Decades ago I read a book about Marcel Duchamp:
Although interesting I must admit to being somewhat disappointed because there is little Chess contained in the book. I was fascinated because Marcel renounced art for Chess. When it comes to Duchamp most Chess players will immediately think about the iconic photograph of Marcel playing Chess with a nude woman, Eve Babitz. Although similar, this is mot the picture to which I refer:
Eve has published a new book:
I prefer the cover of her earlier book:
Marcel Duchamp’s Problem
“There are those moments when you’re aware that your human programming is a little defective. You become acquainted with the possibility that you’ve been designed to pursue insane commitments directly opposed to your survival. In these moments, when you feel like you need to call God on His private line and demand a refund for what He personally placed in you cranial cavity, it’s sometimes reassuring to remember that you’re probably not alone.”
“Given the number of people who have lived and died, there’s usually someone, alive or otherwise, whose faults resemble your own. For this reason, I often seek consolation in the story of Marcel Duchamp,
a man whose chess problem was a lot like mine, but dialed up to an implausible intensity.”
“You probably know Duchamp’s work, or have at least heard of him. Duchamp is considered one of the most important artists of the twentieth century, a reputation he established by infuriating people.”
“Duchamp is both loved and loathed – celebrated as the man who freed artists from their old constraints, and vilified by the people who thought those constraints were a good idea.”
Duchamp, my man!
In a 1952 interview with Time magazine, he said, “It (Chess) has all the beauty of art – and much more. It cannot be commercialized. Chess is much purer than art in its social position.”
That was, two years after I was born, and this is now. In a futile attempt to commercialize the Royal game it has been besmirched and whatever purity Chess had has been replaced by greed so it’s position in society has been sullied. After informing someone you played Chess back in the day the response more often than not was, “You must be smart.” Now the reply is often a one word question, “Why?”
“But in chess, of course, there is no pageantry – none of the pompousness that Duchamp’s work tried to skewer. One can’t speculate about whether a chess move is honest or dishonest. Chess can’t be pretentious, or self serious. It’s just not that kind of thing. It’s simpler than all of that. It is what it is.”
What is it? Chess is a game. Nothing more; nothing less.
“In the final analysis, Duchamp gave up being one of the great shit-stirrers of the artistic tradition, and ended up being a mild curiosity in the history of chess.”
“I am still a victim of chess,” he (Duchamp) said, in the aforementioned Time magazine interview.
“If you’re a player starting late in life, the most you can be, generally, is third class. Duchamp actually did remarkably well, given the low ceiling of chess achievement available to a late bloomer.”
I can testify to that!
“Moreover, age isn’t the only factor that constrained Duchamp’s success. If that were the sole determinant of chess mastery, then every intelligent player who started young and had a solid work ethic would have a shot at the World Championship. But that’s not the case. That’s really, really not the case. Being great at chess is also a matter of raw talent. Chess is one of those things, like music or math, that certain minds really fuse with. You just have it, or you don’t.”
Our hero returns to Toronto after five months travelling while attempting to find an identity.
“My time away left me with no real insights. My world view was not transformed. Everything was essentially unmodified, including me. While I wasn’t sure what I expected, I was sure that it hadn’t happened.”
Been there and done that…
“The only thing that was different about me was, well, chess. Or, rather, at that point the lack of chess, because I’d sworn to give it up – both to myself and to the few friends who knew about the more tedious details of my existence. After all, life was out there for the taking, and I shouldn’t spend all my time getting checkmated. But there was a cavity in my head where all the churning about the Poisoned Pawn Variation of the Winawer French Defense used to be. Without the activation of that specific part of my brain, I felt weak and watery.”
I’ve had the exact feeling, often when in time pressure. Now there is no time pressure because time is added. Chess was better before time began to be added.
“Everything non-chess-related seemed silly.”
Are you thinking that if the man just gives it a little time he will drop the “non?”
“Once I had inhabited the realm of chess, full of violence and aesthetic beauty, but also replete with the restfulness of unambiguous actuality, my previous life was unappealing. When you quit chess, or try to, you don’t just leave a game behind. You leave a world behind. It’s painful. All I did was get drunk and circulate, inhabiting vague mental states in barrooms and living rooms. And on one of these nights
I came home a little more drunk than usual and fired up a little blitz game. The next morning, having realized that I’d played chess the night before, I told myself that a slip isn’t the same as a relapse, and I solemnly renewed my vow to never again move a single pawn. Six hours later I was in full relapse – a week disappeared into a long session of unsatisfying blitz. Following this, I tried again, this time installing software that prevented me from accessing chess websites. A few days later, I came home drunk again and uninstalled the software. Another clump of days evaporated. Finally, it got so bad that I told myself I’d trade one addition for another – I’d take up smoking again, which I had quit during my last month in Bangkok, in exchange for not playing chess. This is how I became a chain-smoking chess player.”