Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Reuben Fine and Psychoanalysis

Reuben Fine. Image credit: Life Magazine

Sigmund Freud
, the father of psychoanalysis, is a controvertial figure. Some argue that psychoanalysis itself is merely a pseudoscience, on par with phrenology or homeopathy. That as it may be, Freud himself had warned that "wild" psychoanalysis -- applying it glibly and wantonly to fields where it does not apply -- is silly and potentially dangerous.

A perfect example of this is seen in the work of the (Jewish) chess player, Reuben Fine. His decision to quit chess for psychoanalysis was called 'a loss for chess and at best a draw for psychoanalysis'. His book, The Psychology of the Chess Player [New York, Dover: 1967] is so bad, it is good.

For example:

1). The king is "really" a penis, and therefore the whole game is "really" an attempt at castration, because both players attempt to mate the enemy king. Castling is protecting one's penis from the castrating father (or mother -- see below) because it "hides away" the game's "penis".

The queen's power, on the other hand, shows the mother's female power, and players who tend to swap queens early are afraid of women. But what about languages (Hungarian, Arabic) where the piece is not a queen? No matter -- the very fact that it is powerful is enough to symbolize the power of the mother.

3). A blunder is never a blunder, but only a result of a deep-seated, subconscious "masochistic" desire to be punished. A move that makes many threats isn't just a (usually) good move, it shows the deep-seated "agression" of the player. A quiet winning move shows his "sadism".

And so on and so forth. This nonsense would be understandable -- although not excusable -- if the author was merely a lousy psychoanalyst, who did not know much about chess. But Fine was a very strong player; in his heyday (the 1940s) he was a serious candidate for the world championship. How could he, of all people, come to believe -- and write -- such nonsense?

Well, folks,
that is what happens when you let Freudean psychoanalysis do away with your common sense.

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