On Boxing (and writing)

Finally found a copy of Joyce Carol Oates' On Boxing while I was in Philadelphia at The Book Trader, a great used bookstore. Super girl and best friend, Ms. Sarah Wood, bought it for me as an impromptu gift (thank you!) and even before reading it I felt some achievement had been made. It's one of those books that I've been meaning to acquire and read for far too long.

I am still by no means an expert on boxing but roughly five years ago I admitted my affinity for boxing. My friend Anastasia indulged with me and we ordered some pay-per-view fights and even went to a few live matches in Philadelphia. TV does not do the sport justice. Live, boxing is far more brutal. Oh, the way a face can be smashed... I took boxing lessons for awhile but chose to stop when my boxing coach wouldn't stop hitting on me (pun acknowledged). Maybe it runs in the family-- my father was a golden gloves fighter for a few years.

All to say, I was jazzed to read this.

As if anyone needs a reason to be more in awe of Joyce Carol Oates and the thousands of books she seems to have written-- well, add to the list of her accomplishments: she writes compelling commentary on boxing to. Some parts are particularly elegant, deft. I found her comparison of boxers and writers worth sharing here:

...Boxing is about being hit rather more than it is about hitting, just as it is about feeling pain, if not devastating phychological paralysis, more than it is about winning. One sees clearly from the "tragic" careers of any number of boxers that the boxer prefers physical pain in the ring to the absence of pain that is ideally the condition of ordinary life. If one cannot hit, one can yet be hit, and know that one it still alive.

It might be said that boxing is primarily about maintaining a body capable of entering combat against other well-conditioned bodies. Not the public spectacle, the fight itself, but the rigorous training period leading up to it demands the most discipline, and is believed to be the chief cause of the boxer's physical and mental infirmities. (As a boxer ages his sparring partners get younger, the game itself gets more desperate.)

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 (which could be as brief as an ignominious forty-five seconds--the record for a title fight) 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 (from Swift, Pope, Johnson to Hazlitt, Lord Byron, Hemingway and our own Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Ted Hoagland, Wilfrid Sheed, Daniel Halpern, et al.) 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 at least that it is simply--it is also intelligence, cunning, strategy. It is an act of consummate self-determination--the constant reestablishment of the parameters of one's being. To not only accept but to actively invite what most sane creatures 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.

--Joyce Carol Oates On Boxing pages 25-26

nice old boxer article Bob Satterfield

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i think oates sucks so much. are you reading work on boxing? you should check out the pugilist at rest. some good boxing stories. he's iowa so you know what he's about. but some really great moments in the collection. i think you'd like it.