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Michael Ian Black Reviews New Book by SVA's Daniel Kunitz

From The New York Times: "Strength, in all of its physical manifestations, forms the basis for 'Lift: Fitness Culture, From Naked Greeks and Acrobats to Jazzercise and Ninja Warriors,' by the writer and editor Daniel Kunitz. An exhaustive catalog of the exhausting, 'Lift' is both a history of exercise as self-improvement and a paean to CrossFit, the fad that emphasizes 'functional strength' in lieu of bulging muscles. With 'Lift,' Kunitz tries to do for CrossFit what the best seller 'Born to Run' did for the minimalist running movement.

The book is organized chronologically, beginning in the dim mists of time before the mighty Schwarzenegger walked the earth. Like Giraldi, Kunitz begins with the Greeks—specifically with the concept of arete, which was the 'central ideal of all Greek culture,' Kunitz writes (quoting the German classicist Werner Jaeger). 'That ideal,' he continues, 'could only be expressed through a unity of body, mind and soul.' In modern terms, we might call this approach 'holistic,' seeing little difference between exercising the mind and the body. In fact, the gymnasia, where Greeks trained their bodies, 'were also the sites of the era’s three major philosophical traditions.' It is as if college existentialism courses were taught between Soul Cycle classes.

The relationship between body and culture runs through 'Lift.' Kunitz traces the post-Greek decline in physical training to the rise of Christianity, with its 'turning away from body culture and toward the cultivation of spiritual exercises.' (Thus the image of Jesus as waifish, devoid of pride.) Later, when bodybuilding emerges as a vocation in the 20th century, Kunitz discusses the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk and his idea that 'the trend toward bodybuilding is itself an expression of the spirit of capitalism, . . . the "inner connection between the worlds of practice and work, of perfection and production."?'

Kunitz pays special attention in 'Lift' to the rising role of women and feminism..." (continue reading)

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