The second part of T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland” is called “A Game of Chess.” The poem, of course, famously emerged following World War I and is often described as a model example of a piece of art that captures the anxiety of a Europe struggling to emerge from a time of desperate loss and death, as much as it is also emblematic of the anxiety of a world transformed by modernity, the technology that marks this period of modern warfare and the spread of mass media as well as all of the concerns that such technologies raise about our humanity and inhumanity to others.
“A Game of Chess” may serve as a microcosmic representation of such concerns, as it eschews discussions of politics and nationalism to pursue brief fragmentary personal narratives about people that want to connect to one another but fail to do so. Among other tales, “A Game of Chess” includes the story of a rape that results in the victim’s tongue being cut out (the myth of Philomela), a rather unsatisfying sexual rendezvous between two co-workers, and a married woman discussing the abortion of her sixth child (feeling that her body couldn’t bear up through another pregnancy). None of these moments would seem to resemble anything like games, and yet Eliot groups them together under the heading “A Game of Chess” because they do, perhaps, all have in common something that the chess board provides: intimacy and antagonism.