Smooth and Striated Space in Games

This week I have an article appearing in the U.K.-based Leisure Studies Association newsletter on the theme of New connections - new directions: current research in leisure studies. My paper is titled "Dispatches from the sport performance archive" and brings together some of my work on chess notation, baseball jerseys, and RFID tags in running.

The first paragraph of the chess section reads:

While volumes have been written about chess’ greatest players and games, or about opening and endgame theory, I would like to invert this analysis and anthropomorphosize the playing pieces themselves: the King, his Queen, and all of the feudal subjects that comprise his political economy; perfectly opposed uniforms of black and white, as essential a form of othering as can be; an 8×8 square grid system that serves to partition space into functional areas; ranked pieces, each with various movement possibilities and constraints; all under the watchful gaze of the human chess player, the promise of God to ensure the moral power of the throne. Without much trouble, one might consider the structural model of chess as an ideal instance of Foucault’s disciplinary power.

Picking through Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia this morning, I come across this passage in the 'Treatise on Nomadology':

Let us take a limited example and compare the war machine and the State apparatus in the context of the theory of games. Let us take chess and Go, from the standpoint of the game pieces" (p.352).


The rest of the passage really is beautiful, though. I will take the liberty of reprinting it here in full:

Chess is a game of State, or of the court: the emperor of China played it. Chess pieces are coded; they have an internal nature and intrinsic properties from which their movements, situations, and confrontations derive. They have qualities; a knight remains a knight, a pawn a pawn, a bishop a bishop. Each is like a subject of the statement endowed with a relative power, and these relative powers combine in a subject of enunciation, that is, the chess player or the game's form of interiority. Go pieces, in contrast, are pellets, disks, simple arithmetic units, and have only an anonymous, collective, or third-person function: "It" makes a move. "It" could be a man, a woman, a louse, an elephant. Go pieces are elements of a nonsubjectified machine assemblage with no intrinisic properties, only situational ones. Thus the relations are very different in the two cases. Within their milieu of interiority, chess pieces entertain biunivocal relations with one another, and with the adversary's pieces: their functioning is structural. On the other hand, a Go piece has only a milieu of exteriority, or extrinsic relations with nebulas or constellations, according to which it fulfills functions of insertion or situation, such as bordering, encircling, shattering. All by itself, a Go piece can destroy an entire constellation synchronically; a chess piece cannot (or can do so diachronically only). Chess is indeed a war, but an institutionalized, regulated, coded war, with a front, a rear, battles. But what is proper to Go is war without battle lines, with neither confrontation nor retreat, without battles even: pure strategy, whereas chess is a semiology. Finally, the space is not at all the same: in chess, it is a question of arranging a closed space for oneself, thus of going from one point to another, of occupying the maximum number of squares with the minimum number of pieces. In Go, it is a question of arraying oneself in an open space, of holding space, of maintaining the possibility of springing up at any point: the movement is not from one point to another, but becomes perpetual, without aim or destination, without departure or arrival. The "smooth" space of Go, as against the "striated" space of chess. The nomos of Go against the State of chess, nomos against polis. The difference is that chess codes and decodes space, whereas Go proceeds altogether differently, territorializing or deterritorializing it (make the outside a territory in space; consolidate that territory by the construction of a second, adjacent territory; deterritorialize the enemy by shattering his territory from within; deterritorialize oneself by renouncing, by going elsewhere …). Another justice, another movement, another space-time.


3 responses to Smooth and Striated Space in Games

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  1. sportsBabel » walking with lygia (stealth playbook sketch no.1) says:

    [...] lygia clark, walking, striated space, camera, moebius, intersubjectivity, bodies, cut, plastic [...]

  2. sportsBabel » instant karma's gonna get you says:

    [...] (eg. Nf3) to track the logistics of movement-play on the board, for even in Ono's chess-world the striations of the grid do still [...]

  3. sportsBabel » Charlotte Sometimes (Mudstep Jam) says:

    [...] It is a question of tempo: smooth and striated spaces are not simply matters of intensities versus geometries, but concern speeds as [...]