The Poetic Sublimity of Being Cornered


By Scott Wilkerson

In boxing, as in life, our best resource of strength during a crisis is, often, merely knowing that someone is in our corner. Tom Donelson’s masterful and moving tribute to the late Eddie Futch reminds us that boxing – a celebration of the Self as ritual display – has, nonetheless, a participatory dimension: the distinguished tradition of the Corner Man. Metaphorically and quite literally, these extraordinary men occupy the vertex, the origin of contemplative neutrality, the geometric and spiritual point of departure for the boxer’s sacrificial art of cyclical lives.

Indeed, the idea of the Corner Man is as fully surcharged with archteypal implications as the fighter himself. The corner is a “tiemenos,” a sacred space, a place of respite and refuge, of confession and censure, and perhaps most importantly, a place of hurt and healing. Corner Men, through their priestly engagement with pain as a condition of the sport, retrace the distinctly northern European theology of suffering and contrition.

But as practitioners of the medical arts, plying their curative elixrs, salves (salv-ation), and ‘magic” weights, they restore – even as they reinvent – the pre-Christian rites of the decidedly southern – and more generally – indoEuropean, pagan Pharmakeus, in whom we see a convergence of the tribal shamman, the Mediaeval alchemist, the apothecary of the High Renaissance, and of course the vast pharmaceutical enterpise of modernity. Corner Men are, thus, the masonic custodians of boxing’s Research and Development arm, by turns, courtly scholars of the warrior idiom and harlequin purveyors of charms and juggelry.

Surely it is no accident that Whitey Bimstein developed his legendary wound-cloture techniques under the mystic gaze of trainer Doc Bagley, who studied medicine and pioneered the application of adrenaline chloride to stop bleeding. The mixing of potions and tranmsmutation of elements are nothing less than symbolic provocations to a human ethics of transcendence.

To be sure, the Corner Man’s principal role is that of a cunning, quick-thinking advocate for his fighter. Moreover, technical virtuosity in the corner can be decisive in a close match. And while it would be improper to trivialize the constructs of old-school pragmatism, it is the Corner Man’s complex double discipline of faith and coercion that authorizes his investiture to th
e metaphysics, the foundational laws, and deep nomo-logos of the sweet science.

The Corner Man is our collective memory of the oracle and the seer of ancient Hellenism, whose humility before the twin forces of nature and truth is preserved not in the fractal chaos of the middle ring, but in the perpendicular poetics and right-angular resolve which frame our humanity and our struggle to go the distance.

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