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2009 | 46 | 1 | 70-78

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Hook to the Chin



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Within historical avant-garde movements from the beginning of the 20th century, a curious taste and fascination for boxing burst out, and developed later into the claim that art must become more similar to boxing, or to sport in general. This fascination with pugilism in the early stage of its popularity on the continent included such charismatic figures of the Parisian avant-garde as Arthur Cravan, who was Oscar Wilde's nephew, a pretty good boxer and an unpredictable organizer of proto-dada outrages and scandals.After WWI, the zenith of artists' and intellectuals' love for boxing was reached in Weimar Germany. One of the well known examples connecting boxing with art was Bertolt Brecht with his statement that we need more good sport in theatre. His and other German avant-garde artists' admiration for boxing included the German boxing star May Schmeling, who was, at least until he lost his defending championship match against Joe Louis, an icon of the Nazis as well. Quite contrary to some later approaches in philosophy of sport, which compared sport with an elite art institution, Brecht's fascination with boxing took its anti-elitist and anti-institutional capacities as an example for art's renewal.To examine why and how Brecht included boxing in his theatre and his theory of theatre, we have to take into account two pairs of phenomena: sport vs. physical culture, and avant-garde theatre vs. bourgeois drama. At the same time, it is important to notice that sport, as something of Anglo-Saxon origin, and especially boxing, which became popular on the European continent in its American version, were admired by Brecht and by other avant-garde artists for their masculine power and energy. The energy in theatre, however, was needed to disrupt its cheap fictionality and introduce dialectical imagination of Verfremdungseffect (V-effect, or distancing effect). This was "a hook to the chin" of institutionalized art and of collective disciplinary morality of German tradition.










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1 - 12 - 2009
24 - 12 - 2009


  • Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia


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