A chess-player is not simply one who plays chess just as a chess piece is not simply a wooden block. Shaped by expectations and imaginations, the figure occupies the centre of a web of a thousand radiations where logic meets dream, and reason meets play. This book aspires to a novel reading of the figure as both a flickering beacon of reason and a sign of monstrosity. It is underpinned by the idea that the chess-player is a pluralistic subject used to articulate a number of anxieties pertaining to themes of mind, machine, and monster. The history of the cultural chess-player is a spectacle, a collision of tradition and recycling, which rejects the idea of the statuesque chess-player. The book considers three lives of the chess-player. The first as sinner (concerning behavioural and locational contexts), as a melancholic (concerning mind-bending and affective contexts), and as animal (concerning cognitive aspects and the idea of human-ness) from the medieval to the early-modern within non-fiction. The book then considers the role of the chess-player in detective fiction from Edgar Allan Poe to Raymond Chandler, contrasting the perceived relative intellectual reputation and social utility of the chess-player and the literary detective. IBM's late-twentieth-century supercomputer Deep Blue, Wolfgang von Kempelen's 1769 Automaton Chess-Player and Garry Kasparov's 1997 defeat are then examined. The book examines portrayals of the chess-player within comic-books of the mid-twentieth century, considering themes of monstrous bodies, masculinities, and moralities. It focuses on the concepts of the child prodigy, superhero, and transhuman.
should be noted, after all, that the only question that addresses the child-prodigy as a person and requires some introspective effort is the final one, which concerns the issue of intellectual imposture and aims, not very subtly, to destroy him. Indeed, the aforementioned fourth version of the story (also called the ‘catastasis of the first epitatic variant’, 137) recounts that the village shaman unsettles the child by questioning his supposed natural genius: is the child really as wise as everyone thinks he is? What if, conversely, he is revered by the inhabitants
enables the formation of all kinds of identities – personal, national, cultural,
economic, sexual, psychological, universal, particular’.6 Indeed, Fischer was
represented as many various types, from childprodigy to intellectual genius,
sportsman, victim, grizzled madman, ascetic, celebrity, monster, artist, professional, polite, ill-mannered, well-dressed, and scruffy. The representations of
Fischer discussed here are not always realistic. They are constructed, intensely
conceived types, and confirm that Fischer’s power resided not simply in appearance, location, or
‘Of magic look and meaning’: themes concerning the cultural chess-player
with its motive power
hidden, or an individual whose actions are mechanical.5 The chess-player as
monster shares cultural space with ‘dragons and demons … vampires … giants
… shape-shifters … ghosts … border-walkers and margin-steppers’.6 The term
monster is also used here as an umbrella term for a variety of other chess-player
forms, including the superhero, childprodigy, and transhuman.
While this study does not aim to be a comprehensive or definitive account of
chess-players, mental faculties, or monsters, it does aim to trace an
Schools. The eldest, Thomas, was an engraver and printmaker. The middle brother, Charles,
was a painter who specialised in historical subjects and became keeper of the Royal Academy.
Edwin was a childprodigy. At the age of twelve years, he won a prize from the Society of
Arts for his drawing of a Spaniel. He showed his first painting at the
Royal Academy two years later, a Pointer bitch with her puppy.
Landseer’s work gained wider public attention when he was sixteen.
Fighting Dogs Getting Wind
eight, vibrato came easily to
me, in part because I was blessed with a sense of perfect pitch. The Garden
of Eden in which a childprodigy dwells is indeed the sheer ease of making
sound. Exit from that musical garden came to me when I began to perform
I have yet to meet the musician who walks on stage with the same insouciance that he or she might feel in walking to the bank or in practising in
private – though it has been said of Fritz Kreisler than he barely noticed
when he played in front of thousands of people. Usually stage-fright follows
his channelling of Homer and that of contemporaries such as the American poet Robert Lowell. For both Homer and Lowell are reducible to the basic unit of Walcott’s reality, to the truly energising force in all cultures and histories which is spiritual. And since all cultures possess spirit, no one is more privileged or powerful than another.
Walcott’s sense of himself as a childprodigy, his sense of having inherited his father’s gift, his sense of being inhabited by presences, his sense of being Homer’s contemporary, would have to
from his son’s uniqueness and calls the press round before recruiting
him to make some advertisements dressed as a cherub. When the evil agent
(who foreshadows the grasping business women of the 1980s) enrols him as
a freak show at the local fair, Tobi will climb to the top of the tallest tower,
spread his wings and fly off towards the horizon never to be seen again.
An article entitled ‘La era de los “niños prodigio” ha terminado’ (the era
of the ‘childprodigies’ is over) focused on a new brand of cine con niño,
from Summers, Ibáñez and Mercero, quoting Ibáñez
The politics of performance in the Spanish sophisticated comedy of the 1940s
are very few frilly dresses, very few bandits,
barely any traditional Spanish song and no childprodigies] (2001: 116). This
and all subsequent translations in this chapter are my own.
3 Sáenz de Heredia is best known for his 1941 film Raza, based on Francisco
Franco’s script. Rafael Gil’s El clavo/The Nail (1944) is often held up as a
commercial classic of this decade. Juan de Orduña’s Alba de América/Dawn
of America (1951) was conceived as a response to Christopher Columbus
(David McDonald, 1948) and consequently showered with official financial
, leading employees to call them the ‘quiz kids’ after the childprodigies in a popular radio programme. Annoyed at this unflatteringly moniker,
McNamara suggested the name ‘whiz kids’, and it followed him for the rest of
his life, although not always used in a kindly way.
Over the next few years, the whiz kids revolutionised logistics and production systems, as well as introducing cost accounting. Largely due to their efforts,
by 1948, Ford made a profit of $94.3 million, after years of losses.
His appearance mirrored his self-image as a rational man. The first thing