The essay by anthropologist Clifford Geertz, which first appeared in his best-known book The Interpretation of Cultures, has been published in Russian as a separate work in Garage and Ad Marginem Press’s Minima series.
Deep Play is a study of the Balinese tradition of cockfighting, based on a year of anthropological research conducted by Geertz at the end of the 1950s, when he and his wife lived in Bali, attending the illegal but very popular cockfights and interviewing people involved in them.
Employing the method of thick description (the term introduced by philosopher Gilbert Ryle), Geertz inscribes the phenomenon of cockfighting into a detailed context, envisaging it as a cultural phenomenon that represents a “simulation of social matrix” and reveals the non-obvious hierarchies that pervade the entire society. For example, women and young and socially disadvantaged people are not allowed to attend cockfights, while the main players are the most respected and politically involved members of the community. The actual cockfight is a human competition, delegated to animals, where the winner gets respect and admiration from the others, while money (although Geertz does describe the complex betting system in great detail) is secondary. Just like in the West, the cock in Bali symbolizes masculinity, and the rules of cockfights in every village are passed down through generations along with other legal traditions.
Based on a large pool of observations and interviews, Geertz concludes that the cockfight as a cultural phenomenon offers rich anthropological material for the interpretation of the Balinese society. For the local population, cockfighting is also an instrument of self-analysis and a way of presenting their culture to the outsiders. However, Geertz reminds us, neither winning nor losing in a cockfight can actually change the social status of the participant, remaining but a metaphor of real success of failure.