Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Anthropology Of Cliché

OK, I know I suck at chess. I can never get above a 1400 rating on Gameknot, and they have the friendliest rating system ever. (1200 is absolute beginner.)

But what I excel at is buying books, and buying chess books has been not been exempt from the weird behavioural quirk that, I find out today, might be termed my illusio. ("It's the investment people make in the activities that give meaning to their lives, their committment to them." Something beyond receiving blowjobs I guess.) I think my interest and skills in chess may have more of the dellusio to them than any illusio, ho ho, however.

Part of my 4,000 point plan in reducing my dependency upon the physical, hard-cover, soft-cover, awkward to hold, printed word (I just can't fire up the passion for my Kindle, it's so fucking impersonal. Handy. But fucking impersonal.) is to... Stop. Buying. Books. Point 354 is to buy fewer books.

It's like when you're on a diet (I am on a diet) and you see a cookie. You know that that cookie is jammed packed with 1200 calories of evil deliciousness, right? So if you eat it, wham bam, straight through your overly-efficient starvation-keyed metabolism and it's on your waistline (if you still have any part of your body that can be reasonably identified as a waist.) There should be a calorie trading scheme. Or a some spooky mystic weird universe in which not eating that cookie that you have in front of you, not just results in zero calories added but also is calorie-traded in such a way that you lose the fat version of 1200 calories just by not eating it.

So you eat it one time; you don't eat it the next time. Balances out, right?

With books the same. You see a book you absolutely must have (the complete poems of Sappho, for example) even though there is zero chance of you ever opening it again after those few seconds of browsing in the Paragon Kinokuniya, and thinking how cool, but you don't buy it… and some space appears on your ridiculously orverflowing shelves. That makes room for the purchase that you do make - Counterplay, An Anthropologist At The Chessboard, by Robert Desjarlais (and I am presuming that Desjarlais is the anthropologist in question) - OK becasue now there is space. Oops the fucking Sappho anthology got in there as well. Lesbians, can't stop 'em. As in people form Lesbos. According to some of these verses, it was men that got her going! (Ah, no was thinking of the Lesbia lady of Catullus's poems - you know, "the words of women should be writ on running water" guy, and yes I have an anthology of his as well. Know fuck all about poetry. Right up there with chess. Plenty of books though.)

Anthropology. Chess. Cool.


I've been working on a particularly difficult presentation for most of today - I have no idea how the machine works, and I have to explain it to 37 others for most of Monday - when I wasn't buying and not buying books and definitely not eating cookies. Saturday. In Bangkok. Working. Sigh. Again.

At 11pm I drop down to the 24hr restaurant at the front of my hotel, say hello to the old experienced hooker who sits there all day with a large glass of red wine in front of her, poised like Shelob (only Shelob didn't drink wine or fuck people for money), grab a table overlooking the seventh level of Sukhomvit (which Hell can only aspire to) and order a low-carb steak salad and a happy hour, high-carb, beer. Which means two beers. I tear the plastic wrapping from the book, spend three minutes trying to get the statically charged film from my arm hairs (it's like a sticky booger you've rolled up into a ball, just won't flick off your fingertips, just keeps swapping from one to the other) and settle down to enjoy some significant anthropological insights concerning 16 pieces on a 64 square board.

The book seems OK, sure, and after only a few pages I have picked up a few nice quotations and that line about illusio, which I like. We've had Tibetan Buddhist death rites, Philippine head-hunters (from Makati or Anglese City?), Nepalese shamans, GZA from Wu-Tang Clan penning lyrics for his song Queen's Gambit, Marcel Duchamp who "needs a good game of chess like a baby needs a bottle", Simone Weil saying "Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer", Joe the IT engineer who thinks "you've got to be a masochist to want to play competitive chess, T.S Eliot (speaking of poetry), and more... by page 26. Phew.

One slightly sour note hit my (failing) ears back on p9, and that was the phrase: "nexus of people." I felt sure that the idiom was mostly right (I think of nexus as a hub or axis of relationships) it just seemed like an overly twee expression for a guy who had to inform us earlier that illusio is a Latin word. Well, d'uh, so is nexus. Ah, it is probably just me. He also says "cyborgian", so what the hell. Nexus, schme… whatever.


However - get that gird on your loins people - on p23, this… this… DISASTER of E@L exploding proportions:

"But you don't want to avoid it like the plague, either."


[My emphasis, btw.] Can you believe that this anthropologist was given a book contract? This is 2012, yeah? (I have trouble with dates.) People are smarter now, right? Apart from the logic in the sentence sounding somewhat strange - sort of a double negative* - the fact that he has just used the biggest, worsest, mostest blatantest, fucking cliché EVER is completely stunning (which is why, several sentences ago, I was stunned.)

This is the cliché they warned you about at school, that your mother told you not to accept sweets from. From Strunk and White (I am guessing) to Fowler and Gowers, from Funk and Wagnell's to Beavis and Butthead, the warning is shouted from the tops of various tall places that would act to promote transmission of the voice, this is the cliché to avoid like the, wait for it, plaque on my dentist's wall.

From "nexus" (see, I am a brainy writer) to "avoid it like the plague" (I am the dumbest fuck writer ever and my editor should be sacked.) That is right up there with Dan Brown's classic: "he was beginning to think it was going to be a long night." (Two clichés for the price of several hundred.)

That drunken farang screaming abuse at the sex-workers of the world in a passing tuk-tuk nearly received a free copy of "Counterplay." Not completely free, as I did have to pay for it.

Sigh. Should I stop reading now? Should I quit the book, quaff my beer(s) and get back to my overdue Powerpoint nexus? Sigh.

Well there have been some gems in there. Maybe I'll give the guy another chance, he is only an anthropologist after all. (Recall that in 'Waiting For Godot" the most offensive term Ponzo (was it?) could come up with was 'architect!')


Bang. Page 27. "…But step inside the place on any weekend and you'll happen upon [groan] a cramped but vital domain of chess praxis."

Is praxis a Latin word, I wonder. (Yes.) (How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Praxis.)

Nexus, followed closely by Praxis. Praxis I shouldn't complain about, it is a word from the soft sciences, but it's all these X words he spouts. They're so unexpected. Inexplicably so.

But I complain, inexorably, I complain. Complaining is my illusio, my praxio, my nexio.

And I buy books. Sometimes I read them. And I fail at chess. Fail badly. Fail more badderly next time. But I hope like hell that as a writer (stop laughing) intractable blogger I am able to step around or subvert many of the major clichés. When I do spot myself using them at face value (I mean, at the value of a face) that is.


And it's late, and I do be grumpy and the book is OK, I guess, I'm just in a mood because despite telling my colleagues three weeks ago we needed to get stuck into these PPTs… I hadn't done a nexus thing. I'd been, you know, avoiding it.


* well yeah, it's meant to be a double negative in context. You don't want to skip playing Blitz Chess forever, but, seriously, do you want to chase it like the plague?

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