Excerpt: 'At The Fights' by Colum McCann


From American Scholar:

Boxing. You can press the language out of it. The sweathouse of the body. The moving machinery of ligaments. The intimate fray of rope. The men in their archaic stances like anatomy illustrations from an old-time encyclopedia. The moment in a fight when the punches slow down and the opponents watch each other like time-lapse photographs—the sweat frozen in midair, the blood still spinning, the maniacal grin like the teeth themselves have gone bare-knuckle.

Writers love boxing—even if they can’t box. And maybe writers love boxing especially because they can’t box. The language is all cinema and violence: the burst eye socket, the ruined cartilage, the dolphin punch coming up from the depths.

Language allows the experience, and what you have with a fight is what you have with writing, and they each become metaphors for each other—the ring, the page; the punch, the word; the choreography, the keyboard; the feint, the suggestion; the bucket, the wastebasket; the sweat, the edit; the pretender, the critic; the bell, the deadline. There’s the showoff shuffle, the head spin, the mingled blood on your gloves, the spitting your teeth up at the end of the day.

Literature re-creates the language of the epic. And what’s more epic and mythological than a scrap?

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