Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Essays on an Array of Topics Early's Collection Is Rich, Insightful

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Essays on an Array of Topics Early's Collection Is Rich, Insightful

Article excerpt

THE CULTURE OF BRUISING Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture By Gerald Early 285 pages, Ecco Press, $25

GERALD EARLY, a professor of African and Afro-American studies at Washington University, is fast becoming one of America's pre-eminent essayists. In this collection of his writings he shows himself to be a poet as well.

The book is divided into three sections, each prefaced with a poem. The first section, titled "Prizefighting and the Modern World," begins with a poem by that title that indicates Early's method of combining facts with fiction, transforming statistics into metaphor, narrative into critical comment.

The poem portrays a fighter reflecting on life inside the ring, how easy it was to "get up to get beat up again./But the falling down was hard, a floppy descent from/Not grace and all that but maintaining, hanging on./So long to go down and so sweet and peaceful."

He imagines a different ending, wretched, stinking, "in a dirty bed of filthy linen." This too ends on an ironically positive note, "with the assurance that/in the modern world everything counts but nothing matters."

I must admit that even though I'm a sucker for metaphorical transformations I found some of the essays in the first section rather slow-going. That's an admission of my own ignorance of fighting and fighters. There were too many names, too many allusions to specific bouts, specific boxers, specific writers and their accounts. …

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