The Ludic Gesture

Welcome to the realm of the Ludic.

Let’s begin with some simple definitions:

Ludic: (adj.) characterized by play, often aimless, spontaneous, or non-directed.

Gesture: (n.) a brief, singular movement (usually of, but not strictly limited to, the body) expressive of a thought, emotion, physical state, or cultural norm.
(v.) to make such a movement, be it with a body, a pencil, a brush, a camera, an edit, a bit of writing, etc.

As an artist with a basis in drawing and filmmaking, the word “gesture” is significant to me in many ways and on many levels. The “gesture drawing” is a basic form of figure drawing, one that involves heightening one’s instincts. Typically deployed as a warming up technique, the gesture drawing embodies the ludic ideal. With regards to filmmaking, it has been suggested (by Agamben and others) that the basic unit of cinema is not the image, but the gesture. Elaborations on this to come at a later date.

A “ludic gesture” is a gesture characterized by playfulness. In What Animals Teach Us about Politics, Brian Massumi explores this idea very closely in his development of the concept of “animal politics.” This is a politics that places the human on the continuum of the animal (the human animal) and expounds upon links between what we tend to think of as “human activities” (language, creativity) and finds the roots of these in our animal heritage. Of the utmost to animal politics is the “included middle” – that is the common space in between what is “human” and what is “animal.”

The ludic gesture always creates an excess of some kind, a surplus value that may be thought of as style, ornamentation, a flourish. In evolution, this is similar to a mutation. It is in the act of play that we create novelty. This novelty then passes into regular use, into that which we take for granted in the world. There’s a way of looking at history through the lens of big ideas, and there’s a way of looking at history as a series of accidents. The ludic ideal reminds us that big ideas often come from accidents.

The ludic gesture stands in for a way of interacting with the world. It is not dismissive of the fact that life-and-death situations do exist daily in all realms of life. The ludic is not an escape from that seriousness either. The ludic gesture, in its non-seriousness, reinforces the seriousness of actual seriousness. The ludic is not a means to dismiss the seriousness, it is a way of interacting with that seriousness, it is a way of staying ahead of that seriousness. Whatever on’s work is – art, design, accounting, politics, whatever – there must always be space for the ludic. Conversely, the ludic is a way of understanding the importance of that which we throw away. There is no glance too glancey, no slight too slight to go truly unmarked. At each moment we are contributing to the becoming-of-the-world. A great responsibility, yes, but one in which there is much joy to be found.

Ludic – it’s the cure for the ironic.©

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