The Lost Religion of Masculinity

Study on the Noble Art

My school used to teach boxing. The training was the hardest of all the sports we practised — a complete mind and body workout. You never forget the routines.

Joyce Carol Oates doesn't regard boxing as a sport, but the ultimate expression of masculinity: 'Boxing is for men, and is about men, and IS men. A celebration of the lost religion of masculinity all the more trenchant for its being lost.' 

As I chewed Turkish delight and sipped white tea in my armchair, my velvet-slippered feet resting on a silken ottoman, I pondered that thought.

Boxing is Only Like Boxing

On Boxing was first published in 1987 as a collection of Joyce's boxing essays along with photos by John Ranard. John had earlier compiled a book of his photographs on boxing called The Brutal Aesthetic. He thought it would be a good idea to combine his images with Joyce's writing.

On Boxing [Amazon] is currently out on re-release through Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins that concentrates on literary and counter-culture titles. It's so hip they only communicate through tumblr.

Joyce's essays explore what it takes and what it means to be a boxer. She addresses the historical and social context of boxing, and why it attracts certain characters, competitors and spectators alike. Life may be like boxing, but 'boxing is only like boxing'.

An academic, Joyce was drawn into writing about boxing in the grip of a 'curious, inexplicable compulsion'. She got to know the sport well and delved deep into aspects of interest. She is sharp in her observations on  the psychology of such a raw contest and the complete exposure of the fighter's being in the ring — mind, body and soul; past, present and future.

'Life is hard in the ring, but, there, you only get what you deserve.'

Top photo: Liam Smith from the famous Liverpudlian family of boxers, which includes brothers Paul, Stephen and Callum.


  1. I know her by reputation but have never read any of her work. Thanks for bringing this up; it sounds interesting. Reminds me of another Joyce who knew something about boxing--Joyce Brothers.

    1. Thanks Bradley. Joyce Brothers certainly knew her boxing trivia. Best wishes, Tweedy


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