|Opposition and Sister Squares: Marcel Duchamp and Samuel Beckett.|
|by Andrew Hugill, Bath Spa University, UK|
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Paris in the 1930s
Beckett also made a link between indifference and freedom in Murphy:
Portrait of Chess Players
If Black is to play, he wins the opposing pawn by:
1. … f4-e3
2. b5-c5 e3-e4.
It would be wrong to play
1. … f4-e4
and White wins the pawn.
Opposition and Sister Squares are reconciled
L’opposition et les cases conjuguées sont reconciliées was published in Paris and Brussels (Editions de l'Echiquier, 1932) in a limited edition. Few copies were sold, and Francis M. Naumann records that, late into his life, Duchamp "kept most of the edition in a closet, giving copies away to friends whenever he thought the gift appropriate" (Naumann and Bailey 2009, 22). The book's design and its use of chess terminologies are both somewhat unusual for a chess textbook, and clearly resonate with themes in Duchamp's artwork. So, for example, the illustrations frequently divide the chessboard across the middle using a dotted line as a ‘hinge’, self-consciously echoing the division of the Large Glass into two panels. To compound the allusion, eight of these ‘hinged pictures’, as Duchamp called the Large Glass (Sanouillet and Peterson, 1975, 27), are printed on transparent paper so that they may be folded to make the two principal domains correspond exactly. Here we see one variation of the instruction that was eventually to be included in the Green Box of 1934: ‘develop the principle of the hinge’.
The chess argument depends on two well-known properties that become highly important in the endgame, but Duchamp's choice of terminologies may have had a wider significance than just their chess usage. His preference for the term ‘sister’ squares (in English) over the more commonly used ‘corresponding' squares may be a nod towards Suzanne.The term ‘opposition’, while it does not figure much as a word in Duchamp's notes, nevertheless occurs throughout his work as a theme, as is best exemplified by the relationship between Bride and Bachelors, in the two panels of the Glass, which are then ‘reconciled’ by the operations of that imaginary technology. The word ‘domain’ occurs particularly in the Green Box with reference to the two panels of the Glass. The ‘passage’ of the White King from secondary to principal domain echoes the passage of the Virgin to the Bride (as depicted in the canvas of that title of 1912). The principle of the opposition in chess is as follows:
1st Variation, after 1. …a8-a7
b2-b3 (White retains the heterodox opposition and the threat of reaching A in one move)
2. …a7-b7 (forced to remain one square from A)
3. b3-c3 (still has heterodox opposition and threat on A)
3. …b7-c7 (forced. If he plays b7-a7, White will have the two file advantage to O)
4. c3-d3 (still has heterodox opposition and threat on A)
4. … any (Black is now forced to abandon his control of A, as any move to the left will
give White a two file advantage to O. White now occupies A and wins).
Becomes 1st Variation, e.g.
2. b2-c3 etc.
3rd Variation, after 1. …a8-b8
2. b2-c2 (takes the heterodox opposition)
2. …b8-c8 (to keep White King as far as possible from A)
3. c2-d2 (retains the heterodox opposition)
3. …c8-d8 (Black cannot turn back because White will gain the two file advance. The first variation showed that …c8-c7 would be a win for White)
4. d2-c3 (White breaks the opposition, threatening to reach A in one move)
4 …d8-c7 (forced to protect A)
5. c3-d3 (reverting to the first variation, and White wins).
VICTOR: I look out for my welfare, when I can.
GLAZIER: Your welfare! What welfare?
VICTOR: My freedom.
GLAZIER: Your freedom! It is beautiful, your freedom. Freedom to do what?
VICTOR: To do nothing.
The Clock in profile
and the Inspector of Space
Note: When a clock is seen from the side it no longer tells the time.
HAMM: (anguished). What's happening, what's happening?
CLOV: Something is taking its course.
Clov, of course, cannot afford to reveal his knowledge to Hamm, even if such a thing were possible.
A further curious exchange acquires significance in the light of Duchamp:
HAMM: Why don't you kill me?
CLOV: I don't know the combination to the larder.
HAMM: Do you know what's happened?
CLOV: When? Where?
HAMM: (violently) When! what's happened? Use your head, can't you? What has happened?
CLOV: What for Christ's sake does it matter?
HAMM: Before you go...(Clov halts near door)... say something.
CLOV: There is nothing to say.
HAMM: A few words...to ponder...in my heart.
CLOV: Your heart!
On the 10th January 1958, Marcel Duchamp and his wife Teeny attended the theatre in New York. In a letter to Henry McBride, he noted: ‘We saw, and loved, Endgame of Beckett.’ (Caumont and Gough-Cooper, 1993, 10-12 January).
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I. Duchamp’s column was published every Thursday from 1937 to the outbreak of war. Ce Soir was edited by Louis Aragon.
II. The shapes of the three Inscriptions in the Cinematic Blossoming of the Bride were created by suspending meter squares of delicate gauze or lace above a radiator (also in front of an open window), photographing the resulting movements in the rising heat, and carefully transcribing their outlines onto the Glass.
III. It should perhaps be put on record at this point that, in a conference on ‘Art and Chess’ at the Tate Gallery, London, in 1991, Mme. Teeny Duchamp, the artist’s widow, insisted that Marcel Duchamp had never played chess with Samuel Beckett. Quite what the motivation was for this denial is unclear, but the abundant evidence, however anecdotal, seems to contradict Teeny completely. She was herself a keen chess player, and had first met Duchamp in 1923. She married Pierre Matisse in 1929, and renewed her acquaintance with Marcel only in 1951, when they were married.
IV. Despite this history, Duchamp's highest chess level was only Master (rather than Grandmaster). Out of nineteen tournament matches played between 1924 and 1933, his record was one win, eleven losses and seven draws.
V. In 1933, Duchamp translated Eugene Znosko-Borovsky's book on chess openings into French, as Comment il faut commencer une partie d'échecs. This study of the other end of a chess game rather complements his own publication on endgames.
VI. Note that I have used the English, algebraic, square-naming chess notation, as opposed to the piece-naming system used by the authors.
VII. Roché began calling Duchamp ‘Victor’ after a dinner in New York on January 22nd, 1917 (Caumont and Gough-Cooper 1993, 21-22 January).
VIII. Further correspondence between the present author and Deirdre Bair has failed to reveal the identity of this 'Irish writer'.
IX. In his famous essay on Endgame, Adorno suggests that Hamm's name refers to a castrated Hamlet, with the consequent associations of melancholy and blackness.
X. This note, in turn, originates in Alfred Jarry's Gestures and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician: ‘Why should anyone claim the shape of a watch is round - a manifestly false proposition -since it appears in profile as a narrow rectangular construction, elliptic on three sides; and why the devil should one only have noticed its shape at the moment of telling the time? - Perhaps under the pretext of utility. But a child who draws the watch as a circle will also draw a house as a square, as a facade, without any justification...’ (Shattuck and Watson Taylor, 1965, 193).