Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Notes on Notes on a Cockfight

AnotherAbby's picture

After reading Clifford Geertz’s Deep Play: Notes on a Balinese Cockfight, I feel that Ackerman and Geertz have presented me with two separate views on what deep play is or could be. Geertz, an anthropologist, sees deep play within the people of Bali in their cockfighting culture. For a good amount of the piece, Geertz builds up just how strongly these men identify with and care for their cocks (a double entendre that, yes, does occur in both languages). After reading Ackerman’s definitions on deep play and her interpretation of deep play experiences, I was ready for Geertz’s writing to culminate with the relationship between the Balinese men and the fighting cocks as his example of deep play. However, the narrative went elsewhere, instead focusing on the betting processes for the cockfights. Geertz talks about how when the stakes on a bet are ridiculous, when any rational man would and should turn his head and save his money, Balinese men continue to bet, putting their faith, pride, and place in the social hierarchy before their logical reason. The deep play that Geertz describes happens more or less according to the rules of a system—in fact, it is the system that facilitates the deep play—whereas Ackerman’s deep play occurs outside any system. Ackerman also has intense moments when she feels deep play occurring, and seeks out those experiences, while the situation Geertz describes depicts the men as more or less oblivious to the fact that they are participating in deep play. For Geertz, deep play seems to be the little voice inside of someone that eggs them on past all reason, but this voice has solid groundings in who that person is within their society, or whatever else of their background is necessary for the moment. Geertz’s portrayal of deep play in general is much more narrow than Ackerman’s; to the point where if I had read the two pieces separately, without any background whatsoever, I’m unsure as to whether or not I would have been able to figure out that they were on the same topic.

Overall, I think both pieces interpret deep play very differently, and present different points of view in regards to how deep play is carried out in life.  I don’t feel that I can judge whether or not one author approaches the topic more faithfully to Bentham’s ideas without reading Bentham’s original concept (an idea woth exploring), but I can say that while I don’t think I’ve had one of Diane Ackerman’s experiences with deep play, I could potentially have been a part of one of Geertz’s. But I still don't know if I'm buying it.