Bobby Fischer: Jonathan Safran Foer on the life of the Jewish chess champion.

Jonathan Safran Foer on Bobby Fischer, From Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame

Jonathan Safran Foer on Bobby Fischer, From Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame

The stadium scene.
Oct. 24 2012 8:00 AM

The Unnatural

Bobby Fischer (1943–2008), from Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame.

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Fast-forward half a century, to his quantum demise. The quintessential Jewish boy was the first chess fugitive in history, disavowed by the World Chess Federation and hunted by the United States for having played a chess match in Yugoslavia, which was then subject to a United Nations embargo that included sanctions on sporting events. His only public presence was occasional broadcasts from DZSR Sports Radio, a Manila, Philippines–based AM station that embraced Fischer as a sideshow freak capable of pulling in listeners. His talking points wouldn’t have worked well around the Seder table:

“[Jews] are lying bastards. Jews were always lying bastards throughout their history. They’re a filthy, dirty, disgusting, vile, criminal people.”

“My main interest right now is to expose the Jews ... These God-damn Jews have to be stopped. They’re a menace to the whole world.”


“[Jews] are subhuman. They are the scum of the Earth.”

“I’m very concerned because I think the Jews want to drive the elephants to extinction because the trunk of an elephant reminds them of an uncircumcised penis. I’m absolutely serious about that.”

“Jews are anti-social, destructive, intolerant, mean-spirited, deceitful, et cetera. They wish to destroy, rule, and kill, rob whoever gets in their way. To facilitate them getting what they want, they have developed a perverted, unnatural, destructive, evil lifestyle. Even though they live off the non-Jews as parasites, they still hate them and wish to destroy them. Jews hate nature and the natural order, because it’s pure and beautiful, and also because it’s bigger and stronger than they are, and they feel that they cannot fully control it. Nature’s beauty and harmony stands in stark contrast to their squalidness and ugliness, and that makes them hate it all the more. Jews are destroyers. They are anti-humans. The anti-human Jew hates and wants to destroy all non-Jews. He will also destroy even other Jews who are less destructive and evil than he is, if they get in his way. Apparently, the wickedness of the Jew is genetically based. Jews are destroyers. They are anti-humans. By the act of circumcision, the Jew shows his hatred towards nature and the natural order. By this bloody, cruel, senseless act, he shows his cruelty and sadism, and that he will stop at nothing to obtain his ends.”

“It’s time to start randomly killing Jews.”

With Jews like this, who needs Nazis?

His girlfriend at the time excused his behavior thusly: “He’s like a child. Very, very simple.” Or perhaps chess is an inherently paranoid game, and anti-Semitism is the paradigm of paranoids. The most obvious explanation would be that he had experienced some kind of psychic break. Whatever the cause, he had left the fold of mainstream humanity, and despite whatever lingering chess abilities he might have had—his 1992 rematch with Boris Spassky, after 20 years out of public view, was at best uninspired—he was universally reviled.

How and why did he devolve into such vile insanity? How and why did he leap to such genius?

Is it any fairer to castigate Fischer for his lunatic ravings than it was to praise him for his genius?

Perhaps the latter had some admirable component of work, but Fischer pursued his racist theories with energy, too, leaving hate-mongering flyers on windshields in parking lots, reading anti-Semitic tracts with the same fervor that he once read about chess.

What do we do with the unnatural mind? Praise it when it’s beautiful, excuse it when it’s ugly? That would seem to be the world’s response: Fischer’s chess brought him enormous wealth and fame, and his crazed rants left him isolated and ultimately festering in a Japanese prison. Or should we write off the unnatural mind in all cases? Should we put it on a pedestal to observe, in a cage to protect ourselves from it—put it in a book?