Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Q&A with Lawrence Mitchell (Department of English)

We asked Lawrence Mitchell (Department of English), who is presenting on Wednesday, 31 October on "Hemingway and Boxing: Reflections in a Mirror," a few questions about his work:

MGGCHR: What is your presentation's argument?

Lawrence Mitchell: That for a variety of reasons--insecurity about his own identity, a desire to escape the conservative middle-class environment of Oak Park, the need to find a counterpoise to his compulsion to write in a type of physical activity in which he might excel and through which he might at least exorcise his demons--Hemingway was drawn instinctively to boxing and to establishing credentials as an authority on the sport by fair means or foul. Thus he claimed to have been "initiated" by champions and near champions such as Harry Greb; made ridiculous boasts (e.g. knocking out the football team and the French middleweight champion with one punch), one of which (being thumbed in the eye by Greb) could be used to cover up his inherited weak eyes that kept him out of the army in WW1; bullied usually smaller men into sparring with him; wove stories from unidentified sources (e.g. Sherwood Anderson) into his own fictitious life history, mocked those he imitated (e.g. Ring Lardner, Gertrude Stein); and eventually came to see writing as a kind of fighting--especially with dead authors.

MGGCHR: How did you hit on the focus of your current research and what interests you about it?

Lawrence Mitchell: I have a background in boxing and have built a substantial collection of boxing literature. I have also and have written articles on James Joyce and boxing and Jack London and boxing. Much of the evidence of boxing in literature has been overlooked.

MGGCHR: What is the most interesting place your research has taken you?

Perhaps the Hemingway Room in the Kennedy Library, Boston.

MGGCHR: What is your favorite course to teach, and what makes it your favorite?

Lawrence Mitchell: Well, I enjoy all my courses--but the once-in-a-lifetime "London in Fact and Fiction" was special because I got to take the class to London during Spring break and had lunch one day at a pub called "The Ring" which displayed photos of famous boxers.

MGGCHR: If you had the opportunity to invite any living humanities scholar to come speak at the Glasscock Center, who would it be and why?

Lawrence Mitchell: Matthew Bruccoli who appreciates boxing literature and has written about Hemingway and boxing.

MGGCHR: If you were stranded on a desert island, what material would you want with you?

Lawrence Mitchell: The OED and Boxiana, Fistiana, and Pugilistica.