In Playland (Giorgio Agamben)

Named after the Land of Toys as depicted in the story of Pinocchio, this piece is one of the chapters in Agamben's book Infancy and History. The article comprises, as its subheading says, 'reflections on history and play'.


Everyone knows the bit in Collodi’s novel where Pinocchio, having travelled through the night on the back of the talking donkey, arrives happily im ‘Playland’. In his description of this infantile utopian republic, Collodi has left us the image of a universe where there is nothing but play (...) The immediate result of this invasion of life by play is a change and acceleration of time: ‘in the midst of continual games and every variety of amusement, the hours, the days, and the weeks passed like lightning’. As was to be expected, the acceleration of time does not leave the calendar unaltered. (...)


We know in fact that in ancient times, and still in the present among so-called primitive peoples ... ‘pandemonium’, ‘uproar’ and ‘bedlam’ had instead the function of instituting and securing the stability of the calendar. (...) Ritual fixes and structures the calendar; play, on the other hand, though we do not yet know how and why, changes and destroys it. (...) If it is true that play derives from the realm of the sacred, it is also true that it radically transforms it – indeed, overturns it to the point where it can plausibly be defined as ‘topsy-turvy sacred’. (...)


In play, man frees himself from sacred time and ‘forgets’ it in human time.

But the world of play is connected to time in an even more specific sense. (...) Everything which is old, independent of its sacred origins, is liable to become a toy. (...) But what, then, is the essence of the toy? (...)  The toy is what belonged –once, no longer– to the realm of the sacred or of the practical-economic. (...) an eminently historical thing (...) What the toy preserves of its sacred or economic model, what survives of this after its dismemberment or miniaturization, is nothing other than the human temporality that was contained therein: its pure historical essence. (...)


If what children play with is history, and if play is a relationship with objects and human behavious that draws from them a pure historical-temporal aspect, it does not then seem irrelevant that in a fragment of Heraclitus – that is to say, at the origins of the European thought – aion, time in its original sense, should figure as a ‘child playing with dice’, and that ‘domain of the baby’ should define the scope of this play. (...) When Heraclitus tells us that aion is a child playing, he thereby depicts as play the temporalizing essence of the living being.


You can download the pdf file of the article below, and the full book here.


In Playland (G. Agamben).pdf
Adobe Acrobat Document 3.1 MB