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Huizinga, Johan

Entry updated 5 August 2021. Tagged: Author.

(1872-1945) Dutch historian, linguist, and philosopher who is best known internationally for two books. In Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen: Studie over Levens- en Gedachtenvormen der 14de en 15de Eeuw in Frankrijk en de Nederlanden (1919; cut trans Frits Hopman as The Waning of the Middle Ages 1924; full trans Diane Webb as Autumntide of the Middle Ages [for subtitles see Checklist below] 2020), an emphasis on aesthetically heightened romantic courtesy and chivalry as a bastion against Decadence proved indirectly influential on writers like Poul Anderson, and in its concentration on Burgundy may have directly helped shape Mary Gentle's Ash sequence. And in Homo Ludens: Proeve Eener Bepaling Van Het Spel-Element Der Cultuur (1938; trans R F C Hull as Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture 1949) [see Checklist for greater detail], he suggests from the darkening but not yet apocalyptic perspective of 1938 Netherlands that (within its terms) an utterly serious, essential (and essentially nondamaging) element of formal and (less importantly) informal play was inherent in the formation of human groupings; and that a healthy civilization must be capable of acknowledging and praising that element of play. Play, he argued, involved free and joyous adherence to absolute order. Play could "profit" no one. Narratives incorporating this understanding might be termed ludic fiction.

Huzinga's understanding of civilization manifests a clarity of conception and a positive understanding of the play element of modern life that may have been easier to articulate before World War Two further darkened Western Civilization's sense of human nature. But a scumbling over of the provenance of the English translation may have somewhat obscured the context of Huizinga's study. The English edition was translated from a German-language edition published in Switzerland in 1944, almost certainly identical to the German-language version originally published in the Netherlands in 1939, and therefore not embodying any changes its author might have wished to make, after experiencing six years of war and (in his case) internment. That Huizinga did remain interested in Homo Ludens is attested by the 1949 translator, R F C Hull, who states that he had view of an unpublished partial English translation by the author, but who says nothing more, beyond a vague reference to "discrepancies". We do not therefore know if Huizinga revised (or simply mistranslated) his 1938 text; nor do we know what use the translator made of Huizinga's own translation in the 1949 version, which remains in print. Hull is only explicit on one count: that he specifically ignored Huizinga's stated wish to speak of the "play-element of culture", substituting the more euphonious, but misleading "play-element in culture". [JC]

see also: Game Design.

Johan Huizinga

born Groningen, Netherlands: 7 December 1872

died De Steeg, Netherlands: 1 February 1945



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