Thursday, April 28, 2005

Chess and Madness - yet again!

Back in the early days of this blog I covered the topic of chess and madness repeatedly (see here, here, here and here). Now, TIME Magazine's Charles Krauthammer (whose chess exploits have been previously mentioned) takes on the topic:
Why such proximity between genius and madness in chess? There are three possible explanations. One is that chess is a monomania. You study it intensively day and night from childhood if you are going to rise to the ranks of the greats, and that kind of singular focus constricts your reality and makes you more vulnerable to distortions of it. "A chess genius," wrote George Steiner, "is a human being who focuses vast, little understood mental gifts and labors on an ultimately trivial human enterprise. Almost inevitably, this focus produces pathological symptoms of nervous stress and unreality."

.... Chess is a particularly enclosed, self-referential activity. It's not just that it lacks the fresh air of sport, but that it lacks connections to the real world outside--a tether to reality enjoyed by the monomaniacal students of other things, say, volcanic ash or the mating habits of the tsetse fly. As Stefan Zweig put it in his classic novella The Royal Game, chess is "thought that leads nowhere, mathematics that add up to nothing, art without an end product, architecture without substance."

But chess has a third--and unique--characteristic that is particularly fatal. It is not just monomaniacal and abstract, but its arena is a playing field on which the other guy really is after you. The essence of the game is constant struggle against an adversary who, by whatever means of deception and disguise, is entirely, relentlessly, unfailingly dedicated to your destruction. It is only a board, but it is a field of dreams for paranoia.
Hat Tip: Neh.

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