Borges, Bobby Fischer and Economy of Means

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

The world is built upon a very few patterns, a universal economy of means: left, right, center, above, below, front, back, on, off... The sweetness of an apple shares the same root as the generosity of a king (the sefira Chesed/Kindness on the kabbalistic Tree of Life). The Fibonacci Sequence (1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8, 5+8=13...), the golden spiral, is present throughout nature, in the curve of a nautilus and the whorl of a flower's petals. Great complexity is founded upon great simplicity. The power of the computer, upon which I compose this writing, relies on a binary code; 0, 1, on, off. All animals and plants have the majority of their genes in common. Humans, for all our capacities, have fewer genes than a grain of rice, and these, our genes are 60% the same as those of a banana. Everything is a metaphor of everything else.

I don't remember who taught me to play chess. It must have been a kid in the neighborhood. I do remember Billy Schreiber, my classmate in second grade, rising with boistrous laughter, already tall, from where we were sitting on my front poarch, the board balanced on my family's milk box, and, delighted with himself, skipping away, having just introduced me to the four-move checkmate. When I was 12 years old I had beaten each of my father's three brothers, Uncles Gay, Jimmy and Joe. I played in several chess clubs, at the YMCA, in junior high school... At prep school I played on the chess team. Then, still in high school, I stopped playing, except, and those instances were few, when someone asked me to play a game. Then, if time needed passing, I would play. But in the more then 40 years since high school, I remember only two challenging games, one in Vermont and the other in a park in lower Manhattan. Chess is a test of intelligence, a measurement of cunning. All but the wise imagine themselves clever. I've surprised a few.

I discovered the fabulous Argentine author, Jorge Luis Borges in my mid-teens. Borges, for a while Director of the National Library in Buenos Aires, wrote, poetry and short stories weaving the themes of dreams, labyrinths, philosophy, libraries, mirrors, mythology, other dimensions... He dealt in archetypes: the gaucho, the knife, memory, crucificion, identity, alphabets... Borges might have written, as I have above, "Everything is a metaphor for everything else." In fact, Borges did write, "common metaphors are the best because they are the only true ones." These two contradictory opinions will be harmonized by a third yet to be written.

Three decades ago (he died in 1986) I read an interview, in the Village Voice, with Borges. In the italicized first column, where the author introduces her subject, she writes, "When I called Borges to tell him that we were going to press he begged me, 'Please, change something about my life history. If I have to read [he was already blind] another boring article about myself, I will die.'"

On my prep school's chess team I played third board. First board was played by one, Steven Strogatz. Years later one of my patients told me that Strogatz (watch his TED talk; actually "TED," not just "TEDx") once beat Bobby Fischer, adding after a pause, "Fischer was playing 49 other games at the same time, while blindfolded." Still, that is quite an accomplishment, especially considering that the other 49 players lost. Back in prep school the second board was played by a boy who seemed to be too smart for his own good. He wasn't quite right... but then, who is? Too great sensitivity in this too violent world is a bad prognosticator. The line between genius and madness does not exist. Fischer himself seems to have ended badly, raving about conspiracies.

Just recently I have started playing chess again, playing the computer at chess.com. I used to consider it a point of pride that I had never read a book about chess strategy. But now I am studying by watching classic games on Youtube; get your pieces developed quickly, sacrifice material for position when the moment is right... With effort I'm rising through the computer's levels; 5 gave me some trouble; I'm getting better on level 6... slowly.

Just recently, too, I've rediscovered Borges, some later works I found in the Biblioteca's "Latin American Authors in Translation" shelves (located just as you turn into the English wing. Ficciones is recommended to start with). His ornate, arcane early style has changed to a simpler telling of a tale, as if the mysteries of youth have become the good friends of old age, a process I, myself feel a part of.

How wonderful it is that we are a part of the same species as a Borges or a Fischer. How wonderful it is to write using the same words or play the same game. How great it is that we, whose genes are those of a banana, can author, from the simple patterns of the world, such exquisite complexities.

Borges wrote a story in which a man rudely discovers that he is not a man, but merely the product of another man's dreams. Here in my sixth decade, I discover that I am merely pointing at some larger reality; "A finger pointing at the moon is not the moon." I wake to find that I am but a metaphor of Borges and Fischer, and in that I am content.

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photo: Alessandro Bo (cropped)

Dr David started this magazine because he could write and liked to communicate. He fully expected that in a town like San Miguel he could find authors to publish in addition to himself. Well, practically no one is submitting anything. Stubborn as he is, he continues, now publishing himself, and a faithful cadre of authors and photographers. His motto continues to be, "It's hard to be ahead of your time."

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