Sunday, 4 November 2007

The knight is ...

'The knight is the only piece able to leave the chessboard and return again to it ...' But this is wrong, on several levels. It's wrong in point of fact (rooks? Kings?), and in point of play (very often a player must pick up a bishop, say, in order to be able to trace out, in the air, the piece's diagonal between close set pieces and place it down again). But there's a more important point here. The knight piece is a stylised horse; its ability to 'leap over other pieces' is a function of a curiously literal approach to metaphorisation: it can leap over things because, in real life, horses can leap over things ... which is the same logic that prevents Gradgrind from papering his rooms with horsey wallpaper ('you wouldn't paper a room with representations of horses. Do you ever see horses walking up and down the sides of rooms in reality - in fact? Do you?') In that sense the knight does not leave the chessboard; it is, indeed, more closely tied to the symbolic logic supposedly underpinning the chessboard than other, freer-flying pieces ... the rook itself; the all-powerful queen, or best of all the eight sphere-topped spires we call pawns.

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