By Scott Wilkerson
Book Review: Gloves: A Boxing Chronicle
North Point Press 331 pp $24
If the nature of sport is to stage metaphoric representations of the human drama, then it follows that boxing is the sport from which all others derive their symbolic force. Indeed, the image of a singular Hellenic man battling his singular opponent is foundational in the development toward competitions of greater abstraction, from football to chess to hide-and-seek. Boxing is, thus, the central achievement in western sport. And to its distinguished list of commentators throughout history, we may now add Robert Anasi who, with his book, Gloves: A Boxing Chronicle, affirms the notion that the fight-game is not merely a projection of human experience, it is a return to human experience.
Gloves is, ostensibly, a detailed account of the author’s pursuit of a Golden Gloves title. But Anasi’s meditations on the psychological structure of boxing’s stylized violence, his exploration of boxing’s shifting place in American culture, and his fearless approach to questions of destiny, identity, and masculinity create a portrait of boxing as a kind of proving ground for the Mind/Body problem. That great fighters are able to fuse these twin creatures of the Self seems clear enough, but the process remains mysterious. Anasi, however, makes extraordinary progress toward articulating the elusive motive behind the rigorous terrors of training leading to that moment of transformation in the ring. Like a fighter who emerges from obscurity to become champion, Gloves is, at once, a revelation of new ideas and a summation of archaic wisdom. He writes:
“The boxer muste continue reasoning when adrenaline and instinct are washing away his mind. Boxing is an extreme sport for the poor, one that doesn’t require helicopter trips to unskied slopes or outboard tows to monster surf.” But Anasi makes clear the intimate relationship between this hyper-rational boxing consciousness and the living flesh of the fighter:
“You wanted to go out for dinner instead, see a movie, you have a deadline ate your day job…As you climbed the stairs and dressed, those obsctacles evaporated, and as you move now, their last traces break and fade in the air. The obstacles seem so insignificant, in fact, that if you even think of them, you can’t understand why they so hindered you. You are alive in your body, now.”
More than anything else, Anasi masterfully demonstrates that the boxer is a supremely imaginative man, summoning deeply felt intuitions to protect fragile but necessary delusions. Gloves is both a street-wise introduction to the realities of the boxing world and an elegant, wistful surrender to its dreams.