Visions of Beauty: Lothlorien and the Power of Beauty

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First, one loses oneself in play and to that extent play has its own kind of seriousness.  When one fails to take the game seriously then that player is a “spoilsport.”  It is in playing that the mode of being of play is revealed.

Second, subjective introspection provides no real clue to the meaning of play.  The players are “not the subjects of play, instead play merely reaches presentation through the players.”[9] Play itself is the dominate reality and not the subjective consciousness of the players. The players are not the most important aspect of the phenomenon of play.  Play is realized only as the players enter into the “game.”

Third, it is the very essence of play that it involves a “to-and-fro movement.”[10] It is the “interplay,” the to-and-fro movement, the repetition of give and take, which is central to play and not the individuals who participate.  Here Gadamer is emphasizing the dynamic character of play.  Just as the players often go “back and forth” on a designated playing field during the duration of a game so also the one who would interpret or engage art and beauty must participate in the dynamic of relation.

Fourth, play has its own structure, its own “playing field,” that is governed by a covenant of rules that sets it off from other realities and creates a “closed world.”[11] There is no particular task to be solved or purpose to be accomplished other than playing the game.  Any breech in this “closed world” ends the game, severs the relationship between the play and the player, and serves to confuse the “make-believe goals of the game”[12] with the pragmatic “world of aims.”[13] As one enters the dynamic process of interpretation of and encounter with beauty, the metaphor of play helps us understand the structure of meaning which calls us to participate, to “play along with,” in “purposive rationality.” [14]

Fifth, play as self-representation is potentially for others.  In the totality of play both the players and the audience are included.  This is particularly true in drama and religious rite or festival.[15] Neither is complete without the presence of the audience who participates in the meaning and totality of the drama or religious rite.[16]

The phenomenon of play and its range of features is the first concept explored by Gadamer as he seeks to understand the nature of the beautiful.  This concept can be very helpful in the effort to reclaim the truth value of art as a representation of historical existence in its totality, and not as a separable, ideal realm outside of the lived-world of reality.  The truth represented and disclosed in art is found only in full participation in the play of the art.


Symbol is the second concept employed by Gadamer in his effort to re-assert the essential relevance of the beautiful.  Gadamer’s analysis of symbol provides a complex tapestry of inter-woven elements.  First, he argues that the original meaning of the term refers to remembrance.[17] It is a remembrance of a “whole” now fragmented to which the “symbol” points.  He writes, “…the symbol is that other fragment that has always been sought in order to complete and make whole our own fragmentary life.”[18] This occurs in such a way that “…the experience of the beautiful, and particularly the beautiful in art, is the invocation of a potentially whole and holy order of things, wherever it may be found.”[19]

Gadamer clarifies his understanding by arguing that his position is not a re-statement of a Hegelian idealism in which the particular is lost in an abstract totality but rather: he proposes

…that the symbolic in general, and especially the symbolic in art, rests upon an intricate interplay of showing and concealing.  In its irreplaceability, the   work of art is no mere bearer of meaning – as if the meaning could be transferred to another bearer.  Rather the meaning of the work lies in the fact that it is there.  In order therefore to avoid all false connotations, we should replace the word “work” by the word “creation.[20]

It is in this sense that Gadamer can write that, “[T]he symbolic does not simply point toward a meaning, but rather allows that meaning to present itself.”[21] It is in and through the art itself, in its embodiment, that the beautiful is manifested in the dynamic of “showing and concealing” which allows art to be seen as a symbol by those who enter its “community” and “play.”


The communal reality is further emphasized by Gadamer as he speaks of festival.  Festival is “an experience of community and represents community in its most perfect form.”[22] Briefly, a festival is marked by several qualities:  “it is an intentional activity” and it has a unique temporal quality as “fulfilled” time.[23] This understanding of time is to be distinguished from the usual notion of duration or of time as “empty” and needing to be filled.  In this sense, Gadamer’s understanding of “fulfilled” or “autonomous” time is analogous to the New Testament notion of “kairos.”