On Boxing

ON BOXING by Joyce Carol Oates was a thrilling read! I just finished. Here are a few of my favorite things she wrote. But the whole book is really my favorite thing she wrote. My copy is full of underlining and circles and scribbles. 

Boxing is for men, and is about men, and IS men. A celebration of the lost religion of masculinity all the more trenchant for its being lost.

Professional boxing is the only major American sport whose primary, and often murderous, energies are not coyly deflected by such artifacts as balls and pucks. Though highly ritualized, and as rigidly bound by rules, traditions, and taboos as any religious ceremony, it survives as the most primitive and terrifying of contests: two men, near naked, fight each other in a brightly lit, elevated spaced roped in like an animal pen (though the ropes were originally to keep rowdy spectators out); two men climb into the ring from which only one, symbolically, will climb out.

I have no difficulty justifying boxing as a sport because I have never thought of it as a sport. There is nothing fundamentally playful about it; nothing that seems to belong to daylight, to pleasure. At its moments of greatest intensity it seems to contain so complete and so powerful an image of life - life's beauty, vulnerability, despair, incalculable and often self-destructive courage - that boxing is life, and hardly a mere game.

Boxing is the only sport in which the objective is to cause injury: the brain is the target, the knockout the goal.

One should know that a well-aimed punch with a heavyweight's full weight behind it can have the equivalent force of ten thousand pounds - a blow that must be absorbed by the brain in its jelly sac.

Clearly, boxing's very image is repulsive to many people because it cannot be assimilated into what we wish to know about civilized man. In a technological society possessed of incalculably refined methods of mass destruction boxing's display of direct and unmitigated and seemingly natural aggression is too explicit to be tolerated.

Which returns us to the paradox of boxing: its obsessive appeal for many who find in it not only a spectacle involving sensational feats of physical skill but an emotional experience impossible to convey in words; an art form, as I've suggested, with no natural analogue in the arts. Of course it is primitive, too, as birth, death and erotic love might be said to be primitive and forces our reluctant acknowledgement of that the most profound experiences of our lives are physical events though we believe ourselves to be, and surely are, essentially spiritual beings. 

The artist senses some kinship, however oblique and one-sided, with the professional boxer in this matter of training. This fanatic subordination of the self in terms of a wished-for destiny. One might compare the time-bound public spectacle of the boxing match with the publication of a writer's book. That which is "public" is but the final stage in a protracted, arduous, grueling, and frequently despairing period of preparation. Indeed, one of the reasons for the habitual attraction of serious writers to boxing is the sport's systematic cultivation of pain in the interests of a project, a life-goal: the willed transposing of the sensation we know as pain (physical, psychological, emotional) into its polar opposite. If this is masochism - and I doubt that it is, or that it is simply - it is also intelligence, cunning, strategy. It is an act of consummate self-determination - the constant re-establihment of the parameters of one's being. To not only accept but to actively invite what most sane creature avoid - pain, humiliation, loss, chaos - is to experience the present moment as already, in a sense, past. Here and now are but part of the design of there and then: pain now but control, and therefore triumph later. And pain itself is miraculously transposed by dint of its context. Indeed, it might be said that "context" is all. 

 

Not for hemophobics, boxing is a sport in which blood becomes quickly irrelevant. The experienced viewer understands that a boxer's bleeding face is probably the least of his worries...

 

A terrible beauty is born.

(in reference to Mike Tyson)

 

… to be a great champion one must have great opponents. 

 

When a great fight occurs … the spectator experiences something like the mysterious catharsis of which Aristotle wrote, the purging of pity and terror by the exercise of these emotions; the subliminal aftermath of classical tragedy.

 

Real courage is required when you  lose, Floyd Patterson once said. Winning is easy.