Saturday, 11 August 2012


A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Olympic gold-winning boxers like Katie Taylor complicate the inherently patriarchal world view presented in Joseph Campbell's magisterial work on heroes and myths.

What boons will Katie Taylor bring back to Ireland?

Certainly there is the pleasure in the singular achievement of the athlete. Even non-boxing fans – and boxing is a sport that divides opinion, to the point where some people assert that is not a sport at all – acknowledge the speed, acuity, talent and vigour that come from the innate ability, assiduous training, coaching, practice and dedicated attention that Katie Taylor brings to her life's work.

Her feet are fleet. Her hands are rapid. Her speed-of-thought electrifying. She is super-human in her field. She is a hero.

Will she turn professional now that she has reached the summit of achievement in the amateur version of her sport? Will she take off the protective head-gear, don professional gloves and enter the ring and the contest for money?

The Gods only laugh when men pray to them for wealth.

Fabulous forces abound in the nexus between sport and money. Challenges greater than any Katie Taylor has yet encountered. And what boons might she return with? Gold and silver, yes? But how much and at what cost?

There is no significant market for professional women's boxing at present. Have no fear, however, the inclusion of the sport in the Olympics will enable greater exploitation of the talents of women such as Katie Taylor for maximising profit. For men. In a patriarchal world.

As the individual is an organ of society, so is the tribe or city – so is humanity entire – only a phase of the mighty organism of the cosmos.

People in Ireland rejoice at Katie Taylor's success. She is welcomed home with garlands and laurels, cheering and celebration. She lifts people up with her achievements. These are boons.

Is the public spectacle of women boxing women progress? Or is the spectacle of any one, male or female, boxing anyone else regressive?

What heroic impulses are at play in young women and men that drive them to boxing as the form of expression of their human greatness?

Man is that alien presence with whom the forces of egoism must come to terms, through whom the ego is to be crucified and resurrected, and in whose image society is to be reformed.

The heroic trials of Katie Taylor, and her triumphs, outscore the patriarchal metaphors we currently use. They are on the ropes and heading for a countdown. 

Not the animal world, not the plant world, not the miracle of the spheres, but man (present as the metaphoric-heroic woman, Katie Taylor) is now the crucial mystery.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces: book; Joseph Campbell: Princeton University Press; 1949

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