The Worthier the Sacrificial Object – the Greater the Profit as a Result of Making the Strategic Sacrifice

Max Ernst – “King Playing with Queen”, 1944 (cast 1954), Bronze
Max Ernst – “King Playing with Queen”, 1944 (cast 1954), Bronze

The monumental aura of Ernst’s sculpture combined with its mysterious quality (why to make such a big deal about a King moving a Queen and to make a sculpture of it?) creates a “punctum” (Roland Barthes) in our perception (pierces it). What is the significance of the fact that the King makes a move with his Queen? And what is the meaning of the position of King’s left hand behind him while he is moving the Queen? What is he keeping in his left palm?

Today in US, in the context of recent American events (wars on “terror“that keep escalating and became themselves terrorism-creating, financial collapses, massive and pernicious oil hemorrhage in the Gulf of Mexico) we can hypothetically change the title of Ernst’s sculpture to make it even more relevant to our life.

Max Ernst – our new title will be: “King Sacrifices the Queen”
Max Ernst – the new title will be: “King Sacrifices the Queen”

We can see that while moving the Queen with his right hand the King prepares something else with his left. We discern in his left palm an unidentifiable – unknown chess piece. It is as though sacrificing the Queen gives the King the opportunity to introduce into the game something new and by this to renovate the game and to reinforce his chances for a radical victory (is the surprise in King’s left hand worthy of Queen’s sacrifice?).

Of course, in chess – a game with rigid sets of rules, to exchange the Queen for an unknown piece is impossible while in real life, for example, during the eight years of conservative leadership in US we saw a lot of nasty anti-democratic changes under the excuse of war on terror. Wait a minute, what is the connection between Ernst and conservative rule? Presuming that Ernst created his sculpture not to illustrate a chess game but rather using chess as a metaphor of events taking place in life, we can imagine the situation when the leader of a country (king) can be prone to use a grand sacrifice to mobilize the public opinion to “change the game” (for example, to suddenly start a new kind of war and by this change all the rules of life and death and all the norms and values “because now we need to fight eye for eyes, tooth for teeth and limb for hundreds of limbs”).

Without a grand loss the masses may not get excited enough to emotionally feel involved in war. The masses have to be impressed to follow the king-in-chief unconditionally. And as soon as for every king his queen is, as it is well known, the most precious half, sacrifice of the queen-like object is the right strategy to proceed to impress the public. Queen as a symbol can include multitude of meanings. Ernst is a master of symbolization – of including in his galaxies of metaphors even signifiers which are tied to referents that weren’t in existence in his life time, like Manhattan’s twin towers.

The Queen in Ernst’s sculpture is occupying a place comparable with that of the twin towers as a symbol of American pride for its might and wealth in the minds of Americans. His sculpture is able to help us understand the strategic logic of the American conservative leaders’ thinking that were searching for the triggering point for starting war with Iraq and in the Middle East in general. It was necessary for BCR (Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld) to sacrifice the Queen (twin towers) to take the country into war – without this traumatic loss people, leaders were afraid, couldn’t follow the propaganda of war with Iraq (war-paganda). The psychological turmoil and the logical processes in the mind of BCR can be similar with that of the Ernst’s chess King! That’s why so many mistakes were found in the functioning of our government and our air force around the 9/11. That’s why the few terrorists were not prevented from committing crime.

The exceptional artists’ creative intuitions help us to understand the events of our times even if they lived before us. Human creative ability is stronger than the creator’s life span.

Through the metal mask of Ernst’s King we can actually see his facial features – his dull macho mug with an opened propaganda mouth. And appreciate the very gesture with which the king moves the queen – we see in its playfulness the contour of an embrace (King sacrifices what is very dear to him). Kings are not alien to patriotic feelings. The point for us to brood about is that patriotism is only a part of conservative leaders’ strategic calculations.