Violence and Intellectuality

When you eavesdrop on the chatter of chess, you discover that it reproduces and confirms the game’s compelling mixture of violence and intellectuality. As pieces are finger-flipped around demonstration boards in swift refutation of some other grandmaster’s naïve proposition, half the language has a street-fighting quality to it. You don’t just attack a piece, you hit it. You don’t merely take a piece when you can chop it off, hack it off or snap it off. Pawns may advance, but they prefer to stomp down the board like storm troopers. Getting your opponent into time trouble, you try to flag him; playing a sacrifice, you sack a piece, as you might sack a city. And since violent verbs require victims, your opponent’s bits of wood are personified into living matter: ‘I want to hit this guy and this guy.’

Julian Barnes

Letters from London 1990-1995

(Picador, 1995), p.268

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