Rene Magritte, “Checkmate”, 1926

Some rare individuals are inclined to solemnly put their identity and life on the card they believe in. They can live without too much passion and any proclivity to challenge themselves and live happily, until… one day they become addicts of finding their destiny. A great ambition awakened in them, ambition the size of the world, the size of life itself. These people can suddenly become obsessed chess players, stubborn and persistent gamblers. They’re turn into challengers of fortune. Success for them becomes a way to prove that they can be masters of fortune – that they can put fortune itself into a cave, lock it there and feed it with their own flesh being intact. Is it a masochism on their part or the dream to radically beat it? Is it a heretical desire for radical super-existential triumph?

Of course, to have a need to be gross-master of fortune is more congruent with a young person who from adolescent age could be preparing for the main and ultimate battle with the goddess of fortune. In this situation the clash which will decide everything – a person’s identity as much as its success, his death and his life are equally important or equally non-important. Solemnity of the moment, the fact that a person dares to win-or-to-lose fifty-fifty is a mark of incredible, super human, exceptional, ultimate act. When a chess-king of the opposite army is triumphing the losing king representing the hero of daring is transformed into a revolver in his own hand. In Magritte’s “Checkmate” we see youth with closed eyes – but the point here is not the fear of seeing the end – the point is that the very living daring to refuse itself.

Hero is the one who plays two sides simultaneously, who doesn’t differentiate between winning and losing, who is winning-as-losing and losing-as-winning, who will feel triumphing with life or with death equally – he is the one who is equal to the goddess of Fortune, who has incorporated into his soul her both sides. Failure in her kingdom is the winning as much as losing – failure here is as worthy as success. This non-differentiation between winning and losing is not just heroism but heroism with spiritual touch.

Man Ray, “Fortune”, 1938

Man Ray’s painting is intentionally much less dramatic and less controversial than Rene Magritte’s – Man Ray is laughing at billiard competitors, when each of them wants to win and because of it they are, in their childish dream, as if pushing the pool table too far into the sky which is mockingly encouraging the players by seductively winking at them with the multicolored celebrative clouds to intensify their rivalry.

When winning is obsessively important for the players it easily becomes “a matter of the sky” – it’s messed with the supernatural powers. And the players appeal to these powers for help. Here, whole situation is psychologically speaking much more traditional – people (here the players) are hoping to be privileged by the supernatural help. And you can bet – they are working hard to get the heavenly help. Man Ray is mocking the philistines’ crude intention of pleasing the supernatural by trying to play better than their rivals in order to win the trophy in the form of success. People are playing better because they are desperately trying to do so to please the supernatural agency. They, as if, try to play better to make the supernatural powers to help them to do so. That’s why today after winning athletes often praying their gratitude to god. The dynamics of superstition is as disarmingly fascinating as President Trump’s public bragging about his successes and smartness. He appeals to the crowds of his supporters like athletes to god.

Especially funny, here, is how awkwardly and vulgarly the far side of the pool table dares to intervene into the sky. Two billiard balls target the cloud as today’s (not when Man Ray painted his “Fortune”) high-tech weapon signifying the innocent psychological rudeness of the carriers of “wooden” desire to be ahead of others. The greed for supernatural help is the fundament of today’s greed for money helped by indecency or semi-illegal trickery.

The worship of money-god is a new mass-cultural religion with worshipers consciously or unconsciously appealing to the supernatural powers to help themselves to become as rich as billionaires/billiarders. It’s the passion to win, to defeat opponents, to succeed over the weaker and the dissimilar other and to tramp the losers into dust.