Philosophers and thinkers have often used chess to reflect on their ideas; for instance, the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and the philosophers Walter Benjamin and Charles Sanders Peirce. Some were even Grandmasters, like Emanuel Lasker, or avid players like Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre (Hale, Philosophy Looks at Chess, 2008).
Vilém Flusser should be added to this list. He enjoyed playing chess during intellectual discussions: “Anyhow, this will be an opportunity to exchange experiences and views, play some chess, and have a good time,” as he wrote to Lewis Weiner (correspondence with Lewis Weiner, May 6, 1987). There are also many ways in which Flusser uses the analogy of chess in his writings: “Again and again I go back to the game of chess, because it is so easy.” (Radio DRS, broadcast on September 30, 1991; translated from the German)
One of Flusser’s most important chess analogies is the following: in his essay “Schach” [Chess], Flusser uses a phenomenological approach to discuss chess (“Schach,” in: Dinge und Undinge, 1993). He says that chess is a structurally simple and a functionally complex principle. The objects are simple and made of wood, but in the game the rules and the possible decisions are complex. The analysis of technical principles, in the sense of functional and structural complexity, is continued in his essay “Die lauernde schwarze Kamera-Kiste” [The Lurking Black Camera Box]: „[…] the camera […] is a structurally complex but functionally simple toy. In this respect it is the opposite of chess, which is structurally simple and functionally complex.” (“Die lauernde schwarze Kamera-Kiste,” in: Vipecker Raiphan, no. 3 ½, 1983, pp. 96–97; translated from the German)
In Towards a Philosophy of Photography (1984) Flusser goes further: the photographer does not have to understand the complexity underlying the apparatus – the photographer needs only to focus on the creation of the technical image. In Into the Universe of Technical Images (2011) this view is then expanded to the level of society to illustrate the prevailing spirit as to how information is produced in the telematic society, and at the same time to characterize the emerging homo ludens. This “new man” uses the structurally complex and functionally simple technical principles with ease, and takes advantage of the possibilities of the dialogic and playful creations.
Original article by Anita Jóri in Flusseriana