Thursday, April 30, 2009

“Squeeze His Balls”: An Anti-feminist Reading of ‘Daddy’

Among the chess players of highest stature who is really the evil par excellence?

If we are talking in terms of sheer destructive ability, it has to be Garry Kasparov or Robert Fischer. If we are talking in terms of creative madness, well, who will match Mikhail Tal’s sheer brilliance? If we are talking in terms of natural imagination and arrogance, it is none other than the inimitable Cuban Jose Raul Capablanca.

But I won’t say that they are not really evil. They have all killed their opponents in terrific style. Does that really make them the rightful candidate for the post of evil par excellence? I really don’t think so. They are not evil because there is something positive about their style of chess. They have all played what can be called positive chess. In that they might have destroyed their opponents. But they are angelic in their strategies as well as tactics.

But in the playing style of the Ninth World Champion, Tigran Vartanovitch Petrosian, we have what I would call the absolute evil. Why? Let me quote Wikipedia: “He was nicknamed "Iron Tigran" due to his playing style because of his almost impenetrable defence, which emphasised safety above all else….He was arguably the hardest player to beat in the history of chess.” At one time, it was thought that beating Petrosian was akin to seeing the other side of the moon, an idea that Lev Polugaevsky puts in a totally different set of words: “In those years, it was easier to win the Soviet Championship than a game against "Iron Tigran".”

What is so radically evil about a defensive player, who is really hard? I’ll explain. He was the master of prophylaxis, which Wikipedia explains in this manner: “prophylaxis," guarding or preventing beforehand) or a prophylactic move is a move that stops the opponent from taking action in a certain area for fear of some type of reprisal. Prophylactic moves are aimed at not just improving one's position, but preventing the opponent from improving his… Players who play in the prophylactic style prevent the initiation of tactical play by threatening unpleasant consequences. One of the largest advantages of this approach is that it keeps risk to a minimum while causing an overaggressive opponent to lose patience and make a mistake.”

Hence it is clearly discernable that the radical evil of Petrosian lies in his orientation of thinking. Usually, players would think about their possibilities and the possible counter strategies and tactics that the opponent may adapt to nullify one’s moves. But Petrosian would think about the other’s possibility first and then play accordingly even before the other has a sense of the chances that are in store for him. As Paul Keres remarks, "Petrosian was a player who spent more time considering his opponent’s possibilities than his own." I would maintain that there is something really sinister about a player who makes endless calculations about the other’s possibilities. The way he looked at the board…..

Petrosian does not look at the board from his side; he looks at it from the other’s side. If there ever was evil, well this is it.

Let me go back to my business, gossip. If my memory serves me right, in Yudovitch book on Kasparov (I used this book in my late teens, may be the details could go wrong), he analyzed all the five games played against each other by the greatest attacking player and the greatest defensive player in the history of chess. Kasparov was in his early twenties, in his ferocious period; Petrosian was above fifty, well past his prime, and may be unknowingly suffering from a stomach cancer that was to consume him soon. (Like Derrida, he too was deconstructed by cancer. This impeccable defender could not defend cancer!)

In all five games Kasparov played white. The first one was a draw. The second one was a Queen’s Indian defense. Petrosian played very provocatively, inviting Kasparov to go for the jugular. Kasparov did exactly what Petrosian had thought he would do. He went for an all-out attack on Petrosian’s king side which was weakened due to 12…g6. But then what Kasparov faced was the Rock of Gibraltar, an extremely tough tactical defense matching Kasparov’s ferocity. Even then, Kasparov really created a winning position. But he missed the winning continuation. If he had played, as the post-match analysis by both players shows, 35. f7 instead of the 35. Qf7+, he definitely would have won. But then from that moment onwards Kasparov was playing like a beginner. Petrosian’s patient defense made Kasparov mentally exhausted, it seems. Within a few moves, he lost the match. Their third game was the most exciting of all. This time there were even more provocations from Petrosian, after opting for the Queen’s Gambit Accepted system. To me, the most daring move was 16. 0-0-0. It takes some balls to play a move of that sort against Kasparov. No other World Champion would dare do that against him. Kasparov’s light square bishop was fianchettoed, aiming straight at c6 pawn. The c-file was half open for his rooks to operate. There were dangers of a minority attack with a2 and b2 pawns. He had enormous space on the queen side. He could mobilize all his pieces straight at Petrosian’s king. That was the moment at which Petrosian made that daring move as if he were asking Kasparov: “Boy, mobilize all your resources against my king. Go for the jugular. I will show you who I am.” Naturally, Kasparov did all he could. One would not believe the things Petrosian did because those were precisely the things in chess school we were told not to do when your king was under attack in the middle game. He pushed the pawns in front of his king! His king was literally walking on the board. He moved his king five times! And 35… Kc6, the spectacular move in that match, stole the show. One more move, and Kasparov resigned.

The first World Champion Wilhelm Steinitz stated once that king was a strong piece and that it could defend itself, an idea which is not part of the classical base of the game. Petrosian has taught us that even theories as crazy as those can be useful if you are undogmatic and have terrific tactical eyes and a sound strategic mind!

Two defeats. Kasparov had a psychological block in Petrosian. He sought the advice of Boris Spassky, the 10th World champion, who snatched the title from Petrosian in 1969. It is said that Spassky gave him an abstract advice: “Squeeze his balls.” I don’t know what Kasparov learned from Spassky’s advice. I choose to understand it in this way: “There is no point in going for an all-out attack with all the arsenals against Petrosian. He will impeccably defend and frustrate you. Instead, take hold of the most vulnerable spot and consistently apply pressure there till he succumbs.” In other words, the half-Jewish Kasparov got an inverted Catholic lesson from Spassky, an inverted Golden Rule: Do unto Petrosian as Petrosian would do to others.”

The fourth game was an opening debacle for Petrosian. Was it another attempt at provocation that he did not make timely effort to develop his queenside pieces? He opened, it seems to me, the centre too early, without necessary preparation—very unPetrosianesque! Yudovitch, in the same book, has written something of this sort: “Never in his long term as a Grand Master was Petrosian defeated in such a crushing style!” The fifth game was a nice one: Kasparov, playing in true Petrosian style, reached the middle game with a slight advantage. Like Petrosian, he worked on this advantage or, in Spassky’s langauge, “squeezed his balls” till Petrosian decided to give up the struggle after a lengthy battle.

Kasparov’s famous book is titled Life Imitates Chess. I have not got a copy of the book. But I have heard that in that book he has written that he has adopted to Petrosian’s style against Petrosian after the first two defeats. We have to imitate something from that.

There is a book by Tigress Luv titled Women Really Do Love Bastards. I have not read the book. I do not know what the author means by the term ‘bastard’ and ‘love’. If the word ‘bastard’ is used to denote ‘hyper aggressive, violent, abusing men with a proclivity toward radical evil, then I will say that her choice of word is disgusting. Those people who are born outside of patriarchal family and Victorian morality are historically known as bastards. The prize the mother and the bastard have to pay for that radical politics is terrible. Isn’t it self-defeating when hard-wired feminists, who fight family norms and morality, cling to bastard as an abusive term? The ready-made equation of bastards with radical evil or vice versa is highly objectionable. One must respect bastards.

(From Edgar in King Lear to Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights to the real Jean Genet, historical bastards have a field day in western literature. Their charm lies precisely in the rootlessness of bourgeoisie modernity. But in Malayalam films and novels, it is all about asserting the parenthood of the bastard, which is the prestigious issue. In Empty Vasudevan Nair’s boring novel, situated in the transformative period of Nair community’s transformation from matrilineal to patrilineal system, or, from sexual freedom and liberty of ‘Sambandham’ to modern bourgeoisie nuclear family and Victorian morality, Appunni’s main concern is to affirm the fact that he is the son of Kontunni Nair, a concern which was not part of Sambandham tradition and which is very much part of the modern bourgeoisie patriarchal family system. In a film titled Ente Sooryaputhriykku, we have a filmic representation of the affirmation of parentage. But in the case of Dalit women of Malayalam cinema, it is the other way round. In both Jalolsavam and Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu, the Dalit parentage of both heroines is a matter of trauma in the private sphere (as loss), not something to be affirmed in the public domain. In contrast to Kalabhavan Mani in Karumadikkuttan, where we have the question of troubled parentage of a Dalit man, it is only in Dalit woman that we find the charm of the rootlessness of bourgeoisie modernity!)

Whatever may be the case, I think that the book is a popular explication of the point found in the poem of one of the most gifted artists of the twentieth century, Sylvia Plath, namely, “Every woman adores a fascist.” Normally English teachers of Kerala, irrespective of their moral rectitude—I mean even the arch-conservative, who abound in Kerala academy—teach Daddy as poem in which figures the key Freudian theme of the ‘Electra Complex,’ a theme which, his writings make one suspicious, he was not even sure of. The reason for our conservative teachers becoming radicals in the course of teaching one poem is that that is the only interpretation that is handed down to them. My effort here is to point out the existence of another interpretation, which could help them continue with their conservative existence. They no longer have to be afraid of that disgusting thought of a daughter desiring the father and his annihilation, etc.

If you ask me if I believe in the story I produce without any material basis, well I must say I believe in it. Here I am a militant follower of early Christianity, of Saint Paul’s thesis of ‘justification by faith alone’. I believe in it not because it is true. It is true because I believe in it.

Like the ‘Electra Complex’ thesis, this is also old-fashioned, biographical criticism, I warn you. The school of silent minority, as I call them and in which I figure, believes that this poem has nothing to do with ‘Electra Complex’. Here daddy is not her biological daddy but a social daddy, whom Plath adored. Our thesis is that Plath had a girlish crush on that arrogant and brutal Nazi military leader and politician Hermann Wilhelm Goring, who was known as the ‘big daddy’ in the military circle for his ruthlessness. Once we pervert our vision in this way, every thing becomes crystal clear. The concluding line about the daddy’s death before the victim gets time to avenge becomes more forceful: Goring too did not allow his victims to take revenge upon him! After the Nuremberg trials, he was sentenced to death by hanging. But on the night before he was to be hanged, he committed suicide by gulping a potassium cyanide capsule.

Plath, the self-professed Jewish victim, was left with no one to take revenge upon. She had to create an image of the aggressor to avenge (Look at their photographs, both Goring and Hughes have some resemblance and are extremely handsome in true fascistic way). That is why she fell for a poet who was a champion of authoritarian politics and natural order in his poems. Those, who celebrate ‘earth and soil’ and ‘natural community’ as a means of liberation from capitalist tyranny, must remember that that precisely was the ideology of Nazism. This idea is maintained subtly by some of the great minds of the twentieth century, who were the unconscious supporters of fascism, from the Norwegian novelist Knut Hamsun to the admirable German philosopher, Martin Heidegger. Every nature lover is a potential Nazi.

But Plath did not realize that poetry and life were two unlike. Her tragedy, our logical position forces us to conjecture, was that in life Ted Hughes was not a violent ‘hawk,’ innocent and natural, and an adorable fascist brute, who could subdue her violence forcefully, which was at times terribly hysterical, and thus give meaning to her existence. He was even more inhuman than a fascist. He was just indifferent to her violence. He even took away from her the right to be dangerous. That made her even more violent and furious. Her violence towards him was reciprocated by indifference and a celebration of life, which was denied to Plath, a married woman with kids to look after. Finally, her violence turned inwards. The rest is history.

Hegel’s famous definition of copulation is that copulation is the “desire to see oneself in the other”. In that sense Plath’s was pure copulation. By adoring a fascist, she was trying to find in him a violence and passion that would match her violence and passion. She was looking for that in the other. That is exactly what she wanted to exorcise from her. She could not kill the other outside, so the only logical alternative was to kill the other inside. She did it most tragically.

Kasparov learned his lesson long after she had been history. Otherwise, he could have given her his lesson about squeezing the ball. Kasparov did not try to do what Plath had done, namely, trying to find in the other one’s own self. He did its exact opposite. He tried to find in his own self the other! The moment he became Petrosian and started playing like him, Petrosian’s super solid defense lost its charm and efficacy. So Plath’s correct response to Hughes’ violence would have been not the violent and hysterical outbursts (a life’s imitation of Kasparov’s all-out attacking style) but an indifference and inhumanness that could outdo Ted Hughes’. Rather than the occasional outbursts, if she had taken hold of his vulnerable spot and consistently applied pressure there, history would have been different. But then Kasparov was a bit late in human history for Plath to learn that lesson. She should have squeezed his balls.

We must practice the art of putting our money where our mouth is not. In other words, we must arrogantly stop that feminist bashing of Ted Hughes as ‘the talented killer.’ Both of his wives committed suicide in the same manner, suicide in the oven with the only difference that Assia took the life off her daughter as well. Let us concede the feminist point that he was instrumental in their death. But what if we can also assume that he was a ‘talented sufferer’? We have no privileged access to truth. We know only the popular stories. Why not entertain the other possibility as well?

So let us come to our principle point. We call an action ethical only when it stems from true indifference, when we do things not to satisfy our ego, overtly or covertly, but when we do things without conscious of the fact we do it. It is neither charity nor sacrifice. It is something we do not know because we are not conscious of it but only the other knows. That is precisely Lacan’s true formula of love: the other finds in me something that I myself do not find in me. That is why we often wonder “I don’t know why you love me.” That is why I consider pious and humble people, who do many things to satisfy God, arrogant. They do things as if they knew why God loves them and wants from them. In their superior knowledge, in their privileged access to God’s mind, they have become God-like. Only an outwardly arrogant atheist has the humility to say that I do not know why God loves me if at all God loves me because I have no privileged access to God’s mind. I cannot name it. Only God can name it.

And the moment you try to look at you, at your ethical act, from the other’s perspective, from God’s perspective, you have become Petrosian. You have become radical evil. That is why Lucifer is radical evil. He tried to picture himself in the position of God and see things from God’s perspective.

Before dismissing my thesis as a cheap lesson coming from a Hegelian-Lacanian Marxism, you must take extreme care to remember that the great conservative T. S. Eliot has also preached radical indifference in his ‘Murder in the cathedral’ as the principle moment of the ethical act. As Hegel has taught us: radical conservative and radical revolutionary have something in common. The tragedy is that in India we neither have a radical believer nor a radical revolutionary. We have only liberal left and right. And they are the same lot. Like a bourgeoisie broker in the stock market, both Prakash Karat and Mar Andrews Thazhath engage in profitable calculations in the globalized market!
Let Goebbels and Goring come and defend my thesis, I am pulling out!

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