Armstrong 2K – Paul B. Armstrong, Professor of English and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Winter 2000, “The Politics of Play: The Social Implications of Iser's Aesthetic Theory,” New Literary History, Vol. 31, No. 1, p. 211-223
*aleatory = depending on luck, i.e. the throw of a die
Such a play-space also opposes the notion that the only alternative to the coerciveness of consensus must be to advocate the sublime powers of rule-breaking.8 Iser shares Lyotard’s concern that to privilege harmony and agreement in a world of heterogeneous language games is to limit their play and to inhibit semantic innovation and the creation of new games. Lyotard’s endorsement of the “sublime”—the pursuit of the “unpresentable” by rebelling against restrictions, defying norms, and smashing the limits of existing paradigms—is undermined by contradictions, however, which Iser’s explication of play recognizes and addresses. The paradox of the unpresentable, as Lyotard acknowledges, is that it can only be manifested through a game of representation. The sublime is, consequently, in Iser’s sense, an instance of doubling. If violating norms creates new games, this crossing of boundaries depends on and carries in its wake the conventions and structures it oversteps. The sublime may be uncompromising, asocial, and unwilling to be bound by limits, but its pursuit of what is not contained in any order or system makes it dependent on the forms it opposes. ¶ The radical presumption of the sublime is not only terroristic in refusing to recognize the claims of other games whose rules it declines to limit itself by. It is also naive and self-destructive in itsimpossible imagining that it can do without the others it opposes. As a structure of doubling, the sublime pursuit of the unpresentable requires a play-space that includes other, less radical games with which it can interact. Such conditions of exchange would be provided by the nonconsensual reciprocity of Iserian play. ¶ Iser’s notion of play offers a way of conceptualizing power which acknowledges the necessityand force of disciplinary constraints without seeing them as unequivocally coerciveand determining. The contradictory combination of restriction and openness in how play deploys power is evident in Iser’s analysis of “regulatory” and “aleatory” rules. Even the regulatory rules, which set down the conditions participants submit to in order to play a game, “permit a certain range of combinationswhile also establishing a code of possible play. . . . Sincethese rules limit the text game without producing it, they are regulatory but not prescriptive. They do no more than set the aleatory in motion, and the aleatory rule differs from the regulatory in that it has no code of its own” (FI 273). Submitting to the discipline of regulatory restrictions is both constraining and enabling because it makes possible certain kinds of interaction that the rules cannot completely predict or prescribe in advance. Hencethe existence of aleatory rules that are not codified as part of the game itself but are the variable customs, procedures, and practices for playing it. Expert facility with aleatory rules marks the difference, for example, between someone who just knows the rules of a game and another who really knows how to play it. Aleatory rules are more flexible and openended and more susceptible to variation than regulatory rules, but they too are characterized by a contradictory combination of constraint and possibility, limitation and unpredictability, discipline and spontaneity.
Limits are inevitable. Only applying them for explicable reasons applies creative potential and gives meaning to freedom