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Random Riches - Peter SCHNYDER

Heterotopias of Chance. Gambling and Subjectivity around 1800

In my contribution I will develop the analytical potential of Michel Foucault’s concept of “heterotopias” for a closer look at gambling. My approach is twofold: on an abstract level, the realm of gambling can be seen as a realm of the other within culture. On a concrete level, the particular spaces where gambling takes place – for example the ‚tripots’ or the casinos – can be described as heterotopias.

 

More specifically my aim is to show, how gambling in the 18th century can be conceptualized as a realm of the other, in which the general cultural attitude towards chance is (critically) mirrored; how it can be conceptualized as a heterotopia of chance. And the question of the attitude towards chance is, especially in the context of „classical probability“ as seen by Lorraine Daston, closely linked to the question of subjectivity. Looking at the gambler one can observe in the clearly demarcated area of the game, as if under laboratory conditions, how a subject behaves when confronted with contingency in „the twilight of probability“ (John Locke). Therefore it is no coincidence that Leibniz emphasized already at the beginning of the 18th century that one should study thoroughly the games of chance and the gamblers.

 

Thus the heterotopia of gambling is a particularly interesting space in which questions of chance and subjectivity are (critically) mirrored. In my paper I would like to introduce three variants of dealing with this space in the late 18th century. Firstly a mathematical one by discussing Georg Christoph Lichtenberg’s inaugural lecture of 1770 on the St. Petersburg Paradox. Secondly a psychological or anthropological one by having a quick look at Jean-Joseph Dusaulx’ De la Passion du Jeu (1779). And thirdly, a literary variant by focusing on Ludwig Tieck’s William Lovell (1795/96). In this manner the (abstract) field and the (concrete) places of gambling in the 18th century should become legible simultaneously as heterotopias of chance and heterotopias of subjectivity.

Peter SCHNYDER
is Professor of Modern German Literature at the University of Neuchâtel. His best known work is “Alea. Zählen und Erzählen im Zeichen des Glücksspiels 1650–1850”.