How is literature playful, and how does literary playfulness relate to the experience of play that is embedded in everyday life and across different cultures? By considering comparatively a broad selection of literary texts ranging from antiquity to contemporary times, we examine diverse themes and strategies relating to play. These include the humorous and ironic eroticism in Ovid's ars amatoria, masquerade and transvestism in Chinese poetry, language games and 'nonsense' writing in Lewis Carroll, Dada collages and Surrealist automatic writing, postwar Oulipo writers' formal experimentation, the integration of games such as chess and riddles in literary creation, and contemporary digital texts and conceptual artworks that provide a gaming experience to their audience. We will read these texts with specific questions about ludic writing techniques and the reader's experience of ludic literature in mind.
Throughout the module we will consider different notions and forms of play: as the negation of work, free and spontaneous action, technical games with rules, ritualistic spectacle, theatrical role-playing, or a mode of aesthetic experience. Drawing upon key theories about play and games offered by thinkers such as Huizinga, Caillois, and Bateson to articulate the different aspects of playful literature, we will also explore how the question of play provides a conceptual framework for comparison across different cultures and historical periods. Students will also gain insight into contemporary debates about playful participatory modes of literary production, gaming culture, and the exercise of one's creativity and imagination when navigating through a plethora of information and resources in daily life.
Total Contact Hours: 20
Method of assessment
Essay (2,500 words) – 80%
Presentation (15 minutes) – 20%
Any edition of the following:
Wen Zhenheng, On Superfluous Things (1620-27)
Diderot, The Nun (1796)
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass (1871)
Max Ernst, The Hundred Headless Woman (1929)
Vladimir Nabokov, The Luzhin Defense (1964)
Georges Perec, Life a user's manual (1978) (extracts)
computer gaming programme AlphaGo/Deep Mind
Ai Weiwei, Hansel and Gretel (artwork, 2017)
See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
- Identify and gain a deep critical understanding of literary stylistics, strategies, themes and modes of literary production that engage with the notions of play and game;
- Demonstrate a broad theoretical understanding of the ideas of play, games, leisure, recreation, and how different writers and thinkers have articulated them;
- Engage thematically and comparatively with a broad range of literary texts from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds and in a broad chronological scope;
- Employ diverse theories and methods for literary analysis of literary production that engage with the notions of play and game;
- Demonstrate a broad understanding of the relation between literature, aesthetics, and culture;
- Relate literature to contemporary views and debates about play and work, game culture, artistic creativity, and cultural differences.
Back to top
- ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
- The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
University of Kent makes every effort to ensure that module information is accurate for the relevant academic session and to provide educational services as described. However, courses, services and other matters may be subject to change. Please read our full disclaimer.