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Sachs, J. (1991). Psychoanalysis and the Elements of Play Jerome Sachs. Am. J. Psychoanal., 51(1):39-53.

(1991). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 51(1):39-53

Psychoanalysis and the Elements of Play Jerome Sachs

Jerome Sachs, DSW

Johan Huizinga, in his work Homo Ludens, discussed the essential characteristic elements involved in play. His primary purpose was to look at the play element of culture, to see, “how far culture itself bears the characteristics of play” (1955, Forward).

Though he generally eschewed dealing with psychology and psychoanalysis, I believe much can be gained if we look at psychoanalysis from Huizinga's perspective. Through this perspective, discussion will open on such topics as transference, countertransference, freedom, the rules of analysis, and death.

Throughout this article there will be a conscious effort to reduce analysis to play. Doing this will allow freedom from more familiar views of analysis that would prematurely limit what might be gained here. The limitations of this reductive discussion of psychoanalysis will, however, emerge and will be dealt with. “Summing up the formal characteristics of play,” Huizinga calls it:

a free activity standing quite consciously outside “ordinary” life as being “not serious,” but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings which tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress their difference from the common world by disguise or other means, (p. 13).

He further suggests that two functions of play in its higher forms are a contest for something or a representation of something: “These two functions can unite in such a way as the game ‘represents’ a contest, or else becomes a contest for the best representation of something” (p. 13).

Each point in Huizinga's definition of play will now be examined in its relationship to psychoanalysis. Also considered will be some of the functions that particular play characteristics have within an analysis and the dysfunctions that might occur if they are missing.

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