Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!

  • THERE ARE at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.

  • If finite players acquire titles from winning their games, we must say of infinite players that they have nothing but their names. Names, like titles, are given. Persons cannot name themselves any more than they can entitle themselves. 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 by title, the attention is on a completed past, on a game already concluded, and not therefore to be played again. A title effectively takes a person out of play. 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, 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. Titles are abstractions; names are always concrete. It can happen that when persons are distinctly identified as winners their names can have the force of titles. We sometimes act “to clear our name” of aspersions, or to defend the “good name of our family.” Names can even become titles in the formal sense, such as “Caesar,” or “Napoleon,” or “the name of Jesus which is above every name” (Paul). When Jesus is regarded by way of a title instead of a name, he becomes an abstracted, theatrical role, a person with whom we can share no future, rather a Master Player in whose future we live in a manner that has already been scripted, or decided, for us. “Before Abraham was, I am,” Jesus said of himself in the Gospel of John.

  • Titles, then, point backward in time. They have their origin in an unrepeatable past. Titles are theatrical. Each title has a specified ceremonial form of address and behavior. Titles such as Captain, Mrs., Lord, Esquire, Professor, Comrade, Father, Under Secretary, signal not only a mode of address with its appropriate deference or respect, but also a content of address (only certain subjects are suitable for discussion with the Admiral of the Fleet or the District Attorney or the Holy Mother), and a manner of address (shaking hands, kneeling, prostrating or crossing oneself, saluting, bowing, averting the eyes, or standing in silence). The mode and content of address and the manner of behavior are recognitions of the areas in which titled persons are no longer in competition. There are precise ways in which one may no longer compete with the Dalai Lama or the Heavyweight Champion of the World. There is no possible action by which one may deprive them of their titles to contests now in the past. Therefore, insofar as we recognize their titles we withdraw from any contest with them in those areas.

  • The titled are powerful. Those around them are expected to yield, to withdraw their opposition, and to conform to their will—in the arena in which the title was won. The exercise of power always presupposes resistance. Power is never evident until two or more elements are in opposition. Whichever element can move another is the more powerful. If no one else ever strove to be a Boddhisattva or the Baton Twirling Champion of the State of Indiana, those titles would be powerless—no one would defer to them. The exercise of power also presupposes a closed field and finite units of time. My power is determined by the amount of resistance I can displace within given spatial and temporal limits. The question is not whether I can lift ten pounds, but whether I can lift ten pounds five feet off the ground in one second—or within some other precise limitation of time and space. The establishment of the limits makes it possible to know how powerful I am in relation to others.

  • Power is always measured in units of comparison. In fact, it is a term of competition: How much resistance can I overcome relative to others? Power is a concept that belongs only in finite play. But power is not properly measurable until the game is completed—until the designated period of time has run out. During the course of play we cannot yet determine the power of the players, because to the degree that it is genuine play the outcome is unknown. A player who is being pushed all over the field by an apparently superior opponent may display an unsuspected burst of activity at the end and take the victory. Until the final hours of the count in the presidential election of 1948 many Americans thought that Harry Truman was a far weaker candidate than Thomas Dewey. To speak meaningfully of a person’s power is to speak of what that person has already completed in one or another closed field. To see power is to look backward in time. Inasmuch as power is determined by the outcome of a game, one does not win by being powerful; one wins to be powerful. If one has sufficient power to win before the game has begun, what follows is not a game at all. One can be powerful only through the possession of an acknowledged title—that is, only by the ceremonial deference of others. Power is never one’s own, and in that respect it shows the contradiction inherent in all finite play. I can be powerful only by not playing, by showing that the game is over. I can therefore have only what powers others give me. Power is bestowed by an audience after the play is complete.

  • Power is contradictory, and theatrical.

  • It may seem implausible to claim that power is a matter of deference to titles. If anything appears to be a permanent feature of reality it is power—the constant impingement on us of superior forces both without and within. Everything from changes in the weather and acts of national governments to the irresistible push of instinct and the process of aging seems to confirm us as helpless creatures of circumstance—and to that degree powerless. It seems plainly false to say that power is theatrical. And yet, the theatrical nature of power seems to be consistent with the principle arrived at earlier: Whoever must play cannot play. The intuitive idea in that principle is that no one can engage us competitively unless we fully cooperate, unless we join the game and join it to win. Because power is measurable only in comparative—that is, competitive—terms, it presupposes some kind of cooperation. If we defer to titled winners, it is only because we regard ourselves as losers. To do so is freely to take part in the theater of power. There certainly are acts of government, or acts of nature, or acts of god that far exceed any contravening ability of our own, but it is unlikely that we would consider ourselves losers in relation to them. We are not defeated by floods or genetic disease or the rate of inflation. It is true that these are real, but we do not play against reality; we play according to reality. We do not eliminate weather or genetic influence but accept them as the realities that establish the context of play, the limits within which we are to play. If I accept death as inevitable, I do not struggle against mortality. I struggle as a mortal.

  • All the limitations of finite play are self-limitations.

  • Power is a feature only of finite games. It is not dramatic but theatrical. How then do infinite players contend with power? Infinite play is always dramatic; its outcome is endlessly open. There is no way of looking back to make a definitive 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. We need a term that will stand in contrast to “power” as it acquires its meaning in finite play. Let us say that where the finite player plays to be powerful the infinite player plays with strength. A powerful person is one who brings the past to an outcome, settling all its unresolved issues. 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 limits. Power will always be restricted to a relatively small number of selected persons. Anyone can be strong. Strength is paradoxical. 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 my play with them.

  • A story attains the status of myth when it is retold, and persistently retold, solely for its own sake. If I tell a story as a way of bracing up an argument or amusing an audience, I am not telling it for its own sake. To tell a story for its own sake is to tell it for no other reason than that it is a story. Great stories have this feature: To listen to them and learn them is to become their narrators. Our first response to hearing a story is the desire to tell it ourselves—the greater the story the greater the desire. We will go to considerable time and inconvenience to arrange a situation for its retelling. It is as though the story is itself seeking the occasion for its recurrence, making use of us as its agents. We do not go out searching for stories for ourselves; it is rather the stories that have found us for themselves. Great stories cannot be observed, any more than an infinite game can have an audience. Once I hear the story I enter into its own dimensionality. I inhabit its space at its time. I do not therefore understand the story in terms of my experience, but my experience in terms of the story. Stories that have the enduring strength of myths reach through experience to touch the genius in each of us. But experience is the result of this generative touch, not its cause. So far is this the case that we can even say that if we cannot tell a story about what happened to us, nothing has happened to us.

  • Infinite players are not serious actors in any story, but the joyful poets of a story that continues to originate what they cannot finish.

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