Middle class means, bourgeois tastes, proletarian values

On Chess & Hermeneutics 

In General Contentions on April 20, 2014 at 2:14 am

The first order of business in chess is ensuring that you have the positional advantage, such that your pieces are placed at their optimum positions and your pawns are structured in a manner that is conducive for your strategy. For example, you should not block the diagonals of your bishops, nor should you attempt to place your knights at the edge of the boards. This weakens the range of their attack. The masters will also tell you that, at the most basic, one must exercise control of the center of the board. At the center, pieces are at their most powerful because their range of attack is at their maximum (apart from rooks, which always attacks 14 tiles—they may, therefore, be left at the edges as “snipers” until the endgame).

Thus, most chess openings begin with a kingside or queenside pawn moving two tiles ahead, toward the very center of the board. It is an immediate claim of the center. Usually, Black responds likewise, with the primary exception of the famous Sicilian defense, which moves instead the pawn ahead of the kingside knight. This strange move is in fact preparation for a more advanced (but very effective) combination later on.

In any case, with the advanced pawn at the center, a bishop is then allowed to be placed at an optimum position closer to the center of the board; but this is not before the knights are released from the back ranks. Knights have limited mobility, though they are the only pieces that can jump over other pieces, and therefore take longer to travel at their optimum positions. It is therefore more usual to have them move first, barring any necessity to act otherwise.

I’ve learned all of this during my recent interest in chess; and the most interesting thing I’ve learned is that the masters do not necessarily run combinations and tactics in their heads for the future. Speculation does take place, but only for the short-term; and long-term speculations are, at best, guiding principles. The enemy, in any case, may at any point ruin any such speculations. Rather, any movement in chess has to do with the molding of possibility. It is about attacking your enemy as it is making it less possible for him to do so in the future; and it is as much about your attacks at present as it is ensuring that you can attack in the future.

Chernev, whose book I am reading, tells me this is called positional advantage. I’ve missed this for a very long time, and now that I’ve learned the basics of it I last until the middlegame whenever I play, sometimes until the endgame. My record is still terrible, but I can feel the progress.

What I’ve also discovered is that this way of thinking about chess relates it to the way I think of interpretation or, more broadly, hermeneutics.

The act of writing, as I understand it, is not necessarily an act of indication, especially for the entire work if the work is lengthy, such as a novel or a film. Any particular signifier can be ambiguous. Any such lengthy piece is necessarily ambiguous, no matter how direct or succinct it is. Thus, the goal of the writer is not necessarily to perfectly indicate. Rather, the goal is to gain positional advantage in that the meaning of the piece is always geared toward a particular structural intention, such that any ambiguity is, nonetheless, equivalent with a certain stance vis a vis universals: The point is to position meaning in such a way that it is always ready to apprehend the truth it purports to explicate, regardless of the unexpected shifts of signifiers, the opaqueness of the other, as the reader or the opponent.

There is, therefore, an element of anticipation—the reader does not merely apprehend. The reader also acts, and the writer must be prepared for his moves. Reading is an active process; and, taking this as axiomatic (Barthes, Jakobson, Derrida, &c.), the writer must therefore have the positional advantage with regard to the detours and attacks of thought, interpretation, reading, and analysis.

The book is a chessboard; and the book and the chessboard are battlegrounds. With these 26 letters, I arm myself; and thus I position them to anticipate the attacks of my readers, their positioning, tactics, and strategy; upon this page, I intend victory.

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On Ghosts

In Personal Derelictions on April 18, 2014 at 6:32 pm

Today, I had to use another bathroom because the one I usually use has a clogged toilet; and I remembered that, many years ago, the witchdoctor told us never to use the door to that bathroom because it is a doorway to the spirit world. My sister was having a little ghost problem and she suspected one was in love with her: She once took a photo of herself and a ghost-like figure was clearly clinging to her. That bathroom had two doors (two rooms share it) and I could have gone to the other room to use that door, but I know we live in Euclidean space, and that door could not have been a portal to anything else apart from the only unclogged toilet that I had access to. Considering the clogged toilet, the only portal to Certain Doom anyone needs to be aware of is the door to my bathroom.

My friend M. supposes she has the ability to smell other dimensions because sometimes she smells people who are not there. She has a supernatural nose, which is similar in mechanism perhaps with a supernatural eye, but it smells ghosts rather than sees them. It has the benefit of not being quite as frightening as seeing as ghost, tho smells can be just as scary, if they are smelly enough. Do ghosts emit smells? We have an unqualified preoccupation with seeing ghosts, sometimes even hearing ghosts, most of the time both, and, under the most dire of circumstances, even touching ghosts, but never smelling ghosts, or, as a matter of fact, tasting ghosts: The paranormal institutions of our age simply neglect these two senses, tho they can, as my friend shows, just as well pick up transmissions from ghostly realms.

Not to say her other senses weren’t as potent. She described to me once how a ghost visited her, and she could hear it, telling her commit evil. She knew if she opened her eyes, she would be able to see it, so she didn’t; and then it just disappeared. I didn’t ask her how this ghost smelled like because it didn’t seem appropriate at the time. How, in any case, is that supposed to go? Imagine a paranormal investigator from Vienna: Bald head, goatee, hair all white, lean figure, expensive brown suit, standing in a room with a pentagram drawn using blood on the wall, threats of child sacrifice for Satanic rituals written in small cursive on notes scattered around the room, candles dripping everywhere, and when told of the particulars of the scene, he then asks: “No, no, but what did it smell like?”

Imagine the poor concerned mother, whose child walked up the walls like a spider with her joints contorted in unnatural ways, the voice of which now resembled how would imagine Satan sounds like, deep and booming voice, the child’s eyes bleeding and her projectile vomit the consistency of frozen pea soup: “What? My child smells awful.”

“Yes, but before?”

“I’m not comfortable with all this talk about smells, professor.”

“Madam,” the professor says. “I am a ghost detective from Vienna with a white goatee. I demand you treat me with respect!”

The house in which I live, in any case, has been called haunted many times. House helpers tell me that when my family is away, they hear some type of party going on in the kitchen. Sometimes they hear voices calling them. My family members talk of spirits grabbing their feet while going up the stairs. My friend who visited once, A., once told me she felt a “presence” from the living room. I used to find this interesting until I realized that most people have ghosts in their houses. If, indeed, the ghost world intersects with the ordinary world, then ghosts must be everywhere. It just so happens that we are at our most vulnerable when we are at our homes, where we tend to relax. So we are able to more often perceive them, even at their most subtle.

The theory that some people can transcend the boundary between this world and other worlds is interesting to me mostly because it is funny to think that creatures on the other side could be going about their business and we bother them just as they bother us; and on some distant dimension, the Tentacle People of Ar’Garack speak by breathing through the thin membranes of their anuses: “I saw another human!”

“No you did not Spak’La’Mak, you lair, says Bwa’P. “HAMKA, HAMKA, HAMKA,” goes the Ar’Garack laugh, which are, basically, controlled, melodic farts.

“I did!” says Spak’La’Mak. “It was touching a protruding member from its midsection! Very disturbing! Must be a sign of distress because it was writhing and moaning!”

“Humans are strange,” says Bwa’P, who vomits the food he ate earlier for the second round of digestion, their equivalent of having a snack.

Moreover, the boy who, if the exchange was mutual, saw Spak’La’Mak would of course tell his friends; and if the friends ask what he was doing when he saw them, he would respond politely: “Reading Chekov.”

Personally, I do not know if ghosts exists, nor do I have a definite position on the issue. What I do know is that some things exist regardless of whether you believe in them or not; I also know that some things are, at present, unknown, and in my mind there is always space for these things to exist, though we may misinterpret them, exaggerate them, misunderstand them, or ignore them. Every evening I hear creaks throughout the house as well as footsteps on the roof too heavy to have been caused by a cat. I tell this to friends and they ask me: “Aren’t you afraid?” If they have been around me since I was a child and they’ve never come down to meet me, clearly one of us is afraid of the other. Obviously, it is not me.

On Failure

In Personal Derelictions on April 14, 2014 at 6:46 pm

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1. My friend once asked me if I spent most of my time outside my room, because, to her, my room looked like a prison. It is a straightforward box with cabinets to one side, a desk and bookshelf on the adjacent wall, and windows only on the upper part of the western wall, facing the cabinets. When inside, therefore, one can only ever see the sky, never the street. Outside, there is a single telephone pole beside the house across the street, and a telephone line is stark black against bright blue. The window is barred. I suppose it is similar to a prison.

Now, I frequently lie in bed, sideways, to look at the sky; and I remember as a very small child (so small my memory of it is at present almost dreamlike) looking at the sky through the same window, realizing, for the first time, that clouds sometimes move. Now that I play the ukulele, and because it is small enough, I tuck it under my arm during hot afternoons and play songs while watching the sparrows on the bars of the window or on top of the telephone pole. What, I wonder, could they be seeing? And do they see me, playing my ukulele, singing, in my boxer shorts and with tangled hair? Sometimes they sing along with me, or it seems that way. Sometimes someone honks the horn of a car and I think it is because they are annoyed at me.

It was during such day that my friend, W., slumped over the single comfortable chair upon which I read and write, said: “What do you want to do with your life? Do you want to stay here forever?” and it was a terrifying thought, not so much being stuck in the house so much as simply being stuck.

She said this while I sang Womanizer (Spears, 2008). I stopped.

“I write things,” I said. “Sometimes.” I looked at her by tilting my head backwards because she was behind me, and she looked to me upside-down. “I find writing quite enjoyable.”

She breathed out, as if she’s heard it before. She would occasionally support me and tell me to submit things to get my career moving, but she didn’t appear to have the energy to reiterate such sentiments today. It was very hot.

2. After several art exhibits, I’ve frequently wandered in the bathroom and wondered if I have stumbled into an art gallery. I realize: It is only the toilet, not an installation.

Just the other day, my friend M. and I were at a gallery, and I suppose one could call the art there, comfortably, “contemporary” or “conceptual” art, primarily because the skill involved is close to none, if any; and as a student I used to argue that these types of art are justifiable insofar as, according to Mr. Barthes, the author is dead (for, in modernism, God himself has died, along with his many faces: Nation, Religion, Government…). The Birth of the Reader, he said, must come at the expense of the Death of the Author; and thus art such as this requires that the interpretation be the responsibility of the viewer.

Yet, is it so difficult to ask the artist to work with you? The Death of God becomes quite the chore if we must merely be burdened by his corpse, and the artist simply nags on and on about how dead God is, the artist as he who points at the same damn corpse all the damn time: “Look! God is dead! Look! God is dead! Look! God is dead!” Alright! And of the human condition? Of love, death, sex, revenge, sadness, hunger, and deceit? “Look!” says the contemporary, the “conceptual” artist. “God is dead! Do you want to play in its corpse?”

3. One thing that I have never been able to do correctly is chess. There is thinking involved that I simply cannot accomplish. I remember attempting to play it as a child. I had a chess set and I arranged the pieces randomly on the board, simply admiring their beauty. It was a small, magnetic type; and the small plastic figures were so beautiful to me, so intricate and detailed, even if they were tiny, barely the size of a third of a finger. My father saw me and said, “You don’t know how to play chess.” I was seven.

So he proceeded to teach me. This particular piece goes here. I asked: “Can he go here? Can I arrange my castle this way? I, in any case, am the King, correct?” He shook his head and placed the piece back where it belongs. “No,” he said. I found this strange: I am, in any case, king, am I not? Or, considering the King is in fact just another piece, then I am, in fact, God, and these pieces are my subjects, to which my Will is Absolute Law.

Yet, I am not the Judeo-Christian God, who is, as Aquinas put it, ipsum esse—essence itself. No, a prior substance stands before me in the form of the game, with rules and procedures; and another God challenges me. I am a lesser God, an Emperor God; and I exist only through the conflict, and cease to be when it is resolved: I am a God of War who ceases to be when peace comes. I am a God who seeks his own destruction! Objet petit a—the constitutive exception, that which is only insofar as it is not: The Death Drive as Divine Impulse.

I, therefore, was a lesser God who existed only within the restraints of the board, only a function, not the fabricator.

In any case, my father taught me the basics and proceeded to play with me once in a while. I lost perpetually. He would attempt to teach me tactics, the elements of space, time, pawn structure, material, king safety, but I insisted: I am a god, and if my Kingdom dies, then it is my Will. Amen, Amen, Amen! Deus Dixit!

Today, I continue to lose. I have tried reading books about and once even downloaded a program, Chessmaster, which taught you how to play. It was a very sophisticated piece of technology, but I still failed to learn. My friend, S., loves chess, and has been spending a lot of time mastering his openings. My friends and I used to laugh at him for not being very intelligent, for failing his thesis, for saying stupid things—but he continues to beat me at chess, and he tells me: “You are making awful moves. Please, just study openings for a while. I am more organized in everything, you know, just because I studied openings.”

I move my knight, which he captures immediately.

O, felix culpa! My will be done.