Chess RHIZOME: Mapping Metaphor Theory in Hypertext

Martin E. Rosenberg, Kettering University

Chess Rhizome explores hypertextually the range of references to chess, the chessboard, its pieces, its rules, and the peculiar role that time plays in the process of unfolding the game itself, across disciplinary boundaries.  The method informing its design requires applying metaphor theory from the philosophy of science, as it is informed by the work of Gilles Deleuze.  The motive for this project is to explore the interdisciplinary dimensions of metaphor: particularly, it employs the unstable nature of Boyd's Theory Constitutive Metaphor as a grounds for Deleuzian épistemocritique.  

The chessboard tropes visually and models dynamically the assumptions about the reversibility of time underlying physics since the calculus of Newton and Leibniz.   A metaphor constitutive of the theory it seeks to illustrate, it has been employed by physicists and mathematicians (Richard Feynman, Henri Poincaré, Le Lionnais), linguists (Ferdinand de Saussure), information theorists (Claude Shannon), philosophers (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari), artists (Duchamp, Beuys), literary figures (Pound, Eliot, Beckett, Borges, Nabokov, Pynchon) musicians (Cage), historians (Spengler, Benjamin) and many others.  The chessboard tropes visually and by analogy the assumption of an underlying Platonic timeless "Being" beneath the causal chain of violent events this "sport of kings" portrays in abstract form.  
   
Furthermore, it models (just as the calculus does) the culture of control over the contingent possibilities for cause and effect.  It does so by freezing events into a series of still frames (more like a single cinematic image out of a series than a tableau), mulled over by the players seeking to manipulate the game toward their preferred sequence of cause and effect that will lead ultimately to victory.  At each of these events during the course of a game, time stops, leaving a silent range of possible futures in response to possible moves plotted schematically in the minds of players capable of prodigious feats of memory, feats that even mathematicians would envy, as Poincaré states in "Mathematical Discovery."  For example, Duchamp's chess treatise on the endgame visualizes the four-dimensional geometries to which players must resort even when only a few pieces are involved. Furthermore, chess allegorizes, through the rules and consequences of attrition warfare, the historical conceit that civilization (Spengler's The West) finds itself mechanically dissipating inevitably toward cultural equilibrium, the thermodynamic endgame of heat death for closed systems natural and cultural, and the end of the game for both Kings, no matter who "wins." As metaphor, model and allegory, chess performs powerful cultural work.  
   
James Boyd argues for the central role of metaphor in the hard sciences by noticing that metaphor serves as "one of many devices available to the scientific community to accomplish the task of accomodation of language to the causal structure of the world."  Here he assumes that language can approach reality, that our linguistic categories "cut the world at its joints."   Thomas Kuhn has challenged Boyd on this point by questioning whether "successive scientific theories provide successively clear approximations to nature." This forces Pylyshyn to comment ironically on the phenomenon of scientists referring to "literal" and "figurative" metaphors and goes on to single out the reification of geometry in western science as an example of how metaphors can become literal simply by the ways in which scientists render the grounding assumptions for that metaphor invisible to themselves.  James Bono in particular has reviewed this problematic "rule" of metaphor by emphasizing the "role" that Viconian and neo-Nietzschean traditions foregrounding the irreducibility of metaphor might play in what is called the cultural studies of science.  This approach to the study of metaphor in science adds a level of rigor to recent debates concerning the value of such investigations of scientific practices by those outside the sciences proper, by forcing scientists to recognize the need to take the role of metaphor much more seriously.  

I would just like to add one more complication, by demonstrating that Boyd's notion of the Theory Constitutive Metaphor remains valuable precisely because of its problematic relationship with epistemology.  Reading Boyd carefully, we find the TCM as unstable, hovering between two contradictory uses that we might use to explore the cultural work of chess:  
 1.  As constitutive of the fundamental epistemological assumptions embedded in the   ideology dominant within the disciplinary formation to which it has been applied.  
 2.  As a Portal opening up new potential domains.  
When I state that the chessboard tropes visually and by analogy the assumption of an underlying Platonic timeless "Being" beneath the causal chain of violent events, I was making visible a certain fundamental epistemological assumption at work in the hard as well as human sciences, an assumption deconstructed by the work of Ilya Prigogine and a student of Gilles Deleuze, Isabelle Stengers.  That assumption views time as a function that is reversible, so that all complex phenomena can be explained by simple immutable laws that can map the chains of causality with precision precisely because all events can be reduced to a geometrical grid. According to Prigogine and Stengers, of course, there is another fundamental assumption that makes no such claims and in fact argues that time is both irreversible and irreducible.  So the value of chess, as a theory constitutive metaphor, lies in its capacity to reveal its naïve or ironic appropriation of specific epistemological baggage.  

The purpose of Chess RHIZOME, then, is to employ hypertext to create an environment where the walls of conceptual spaces within specific disciplines become permeable and perhaps even unstable, and where it becomes possible to witness how the agents for such instability, the nomadic characteristics of theory constitutive metaphors, swarm across disciplinary matrices, forming rhizomes that cut across these boundaries and in the process form new kinds of conceptual structures liberated from disciplinary adherence to epistemological rigidity.  Chess RHIZOME is an evolving hypertext document, and will involve at the base level all primary materials for which we will seek permissions, with other textual, graphic and video materials; it will also offer levels of commentary in the form of published articles and chapters that amplify in some way the emphasis on chess as metaphor, model and allegory.   It will also offer writing spaces for the aggregation of new materials, and for notetaking which will highlight the hypertext as an environment for research as well as an experiment in the modeling of interdisciplinary inquiry.