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04 March 2005

The day Bobby Fischer was busted in Japan

As previously noted, I am not going to junk up this blog with obituary notices (because I disapprove of dying), and I am also going to do my Cub Scout best not to junk it up with my Old Web Writing.

As "The Jerk" said to the waiter in the fancy restaurant: "And this time, bring us some new wine! Stop bringing us this crummy old wine!
" (That gag is credited to Carl Reiner, but maybe Steve Martin cooked it up. I suspect you can find it carved on a Babylonian ziggurat from 3800 BC.)

But (as in the post with the obituary notice) rules are made to be brutally violated now and then, and I would like to post this Crummy Old Wine to prepare you for a Brand-New, Spiffy, Hot-off-the-Keyboard post which is taking me a long time to complete. So read this, and then Watch This Space for further developments.

f_minor is a List of worshippers of the late Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. (He said f-minor was his favorite key, the way I might say that blue is my favorite color. See: synæsthesia.) If you are not already a member of the Glenn Gould Kult, let me be the first to abduct you. Go out and buy his Mozart. Or his Goldberg Variations (either his breakthrough 1955 that made him world-famous, or one last heartbreaking version shortly before he died so tragically premature a death, of which I vehemently disapproved). Turn off the phone ringer, close the door to your music listening room, and become a Kult Member.

"Elmer" is me, I'm also Elmer Elevator. Also jameskpolka. And Droog4. And several other personae and avatars. Isn't Cyberspace wonderful? Didn't you feel so restricted and claustrophobic by RealityLand's demands that you only have One Name?


* Subject: [F_MINOR] OT: O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown! (sad stuff about Bobby Fischer)
* From: Robert Merkin
* Date: Fri, 16 Jul 2004 20:51:26 -0400
* Reply-to:
* Sender: F_Minor

There is an intellectual realm, a place of strange, symbolic ideas and rarified beauty, that only a handful of human beings ever experience. I think we all hang here on f_minor because of our fascination with one human being who clearly inhabited this ultra-human realm, and sent us back gifts of uniquely beautiful music.

From time to time, someone will post to f_minor a posthumous shortcut Explanation of Glenn Gould, and hypothesize that he was just plain nuts, usually of the variety of filbert called Asperger's Syndrome.

Personally, I think that psychoanalyzing a person with an IQ of about 430, especially a decade or two after he died, isn't likely to produce much of value for anyone -- much too late to do him any good, and medically, like letting live squirrels diagnose the mental conditions of dead humans.

The diplomatic relations between The Ordinary World and this handful of supergeniuses are always, at best, rocky and troublesome. The person's entire life must resemble an English-speaker trying to get through airport Customs in Istanbul -- one big, long misunderstanding from around age 6 to death.

I've always suspected that GG had one thing going for him -- an inate savvy instinct about what The World thought about him, and how to spin his quirky image to his advantage. We aren't the only people fascinated and delighted that GG Was Here. The entire nation of Canada remains thrilled that he lived his life a Canadian, he is and remains a beloved national treasure, just a notch down from a couple of hockey players and the guys who discovered insulin.

Here, for your reading discomfort,

courtesy of The Atlantic Monthly, is another guy who lived his life in that rarified supergenius realm, but who seems never to have had a clue what ordinary Mere Humans thought about him. His entire life has been one of those English-Turkish conversations, and it just keeps getting worse. (For what it's worth, several great chessplayers before his time were just as -- comment d'it on? -- misunderstood.)

Today Bobby Fischer was detained at Tokyo Airport, trying to get back to his hidden, secretive retreat life in the Philippines, apparently on an expired American passport. He will now be deported to face criminal charges in the USA stemming from 1992, some sort of arcane International World Night Court indictment, I guess the charge is Playing Chess in a Wrong Place, or Playing Chess Without a License. This charge alone could put Fischer into federal prison for ten years.

Skipping, momentarily, the question of Fischer's meshuginetude, and our questionable right to Judge or Diagnose him, a bit about his achievement. Nobody ever played chess like this person. To chessplayers who are not just hopeless potzers like moi, the things Fischer did on a chessboard, starting, like GG, in childhood, bring tears to their eyes, the Shock of Naked Transcendental Beauty -- not in the music of Bach, but in the ultra-restrictive ultra-formal moves of pawns, knights, bishops, rooks, queen and king.

There is a movie, "Searching for Bobby Fischer" (also a true father's memoir of his experiences with his chess prodigy son), that is nothing at all about Bobby Fischer -- except that the entire chess world is bereft and weeping and in grief because Bobby Fischer is hiding in the Philippines and no longer moves bishops and rooks around a chessboard in his unique ethereal way. It's a wonderful movie and probes a lot of questions about where Supergeniuses come from and what we ought to do with them when we find one of them in the nursery. (Fischer's mother handcuffed herself to the White House gates to protest the lousy way America treated great child chess prodigies.)

Well -- read it and weep. O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown! We should all say a prayer of thanks tonight that our hero, Glenn Gould, never slid into this kind of decline. If he had, what right would we Mere Mortals have had to judge him? But he didn't. He stopped at the corner of Goofy and Colorful, and just parked it there.



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