Sunday, May 14, 2006
  Regarding Perspective, Boxing
I was going to reflect on what I've been doing for the last few days but I felt that I was veering away from the sort of topics on which I'd like to concentrate. I'd like to write a lot less about me, than about other things. I'm often led away from this goal by my style of writing, which I find unfortunate. "Formal" is the word I'd like associated with the vocabulary I make use of and the ways I put grammar to work for me, possibly accompanied by "terse", focusing on the "effective" component of this word, though I would perhaps do well to concentrate more on the "short". Secretly, I would also settle for "old-fashioned".
However, my ambitions in this regard are somewhat stunted by my inability to escape from a personal perspective. I am, of course, quite capable of writing without asserting how statements relate to me, but I don't particularly like it. It feels somehow less truthful to produce writing which is "disembodied" from me. All writing, except the algorithmically generated, is a product of someone and a product of their perspective. It seems rather disingenuous to me to write as though that's not true. I feel the need to take responsibility for my claims as products of myself and my beliefs and goals, rather than posit them as disembodied facts.
I see this as a byproduct of a certain sort of intellectual hygiene; it is the inverse of the act of remembering to evaluate one's sources of information. Everything you read, from a scholarly paper to the packaging of products, was written by someone for a reason: this is important to keep in mind. Thus, I try to remain present in my writing.

Onward: Boxing. I am somewhat fascinated by it. I can't say I'm a boxing fan, because the things that go along with that are not true of me. I don't know who beat who and when. What limited experience I have had with boxing has rendered it an intriguing subject. I've truly "boxed" only once before, though even that is questionable because I was unsure of how serious my opponent was and the "match" ended in a single blow that left me with a small concussion. Let this not be an indicator that I am unfamiliar with combat. I practiced a certain brand of Northern Shaolin Kung Fu for a while and I've very loosely kept in practice in the years since I discontinued my training. However, sparring is very different from boxing in a number of ways, which I think directly translate into the differences between boxers and other martial artists.
To begin with, sparring is very much more like play than boxing, as I understand it. The "play" in sparring functions equally through the various senses of the word. Sparring is very obviously a game of sorts, like a sort of forceful asynchronous version of tag. Additionally, I always felt that sparring had a certain amusing, experimental quality to it, that is characteristic of play. My opponent and I found the ways in which our bodies could interact with one another, given our styles and capabilities, and the nature of the rules of sparring. In this way it's like a conversation. We are both versed in a language of movement, though our vocabularies may differ slightly and certainly our grammar does. We construct sentences of movement with one another, reacting to the tone of the other's stance and the well placed points they've composed out of the punches, kicks and blocks that are the linguistic units of our playful violence. We try to guide the conversation in the direction we'd like.
I've found that it's become very hard for me to associate the idea of violence with the type of fighting I do when I practice martial arts. Boxing is largely different. It's very clear that violence is a part of boxing, though it's a very strange, selective sort of violence. It obviously acknowledges the methods of violence, or at least a symbolic cross-section of them, and it does seem to acknowledge the psychological feeling of power that is an important component of the acts of violence, but it does not (often) acknowledge the component of emotional malevolence that has traditionally motivated intentional personal violence. I imagine that this is actually common, that societies other than my own, perhaps significantly less industrialized ones, have many forms of ritualized combat which are actually quite violent, however I can't help but see this as a metaphor for much of my own society. Men (and women) are made opponents of one another by the system they participate in, not due to any specific personal animosity between one another or often even a tangible conflict of resources. Boxing fascinates me because it is violence for the sake of itself as a cultural structure. On this subject, I could write very much more than most people would enjoy reading. Alas, I feel that the link between boxing and violence has probably been thoroughly explored before.
What really interests me about boxing is the technique of it. There's a pattern I'm noticing among things that I love, that boxing fits. It's the use of constraint to more thoroughly and creatively explore a possibility space. I don't mean this in the "let's see if I can write a novel while omitting a single letter" sense, though that sort of thinking has produced some interesting works. I mean defining a very particular domain within which to conduct a series of investigations regarding the possibilities of expression within that domain. I don't know exactly why the idea of a series of investigations is important to me, though I get a certain iterative feeling from the things that I indicate are illustrative of this concept. It is perhaps linked with the idea of the process of exploration of the possibility space rather than a single foray into it, the development of techniques in doing so and the recognition of patterns within the space you are working in, which often result from the shape of the space that is created through constraint. Particularly, I find that there's a point where a certain balance is found, based on the nature of the constraint.
This is why I enjoy the solo piano works of the various composers more than their orchestral work, it's why I enjoy Orchid's Dance Tonight! Revolution Tomorrow!/Chaos Is Me so much, and to a large extent, why I embrace certain forms of modern art so much. It's why I like boxing. It seems to me that there's a fine line between something that can be studied as a science, something that can be charted by rigorous study, mathematically modeled with combinatorics, and something that is deep in the domain of art, something impossible to map out or even comprehend without a deep experiential appreciation of the elusive patterns within it. Along this phase change, there are fields with properties of both the scientific and the artistic: they are limited in scope enough to allow for a manageable study of them without the possibility of a complete statement of their entire space of possibility.
Boxing as it's surely been said before, is both an art and a science. The possibility space of movement is quite constrained compared to most martial arts: you can't use your legs and you can't grapple effectively, or use locks or throws or any of the fancy stuff. What this means is that the space that consists of what you can do can be studied in a much more methodical way. The repercussions of the rules of boxing change the topology of that space to make certain things effective, collections of behaviors can be sequentially linked to make strategies and styles. Some game-theoretical variant of the no-free-lunch theorem operates on the space, preventing one style from dominating all the others (though some have come close).
You can study the topology of the space, but you can't entirely map it out. It's impossible to work out every single style of boxing and if you could find some mostly optimal strategy, how would you teach it? The practice of boxing is one that retains the qualities of an art form. It is essentially imperfectible, and a large component of it is intellectually unassailable. It has to be experienced to be learned because the patterns of it are deeper and more subtle than can easily be expressed. You can know a lot about how to box but you can't box if you don't have the feeling for it.
That is what I like about boxing.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006

"And, of course, in the anarchy after The Big Electromagnetic Pulse the PDFs will be wiped clean off my hard drive but I will still be able to barter my hard copy of Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of the Religious Life for food and bullets."
-Alex Golub in Passion for Paper

My greatest hope is that after The Big Electromagnetic Pulse (or When Society Grinds To A Halt For Lack Of Petrolium) there exists a market where that transaction makes sense from the other side also. That is to say, I hope all my stockpiled bullets and food can still be traded for something valuable.
Additionally, I agree about the advantages that books gain from their embodiment and all the things that come along with that. The problems I've had with nontraditional media forms mostly stem from organizational problems. There's a distinct downside to having so much information at your fingertips sometimes. With a great density of related information it can become very hard to process into meaningful catagories, and very hard to make decisions about where to spend your time, etc. I often find myself "skimming" in these situations, unable to investigate with any real depth. My example of this comes, ironically, from a great collection of paper resources, NYU's own Bobst Library.
Bobst is a great academic library, by all measures, but something about it always bothered me. It was so much more complete than I was used to, that I could never get any real work done there. Whenever I would need information about a subject, I'd need to browse several shelves in different sections, and I'd turn up dozens and dozens of potentially helpful books. The problem was that they were all potentially helpful and I'd spend an hour or two skimming the lot of them, trying to determine what would render the most fruitful information, when probably any one of them, given a deeper reading, would render at the least information about how to narrow my search. Additionally, in a research setting, it is essential to be presented with both the resources and the time to investigate things that are tangentially related in interesting ways. Bobst presented me with too great a density of tangents. For every book I needed to read, there would be a hundred books I wanted to check out. I was pulled in too many directions and it was impossible to get anything done. In short, my search algorithm was not prepared for the breadth of information presented to me.
I often feel the same way about online resources. Though I adore Wikipedia for reasons I'll elaborate on later, it is easy to get lost in it. Often, I'm presented with too many paths that potentially render useful information and I'm left skimming over them shallowly. I appreciate a good library because of the way it allows me to find what I need in a relatively linear fashion, while providing a managable density of tangential links so that I might crawl over the network of information before me without becoming totally overwhelmed.

Anyway, check out Golublog for more writing by Alex Golub, and Savage Minds for more anthropological stuff from him. I've recently started reading both again, as I return from my temporary exile from academia.
  Beginning in an ending
It's somewhat hard to explain why I began this, originally. I intend now, to use it as a place for my thoughts, to finally start getting them out of my head. I have very rarely been able to do this so far, due to a certain kind of perfectionism. Previously, when I wrote, I would always look back at my writing in regret later. I am cursed with the ability to see my own immaturity as a writer. Gaps in my knowledge embarrassed me endlessly. These are unavoidable, but they have made it impossible for me to write anything, knowing it wouldn't stay as current as my thoughts. I found myself in a kind of unending state of preparation for the time in which I would feel that my thoughts were complete enough to document. This is a project to combat that lingering feeling of preemptive regret, to force myself to write about what I am learning and thinking. This, hopefully, signals the end of my preparation and the beginning of a time when I can accept the changes my thought and my ability to write go through. This is my acceptance of my public self as a process. Incomplete logic, ill-informed opionions, immature writing and the inescapable typo, I welcome you.

"Open your eyes, Clevinger. It doesn't make a damned bit of difference who wins the war to someone who's dead."

When we move, it's a movement

An attempt to overcome a crippling perfectionism; an appendix-in-progress for a perpetually unwritten book. Notes on variety of subjects including but not limited to: cognition, mathematics, sociology, philosophy and art. Now with book reviews!

Regarding The Author

J.S. Nelson is a young fellow with a broad array of interests and a lot of time on his hands.

Regarding The Archives

May 2006 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 /

Regarding Others

Alex Golub
Jeff Vail - A Theory of Power
John Robb - Global Guerillas
Savage Minds
The Valve

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