Play as the System of Systems

Play as the System of Systems is based on a series of lectures given by Kostas Axelos in various European universities between 1967 and 1970, and is penned under the title Le Jeu de l'Ensemble des Ensembles in 1970.

Axelos begins with reference to two great thinkers, Marx and Heidegger, emphasizing two crucial points: The productive/laboring relation of man to the world could well have been a play. And likewise, the forgotten essence of Being is also play. Accordingly, he invites the reader to see, set up, and most importantly to play (potential) games that can emerge in the very domain of world-game linking the set of “man’s play” to the set of “world’s play”; that is, in the set of sets. With an effort to abstain from alienation and metaphysic, playfully...


The text before us is not an easy game, and sometimes cryptic and playfully obscure. Should you give an ear to it though, you can get wind of the call to play. Accepting the invitation, by the very nature of the game, is up to each player.


What is our role as readers and parties to play, as parties to diverse forms of play? Our task consists in knowing how to read in a given instance of world’s play every other type of play, and principally, the play of the world. But we must not only read, we must play, turning the rules upside down when necessary, experimenting beyond the subject-object dichotomy with a plurality of perspectives on each problem. It is a question of matching, with serenity and sadness, to world’s play the unspeakable, the unnameable, the unplayable without hurriedly forcing it into little systems which would exhaust it with their reductionist, unilateral, imperialistic methods. We must hold ourselves ready for play which summons as, play of language, thought, work, struggle, love, and death. (One cannot say that life is worth or not worth living since it is not a question of lving it – with or without reason for living – but of playing it...)


The article has two different English translations, with minor differences. You can find below both versions.


Play as the System of Systems (Kostas Axelos)
SubStance; Vol. 8, No. 4, Issue 25 (1979), pp. 20-24
Play as the System of Systems.pdf
Adobe Acrobat Document 571.6 KB
The Set's Game-Play of Sets (Kostas Axelos)
Yale French Studies; No. 58, Trans. by Beverly Livingston, In Memory of Jacques Ehrmann: Inside Play Outside Game (1979), pp. 95-101
The Sets Game-Play of Sets.pdf
Adobe Acrobat Document 1.4 MB