Thread: Literary Chess Story by Stefan Zweig
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Old 04-18-2013, 02:23 PM   #34
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in this great future
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I finished this story before most of this conversation began, and have been letting it all soak in, as it were.

I actually really enjoyed the story and think that it does stand up to the test of time, for two reasons. One is that it's still an enjoyable read (to me), all these years after it was written, and two is that I believe there are many ways to interpret the story. Even if the author meant one interpretation, it's written symbolically enough that others can be made (and were, by me!).

Regarding social class, I find this story very interesting. I do agree that Zweig perhaps was old-fashioned and perhaps didn't like the idea of social climbers. However, I do have to balance that with the history that he lived in, a world full of massive social upheaval, with a quick rise to power of people - a whole group of people - not only less wealthy and of a lower social class, but less educated and often anti-intellectual too, and that mixed with a persecution of his own class, his family, the people he knew and formerly well-off intellectuals in general.

However, perhaps he didn't mean to be subtle, but I took away subtleties anyway from the different characters of Czentovic and Dr. B. First is that Czentovic was taken in and raised by a priest who wasn't all that wealthy, so the priest was presented as a good character, and at least moderately intellectual, as he played chess. Second were the village chess players and other villagers proud of Czentovic. They also seemed like good people and moderately intellectual.

Next was Dr. B himself. He was lawyer for a very secretive firm, and the royalty and monasteries both were presented as secretive. Perhaps Zweig didn't mean that as a negative, only as a matter of course, but it still isn't the best light to shine the "good guys" in. I suppose he only used that plot point to have a reason for the Nazis to want to torture Dr. B in the way that they did, but still. Also, as a result of the Nazis torture, Dr. B is a little crazy, but nevertheless, he is still a bit crazy.

And finally, Czentovic himself. He is presented the entire story as this oaf of a man who has this strange brilliance for chess and chess alone. As someone who is an almost complete imbecile except for the complexities of chess movements. And yet, then, at the end of the story, what happens? He makes an astute psychological observation! It had nothing to do with chess movements and everything to do with a more keen, insightful intelligence. If he were the same lumbering Czentovic that we'd been presented with in the story up to that point, then he would've just altogether not paid any attention to whatever Dr. B did and only concentrated on the moves.

So why did Zweig do this? Was it something that he himself didn't notice? In his zeal to get the right allegorical story down, he didn't notice these subtle exceptions to the rules? Whatever the reason though, they're there in the story and that is what we are left with, and whether he meant them or not, I think that they're what really make the story.

I actually saw a possible alternate interpretation to the story from most, one that I'm almost sure that Zweig didn't mean, but nevertheless I saw it. In the allegorical history of things, what if Dr. B represented the lunatic tyrants of the world? Dr. B's manic energy during the last game reminded me of some tyrants throughout history and their own deranged zeal. While Czentovic represented the slow onward march of human civilisation? The point that could be taken away is that a tyrant can rule for a short time, but it never lasts. It may be slow and it may be obtuse as a whole compared with certain specific people, but human civilisation will win in the end, if by nothing else than just by outlasting the tyrant. And human civilisation will slowly better itself in the process as well.

Overall, I found the story rich and gave it an "excellent" rating.
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