Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Chess - A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (David Foster Wallace)

Following on from my previous post about ALCHEssMIST's alleged writing style being similar to the writer David Foster Wallace, the novelist, essayist & humorist who is best known for his 1996 novel "Infinite Jest".

The passage below comes from David Foster Wallace's non-fiction book - A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.[1]

The excerpt recounts an experience he had on the holiday cruise ship m.v. Zenith, from 11th March - 18th March 1995. He describes how one morning (0930-0945 hrs) on this Caribbean cruise, he played a game of chess against a 9 year old girl in the cruise ship's library (deck 7) with her mother observing.
The Nadir's library's got cheapo Parker Brothers chess sets with hollow plastic pieces, which any good chess player has got to like.98 I'm not nearly as good at chess as I am at Ping-Pong, but I'm pretty good. Most of the time on the Nadir I play chess with myself (not as dull as it may sound), for I have determined that--no offense--the sorts of people who go on 7NC Megacruises tend not to be very good chess players.

Today, however, is the day that I am mated in 23 moves by a nine-year-old girl. Let's not spend a lot of time on this. The girl's name is Deirdre. She's one of the very few little kids on board not tucked out of sight in Deck 4's Daycare Grotto.
99 Deirdre's mom never leaves her in the Grotto but also never leaves her side, and has the lipless and flinty-eyed look of a parent whose kid is preternaturally good at something.
I probably should have seen this and certain other signs of impending humiliation as the kid first comes over as I'm sitting there trying a scenario where both sides of the board deploy a Queens Indian and tugs on my sleeve, and calls me Mister, and her eyes are roughly the size of sandwich plates. In retrospect it occurs to me that this girl was a little tall for nine, and worn-looking, slump-shouldered, the way usually much older girls get -- a kind of poor psychic posture. However good she may be at chess, this is not a happy little girl. I don't suppose that's germane.
Deirdre pulls up a chair and says she usually likes to be black and informs me that in lots of cultures black isn't thanatotic or morbid but is the spiritual equivalent of what white is in the U.S. and that in these other cultures it's white that's morbid. I tell her I already know all that. We start. I push some pawns forward and she develops a knight. Deirdre's mom watches the whole game from a standing position behind the kid's seat,100 motionless except for her eyes. I know within seconds that I despise this mom. She's like some kind of stage-mother of chess. Deirdre seems like an OK type, though--I've played precocious kids before, and at least Deirdre doesn't hoot or smirk. If anything, she seems a little sad that I don't turn out to be more of a stretch for her.
My first inkling of trouble is on the fourth move, when I fianchetto and Deirdre knows what I'm doing is fianchettoing and uses the term correctly, again calling me Mister. The second ominous clue is the way her little hand keeps flailing out to the side of the board after she moves, a sign that she's used to a speed clock. She swoops in with her developed QK and forks my queen on the twelfth move and after that it's only a matter of time. It doesn't really matter. I didn't even start playing chess until my late twenties. On move 17 three desperately old and related-looking people at the jigsaw puzzle table kind of totter over and watch as I hang my rook and the serious carnage starts. It doesn't really matter. Neither Deirdre nor the hideous mom smiles when it's over; I smile enough for everybody. None of us says anything about maybe playing again tomorrow.
98 Heavy expensive art-carved sets are for dorks.
99 This is something else Mr. Dermatitis declined to let me see, but by all reports the day care care on these Megaships is phenomenal, w/squads of nurturing and hyperkinetic young daycare ladies keeping the kids manically stimulated for up to ten-hour stretches via an endless of number of incredibly well structured activities, so tuckering the kids out that they collapse mutely into bed at 2000h. and leave their parents free to plunge into the ship's nightlife and Do It All.
100 The only chairs in the Library are leather wing chairs with low seats, so only Deirdre's eyes and nose clear the board's table as she sits across from me, adding a Kilroyishly surreal quality to the humiliation.
David Foster Wallace never went on a cruise again. He did, however, continue to play chess. In particular, he would play chess with his stepson Stirling, who usually won.[2]

More importantly, I would love to know what happened to Deirdre (or her mother), who should be around 24 years old now. I suspect her name is not really Deirdre though. Any information would be gratefully accepted.

[1] - A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (Amazon site) by David Foster Wallace, Back Bay Books (February 2, 1998)

Tags: Caribbean - Chess - Cruise Ship - David Foster Wallace - Deirdre - Fianchetto - Grotto

David Foster Wallace - ALCHEssMIST's Writing Style?

Just read Tom Chivers' interesting article Like: something rolling about at random on the keyboard, possibly in pain at the excellent The Streatham & Brixton Chess Blog.

Tom refers to a "statistical analysis tool, which analyzes ... word choice and writing style and compares them to those of the famous writers." Site here.

ALCHEssMIST wondered which author his writing style might be most like - though recognizing that he rarely posted more than one paragraph of text in his blog articles.

The answer ... David Foster Wallace (R.I.P.)
David Foster Wallace (February 21, 1962 – September 12, 2008) was an American author of novels, essays, and short stories, and a professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California. He was widely known for his 1996 novel Infinite Jest,[2][3] which Time included in its All-Time 100 Greatest Novels list (covering the period 19232006).

Los Angeles Times book editor David Ulin called Wallace "one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years."
[Wikipedia summary]
Wikipedia describes David Foster Wallace's style in the following way:
Wallace's novels often combine various writing modes or voices, and incorporate jargon and vocabulary (sometimes invented) from a wide variety of fields. His writing featured self-generated abbreviations and acronyms, long multi-clause sentences, and a notable use of explanatory footnotes and endnotes—often nearly as expansive as the text proper. He used endnotes extensively in Infinite Jest and footnotes in "Octet" as well as in the great majority of his nonfiction after 1996. On the Charlie Rose show in 1997, Wallace claimed that the notes were used to disrupt the linearity of the narrative, to reflect his perception of reality without jumbling the entire structure. He suggested that he could have instead jumbled up the sentences, "but then no one would read it."
How does ALCHEssMIST describe his preferred writing style?

Visuospatial (a picture tells a thousand words) with variably referenced tabular jists.

May explain why ALCHEssMIST enjoys blindfold chess.

Make of that what you may.

Image of David Foster Wallace at reading for Booksmith at All Saints Church in 2006 by Steve Rhodes (cc)
Tags: Acronyms - Author - Blindfold Chess - David Foster Wallace - Jargon - Time Magazine - Visuospatial - Writing Style