As part of Kings College London’s brilliant Arts and Humanities Festival whose subject this year is Play, I was lucky enough to attend an excellent panel on the topic of Playing and Reality: Winnicott, Creativity and Play. Does contemplating what exactly constitutes play count itself as play? I certainly hope so. Especially when it is approached in as playful a way as this discussion was.
First up was Brett Kahr from the Tavistock Clinic (a world-leading centre for psychotherapy and its training, here in London). He shared some wonderful stories about DW Winnicott – himself a psychotherapist, and the main topic for the panel discussion – and his off-beat approach to life. For example, he could apparently be seen cycling down Haverstock Hill to his clinic rooms with not just his hands, but also his feet on the handlebars! I found myself really warming to this man who was being portrayed!
Next up we heard from novellist Deborah Levy, whose latest novel, Hot Milk, has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She is fascinated by Winnicott and his work, and explained that he asks the immortal key question: “What is there to live for?” Her novel sounds fascinating, and I loved her approach to introducing us to the work, at once terrified of spoilers and eager to give us a peak into the world she has created.
Finally we heard from Olivier Castel, an installation artist whose works while varied all seem to invite its audience to take another look at a location or situation that they might otherwise pass by without really paying attention.
I was lucky enough to get the chance to ask a question of this distinguished panel. I asked about a conception, that seemed to run through each of the panellist’s contributions, of some people seeing play activities as ‘silly’, while the participants are clearly happy to give them their focus. Does there always have to be someone looking on to see play as trivial?, I asked. It fell to Deborah Levy to reply, with her elegant succinctness: ‘You have to watch the quiet ones!’
To my patients, who have paid to teach me – book dedication by DW Winnicott
Ease of play: 7/10
Resemblance to play: 2/10
Aggression: Low-to-Medium (some debate was acceptable!)
Potential frequency of play: Low