Archiving Chess

Derrida, Archive Fever:

The question of the archive is not a question of the past. It is not the question of a concept dealing with the past that might already be at our disposal. An archivable concept of the archive. It is a question of the future, the question of the future itself, the question of a response, of a promise, and of a responsibility for tomorrow. The archive, if we want to know what that will have meant, we will only know in times to come; not tomorrow, but in times to come. Later on, or perhaps never.

This is an interesting perspective that Derrida offers us, and in that spirit I would like to offer an example regarding the unknowable tomorrow that an archive presents.

Consider chess, a game with centuries of history. Were the original archivists of the game to understand the possibilities afforded by the elegant simplicity of the grid system? Were they to foretell how this grid system could offer a higher degree of information compression in their archival pursuits? Were they to imagine competition by telepresence? Between human and computer? Or that said computer would destroy the human and become a celebrity?

No, it would be inconceivable for these keepers of the archive to have known what their archivization of the game would eventually mean.

Marcel Duchamp:

The chess pieces are the block alphabet which shapes thoughts; and these thoughts, although making a visual design on the chess-board, express their beauty abstractly, like a poem. … I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.

To Duchamp's chagrin, I am certain, the block alphabet of the chess game appears to contain more than just poetry in its structure. There is also the more prosaic consideration of chess notation, and the use of its language in the archive. For what can we say if the greatest chess player in the world — the game's greatest artist and poet — is summarily dismissed by a computer?

Is the computer showing signs of artistry? Or, on the other hand, is science beginning to pull away from art (at least in this case) — a shift with grave consequences for humanity, as well as one that implicates the archivists of the game from so long ago?


One response to Archiving Chess

- rss feed for this comment thread
  1. sportsBabel » instant karma's gonna get you says:

    [...] we must ask of Yoko Ono stands insistent: is the game being archived? In the contemporary age of "archive fever," is the game being coded, notated, recorded or inscribed, saved, secured — in short, [...]