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Body and Soul: Boxing, Modernism, and Masculinity as Spectacle

ENGL 293.910
instructor(s):
MW 5:30-8:40

The basic premise of this course is that that there is more than fighting going on when two men-or two women-chase each other around a ring. We shall approach boxing, then, not only as a sport but also as spectacle and representation, encountering wherever we look or read the melancholic figure of the boxer as debased everyman, both hero and victim, immensely powerful but always defeated. Pursuing this difficult social, cultural, and aesthetic history in poems, short stories, novels, plays, essays, biographies, autobiographies, photographs, and films, we shall also be able to trace the arc of the sport's supposed decline, from boxing's heyday in the first-half of the twentieth century to its fall from grace in post-1950s America. Yet the ring, as A.J. Liebling once remarked, "is a continuum with fixed values and built-in cultural patterns, like Philadelphia or the world of Henry James," and there is indeed something ritualistic, compulsive, even haunted about boxing and its texts. For a better sense of this strange pastness in the present we shall take Liebling's unintended hint and visit several of Philly's famous boxing gyms as well as the Blue Horizon, one of the few remaining fight arenas anywhere-respectively the private and public spaces in which boxers continue to pursue each other and themselves and from which boxing still might best speak and know itself.

Texts Under Consideration:

Joyce Carol Oates, On Boxing
George Plimpton, ed. Norton Book of Sports
Thomas Hauser, The Black Lights
Jack London, selected short stories
Ernest Hemingway, selected short stories
Nelson Algren, Never Come Morning
Budd Schulberg, The Harder They Fall
Rod Serling, Requiem for a Heavyweight
Leonard Gardner, Fat City
Thom Jones, selected short stories
F.X. Toole, Rope Burns
Jake LaMotta, Raging Bull
Nick Tosches, The Devil and Sonny Liston
Kate Sekules, The Boxer's Heart

Films: City for Conquest, Body and Soul, Champion, The Set-Up, On the Waterfront, Raging Bull, Rocky, and Pulp Fiction