Culture of Bruising Critical Essays

Gerald Early


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Gerald Early’s second collection of essays features several of his characteristic themes and subjects: black identity, boxing, jazz, movies, material culture, masculinity and femininity, and literature. Most of the essays were first published in periodicals, but their collection into a book testifies to their influence and significance. Many scholars and African American social commentators disagree with Early’s opinions, but his candor, his wit, and his elegant writing draw many partners into an ongoing conversation about the important issues he discusses.

Although the title The Culture of Bruising refers to boxing, only four of the book’s essays concern the sport, and Early clearly indicates in his introduction that he wants the book to be read as a collection of cultural criticism, not merely as a collection of pieces on sports. In his essays on prizefighting, he zeroes in on cultural meaning of the sport for African Americans. He questions why more black intellectuals are not writing about boxing and why whites have used the sport as a staging area for a liberal agenda. Such an agenda sees prizefighting as an opportunity to transcend a fighter’s circumstances: If a boxer can become a champion, he will pull himself out of poverty and create for himself opportunities to excel in American society.

Early cannily uses famous fights, especially the 1962 and 1963 heavyweight championship matches between Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston, to examine the persistent themes of African American identity and white stereotypes that underlie boxing. Early could point out in his essays that boxing exploited the...

(The entire section is 670 words.)