The Moves That Matter Finale: The Tragedy of Chess

Jonathan writes, “Intellectual beauty is the lifeblood of chess rather than something that occurs as a one-off historic event. World-class games are replayed thousands of times to open-jawed amazement. But there are beautiful ideas permeating otherwise unremarkable games between players of all abilities. What makes the beauty of chess ideas not merely interesting, but also important, is that beauty and truth are so closely intertwined. If an idea does not ‘work’ it might be impressive, or even aesthetically appealing, but it can’t really be beautiful. The perception of intellectual truth and beauty, in chess at least, is not relative to the subjective intent of the players, but to aesthetic qualities of the ideas that feel more objective.”

“The tragedy of chess is that many use it to make themselves real and add depth and definition to their lives, but the game is not ultimately fit for this purpose. However culturally resonant it may be, it remains a game within the game of life, not the game of life itself.”

“Chess is not a waste of time, but time is scarce and there is more to life than chess.”

“Many of those who love the cultural contours that have surrounded the game for decades sense that its meaning and mystery and majesty is slowly ebbing away.”

“This book is a personal story, an expert guide to the chess world, and a philosophy of life in general.”

“What chess taught me, through contrasting the intense drama of the game with the relative monotony of life, is that beyond pleasure, purpose and even meaning, we have deep need to make ourselves feel real.”

“The sublest and most enduring gift that chess gave me is the awareness that we can feel gratitude for life regardless of the happiness it offers at any given moment.”

“On reflection, while one of many reasons to write this book was to share my deep love of chess, another was atonement. My chess career was characterised by significant success that fell short of complete fulfillment. Ever since I started a professional life outside of chess I wanted to finish this book to be at peace with the relationship between my past and my future.”

“I miss many things about playing chess regularly and seriously. I miss believing that each move in each game really matters, I miss the sense of strength and power and dignity that comes with playing well. I miss the felt sense of honour and self-overcoming when you make better decisions because you have learned your lessons well. I miss the clarity of purpose experienced at each moment of each game, the lucky escape from defeat and the thrill of the chase towards victory. And yet, I like what has become possible because I am no longer living through and for the game. I feel liberated from the centripetal pull of chess; it is easier now for my thoughts and feeling to move outwards rather than inwards.”

“Other people play the game of chess, and I feel like one of them now, as if the part of me that plays chess is an autonomous region of my psyche, rather than the sovereign part of my identity. My mind is still charmed by the game, but my soul feels free of it.”

Jonathan writes, “I prefer to end with the disarming thoughts of the fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafiz:

Tripping Over Joy

What is the difference
Between your experience of Existence
And that of a saint?

The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God

And that the Beloved
Has just made such a Fantastic Move
That the saint is now continually

Tripping over Joy
And bursting out in Laughter
And saying, ‘I Surrender!’

Whereas, my dear, I am afraid
you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.

This is the end of the ongoing review. I hope each of you who have read this review obtain the book. Although I have written extensively about the book the fact is that what was written is only the tip of an iceberg. This is one of, if not the most beautiful book about Chess I have had the good fortune to read. Much time has been spent thinking about the ideas contained in the wonderful book. Everyone who reads this book will profit from so doing.

Shifting the social imaginary | Blog by Jonathan Rowson

Jonathan Rowson — Integrating Our Souls, Systems, and Society

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