You may recall that the Grasshopper has two disciples with speaking parts: Prudence and Skepticus. While Prudence has been the primary interlocutor in chapter 1, we begin today with an objection from Skepticus.
The Grasshopper had just argued that leisure was the purpose of work, and thus the ants were missing the entire point of their busy way of life (pp. 8-9).
But Skepticus says that everyone already knows that work’s value derives from the the fact that it “permits us to play.” Our refusal to become grasshoppers is not due to ignorance; it’s a deliberate choice. We seek “some kind of balance between work input and play output.” We want to be a blend of ant and grasshopper (p. 9).
Yer a Grasshopper, Harry
Instead of accepting this compromise, however, the Grashopper doubles down. It’s irrelevant what people want to be, because everyone already is a grasshopper (p. 9)
Then, rather than offering an argument in favor of this claim, the Grashopper recounts a nightmare he occasionally has. In the dream, the Grashopper discovers that “[w]hatever occupation or activity you can think of, it is in reality a game.” But when the Grasshopper convinces people in the dream that everything they do is a game, they disappear from existence (p. 10).
Before anyone can ask him what in the world he’s talking about, however, the Grasshopper dies.
The Dream Puzzle
That is how chapter 1 of Bernard Suits’s The Grasshopper: Games Life and Utopia ends. But it won’t be the last we hear of the Grasshopper.
In the meantime, Skepticus opens chapter 2 by visiting Prudence the following day. He thinks there’s a “puzzle” regarding the Grasshopper’s dream that they need to solve (p. 14). Specifically, Skepticus wants to know why the people in the dream were “playing games instead of the trombone” (p. 15).
They had been contrasting work and play in terms of extrinsic and intrinsic value. Anything you do because you are trying to get something other than the activity itself counts as work. Anything you do because doing that activity is worth doing in and of itself counts as play (p. 15)
And playing games, for the most part, counts as a kind of play (using this definition). But so does playing music, or “collecting stamps,” or “reading a novel.” There are a wide range of activities that people find worth doing “in themselves” rather than “for something else.”
So, Skepticus is confused about why the Grasshopper would dream that the type of play in which everyone is “unconscious[ly]” (p. 14) engaged is the playing of games (pp. 15-16). That is, why should the point of life be games, rather than the entire range of “things which are valuable in themselves” (p. 16)?
Onward to Games
The answer, Skepticus hopes, is to be found in the conversations he had had with the Grasshopper over the summer months. Specifically, he and the Grasshopper had debated the Grasshopper’s “definition of games or, to be more precise, [his definition] of games playing” (p. 17).
Next time, therefore, we will turn to chapter 3, where Skepticus recounts those debates.