Thursday, 24 February 2011

Book Club meets Fight Club

I'm not a natural when it comes to full-contact fighting. It's something about the stress of being attacked, the guilt of punching another person, and the physical pain.

"Sure, but how about the adrenaline - don't you find that once you're in the ring, it's such a thrill?" an ex-boyfriend asked me after my first (and last) term of taekwando at university. The university was in tropical Singapore, so on top of the physical pain, there was the perspiration factor.

"No," I said. "I just find it kind of unpleasant."

Years later, I went to watch a Thai boxing tournament on the island of Koh Pha Ngang. It was during a yoga retreat: oddly enough, the yoga centre, which radiated with inner peace, was right next to a Thai boxing school where perfectly normal, nice guys beat the crap out of each other. I went along to the tournament to cheer on one of the nice guys; he got knocked out within minutes. I decided that fighting, whether as a passive spectator or an active punching bag, was not for me.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was asked to judge this event: "Writers get violent", which combines boxing with literary criticism (Au Chat Noir in eastern Paris, Thursday March 3). Apparently writers will read from their work, criticise each other, then fight.

"Well, my next book is going to be about pacifists in the 1930s, so I'm not sure I'm the best person to judge a fight," I said to Alberto, the organiser.

"All the better! You can give points to those who throw the fewest punches."

"I guess so. The others on the panel can be normal judges, and I'll be the weird pacifist judge." I agreed to do it. After all, how violent could it be? I vaguely knew some of the contenders and they were all friendly, peaceful. Not exactly Rocky types.

"There's not going to be any actual violence, right? It's just a symbolical thing where they wear boxing gloves," I said, just to confirm. The image I had was not so much Hemingway as Woody Allen sitting on a chair, reading a short story and occasionally waving a boxing glove at the audience.

"Well..." Alberto hesitated. "I thought so, too, but then I went to see one of the practice rounds and they were really at it. I'm trying to get [a mutual friend] to come along and be our emergency doctor, just in case."

"Oh. You mean, they're really beating each other up?"

"Let's put it that way: after I left, they went out to buy mouth guards."

Expect a detailed match report in the next post.


  1. This reminded me of the famous punch Jean Améry throws at his nemesis and which he finds to his surprise restores a small part of his human dignity. But obviously, Parisian writers beating the crap out of each other in peacetime Paris, well, a long long way away from Améry.
    I trust you to frown your most reproachful pacifist frown at gratuitous punches.

  2. Turku, every time I talk to you I learn something new. I had never heard of that famous punch, but have now ordered "Beyond Crime and Punishment" - as it's called in German, the English title might be completely different - as part of my ongoing fight against ignorance and mental rot.