cabinetI’m sure none of you understand the subject. Is he talking about chess games depicted in novels? Did he mean novelists?

No and no.

In the fall issue of Cabinet, D. Graham Burnett and W. J. Walter describe the following procedure:

  • Assign letter combinations to the squares of a chessboard (e.g. d4 might be the letter combination “te”).
  • Take two classic novels (e.g. Jules Verne’s Voyage au Centre de la Terre vs Jane Austin’s Sense and Sensibility).
  • Assign them as chess opponents.
  • Play: starting from the beginning of the book, whenever a valid letter combination occurs in the text to indicate a piece position, and then another to indicate a valid destination position, the book makes that move.

Some of our astute readers may ask the following question: huh? Oh, you readers.

Both a work of literature and the royal game, he suggests, unfold in time within strictures that inexorably invoke “life and the struggle for life.” There is, as he puts it, a “symbolic shadow” that lengthens over a chess board, since 
the way to the end is the way to a death, “a death for which you yourself are guilty.” The novel, of course, 
is the literary form that has evolved precisely to afford 
language the means of erecting and choreographing such a metaphorical life space. And thus it is no surprise that the novel, too, is haunted by a long shadow: all plots, as Don DeLillo memorably put it, end in death. Moreover, en route to their respective endgames, both chess and the novel offer powerful arenas in which to investigate the question of questions: the ever-vexatious issue of the relationship between fate and agency, between necessity and freedom. Every move is our own, except when it’s not. Either way, the board thins, the sheaf of paper in the right hand dwindles, sifting 
left as if blown by an inexorable wind—though of course, we turn every page.

Does that answer your question?


P.S. Voyage au Centre de la Terre toasted Sense and Sensibility in a scant 25 moves. Every game!