dada chess: logic vs. transcendence

Lenin’s chance meeting with dadaist Tristan Tzara in 1916 was ostensibly arranged to play chess. Was there something in Dada that piqued the revolutionary passions? Or was it a case of a parallax gap; two points between which no connection, intersection or mediation is possible. Either a mutual hostility or a mutual exclusivity passing each other like two ships in the dead of night in stormy water….There is a certain Marxist theory by Zizek, which asserts that an encounter between Leninist politics and modernist art of the Dadaists cannot have structurally take place;specifically,and more radically, revolutionary politics and revolutionary art move in different temporalities – although they are linked, they are two sides of the same phenomenon which, precisely as two sides, can never meet. But play they did even though Lenin seemed to be the shittier player.”Lenin is validated by the logic of the board, Tzara by the possibility of transcendent egress.”

Still, Lenin`s preoccupation with the game raises chess’s somewhat sticky reputation as a depository in the incubation of psychiatric illness, either from the withdrawal symptoms from a stoppage in playing or delving too deeply into the game’s esoteric dimensions and endless complexity of its sacred geometry.Whether ideological murder is a pathology only the board would reveal. Whether chess and art are sublimations for sex, as Freud asserted is another issue. Not sure how the castration complex and sexual frustration  can be sublimated into conquering the chess board and finding an outlet for the erotic charge. Tzara:Everything is incoherent…There is no logic…The acts of life have no beginning and no end. Everything happens in a completely idiotic way. That is why everything is alike.

---The importance of logic, rationalism and Cartesian thought are an integral part of Duchamp's work coupled with an anti-rationalistic interest, as seen in the works of Raymond Roussel and Alfred Jarry. Also Duchamp's use of the term Cartesian is implicit of Descartes idea of man as a thinking mind, and matter an extension of motion. In terms of chess this duality is clearly seen, the movements of chess pieces upon a board are the physical expression of the chess player's cognition. In an interview with Tomkins, Duchamp says: Chess is a marvelous piece of Cartesianism, and so imaginative that it doesn't even look Cartesian at first. The beautiful combinations that chess players invent - you don't see them coming, but afterward there is no mystery - it's a pure logical conclusion.--- click image for more...

Codrescu:Café de la Terrasse, Zurich, Switzerland, 1915–1917, where Tristan Tzara, daddy of Dada, plays chess eternally with Vladimir Ilych Lenin, daddy of Communism. Lenin is a Russian exile biding his time until he can lead a revolution that will set the 20th century on a course that could have resulted in the extinction of the human race. Tristan Tzara, a Romanian exile, is in neutral Switzerland to avoid being killed in the First World War raging everywhere else in Europe. Tristan Tzara is not biding his time; he is having fun inventing an art revolution right here and now in Zurich, the Dada revolution, a movement that will radically alter the 20th century to continue into the 21st, surviving both communism and the possible extinction of the human race. At this moment, however, as the antitsarist Lenin opens with his usual E-4 King’s pawn, nothing is known of the future. Lenin is a writer of obscure commentaries on the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, living in abject poverty with his wife Nadya at 11 Spiegelgasse, a few doors away from the noisy bohemian nuisance of Cabaret Voltaire down the block at 1 Spiegelgasse…. Read More:

Duchamp Chess poster. 1925. ---Let us take this one step further towards Duchamp 'reconciling' art and chess. Damisch makes the point that Duchamp's chess poster designed for the 1925 Third French Chess Championship (Fig. 7) mirrored his theory of reconciliation. Duchamp extended the checkers of the chess board until they became cubes with one white, black and a third grey side, grey being the side of reconciliation. In the game of chess it is the opposition between black and white that gives the game its meaning. However, the 'binary' opposition of chess is defeated by Duchamp in the presence of the grey surfaces.... click image for more

And so began what have become known as the wilderness years and what Kasparov has called “one of the greatest known bouts of psychoanalysis in absentia the world has ever seen”. Fischer donated a large percentage of his Reykjavik winnings to the Worldwide Church of God. The church set him up with women – “vivacious girls with big breasts” were his type – but, frustratingly for Fischer, the dates were chaste. There is a wealth of Freudian literature about chess and sex, in which, for example, a queen sacrifice is associated with a sublimation of homosexuality. Brady doesn’t indulge in such remote or fanciful diagnoses, but it seems apparent that Fischer was not at ease with his sexual desires.Read More:


In fact, everything that is not war is cowardice. To exist without conflict is something Lenin cannot comprehend. The cosmos is a raging battle of opposing pinciples, a field of carnage forever recycled by a series of temporary victories that advance the struggle of consciousness, leaving behind the weak. In the library, he requests materials that are brought to him in silence by efficient and unobtrusive librarians. Libraries are the single stable fact of his exile, an axis that runs through his life, beginning in the hushed decorum of the British Museum Library where he wrote at desk 06, the same one used by Karl Marx to write Das Kapital. At desk 06 Lenin was known as Jacob Richter, a German national. In Zurich, he frequents La Terrasse to play chess after a hard day’s work, but it isn’t for pleasure only. The café teems with agents and counteragents, spies, and his own people, who, for safety reasons, he does not acknowledge but with whom he manages, nonetheless, to communicate. Lenin cannot imagine a world without honest libraries or without noisy cafés. Lenin cannot imagine the Soviet Union. Playing chess with the very public and well-known mischief-causing Romanian poet makes Lenin feel safe. All eyes are on Tzara; nobody pays much attention to the Russian revolutionary whose shiny pate can be seen reflected in the ostentatious monocle of Monsieur Tzara. “To masquerade as a conspirator, or at any rate to speak French with a Romanian accent and wear a monocle, is at least as wicked as to be one; in fact, rather more wicked, since it gives a dishonest impression of perfidy, and moreover, makes the over-crowding of the cafes gratuitous, being the result neither of genuine intrigue nor bona fide treachery… Read More:

-- Tzara and Lenin play fast now, several games in a row, at a speed the La Terrasse riffraff isn’t quite accustomed to. Four hundred years of deliberate moves have seen only incremental changes in timing, but this appears to no longer be the case, and it confuses the kibbitzers. Chess, like society, is starting to move at the speed of machines, keeping time to the shouts of futurists and dadaists, cars, and airplanes. The advent of one-minute chess played with a digital clock late in the 20th century could already be glimpsed in the rapid moves of the two players.--- click image for more...

Tzara suddenly stood up and screamed out to the whole pub in his stilted anglo-hungarian.

- Do you really want to know how to make a Dadaist poem? I’ll tell you, you fools!

Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag.
Shake gently.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are–an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though you’ll be totally ignored by pretty much everybody….

---The book is prefaced with a chessboard and the dramatis personae presented as chess pieces. Why do you think Carroll introduced this? He picks up on the chess metaphor in various places in the story (Alice becoming Queen, or the countryside arranged as chess squares), and is emphatic that the chess puzzle is "correctly worked out, as far as the moves are concerned", and that the final 'checkmate' of the Red King will be found "to be strictly in accordance with the laws of the game". This last phrase might be more telling than it appears: moves in chess only make sense within the terms of the "laws of the game", a basic Structuralist point that something is only meaningful (or logical) within the terms of the structure (the "game") of which it is a part. The emphasis on games was, for the philosopher Wittgenstein, the most insightful dimension of the book as a whole: for him language only means something in relation to the language "game" of which it is a part, and it is important to know what "language or logic game" one is playing - click image for more....

…Through all this Lenin sat quietly, staring intently at the chess board. As Tzara wheeled around exclaiming to the population of the pub, Lenin quickly flicked his captured Queen with his index finger subbuteo style in a ten-pin bowling type operation into the massed ranks of Tzaras pieces, dashing them all onto the floor of the pub…

A Parallax can be described as the apparent displacement of an object caused by a change in observational position. Read More:


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Tristan Tzara desires most earnestly to overthrow reality, not just art, and to this end he would rather play anarchist chess, moving pieces situated at random on a board occupying any number of dimensions. He is nonetheless fascinated with the limitations of the game because there are infnite possibilities within these limitations, a paradox much like the study of the Torah, the reading of one verse numerous times so that it loses its apparent meaning and becomes pure sound, referencing something primal and unknown. He waits like a junkie for the moment when the high hits and the apparently banal turns magical. At that moment, the mechanical movements of the head moved by reason become abstract. Abstraction is freedom and, amazingly, abstraction appears most accessible through the narrow gate of rules. Each square is a mouth opening into Chaos and each piece, once moved, changes the entire universe, like words rearranging the cosmos. This is way beyond Lenin’s play. Lenin wants to win and he stubbornly insists on the rational unfolding of the plan of History, a process that is as objective and solid as the wooden chess pieces on the board. The wooden knight in his hand is real, it exists beyond him, but it must move two and one squares because that is the Law. History has Laws that proceed from objective reality. Read More:

…Tzarais talking about flowers, soul, the divine, and fingers, while Lenin explains how easily people are distracted and robbed while being handed“commodities.” Both passages proceed from the basic acknowledgment of the existence of injustice, but Tzara welcomes its cruelty and pushes its contradictions to where it willcease to function within language and, it is hoped, life, because it’s been sabotaged by poetry. Lenin has found the villain: sneaky,insidious capitalism robbing the workerswhile amusing them. There is also another difference: boredom. Tzara is fresh, Lenin is boring. Lenin is not boring just in retrospect,he was boring at the time he wrote that. As we know from Baudelaire, Boredom is theworst evil of all: “Among the vermin, jackals,panthers, lice / gorillas and tarantulas thatsuck / and snatch and scratch and defecate and fuck / in the disorderly circus of our vice, // there’s one more ugly and abortive birth. / It makes no gestures, never beats  its breast, / yet it would murder for a moment’s rest, / and willingly annihilate the earth / It’s boredom. Tears have glued its eyes together. / You know it well, my Reader. This obscene / beast chain-smokes yawning for the guillotine / you hypocrite Reader my double my brother….

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