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Kindred Spirits

Posted on 04/14/2008

By Scott Wilkerson

Sound and Fury: Two Powerful Lives, One Fateful Friendship
by Dave Kindred
Free Press
368 pp

If, in the philosophical economy of knowledge, the truest disclosures of the Self are somehow dependent upon those of another, then boxing is the primordial sport of discovery, a mirror reflecting, diffracting our first and final nature. Dave Kindred’s new book, Sound and Fury, brilliantly documents this same principle of reciprocity as it appeared in the long, complex relationship between Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell.

Subtitled, Two Powerful Lives, One Fateful Friendship, this study exemplifies that sense in which biographical scholarship can illuminate essential hidden narratives in otherwise perilously public lives. Indeed, it is precisely to this question of concealment and revelation that Kindred’s resourceful inquiry is most responsive and appropriately inventive.

From their first meeting in 1962 Рtwo years before Ali (then still Cassius Clay) defeated Sonny Liston Рto their final embrace at a social occasion in 1992, Ali and Cosell were inextricably bound together in an inexplicable pas de deux of mutual exploitation and subtle antagonism. One, a self-absorbed bard manqu̩ of astonishing fistic artistry and the other, a self-promoting intellectual poet maudit, they were double integrals of mythic opportunism, unfolding like strange attractors in the fractal geometry of cultural destiny.

More importantly, however, they were friends. And if Kindred’s book is a splendidly perceptive exploration of the social conditions that made possible an “Ali” and a “Cosell,” then it is also a deeply felt celebration of the virtues of courage and even confession. That the Ali-Cosell phenomenon was tenuous and often untenable is certainly clear, touching as it did upon the central sociological concerns of our time. But to suggest that their friendship was entirely attendant upon their political, racial, or theological preoccupations would be to misrepresent both their convictions and their obvious shared affection.

By turns comic and melancholy, vulgar and finally transcendent, these interconnected, interpenetrated lives demonstrate the healing grace of friendship, the transformative power of boxing as a sport and as a state of mind through which we may discern, in others, evidence of the best in ourselves.

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