Alana Wilcox

Knuckles & Narrative


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What I love about boxing is the narrative. There’s one to every match: ideally, a banter of fists, unclear who has the upper hand, it’s vacillating suspensefully back and forth for a few rounds, and then our hero, our underdog, his strength slowly ebbing, suddenly finds heart enough for a comeback, confidence crescendoing into one knock-out hook. Backgrounding this, of course, is the narrative of the boxer’s life: his disadvantaged and violent youth (what upper-middle-class honour-roll student would ever be allowed to jeopardize his brain this way?), his struggles on the path to discipline, to the ring, where his formerly irrepressible anger now has a sanctioned vocabulary. These are narratives rife with cliché – which is, of course, why they are so appealing.

In this clip, there is no backstory. There’s no underdog, no press-conference weigh-in smacktalk. There’s just this kid – of uncertain age or gender or background – performing some of the most dazzingly skilled punches you’ll ever see. The technique is impeccable, the speed astonishing, the mental acuity enviable. You’d be hard-pressed to find an adult who could manage that with even half the accuracy or panache.

But I need to give the violence a context. For me, boxing is poor kids finding a way out. It’s angry kids finding a legitimate expression for their rage. It’s discipline. It’s righting a wrong (of course, this isn’t entirely true in these pay-per-view times, but boxing still holds tight to its history, or mostly it does, if only because the odds of ‘making it’ are slim and the physical costs immense). Without the narrative, all that’s left is physical prowess and a troubling barbarity that makes me – and my friends – question my zeal for the sport.

This kid, then. If boxing is a response to unfortunate circumstance, then what’s a kid this young doing learning it so expertly? Is it now like piano lessons? Participaction? Without the clichéd narrative, isn’t it just violence?

– Alana Wilcox

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Alana Wilcox is the editorial director at Coach House Books. She is also the author of a novel, “A Grammar of Endings,” published by the Mercury Press.