Albrecht Dürer. Melencolia I circa 1514. The National Gallery, Rosenwald Collection.
Man dwells on secrets, inhabits in secrets. Sometime during the last century the great German philosopher Peter Sloterdyk referred to man as a “discoverer of horizons”. Homo Erectus developed the extraordinary sense of anticipation as soon as he could observe, watch from a distance, managed to create a skill that would define his own nature. Man had an advantage over other predators and competitors. Anticipation brings about another skill namely that of disguise. However, the sense of anticipation as it evolves, transforms, gains in depth creates also or better said, establishes a meaning of time, man began to consider movement towards or direction becomes not only a physical point but a more complex initial experience of “what-is-to-come”. Anticipation generates expectation. Seeing and seeking for the unexpected not in the meaning of self-preservation which might surely manifests as a primordial instinct but in the form of planning. We are at the onset, to use the sadly forgotten language of the great French thinker, Pierre Theilard de Chardin s.i., “ascension of consciousness begins”, mankind’s relationships with the invisible – that which is not yet – starts its complicated walking together, companionship of man’s long journey into the unknown. Reviling that which is not yet carries also the first experiences of that-which-is-unknown in the form the unconcealment of newly acquired forms of knowledge, consciousness begins its constant and permanent relation with the unveiling of the new and at the same time set up the creation of disguise and secrets. The process of acquisition of secrets or in a more pregnant sense, the creation of secretes places man at the core of the leaving constantly with the invisible, that which is hidden and most remain hidden, secrets spring into the ontological level as a form or way to deal with the invisible as unknown, undiscovered and totally different.
Secrets and symbols are ontologically enfettered. Entrenched from the very same origin. When man uttered the first secret or felt the need and drive to hide, when the invisible became real and hard, present and menacing, secrets emerged. The need to hide is the ontological manifestation of an irruption into the realm of the unknown. Man not only watches, observes also develops the sense of an existential threat that comes from the darkness of the unexplained and that lurks from all angels of everydayness and engenders constant menaces to the very existence to mere being-in-the-world. Is a fundamental terror that which triggers and jump-start the domain of secrets, the need to secrecy. Symbols become the language of the hidden and invisible. Secrets cannot be shared totally and openly because they loose their condition as such, secrets cannot be public, can be partially so and shared within certain codes and private languages exclusively known to those who shared the secrets of its meanings and form a certain common link, that of the holders of the secrets and latter on, the ones that can read through the symbolic configuration of that which is kept and is revealed to the very few keepers of the keys to interpret and read that which remains concealed. Enter the game of secrets.
The recent or not so, notion or idea of play we can find from van Hattinberg, Bergler, Piaget and others, deals principally with the manner and meanings of child play, when Freud addressed the subject he left some remarkable stories recounting his research and observations which he considered to be extremely difficult, let us mention the case of the Little Hans, as an example, there’s ample and extensive psychoanalithical literature regarding the way children play and the outcome of frustration and guilt. Ludopathy. An onto-existential analysis of play and game grounds its origins on a different idea, something very different the notion of passive suffering transformed actively into aggression or rebellion of sorts. Freud’s consideration of loss that we can find on children playing, can be found on one of his most relevant publication referring to the intricate construction that leads from loss to angst and with this a very particular experience with what we called “uncanny” or “sinister” even, translating into English the German word, used also as the title of his famous publication: Das Unheimliche” (1919). The French version of the German word is very intriguing as an effort to grasp its real and deeper meaning, inquietant, that has a remarkable story if we only consider the special relationship between Freud and the Princess Mary Bonaparte who translates into French Freud’s essay and was published under the title L’Inquiétante Étrangeté. Freud considered play as a very significative act not only as an act caught between pleasure and displeasure that also carries the condition of that appears and disappers generation or displaying the angst of return. That which comes back is what causes the intense angst in other words or to use Freuds own terminology – not always properly understood and so difficult to translate – Verdrängung – what lies repressed or dormant takes primary stage once again as the Unheimliche, the uncanny and inquiétant, memory of course is fundamental in this enormously complex process of recovering and suppressing, after all what is unpleasant and painful hurts and causes profound damage, becomes Unheimliche and it can be brought back because it once was very close, intimately close, Heimlich, meaning familiar and close, Heim carries the meaning of “home” too, at least as the root of the word. Repressing doesn’t mean forgetting so therefore the familiarity of the original experience remains ever present. Freud in the quoted work from 1919 invoked the two very well known tales fromE.T.A. Hoffman to illustrate the transit from pleasure to Verdrängung or the suppressed events that trigger the painful original act that engender the so called trauma. Both tales, Der Sandman and Die Elixire des Teufels, exemplify a vast and incredible deep experience of hurt and profound sorrow. Children stories that speak about horror, punishment and specially a radical horrific being in a world of threats and dark menaces that can harm and destroy.
From grieving and severe distress a world of original traumatic events resurfaces in the form of the uncanny, Unheimliche and playing becomes a form of hidden and maintaining secretes that if we follow pshycoanalitical thinking, so starts the process of healing the suffering and reliving the dreadful angst. Eugen Fink wrote an essay about play that gives another horizon to understand and comprehend the meaning of play on his very little known work Oases des Glücks from 1957, has a fascinating subtitle, namely Gedanken zu einer Ontologie des Spiels. Play seen as Spiel, the German word, is considered by Fink as an existential phenomenon essential to the Dasein and posses a masked condition that demands a discovery, almost like building a difficult jigsaw, puzzle, that in its deciphering requires a delicate unveiling of all its masks, is like an art of different levels of polysemic meanings. Two elements here are essential for approaching the existential meaning of play, the mask and the masking firstly, was hidden and remains in the domain of the unknown as the original human experience of the invisible. When play meets secrets the unravelling of all the intricate complexities of human existence begins a very unique a peculiar game. We stated above that man dwells in secrets moreover, devotes his very existence to constructing, building secrets of many different natures at manifold levels. Human interaction appears to be rooted on the ability to establish a wall of secretes before openness and trustworthy and loyal franc interaction might or can be secured. Distrust as a form of self-preservation, self-protection from threat coming from the inevitability of being-in-the-world. What lies underneath this masking as a game of secrets can be found precisely on fear and angst. Vulnerability. The eminence of being hurt by the other, others or by a given state-of-affairs produces the wall building of masking. A second element is the design of jigsaws or puzzles as bricks or components of the wall. Walls need a material to be built, requires the concreteness of a given structure, puzzles are created bit by bit, as masked by pseudo real components, gaming becomes thus entrenched in secrets. That is the nature of the secrecy of secrets. Constant playing and deciphering, dealing with pseudo real elements, masking to cover what remains concealed, the never ending game of secrets is deployed. Jackson Lamb as the ultimate spy and keeper of secrets, unglamorous as such, totally anti-Bond, with a completely neglected physical appearance even hinting to an unpleasant personal hygiene, however posses an extraordinary talent, an incredible mind, capable of playing the game of secrets as a genuine master. Master-spies are the professional gamers, consummated players of the game of secrets and are the keepers of keys to decipher jigsaws, codes and many forms of masking because they are also creators or consummated deceivers. Russians – also masters of these games – have a fascinating word that encompasses multiple levels of meaning, maskirova ( маскировка), probably originated from the game of chess – Russians are notoriously great chess players, we know about so many great champions and masters that battle legendary figures as José Raúl Capablanca y Graupera, the great Cuban master, Bobby Fisher, the extraordinary American master and others, the list is inexhaustible not only with Russian players but so many other nationalities -, maskirova has been developed and applied to the Art of War, translating its meaning is no easy task, once again we are in the middle of a polysemic real. On Lamb’s case it is the art of deceiving the deceiver, anticipation as we quoted above, on the last episode of Slow Horses, when the game is revealed what emerges from the the game of secrets, takes the manifestation of the remarkable skill that Lamb posses to anticipate the deceiver, unmask the maskirova and become one with it and this way consummate the check mate. The extraordinary level at which the game of secrets is played in world of international security and even, politics, nowadays is frankly very scary, however it couldn’t be played without a given disposition existentially present on the very existence of man, what perhaps is the more terrifying moment of the game is none other that is also played at the level of personal and intimate relations. Overcoming the game of secrets is fundamentally for a healed and friendly, open and transparent relationship amongst human persons. An enormous challenge looms in the horizon in order to enter the realm of the light.
Although these are remarks and a broad paint of the in depth complete analysis of the phenomena we call here “game of secrets” the linkage of the process of masking and unmasking, the need to hide and deceive for whatever causes or grounds, most be address following what Derrida called once “the steps of the wolf”; the transit from Homo Erectus as an observer or watcher of horizons to the builder of walls of secrets demands a very careful process of successive steps, therefore if we move accordingly to the wolf, loup to use Jacques Derrida’s wording, we come across different meanings of the word being one precisely mask as a disguise, hiding and concealing. We most also retain Fink’s affirmation that play is a fundamental phenomena of existence and to conclude we refer to the transit of the notion of play to the level where suffering and pleasure dives us into the abyss of personal experiences as the domain where light and darkness, hope and despair collide. The pleasure of play becomes entangled with the reality of suffering and suppression by loving the other we also grant, the other, the power to inflict pain and hurt. The famous engraving from Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia I, chosen to start this text, has been interpreted and studied extensively by important art historians and employed even by writers and novelists more recently, Dan Brown – The Lost Symbol – turned it into part of a plot and his main character, symbolist Robert Langdon, comes up with an elaborate decoding of the symbols on the engraving. Melencolia is the ideal work of art to envision a many-faceted construct around secrets, masks, play and their respective opposites, after all secrets always demand deciphering and unconcealment and Dürer’s engraving not only portraits all of these but also, crucially, points out to a keeper of secrets, essential actor of the game of secrets.