Playing with Hofstadter

Dec 15, 10 Playing with Hofstadter

The great U.S. historian Richard Hofstadter on play and the intellectual:

[The intellectual] may live for ideas, as I have said, but something must prevent him from living for one idea, from becoming obsessive or grotesque. … Piety, then, needs a counterpoise, something to prevent it from being exercised in an excessively rigid way; and this it has, in most intellectual temperaments, in the quality I would call playfulness. We speak of the play of the mind; and certainly the intellectual relishes the play of the mind for its own sake, and finds in it one of the major values in life. … “Man is perfectly human,” said Schiller, “only when he plays.”

And later in that chapter:

One may well ask if there is not a certain fatal contradiction between these two qualities of the intellectual temperament, playfulness and piety. Certainly there is a tension between them, but it is anything but fatal. … Contemplate the intellectuals of the past or those in one’s neighborhood: some will come to mind in whom the note of playfulness is dominant; others who are conspicuously pious. But in most intellectuals each of these characteristics is qualified and held in check by the other. The tensile strength of the thinker may be gauged by his ability to keep an equipoise between these two sides of his mind.

–Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, 1963.

Happy holidays, everybody! Keep an equipoise between the two sides of your tensile minds.

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