On Boxing: Joyce Carol Oats

I just finished reading On Boxing , by Joyce Carol Oats.  It is a fun read.  She normally writes fiction, but this is a tribute to her life long love of boxing.  Her love of boxing is in a sense a tribute to her bond with her father, who initiated her into its beauty.  

The book jumps right into philosophy and has great stuff like this:

The old boxing adage--a truism surely untrue-- that you cannot be knocked out if you see the blow coming, and if you will yourself not to be knocked out, has its subtler, more daunting significance: nothing that happens to the boxer in the ring, including death--"his" death--is not of his own will or failure of will.  The suggestion is of a world-model in which we are humanly responsible not only for our own acts but for those performed against us.

And here, after pointing out how often boxing fights were illegal in times passed, and thus happened in-between states, in outlaw territory, or on islands with performers and spectators both risking arrest:

And boxers have frequently displayed themselves, inside the ring and out, as characters in the literary sense of the word.  Extravagant fictions without a structure to contain them.

She has much to say about notions of "primitive" and the intensity of emotions:

Those whose aggression is masked, or oblique or unsuccessful, will always condemn it in others.

After putting both feet forward into philosophy she wanders around into the lives of boxers, and major events in boxing history.  Some of the essays in this book are informative, in depth reportage, but they are also languid, timeless; as a reader one gets the sense that she deeply savors hanging out in the world of boxing.  

I couldn't help thinking of Elaine Scary's comment in On Beauty and Being Just  that one of the errors about beauty she made in her youth was thinking that boxing was not beautiful.  I wonder if Joyce Carol Oats helped change her mind?  

On Boxing includes a number of enticing and complex book reviews (more books added to my reading list) and she is not at all shy about discussing racism and, in the final essay, fascism.  Check it out.

Is Gina Carano a Feminist?

A number of new scholarly books on martial arts have come across my desk in the last month.  This field is in its infancy and I am exited to be part of the project of defining and inspiring it.  In that spirit, there is much in these works to praise, much to criticize, a yawn here and there, and a few things that need to be stopped dead in their tracks.

So this is the fourth of a series in which I will discuss individual essays within larger works.  The following essays are from a collection edited by Thomas A. Green and Joseph R. Svinth titled, Martial Arts in the Modern World (Praeger, 2003).


First order of business:  Is Gina Carano, the star of the new film Haywire, a feminist?  Gina has been a star of the MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) World for the past several years, she is hot, and she is now a Hollywood action star who is capable of doing her own stunts and fight choreography.  We'll get back to that.

"Women's Boxing and Related Activities: Introducing Images and Meanings," is an essay by Jennifer Hargreaves that delves into the cultural nuances of women and fighting.  She does a good job of covering all the cases, begining with an excellent history of women in the ring actually knocking each other bloody for money, all the way to the porno version of boxing done by strippers.  Is it masculine? Is it feminine?  Is it a special case?  Are they champions? are they exploited fools? are they happy subordinates?  are they victims or makers of their own fate?  Some female boxers in every case love it, some hate it.  Some are in it for dominance, some for money, some for excitement, some do because they crave risk, some seek health, some do it to look beautiful, some do it and find peace.  Self image?  It's all over the map too.  Hargreaves attempts to apply every post-colonial, feminist, culturgina-caranoal criticism she can find to the actual situation and history of women's boxing.  The result?  Not a single theory is consistent with reality.

I have read way too much theory in my life.  My fear is that even though Hargreaves (and many others, Richard Rorty comes to mind) have the honesty after years of studying post-colonialism, feminism, and critical theory to acknowledge it is faulty--people have invested so much time and university money in it, that it will live on as a ghost, haunting us to our graves.  I hope not.

My Great Grandmother was a prominent suffragette in New York.  As my Grandmother explained it to me, "If there was something that boys were good at, I wanted to prove that I could be good at it too."  I stand with my Grandmother on this one, it is wrong to put obstacles in the way of women trying to do whatever it is they want to do just because of their gender.  In the end, that is the only feminist idea that has any merit.

As for the film Haywire in theaters at the moment, it is a parody of b-movies which are vehicles for an action star.  If you go to the late show, sneak in a six-pack of beer and talk during the talking parts, you'll freakin' love it!

History of Boxing

This article wet my appetite for a thorough cultural history of competitive fighting.
Boxing’s beginnings in America go back to slave days, when plantation owners pitted slaves against one another and wagered on the outcomes. One freed slave, Tom Molineaux, even fought overseas against the British champion, Tom Cribb—and probably would have won their 1810 match, had Cribb’s desperate supporters not intervened just as Molineaux seized a decisive advantage. Boxing then was conducted with bare fists, under the old London Prize Ring Rules, which stipulated fights to the finish—that is, until one man could not continue. The rules also permitted wrestling holds and other tactics, and rounds ended only with “falls,” when one man went down, whether from a punch or a throw or sheer exhaustion. Before the Civil War, boxing enjoyed a brief vogue in New York, where fighters often associated with the Tammany Hall machine rose to prominence. But the war interrupted the sport’s momentum.