice each player makes
	in entering and continuing the play.  Finite games some-
	times appear, therefore, to have fixed points of social
	reference.  Not only are there true and false ways of 
	loving your country, for example, there is a positive
	requirement that you do so.

	It is this essential fluidity of our humanness that is
	irreconcilable with the seriousness of finite play.  It
	is, therefore, this fluidity that presents us with an
	unavoidable challenge: how to contain the serious within
	the truly playful; that is, how to keep all our finite
	games in infinite play.

	This challenge is commonly misunderstood as the need to
	fine room for playfulness within finite games.  This is
	what was referred to above as playing at, or perhaps
	playing around, a kind of play that has no consequence.
	This is the sort of playfulness implied in the ordinary
	sense of such terms as entertainment, amusement, diversion,
	comic relief, recreation, relaxation.  Inevitably, however,
	seriousness will creep back into this kind of play.  The
	executive's vacation, like the football team's time out,
	comes to be a device for refreshing the contestant for a
	higher level of competition.  Even the open playfulness of
	children is expoited through organized athletic, artistic,
	and educational regimens as a means of preparing the young
	for serious adult competition.


	There is but one infinite game.

	Ibid., pp. 45-6, 177.


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