“Boxer Ali Dodging a Punch From Frazier”, Madison Square Garden, New York, March 8, 1971.

Corbis Images: “Boxer Ali Dodging a Punch From Frazier”, Madison Square Garden, New York, March 8, 1971. Stock Photo ID: U1697850. © Bettmann/CORBIS. Large format retrieved from Gym Class All Stars.

The authorship of this photo –which is part of the Bettman Archive owned by Corbis– is not attributed. Here’s the original description, as it appears at Corbis:

Boxer Muhammad Ali steps away from a punch thrown by boxer Joe Frazier during their heavyweight title fight at Madison Square Garden in 1971. Frazier became the undisputed heavyweight champ of the world by winning a unanimous 15-round decision.

Although Ali lost this match, he was not knocked down: at the end of the 15th round, he was still standing. It was said –and written– that Ali was not in his best shape to take on Joe Frazier during what became known as “The Fight of the Century”.

Yet what is so striking about the image featured here is the amazing grace –for lack of better words– of Ali’s posture while he dodges Frazier’s punch. His whole body seems to be perfectly balanced, as if he was actually inviting and welcoming the failed attack of his opponent. Even in evasion, Ali looks like the one who is in control.

One could argue that if Ali was still standing in the ring at the end of the match, with Frazier, it may very well be because his was never standing still. To hold a position, to take a stand or to stand forth, to withstand an encounter, to sustain a relation: in each of those cases, it is less about the conservation of a given state, than it is about the movement of an exposition, and the fluidity of an ever-changing disposition. In the photo, Ali can guard himself because he is dancing with Frazier: in other words, there is a self to guard because there’s a dynamic engagement with the other.

In an essay originally published in 1988, Jean-Luc Nancy offers some enlightening observations about the transitive value of such an understanding of “being-there”:

Being is neither substance nor cause of the thing; rather, it is a being-the-thing in which the verb “to be” has a transitive value of a “positioning,” but one in which the “positioning” is based on nothing else but (and because of nothing else) than on (and because of) Dasein, being-there, being thrown down, given over, abandoned, offered up by existence. (The there is not a grounding for existence, but rather its taking place, its arrival, its coming—which also means its difference, its withdrawal, its excess, its “exscription.”) (“Of Being-in-Common”, tr. James Creech, Community at Loose Ends, ed. Miami Theory Collective, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991, p. 2)

L’être n’y est ni substance ni cause de la chose, mais il est un être-la-chose où le verbe «être» a la valeur transitive d’un «poser», mais où le «poser» ne pose sur rien d’autre (et en vertu de rien d’autre) que sur (et en vertu de) l’être-là, l’être-jeté, livré, abandonné, offert de l’existence. (Le là n’est pas un sol pour l’existence, mais son avoir-lieu, son arrivée, sa venue —c’est-à-dire aussi sa différence, son retrait, son excès, son excription.) (“De l’être-en-commun”, La communauté désoeuvrée, Paris: Christian Bourgois, [1988] 1999, p. 204).

Nancy further develops the idea of the transitivity of being-there as being-with in Being Singular Plural:

To be is nothing that is in-common, but nothing as the dispersal where what is in-common is dis-posed and measured, the in-common as the with, the beside-itself of to be as such, to be transfixed by its own transitivity: to be being all beings, not as their individual and/or common “self,” but as the proximity that disperses [écarte] them. […] As such, then, “being-there” (Dasein) is to be according to this transitive verbal value of the dis-position. Being-there is [the] dis-posing [of] Being itself as distance/proximity; it is “to make” or “to let” be the coming of all with all as such. Dasein (that is, humanity as the index of Being) thus exposes Being-as-to-be. (tr. by Robert D. Richardson and Anne E. O’Byrne, Stanford: Stanford University Press, [1996] 2000, pp. 96-97)

Être n’est rien de commun, mais rien en tant que l’écartement où se dis-pose et se mesure l’en-commun, c’est-à-dire l’avec, l’auprès-de-soi de être comme tel, être de part en part transi de sa propre transitivité: être étant tous les étants, non pas comme leur «soi» individuel et/ou commun, mais comme la proximité qui les écarte. […] «Être-le-là» (Dasein), c’est donc être selon cette valeur verbale transitive de la dis-position: être-le-là, c’est dis-poser l’être lui- même, comme écartement/proximité, c’est «faire» ou «laisser» être la venue de tout avec tout comme telle. Dasein (l’homme comme exposant de l’être) expose ainsi l’être en tant qu’être. (Être singulier pluriel, Paris: Galilée, 1996, pp. 120-121).

Jean-Luc Nancy uses the example of someone who enters a room. In the case at hand here, it could very well be read as the example of a boxer who enters a ring:

Someone enters a room; before being the eventual subject of a representation of this room, he disposes himself in it and to it. In crossing through it, living in it, visiting it, and so forth, he thereby exposes the disposition –the correlation, combination, contact, distance, relation-of all that is (in) the room and, therefore, of the room itself. He exposes the simultaneity in which he himself participates at that instant, the simultaneity in which he exposes himself just as much as he exposes it and as much as he is exposed in it. He exposes himself. It is in this way that he is [a] “self,” that he is it, or that he becomes it as many times as he enters into the disposition and each time that he does. (Ibid.: 97)

Quelqu’un entre dans une pièce; avant d’être le sujet éventuel d’une représentation de cette pièce, il se dispose lui-même en elle et à elle, et selon qu’il la traverse, l’habite, la visite, etc., il en expose la disposition –la corrélation, la combinaison, le contact, la distance, le rapport de tout ce qui est (dans) la pièce, donc de la pièce elle-même. Il expose la simultanéité, dont il est lui-même à l’instant partie prenante et où il s’expose autant qu’il l’expose et qu’il y est exposé. Il s’expose: c’est ainsi qu’il est «soi», c’est-à-dire qu’il l’est –ou qu’il le devient– autant de fois et chaque fois qu’il entre dans la disposition. (Ibid.: 121)

“The battle of the undefeated giants”, LIFE magazine, March 5, 1971, pp. 40-41. Google Books.
“The battle of the undefeated giants”, LIFE magazine, March 5, 1971, pp. 40-41. Google Books.
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