The Butterfly and the Bee Vs. The Bear

 
 

By late 1963, Cassius Clay (he haven’t changed his name to Muhammad Ali yet*) had become the top contender for Sonny Liston‘s title. The fight was set for February 25, 1964, in Miami. Liston was an intimidating personality, a dominating fighter with a criminal past and ties to the mob. Based on Clay’s uninspired performance against Jones and Cooper in his previous two fights, and Liston’s destruction of former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson in two first-round knock outs, Clay was a 7–1 underdog. Despite this, Clay taunted Liston during the pre-fight buildup, dubbing him “the big ugly bear.”

Clay began taunting and provoking Liston almost immediately after the two agreed to fight. He purchased a bus and had it emblazoned with the words “Liston Must Go In Eight.” On the day of the contract signing, he drove it to Liston’s home in Denver, waking the champion (with the press in tow) at 3:00 a.m. shouting, “Come on out of there. I’m gonna whip you now.” Liston had just moved into a white neighborhood and was furious at the attention this caused. Clay took to driving his entourage in the bus to the site in Surfside, Florida where Liston (nicknamed the “Big Bear”) was training, and repeatedly called Liston the “big, ugly bear”. Liston grew increasingly irritated as the motor-mouthed Clay continued hurling insults (“After the fight, I’m gonna build myself a pretty home and use him as a bearskin rug. Liston even smells like a bear. I’m gonna give him to the local zoo after I whup him… if Sonny Liston whups me, I’ll kiss his feet in the ring, crawl out of the ring on my knees, tell him he’s the greatest, and catch the next jet out of the country.”). He declared that he would “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee,” and, summarizing his strategy for avoiding Liston’s assaults, said, “Your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see.” Clay insisted to a skeptical press that he would knock out Liston in eight rounds (Former Light Heavyweight Champion José Torres, in his 1971 biography of Ali, Sting Like a Bee, said that as of 1963, Ali’s prophetic poems had correctly predicted the exact round he would stop an opponent 12 times).

When Clay won, he became the youngest boxer (22 years old) to take the title from a reigning heavyweight champion, though Floyd Patterson was the youngest to win the heavyweight championship at 21, during an elimination bout following Rocky Marciano‘s retirement. Mike Tyson broke both records in 1986 when he defeated Trevor Berbick to win the heavyweight title at age 20.

 

*On March 6, 1964, Islam leader Elijah Muhammad announced in a recorded statement played over the radio that Clay would be renamed Muhammad Ali. Muhammad means “worthy of all praises,” while Ali means “most high.”

 
 

The Soul of a Butterfly is the autobiography of Muhammad Ali. It is written in collaboration with his daughter, Hana Yasmeen Ali.It is not a comprehensive autobiography but a breakdown of the important events and experiences in his life; this is suggested in the book’s subtitle, Reflections on life’s journey. The book includes some of his and his daughter’s poetry, and snippets of Sufi thought.

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An Effort to Recapture What is Lost

Lord Jim is a novel by Joseph Conrad originally published as a serial in Blackwood’s Magazine from October 1899 to November 1900.
An early and primary event is the abandonment of a ship in distress by its crew including the young British seaman Jim. He is publicly censured for this action and the novel follows his later attempts at coming to terms with his past.

 
 

Lord Jim (Richard Brooks, 1965) It’s the second film adaptation of the novel by Joseph Conrad. The first was a silent film released in 1925 and directed by Victor Fleming. The film stars Peter O’Toole (Jim), James Mason (“Gentleman” Brown), Curt Jürgens (Cornelius), Eli Wallach (The General), Jack Hawkins (Captain Marlow), Paul Lukas (Stein), and Daliah Lavi (Jewel).

 
 

Peter O’Toole and Paul Lukas

 
 

After Jim rejects Marlow’s suggestion that he go to America, Marlow decides to consult Stein, the proprietor of a large trading company with posts in “out-of-the-way places” where Jim could more easily live in peace. Stein, according to Marlow, is extremely trustworthy and wise. We learn a little about Stein’s past: he escaped Germany as a young man after getting entangled with revolutionaries, then came to the East Indies with a Dutch naturalist. Stein remained in the area with a Scottish trader he had met, who bequeathed him his trading empire and introduced him to a Malay queen. Stein became an adviser to the queen’s son, Mohammed Bonso, who was battling several relatives for the throne. He married Bonso’s sister and had a child with her, and began to collect beetles and butterflies. Bonso was assassinated, and Stein’s wife and child died from a fever. Stein tells Marlow an anecdote about a particular butterfly specimen in his collection. One morning, he was tricked into leaving his compound by an enemy of Bonso’s and was ambushed along the road. After feigning death, he attacked and dispatched his attackers with bullets, but a few escaped. Suddenly, he saw a rare butterfly glide past him. Moving quickly, he captured it in his hat, holding a revolver in his other hand in case the bandits should reappear. Stein describes that day as one of the best of his life; he had defeated his enemy, possessed friendship and love, and acquired a butterfly he had long desired.

Stein collects butterflies, which may seem like just a passing hobby. But we think there just might be something more to it. Let’s take a look at Stein’s description of his favorite pasttime:

“When I got up I shook like a leaf with excitement, and when I opened these beautiful wings and made sure what a rare and so extraordinary perfect specimen I had, my head went round and my legs became so weak with emotion that I had to sit on the ground. I had greatly desired to possess myself of a specimen of that species […]”

He sighed and turned again to the glass case. The frail and beautiful wings quivered faintly, as if his breath had for an instant called back to life that gorgeous object of his dreams. (20.10-5)

 
 

 
 

Each time Stein captures a butterfly, he must kill it. He both admires and destroys these beautiful bugs, because each time he gets his hands on one, he takes away its freedom, and the beauty of the insect in flight. It’s a bit of a contradiction, right? If you love butterflies so much, Stein, perhaps you should leave the poor things alone. But he can’t. For Stein, all beauty is fleeting and all perfect moments must come to an end. His own personal history seems to confirm this: his wife and daughter were tragically killed, and live on only in his dreams and memories. He spends the aftermath of that tragedy tracking down and capturing butterflies, perhaps as an effort to recapture what he has lost.

Aside from personal considerations, Stein’s butterfly hunting is also a powerful symbol of the British Empire (and other European empires). Stein goes tromping around foreign places, capturing these things of beauty so he can study them and show off his trophies to his admirers. That sounds eerily familiar when you consider that European imperialism was all about traveling to foreign places and capturing their resources for European use. Perhaps these butterflies represent what is lost when Europeans colonized these far-flung foreign lands.