Chess, Imagination, and Fear in 1957
Bobby Fischer was at the height of his powers in 1957. At 14 years old, he was rising to his position as world champion, a title which he would win in 1958. In the Cold War year’s of Bobby Fischer’s international competitiveness, Americans were completely riveted by chess and invested a great deal of emotion and interest in the game — especially during international competitions, in which international standing was at stake.
The Seventh Seal is contemporaneous with the rise of Bobby Fischer and, reading them through each other, I am wondering again about futility. The knight in the film is ultimately powerless in his struggle for knowledge and against death. Fisher, himself a kind of pawn of American power on the world stage, famously fell from grace and grew increasingly paranoid and out of touch with reality. He died in Iceland. It makes me wonder about futility in international relations, in the battle with one’s own mind, and the “games” we all must play in order to get along. Pamela Lee’s book New Games also comes to mind in relation to this phenonmenon of chess in the Cold War, in which she takes seriously the question of the “game” in postwar american and its relationship to postmodernism and contemporary art.