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More Lichtenbergian Distractions: the outline game

The struggling, infighting, name calling, and outright legerdemain which is taking place right now on the official Lichtenbergian web site has me tired and somewhat frightened. As a break from a nasty fracas, I thought I’d offer here, in among peaceful–very quiet–lacunagroup hills, another distraction away from all the bickering.

I was going to introduce The Outline Game by making reference to Herman Hesse’s novel Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game, but after stumbling over this, I don’t want to say too much and be accused of trying to make some sad little addition to an already imposing wealth of mumbo-jumbo. I’ll merely say I was inspired in my adolescence, after reading Hesse’s novel, to conceive of this game. Not able to recruit players, I soon forgot about it, but I was recently reminded of it while reading a description of the ancient Eastern strategy game Go (another perfectly acceptable Lichtenbergian distraction, by the way). The passage touched on the “cosmic” implications of the game, and I wondered if Hesse was inspired in part by Go when he wrote The Glass Bead Game. I then remembered the game Hesse’s novel inspired me to envision back in the Seventies, and that led to something of an epiphany. Back in the Seventies, the game would have been very difficult to chart, elaborate and preserve with nothing but pencil and paper; but now, computer layout software should make it relatively easy to play. And I also realized that it could be the Lichtenbergian pastime, par excellence. It’s a creative undertaking, a form of poetic composition, masquerading as a kind of encyclopaedic gathering-in of knowledge in true Enlightenment fashion. No single participating player has to bear the burden of The Whole, however, so its vaulting ambition is quite easy to bear.

The game is for any number of players and the object is to create an outline for some imaginary topic. The outline itself becomes the work of imagination inspired by the fanciful topic. The topic could announce it’s fanciful nature: A Tour in Autumnal Twilight or The Thoughts of Five Silent Stones or The Cheese Ambulance, etc. Or the topic might not betray a whiff of fancy: Shrubs of West Central Georgia or The Facts About Adoption or Bass Fishing. The players are to elaborate an imaginative outline for the topic, mingling knowledge and whimsy, until the result reads like a kind of poem. As we speak, Dale is finding the best computer software to use to develop an outline in the manner the game requires. Stay tuned. I’ll update this post with a possible link to our playing area, etc.
To give you some idea how the game unfolds, here’s the nuts and bolts description I sent to Dale:


A Topic or Subject or Title is chosen, pertaining to materials natural or fanciful or a little of both. Players set about creating an “outline” for this theme, subject, topic, or title by offering various headings, sub-headings, and other embedded delineations. The group as a whole decides when the outline is complete. The outline is to be read as a creative expression, so choice of headings and sub-headings and so on is the meat of it.

Start by proposing some headings numbered with roman numerals. If there is a I there must be at least a II. (This rule applies at all levels of headings.) If someone proposes a IV first thing (why not?), there must also ultimately be a I, II, and III. (This, too, applies at all levels.) Further numbering is a choice; though, again, if someone skips forward and introduces an X, then V, VI, VII, VIII, and IX must also be produced. (Applies at all levels.) Roman numeral headings can then be added at any time, as can any sub-heading, etc.

Once you have a roman numeral heading, you can choose to embed capital letter sub-headings. If someone proposes an A, however, there must be also at least a B. From there it’s up to the group, above restrictions and rules applying, as to how many sub-headings to include for a heading. You might also, as a whimsical challenge to the group, start a sub-heading by choosing an E and expect A through D to be supplied subsequently. Once you have a sub-heading you can choose to move to ordinal numbers embedded within: with a 1 and 2, at least, by the time of completion, but ultimately as many as the group wishes. Then of course lower case letters: a, b, then c, d, etc. After that you could go to lower case roman numerals, I suppose, and we could formulate further conventions. As with the Hindu conception of the cosmos, at a certain point it’s elephants all the way down. No heading need have further sub-delineations, of course

The game would be most rewarding if players could view the whole outline as it’s developing and then easily insert either titles or further embedded headings as they see fit.

I am now jotting down a date in February and a time. Players should send topic suggestions by way of comments to this post. The topic which is timed and dated closest to the time and date I’ve just jotted down will be the first one we go with.

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