Body & Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer

Body & Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer

Body & Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer

Body & Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer

Synopsis

When French sociologist Lo¿c Wacquant signed up at a boxing gym in a black neighborhood of Chicago's South Side, he had never contemplated getting close to a ring, let alone climbing into it. Yet for three years he immersed himself among local fighters, amateur and professional. He learned the Sweet science of bruising, participating in all phases of the pugilist's strenuous preparation, from shadow-boxing drills to sparring to fighting in the Golden Gloves tournament. In this experimental ethnography of incandescent intensity, the scholar-turned-boxer supplies a model for a "carnal sociology" capable of capturing "the taste and ache of action." Body & Soul marries the analytic rigor of the sociologist with the stylistic grace of the novelist to offer a compelling portrait of a bodily craft and of life and labor in the black American ghetto, but also a fascinating tale of personal transformation and social transcendence. "Body & Soul is a gem, destined for a life of classics like Street Corner Society (though much fleshier and juicier and denser), studied over and over again as a pattern to follow, though defying the ability, imagination, and, indeed, humanity of the would-be followers. An act impossible to match. A poem in prose, a work of love and wisdom rolled into one: this is how ethnography should be written, were the ethnographers capable of writing like that." --Zygmunt Bauman, author of Liquid Modernity

Excerpt

Just as one cannot understand what an instituted religion such as Catholicism is without studying in detail the structure and functioning of the organization that supports it, in this case the Roman Church, one cannot elucidate the meaning and roots of boxing in contemporary American society—at least in the lower regions of social space, where it continues to defy an extinction periodically announced as its imminent and inevitable fate—without canvassing the fabric of the social and symbolic relations woven in and around the training gym, the hub and hidden engine of the pugilistic universe.

A gym is a complex and polysemous institution, overloaded with functions and representations that do not readily reveal themselves to the outside observer, even one acquainted with the nature of the place. On the surface, though, what could be more banal and more self-evident than a boxing gym? One could indeed take word for word the following vignette of the famed Stillman's Gym in the New York City of the fifties, composed by George Plimpton, to describe just about any gym in America today, so powerful are the invariants that govern their design:

A dark stairway led up into a gloomy vault-like room, rather like the hold of an old galleon. One heard the sound before one's eyes acclimatized: the slap-slap of the ropes being skipped, the thud of leather into the big heavy bags that squeaked from their chains as they swung, the . . .

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