Peter Hutchinson: Games Authors Play; Methuen; New York.

During a conversation with Jorge Luis Borges at the Ingersoll Prizes ceremony in Chicago last December, we were informed that, in his estimation, “Literature is supposed to be enjoyed.” He added, “It is fun, is it not?” There was what can only be described as a whimsical look on his face when he uttered that rhetorical formulation. Many person, when confronted with Literature, tend to drag on long faces. It becomes something to be endured, suffered, or otherwise undertaken. Perhaps this response stems from the fact that most encounter Literature as a subject, something taught in realms that are more often Gradgrindian than not. Consequently, the would-be reader cowers, quails, screws his courage to you-know-where, or turns on the TV. Part of this reaction can be ascribed to the history of English Literature as a bona fide Subject: when Eng. lit. courses were established in the late 19th century, they were justified on the basis of High Seriousness; talk of games was restricted to bowling greens, and even there the discourse had little to do with anything that can be loosely defined as “fun.” Many creators of Literature–Thomas Nashe, Shakespeare, Donne, Sterne, Wilde, Joyce, Nabokov, Borges–have a sense of “play,” and throughout their works they, indeed, “play games” with their readers through the use of allegory, allusion, parody, puns, red herrings, and various and sundry other devices. Academics tend to handle the works as if they are archaeological relics that are ready to disintegrate and which will do so if not approached in the proper, respectable manner; it’s a sourpuss (not a Cheshire cat) they resemble as they advance crab-like toward the Light (Sweetness causes tooth decay, don’t you know [to borrow a flourish from Sayer’s Sir Peter]). 

Dr. Hutchinson, as his title may connote, is a serious man. Yet he undoubtedly cracks a smile every now and then. The title Games Authors Play alludes to Eric Berne’s 1964 Games People Play and not to, as some wag might point out, Joe South’s 1960 jukebox hit with Berne’s title. The existience of things like Mr. South’s record points out that one had better be prepared to apply a little bit of serious discrimination when it comes to chasing down literary hares. Dr. Hutchinson provides some apt instructions.