Carlo Rotella, 39, is an English professor at Boston College and an author. He has taught at BC for four years and received his doctorate in American Studies from Yale University. His most recent book, ''Cut Time: An Education at the Fights" (Houghton Mifflin: 2003), which won the Penn/Faulkner Award, shows how the sport of boxing teaches lessons in human character that apply to our own lives. In an interview with Ashley Pettus, a Globe correspondent, he talks about connections between boxing and college, scholarly life and ''real life."
Q. In your book, you explore boxing as a source of education, both in terms of physical and mental training and in terms of life lessons. How is boxing relevant to the college experience?
A. The fight world and the academy have plenty in common. They're both places of learning and accumulated knowledge, where you have to apply the basic lesson that you are responsible for your own education. In the fight world, the consequences of what you learn are immediate: If you do things wrong, you get whacked in the face. Knowledge always comes with consequences -- it's just that in college the consequences of what you learn or don't learn are more subtle and take longer to reveal themselves.
Q. Yet on the surface boxing seems like the antithesis of college, like a brutal, real-world place far from the shelter of academe. In the case of Russell, the Lafayette College student you discuss in the first two chapters of the book, what attracted him to the ring and what did he learn there?
A. I think Russell was initially attracted to boxing to get ''life experience" that he couldn't get on campus. Guys at the gym had given and taken beatings in the ring, on the street, in the joint. They were worlds away from his life, and to his credit he wanted to hear what they had to say. But just looking for life experience isn't a good enough reason to work hard at the craft of boxing. I don't think Russell really began to get better at boxing until he adjusted his reasons for being there to more closely resemble what he was doing in college. . . . After that, he did improve and he ultimately found ways to apply what he learned from them not only to boxing but to school and other pursuits.
Q. Do your Boston College students today try to seek out ''real life" lessons?
A. Yes, the students who end up working closely with me tend to be the ones who think of school as a place to equip yourself to go out in the world and find out what people are doing and what it might mean. That's distinct from those who view school as a refuge where they can contemplate truth and beauty in isolation from the outside world. A lot of my best students want to be reporters or want to work in policy or in government.