Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight

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"Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" is an essay included in the book The Interpretation of Cultures by anthropologist Clifford Geertz. Considered the most seminal work of Geertz, the essay addresses the meaning of cockfighting in Balinese culture.

Cockfights were generally illegal in Indonesia when Geertz was doing his fieldwork there in the 1950s. The first cockfight that he and his wife viewed was broken up by the police. The experience of hiding from the police in the courtyard of a local couple allowed Geertz to break the tension between himself and the villagers, and perform all of the interviews and observation which make up The Interpretation of Cultures.

The essay describes how cocks are taken to stand in for powerful men in the villages, and notes that even the double-entendre sense of the word "cock" exists in the Balinese language as much as in English.[1]

The last half of the essay describes the rituals of betting and concludes that the cockfight is the Balinese comment on themselves, as it embodies the network of social relationships in kin and village that govern traditional Balinese life.

The title of the essay is explained as a concept of Jeremy Bentham, who defines "deep play" as a game with stakes so high that no rational person would engage in it. The amounts of money and status involved in the very brief cockfights make Balinese cockfighting "deep play." The problem of explaining why the activity prevails is what Geertz sets out to solve in the essay.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Geertz, Clifford. "Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" in The Interpretation of Cultures, Basic Books, 1973.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Geertz, Clifford. "Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" in The Interpretation of Cultures, Basic Books, 1973.