DOSTOEVSKY: The Gambler:

"That the universe has no purpose, that is it has no end to hope for any more than it has causes to be known – this is the certainty necessary to play well" (Deleuze Nietzsche and Philosophy) connect with Granny’s gambling method and Alexi’s at the end of the novel. She plays well because she bets it all every time—her problem is that she changes her strategy)

The Gambler: protagonist “gets staked” by a woman to whom he is attracted, but gets no thrill in gambling for someone else. Constantly resents the feeling.

“Yes; even if a gentleman should lose his whole substance, he must never give way to annoyance. Money must be so subservient to gentility as never to be worth a thought. Of course, the SUPREMELY aristocratic thing is to be entirely oblivious of the mire of rabble, with its setting; but sometimes a reverse course may be aristocratic to remark, to scan, and even to gape at, the mob for preference, through a lornett), even as though one were taking the crowd and its squalor for a sort of rare show which had been organized specially for a gentleman's diversion. Though one may be squeezed by the crowd, one must look as though one were fully assured of being the observer—of having neither part nor lot with the observed. At the same time, to stare fixedly about one is (Gambler 32) unbecoming; for that, again is ungentlemanly, seeing that no spectacle is worth an open stare—are no spectacles in the world which merit from a gentleman too pronounced an inspection. (Gambler 33)

However, to me personally the scene DID seem to be worth undisguised contemplation—more especially in view of the fact that I had come there not only to look at, but also to number myself sincerely and wholeheartedly with, the mob” (Gambler 33) .

I wonder if any one has EVER approached a gaming-table without falling an immediate prey to superstition? (Gambler 35)



FIND SOURCE 1928: The Complete Works of Freud Vol. #21—not exact bib info—locate:


"My hands were shaking, my thought confused, and even when losing, I was somehow almost glad. I kept saying, let it be, let it be."

Fyodor DOSTOEVSKY. Letter to Anna (May 21, 1867) Connect to Deleuze’s casting of the dice as the affirmation of becoming.


In “DOSTOEVSKY and Parricide”, Freud attempts to connect some of the details of Dostoevsky’s biography, particularly his propensity for gambling and epilepsy, with the Oedipal Complex. In the article, Freud clearly connects the gambling instinct with a masochistic criminality in which “the relation between the subject and his father-object, while retaining its content, has been transformed into a relation between the ego and the super-ego—a new setting on a fresh stage” (Freud 186). As a result of a bisexual response to the threat of castration (the subject relinquishes his pursuit of the mother’s love by and father’s destruction (in the case of DOSTOEVSKY, the abandonment of the patricidal drive is the result of the father’s real death) so that “the super-ego becomes sadistic and the ego becomes masochistic—that is to say, at bottom passive in a feminine way. A great need for punishment develops in the ego, which in part offers itself as a victim to Fate, and in part finds satisfaction in ill-treatment by the super-ego (that is, in the sense of guilt). For every punishment is ultimately castration and, as such, a fulfillment of the old passive attitude towards the father. Even Fate is, in the last resort, only a later projection of the father” (Freud 185). The maniacal pursuit of guilt which results manifests itself in two ways: epileptic seizures and compulsive gambling, both, according to Freud, functioning as a means of releasing the hysteria inducing sexual energy of “displaced narcissism” (190).

Freud is careful to point out that Dostoevsky’s motivation for gambling was not, as one would naturally assume, driven by a desire to resolve his financial problems, though it may appear as such, but as a self-contained pleasure—“le jeu pour le jeu” (Freud 190)—play for the sake of play. (L'art pour L'art). The editor’s note locates the source in the following quotation from a collection of Dostoevsky’s posthumous papers: “’The main thing is the play itself,’ he writes in one of his letters. ‘I swear that greed for money has nothing to do with it, although Heaven knows I am sorely in need of money.’” (Freud 190). Gary Morson in “Writing Like Roulette”


“’I submit that the passion for gambling is the noblest of all passions, because it comprehends all others. A series of lucky rolls gives me more pleasure than a man who does not gamble can have over a period of several years. I play by intuition, par l’esprit—that is to say, in the most keenly felt and delicate manner. Do you think I recognize gain only in terms of the gold that comes my way? You are mistaken. I see it in terms of the joys which gold procures, and I savor them to the full. These joys, vivid and scorching as lightning, are too rapid-fire to become distasteful, and too diverse to become boring. I live a hundred lives in one. If it is a voyage, it is like that of an electric spark.’…Edouard Gourdon, Les Faucheurs de nuit (Paris, 1860)” (AP 495)

MANHATTAN TRANSFER: “’It is useless to expect that a bourgeois could ever succeed in comprehending the phenomena of the distribution of wealth. For, with the development of mechanical production, property is depersonalized and arrayed in the impersonal collective form of the joint stock company, whose shares are finally caught up in the whirlpool of the Stock Exchange. . . .They are . . . lost by one, won by another—indeed, in a manner so reminiscent of gambling that the buying and selling of stock is actually known as ‘playing’ the market. Modern economic development as a whole tends more and more to transform capitalist society into a giant international gambling house, where the bourgeois wins and loses capital in consequence of events which remain unknown to him . . . . The ‘inexplicable’ is enthroned in bourgeois society as in a gambling hall. . . . Successes and failures, thus arising from causes that are unanticipated, generally unintelligible, and seemingly dependent on chance, predispose the bourgeois to the gambler’s frame of mind.” (AP 497)

“’Well, what is gambling, I should like to know, but the art of producing in a second the changes that Destiny ordinarily effects only in the course of many hours or even many years, the art of collecting into a single instant the emotions dispersed throughout the slot-moving existence of ordinary men, the secret of living a whole lifetime in a few minutes—in a word, the genie’s ball of thread? Gambling is a hand-to-hand encounter with Fate . . . The fascination of danger is at the bottom of all great passions. There is no fullness of pleasure unless the precipice is near. It is the mingling of terror with delight that intoxicates. And what more terrifying than gambling? It gives and takes away; its logic is not our logic. It is dumb and blind and deaf. It is almighty. It is a God. . . . It has its votaries and its saints, who love it for itself, not for what it promises, and who fall down in adoration when its blow strikes them. It strips them ruthlessly, and they lay the blame on themselves, not on their duty. ‘I played (AP 498) a bad game,’ they say. They find fault with themselves; they do not blaspheme their God.” Anatole France, Le Jardin d’Epicure (Paris), pp. 15-18. (AP 499)

“In the sixteenth section of Baudelaire’s Spleen de Paris, “L’Horaloge’ <The Clock>, we come upon a conception of time which can be compared to that of the gambler.” (AP 507)

“’The game of chance represents the only occasion won which the pleasure principle, and the omnipotence of its thoughts and desires, need not be renounced, and on which the reality principle offers no advantages over it. In this retention of the infantile fiction of omnipotence lies posthumous aggression against the . . . . authority which has ‘inculcated’ the reality principle in the child. This unconscious aggression, together with the operation of the omnipotence of ideas and the experience of the socially viable repressed exhibition, conspires to form a triad of pleasures in gambling. This triad stands opposed to a triad of punishments constituted from out of the unconscious desire of loss, the unconscious homosexual desire for domination, and the defamation of society. . . . At the deepest level, the game of chance is love’s will to be extorted by an unconscious masochistic design. This is why the gambler always loses in the long run.’” Edmund Bergler, ‘Zur Psychologie des Hasardspielers,’ Imago, 22, no. 4 (1936), p. 440.” (AP 510)

ACCELERATION: Multiplicity and Gambling: “The significance of the temporal element in the intoxication of the gambler has been noticed before this by Gourdon, as well as by Anatole France. But these two writers see only the meaning time has for the gambler’s pleasure in his winnings, which, quickly acquired and quickly surrendered, multiply themselves a hundredfold in his imagination through the numberless possibilities of expenditure remaining open and, above all, through the one real possibility of wager, of mis en jeu. What meaning the factor of time might have for the process of gambling itself is at issue in neither Gourdon nor France. And the pastime of gambling itself is, in fact, a singular matter. A game passes the time more quickly as chance comes to light more absolutely in it, as the number of combinations encountered in the course of play )of coups) is smaller and their sequence shorter. In other words, the greater the component of chance in a game, the more speedily it elapses. This state of affairs becomes decisive in the disposition of what comprises the authentic ‘intoxication’ of the gambler. Such intoxication depends on the peculiar capacity of the game to provoke presence of mind through the fact that, in rapid succession, it brings to the fore constellations which work—each one wholly (AP 512) independent of the others—to summon up in every instance a thoroughly new, original reaction from the gambler. This fact is mirrored in the tendency of gamblers to place their , whenever possible, at the very last moment—the moment, moreover, when only enough room remains for a purely reflexive move. Such reflexive [non-interpretive reaction, externally instigated action] behavior on the part of the gambler rules out an ‘interpretation’ of chance. The gambler’s reaction to chance is more like that of the knee to the hammer in the patellar reflex.” (AP 512-513) NOTE: Benjamin’s multiplicity as a chorus of voices—the collector.

“Are fortune telling cards more ancient than playing cards? Does the card game represent a pejoration of divinatory technique? Seeing the future is certainly crucial in card games, too.” (AP 514)

Distraction as a means of social control: ‘Because each man is born a Roman, bourgeois society aims to de-Romanize him, and thus there are games of chance and games of etiquette, novels, Italian operas and stylish gazettes, casinos, tea parties and lotteries, years of apprenticeship and travel, military reviews and changing of the guard, ceremonies and visits, and the fifteen to twenty close-fitting garments which daily, with a salutary loss of time, a person has to put on and take off again—all these have been introduced so that the overabundant energy evaporates unnoticed!’ Ludwig Borne, Gesammelte Schriften. (Hamburg and Frankfurt am Main, 1862), vol. 3, pp. 38-39 (‘Das Gastmahl. Der Spieler’ <Gambler’s banquet>.” (AP 514)

“‘But can you realize what delirium, what frenzy, possesses the mind of a man impatiently waiting for a gambling den to open? Between the evening gambler and the morning gambler the same difference exists as between the nonchalant husband and the ecstatic lover waiting under his mistress’s window. It is only in the morning that quivering passion and stark need manifest themselves in all their horror. At that time of day, you can stare in wonderment at the true gambler—one who has not eaten or slept, lived or thought, so cruelly has he been scourged by the lash of his vice. . . . At that baleful hour, you will meet with eyes whose steady calm is frightening, with faces that hold you spellbound; you will intercept gazes which lift the cards and greedily peer beneath them. Gaming-houses then reach sublimity (AP 514) only at opening time.’ Balzac, La Peau de chagrin, Editions Flammarion (Paris) p. 7.” (AP 514-515)



Van Hattenberg 1914—first to deal with deviant nature of gambling in print. Associated gambling with deviant behavior brought on by the desire for self-punishment brought on by the guilt of anal gratification achieved during childhood. (gambling 116)

COMPARE AP O22a,2 p. 511—different translation: Ernst Simmel of Berlin (1920) was the next analyst to deal in print with this topic. He had analyzed a young man with a gambling problem. This treatment led him to the conclusion that gambling "serves the unfolding or the substitute formation of the exceedingly active pre-genital anal sadistic libido in the unconscious." If the reader finds the foregoing difficult of interpretation, her attention is directed to the following: "The insatiable inordinate desire that will not rest in the endless vicious cycle until the loss becomes gain and the gain once more loss, originates in the narcissistic desire of the anal fantasies, to fructify himself, to devour his own excrement, gold, and to give birth to himself out of himself in immeasurable increase, replacing and suppressing his father and mother (p. 353)." The remainder of the article may be summarized, it is thought, with a "brilliant glimpse into the obvious." Simmel relates gambling to sexual functioning. He, in fact, seeks to spare the reader the tedium of wading through this work by giving us the following succinct and exhaustive summary of our topic, "games of chance are a reservoir for the anal-sadistic impulses held in the state of repression."

According to Harkavy (1954): “This patient's gambling was the hysterical acting-out of daydreams, expressing through imitation of the father a positive-oedipal content and the masochistic defense against it, and carried out as a prolonged fore pleasure induced by body movements; with an epileptic and then 'psychopathic' narrowing of consciousness during the acting-out period, which demonstrated itself on the analytic couch to be a dreamlike removal from reality while masturbating (Narcissism); and maintaining itself by regressively-activated anality which had been used in the first place to gain the love of a mother who hated him." (p. 285) Of course, because all of these references rely on the Oedipal Complex, they don’t apply so well to FEMALE GAMBLERS.

Laufer, 1966: “gambling motivated by homosexuality, as interpreted by analysts, allows one to manipulate other male players” So, what of FEMALE GAMBLING then? Is it a place for the power tripping of dominant women?

Stekel (1924) from Peculiarities of behavior: gambling stems from sexual conflicts and satisfies a craving for excitement.




See Roland Barthes' Writing Degree Zero

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