Nils Baratella


"The pugnacious Subject. The Boxing Match as an ethic Formation of Modernity"


In my PhD-project, I understand the boxing ring as a culturally and historically generated space of exception, in which an ethicised, aestheticised and regulated fight is staged. It is not about violence, but a fight. The modern idea that interpersonal violence can civilised is not reduced to sports.

This concept is, rather, at the centre of modern philosophy. Following two authors, I will trace the development of this idea: Hegel conceptualised a constructive, socialising and standardising “struggle for recognition”. Nietzsche rebelled against this standardisation. He proposed to unleash the vigour of the physical as a counter concept to its subjection through disciplination. Both theories can be seen as two opposing poles of a discourse: Hegel intends to rationalise fights and lead them towards more reasonable processes. Nietzsche wants to initiate cathartic cleansing processes through struggle and violence.

Furthermore, Nietzsche put the importance of the physical and its staging into the focus of philosophical interest. Both theories share the Heraclitus' idea of a permanent becoming within struggle. Nietzsche as well as Hegel understand modernity's subject as a split, riven, agonistic being, which is generated in fights and conflicts. This pugnacious subject appears in manifold cultural products – since the beginning of the 20th century in sport, too. Sportive performances, particularly boxing, gained an increasing popularity since the turn of the century. Hence, boxing is a phenomenon of (atlantic) modernity, whose ideals, whose “Weltbild” (Heidegger), it stages: in order to duel, almost equal opponents compete against each. The result of equal conditions is, however, a maximum of inequality: one remains standing, the other goes down. The fighting bodies' aggressions and anger have to be controlled by rules. Only when the fighters have incorporated this body of rules, when the sport's ethos has permeated their bodily practice, they are what they want to be in order to be able to gain their opponents' and audiences' recognition: the pugnacious subject of boxing. The fair fight as an ideal of modernity appears in manifold cultural products. But it is boxing, in which this ideal is performed in a particularly paradigmatic physical way. Can this ideal be maintained under current conditions? And: is it still valid?

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