The Paris Review Daily

Posts Tagged ‘chess’

The Sicilian Defense

January 10, 2014 | by

Photo: Martin Lopatka, via Flickr.

Photo: Martin Lopatka, via Flickr

Dear Mr. Ross,

Thank you for sharing with us your review of Claudia Roth Pierpont’s Roth Unbound. The piece is colorful and sharp, and it is with regret that we say it does not suit our needs at this time.

Too much of the writing reflects back to the writer himself—to you yourself. (And, inexplicably, to your father.) While we certainly don’t mind personal inflection, and even tolerate the insertion of an occasional “I,” a review must be grounded more firmly in the subject or book under consideration. (And less so in the reviewer’s father.)

Critiques such as yours are redolent of ego. We say this not as admonishment, but as something of which you may want to be aware as you continue what looks to be a promising writing career. We wish you the best of luck in placing this piece elsewhere, and will be happy to consider your queries in the future.

Sincerely,
The Editors
The New York Review of Books

The difficulties began when I attempted to write, for The New York Review of Books, a review of Claudia Roth Pierpont’s critical biography of Philip Roth. My intention was simple: to demonstrate that I appreciated Roth’s work with a higher degree of sophistication than Pierpont. But articulating my Sophisticated Appreciation was tough to do. At first this didn’t bother me—an inability to articulate one’s Sophisticated Appreciation, I reasoned, may itself be proof of how complex and nuanced that appreciation is.

I’d been invited to submit to NYRB based on the success of an essay I’d written about Philip Roth for The New Yorker’s Web site. (An NYRB editor had e-mailed me to commend its “substantial humorousness,” and asked me to pitch an idea his way.) I wanted badly to be published in NYRB. I had some friends who’d been published in NYRB, and I was jealous of them. Moreover, my father is an avid NYRB reader—“It’s so wonderfully stuffy,” is his line; “the official periodical of leather armchairs and lowballs of Scotch”—and placing an essay in its pages, I believed, would recompense him for having twice paid my tuition to the universities where I’d learned to appreciate things sophisticatedly. (He would be pleased, too, to learn that I’d written something that wasn’t about him, as opposed to everything else I’d published—excepting the Roth piece—since finishing graduate school.)

NYRB’s editors expected six thousand words from my desk. Yet for several days I was too nervous to begin. More than anything else, the review would need to establish for NYRB’s readership how intelligent I was—establishing the writer’s intelligence seemed the purpose of most NYRB reviews, and I have always liked to fit neatly into prevailing systems. If it didn’t prove my intelligence, though, my review could only prove my lack thereof, and nothing was more terrifying to me than the idea of being exposed as intellectually inadequate. Read More »

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The Grandmaster Hoax

March 28, 2012 | by

In September 2006, the World Chess Championship devolved into a debate about bathrooms. One champion, Veselin Topalov, accused the other, Vladimir Kramnik, of excessive urination, hinting that Kramnik was retreating to the unmonitored bathroom to receive smuggled computer assistance. (Kramnik responded that he merely drank a lot of water.) Kramnik was eventually declared the victor, but to many, the episode displayed the sad state that the grand game had fallen into since Garry Kasparov lost to IBM’s Deep Blue in 1997. Back then, Kasparov was bitter about the loss and accused IBM of cheating—with human intervention, saying that he saw uncanny human intelligence in the computer’s moves.

Even that incident, though, was not the first time the line between man and machine had been blurred in the game. The first machine to awe humanity with its chess mastery was the eighteenth-century life-size automaton known as the Turk. Constructed in 1770 by Wolfgang von Kempelen to impress Empress Maria Theresa, the Turk appeared as a wooden Oriental sorcerer seated at a large cabinet. Before playing commenced, Kempelen would open the cabinet doors to reveal the clockwork machinery that controlled the Turk. The audience could see that there was nothing else inside. After the doors were closed and a challenger seated, the Turk would come eerily to life. He would move the pieces robotically, but shake his head or tap his hand in human displays of annoyance or pride. He also nearly always won.

The Turk became a spectacular attraction, thrilling, baffling, and terrifying viewers across Europe and America for decades. Read More »

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Chess and Madness

June 13, 2011 | by

Early on in Stefan Zweig’s Schachnovelle (A Chess Novella) the narrator, a casual chess player, expresses his worry that a serious devotion to chess might bring on madness:

How impossible to imagine [...] a man of intelligence who, without going mad, again and again, over ten, twenty, thirty, forty years, applies the whole elastic power of his thinking to the ridiculous goal of backing a wooden king into the corner of a wooden board!

On Monday, I settled down to watch Bobby Fischer Against the World, an entertaining new HBO documentary, directed by Liz Garbus. Besides chronicling the career of one of the greatest chess players of all time, it is also a rumination on the cold war, on political extremism, on youth prodigies and the dangers of sudden fame, and on loneliness. Finally, perhaps most hauntingly, it is about the relationship between chess, genius, and madness.

Bobby Fischer grew up on Lincoln Place, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, the son of a single mother who spent much of her time agitating for communism. A lonely, awkward, uncommunicative boy, he immediately became obsessed with chess when, at age six, he learned how to play from the instructions of a cheap set bought at a candy store below his apartment. Soon, Bobby was staring at his chessboard for hours on end, playing both white and black, engrossed in the absurd attempt of beating himself, and of not letting himself be beaten by himself.

When he was no older than thirteen, this obsession, which at first had worried his mother, seemed to pay off. At the 1956 Rosenwald Memorial Tournament in New York, Bobby’s first appearance at a major chess event, he played a game of such daring and brilliance that he instantly became a sensation in chess circles. Within a year, he had won the prestigious U.S. Open; within another year, he won the U.S. Championship; and within a year after that, he was well on his way toward a lucrative career as an internationally renowned master.

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A Week in Culture: Richard Brody, Part 2

July 1, 2010 | by

This is the second installment of Brody's culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

DAY FOUR

10:19 A.M. WQXR: Schumann, Three Romances for Oboe and Piano, op. 94, played by Heinz Holliger and Alfred Brendel. One of the great chamber-music recordings.

11:05 A.M. The Genius and the Goddess: “Mailer satirized the homespun Miller as ‘the complacent country squire, boring people with his accounts of clearing fields, gardening, the joys of plumbing (“Nothing like taking a bath in water that comes through pipes you threaded yourself”).’”

11:55 A.M. Tag Gallagher’s superb biography of Roberto Rossellini—remarkable to learn that Italian critics hated Germany Year Zero.

2:10 P.M. Village Voiceinterviews with the directors Lena Dunham, Aaron Katz, and Matthew Porterfield (the director of two great movies, Hamilton and the forthcoming Putty Hill), about BAMcinemaFEST.

5:30 P.M. I Am Love, which opens June 25. Operatic, for those who don’t like opera; Viscontian, for those who don’t watch Visconti; erotic, for those who like to watch.

8:10 P.M. The Genius and the Goddess: “In February 1959, when the seventy-four-year-old Danish author Isak Dinesen—wasted, skeletal and ravaged by syphilis—expressed a desire to meet them, Carson McCullers invited the actress and playwright to lunch at her house in Nyack, New York.”

8:30 P.M. Mozart K. 497, Malcolm/Schiff on Mozart’s own piano from around 1780. Reminds me that my favorite recording of this masterwork of symphonic scope, a Nonesuch LP of it, performed by Robert Levin and Malcolm Bilson, is unavailable on CD. Haven’t heard it since I sold my LPs in 1995. Wonder how it would sound now.

9:30 P.M. Watched Jonathon Niese complete his one-hit shutout; saw bits and pieces of the last few innings. Pessimistically expected that, pitching into the ninth inning, he’d lose both his one-hitter and his shutout—I was wrong.

10:00 P.M. Clifford Jordan and John Gilmore, Blowing In from Chicago, a Blue Note recording from 1957. The cut “Blue Lights,” composed by the alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce.

10:25 P.M. Erica Morini, Mozart, Violin Concertos 4 and 5. Morini: a Viennese immigrant (born 1904) with a mellifluous tone, who speaks Mozart as her mother tongue. These are privately-made live recordings, from concerts with a local orchestra, from 1965 and 1971, and a document of the vast cultural enrichment of New York that resulted from the desperate emigrations of the nineteen-thirties and forties.

10:57 P.M. I notice a strange Heisenbergian aspect to this diary—the nocturnal chunks of time usually devoted to reading are, this week, instead go into filling out the up-to-the-minute account of the day’s cultural doings. Am reminded of what one great rabbinic scholar said to me about another: I read ten books and write one; he reads one and writes ten. Nonetheless, I am learning something else about my own cultural life: that it’s weirdly regimented, by day and time.
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