Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Chess as knowledge art

In a recent issue of the New Yorker magazine, there is an article about Garry Kasparov. I liked the following quote, talking about Kasparov's experience of playing chess in tournaments:

. . . the crazy depth of commitment and passion, as well as the daring of his style, made him feel alive. [quoting biographer Fred Waitzkin:] "Chess for Garry was never a game . . . . It was about living and dying, about redefining the art every time he played . . . . To be a world champion in chess, the amount of what you have to know, what you have to fit in your brain and master, is so big that it is incomprehensible to a normal person . . . . You have to know more than a nuclear physicist or a brain surgeon knows. You have to know more stuff than virtually anyone on earth. Then you have to have the facility of mind to process it and then forget it so that you are free to improvise and be imaginative.
- From "The Tsar's Opponent", by David Remnick (The New Yorker, October 1, 2007), p. 73)

While I've yet to come across a 'crazy' Compendium practitioner (and I don't think I'm one myself, except for maybe when I've delved into making fiction....), much of this sounds and feels familiar. At least in terms of what a person who feels passionately about working in their medium brings to it. I especially like the last sentence, about the necessity for improvisation and imagination on top of all one's technical and conceptual knowledge.

This connects also to what I've tried to talk about in terms of looking at Compendium, and Compendium practice, as a medium with practitioners. The point isn't whether it's a 'better' or 'worse' medium than others, any more than you can understand Kasparov's artistry and expertise by talking about whether chess is a more 'effective' game than other sorts. For Kasparov each game -- each situation -- is unique and requires a unique response. He has to approach it with all of his energy, knowledge, passion, and artistry, and following a formula is a sure recipe for defeat. If we want to understand what a master brings to his or her medium, we need to look at it in its own context, what does it take to "work" in that arena.

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