Thread: Literary Chess Story by Stefan Zweig
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Old 04-18-2013, 02:32 PM   #32
Hamlet53
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So I am late for the discussion. Being a cheapskate I requested a paper version through my local library and so did not read it until yesterday.

First off I really enjoyed the chess aspect. Thanks to fantasyfan for his post the reminded me of so much that I had forgotten, as well as informing me of some things that I had never known. I became and avid chess player during my last two years of high school and during first two years of college. I actually was inspired into really getting serious about chess by Bobby Fisher and his match with Boris Spassky. I never approached professional level, but did become a very good amateur player. So I did find the character of Czentovic largely realistic. Fisher was from a very early age a wizard at chess, but in almost all other aspects of life was unremarkable, if not incompetent. The only thing that I would question is Czentovic's inability to visualize the game, to play, without having the board and pieces in front of him. All the players that I have ever been aware of that achieve the world class (Grandmaster) level can actually play blindfold. In addition while they have a natural gift for chess, in order to be competitive at that level requires intense study; of openings, end games, combinations, historical games (especially of prospective opponents). No idiot savants. That is the reason I found the chess playing ability of Dr. B. unrealistic. As I said I became a very good amateur, but recall having the opportunity to play a simultaneous exhibition match against a International Master player along with about forty other players. While I was the last one to resign in knowledge of sure defeat, and while throughout the match the IM seemed to take longer to make a move when he came to my board, the final result was never really in doubt. That Dr. B. could have become a player of the level to defeat the world champion solely be studying a collection of games during his confinement is really the stuff of fiction. That actually leads to my next thought on the book.

I thought that Issybird hit it on the nail describing Zweig as seeing good versus evil in terms of social class. The upper class and petty bourgeoisie good, and the lower proletariat class “evil”. The contempt and resentment that the narrator (Zweig) holds for Czentovic for thinking that he [Czentovic] should think of himself as equal to or even superior to his social betters. Also that Czentovic should treat chess as a vocation to obtain wealth and improved social standing, instead of treating the game as something that has enough merit as a purely intellectual exercise. In real life I imagine that Zweig felt the same about the Nazis and how many anti-intellectual commoners were able to achieve such positions of power. I did read the edition that included the introduction Peter Gay and that did provide the information that Zwieg was a great admirer of Freud, considered modern psychological analysis a a world changing view of the world, and even wrote his stories with major consideration of that. In the end Dr. B. (Zwieg) is a broken man who cannot deal with permanent loss of the life and position that he enjoyed prior to the rise of the Nazis.

I also saw basically no connection between Czentovic and the Nazis, other than in Zwieg's views as described above. Czentovic was just someone who had found a way to achieve undreamt of success through his ability to play chess, and his behavior during the match with Dr. B. was typical of any fiercely competitive chess player. And anyone who reaches that level is. Zwieg does not indicate that Czentovic knew anything about Dr. B.'s past, his mental state, or even that he had any idea who this unexpectedly strong player was.

I found the discussion of using solitary confinement as a method of torture interesting after having read this article a couple of months ago. Jailhouse Blues. Inspired by the Quakers Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary was opened 1829 and represented a major departure from viewing prisons purely as punishment, but more as a place of rehabilitation. The concept was that all prisoners would be kept in 24-hour solitary confinement and were expected to occupy the hours reading scripture, inspiring them to penitence (hence penitentiary). This inspired a movement to copy it across the US. In the end it turned out to be a case of great intentions gone horribly wrong. The prisoners kept for long under these conditions emerged totally unable to cope with society, if not driven outright insane. Attempting to be more humane in fact resulted in what amounted to cruel and inhuman punishment.

Last edited by Hamlet53; 04-18-2013 at 09:27 PM.
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