Strangely, as a young teen, when I was just beginning to think about politics, I thought abortion was wrong—if the war in Iraq was wrong because it would kill thousands of Iraqis, shouldn’t terminating a pregnancy be wrong too? That was how I thought about the issue. I no longer believe that, but my feelings on life, abortion, and babies have only grown more complicated upon witnessing my wife Emily go through labor, and then raising our Shayna together. Rabbi Miriam’s brazen defense of the right of a person to terminate a fetus was most provocative because Miriam, like me, also has a baby (also named Shayna!). Miriam said of her pregnancy: “Slowly slowly my future child became more and more real. And I was elated to meet my baby. I felt I loved her and in some intimate and ineffable way I felt I had a relationship with her. But in a beautiful Jewish contradiction, I also did not believe she was alive in me. She was not a person, not yet.” To be honest, I’m still struggling with how I feel about that—is it really the case that the fetus who became my beautiful daughter was not living, not a person, until her head came out into the world?
To be clear, even if I was sure a fetus was a living being of some sort, I would still be pro-abortion rights, a position in line with Sophie Lewis’s own provocative argument that “if the labor of pregnancy is productive of life, then interrupting that labor is—logically speaking—productive of death.” I am convinced intellectually by Miriam—and she marshals a powerful argument—though emotionally I’m unsure. I think it’s because I’m uncomfortable with the thought that my daughter Shayna, as a fetus, was not a living being. I doubt I’ll be able to come to a sure footing on the question. My continued wrestling with the issue is a testament to the power of Miriam’s sermon.
Aparna Gopalan (JC fellow): I woke up to
an email in my inbox with the subject line “Welcome to Post-Fascism.” It
was a magazine newsletter referring to the fascist Giorgia Meloni’s
victory in Italy’s recent elections, an outcome that seems to have
shocked observers around the world. I know precious little about Italy,
but because some of that comes from the fiction of Elena Ferrante, this
outcome did not shock me. Ferrante’s magisterial Neapolitan Quartet probably does not
need me to recommend it because almost every major figure in the
literary and critical establishment has been recommending it for years.
But where most reviewers want you to read Ferrante for the books’
breathless prose, their candid depictions of womanhood, and their
haunting portraits of friendship, I urge you to read her books for their
portrait of a society structured from bottom up by reactionary forces.
The books follow the lives of two girls growing up in the slums of 1950s Naples amidst the country’s postwar recovery, coming of age during a burgeoning communist movement and growing old at its decline. Reading the book jackets, you’d learn that the story is one of these women’s complicated friendship, but it is equally a story of violence both intimate and impersonal, inflicted variously by parents, siblings, lovers, neighborhood strongmen, factory overseers, husbands, children, the police, and most of all friends. Spectacular instances of organized violence sometimes appear in the foreground (eg. a prominent fascist moneylender is stabbed in his home; the local communist is arrested for the murder) but more mundane forms of repression are constant (a father throwing his disobedient daughter out of the window, boys hurling rocks at girls who shamed them at school, brothers fighting for their sisters’ ‘honor’).
And ultimately, the daily repressions are what determine the characters’ life trajectories. Perhaps the pivotal moment in the first book, My Brilliant Friend, is when a father refuses his daughter, the protagonist Lila, an education, setting her up for a lifetime of subjugation at home, at work, and beyond. The villains, it seems, are always those who love us, and our basest social instincts are always the ones we exercise at home. In the second book, The Story of a New Name, Lila observes as much on her wedding night as her husband, son of the dead neighborhood fascist, forces himself on her. “He was never Stefano, she seemed to discover suddenly, he was always the oldest son of Don Achille [who] was rising from the muck of the neighborhood, feeding on the living matter of his son. The father was cracking his skin, changing his gaze, exploding out of his body.”
Even if you kill the fascist, the fascism remains in the children, in the small gestures and big, in their love as much as in their hate. Even amidst a revolution without, relations and habits of domination remain protected and nurtured within—even amongst the revolutionaries themselves—ready to flower again when the time is right, as it now seems to be. Giorgia Meloni promises to protect “god, family, country,” and while Ferrante’s book says little about the country and less about god, it bares the fascist entrails of the family for all to see.
Mari Cohen (assistant editor): God Save the Animals,
an addicting new record by the singer/songwriter/producer Alex G (stage
name of Alex Giannascoli), has a sonic template that I like to call—as a
compliment, to be clear!—“summer camp gone wrong.” The album assembles a
collage of beautiful and catchy guitar-backed melodies that are
frequently hijacked by pitched-up or pitched-down vocals, eerie layered
choirs, and distortion. It’s a fitting mood for the lyrics, which
wrestle in ways both touching and unnerving with the grand business of
life and its meaning, as Giannascoli fumbles with the promise and peril
of religion as a guiding light.
At times, religiosity is considered in a dark, even mocking light: “God is my designer/Jesus is my lawyer,” an autotuned voice croons on “S.D.O.S”; the song “Blessing” offers a creepy whispered mantra that sounds more like a curse: “Every day is a blessing / as I walk through the mud / if I live like the fishes / I will rise from the mud.” (In a testament to Giannascoli’s daring, he released this very weird song as the album’s first single.) At other times, like on gorgeous love song “Miracles,” the reach for the divine seems sincere, resulting in an expansive humanistic vision: “I pray for the children and the sinners and the animals too/and I pray for you.” The song, incidentally, also includes one of the more romantic lines an indie softboi can come up with: “You and me/we got better pills than ecstasy.” (If I’ve put you off by suggesting “God Save the Animals” is a Christian record, don’t be alarmed—the album also includes such lyrics as “I have to put the cocaine in the vaccine/walk out of the doctor with immunity.”)
Overall, it’s a rare feat when an artist can lean into strangeness and surprise without sacrificing the simple pleasure of an easygoing hook—so it’s my pleasure to spread the Alex G gospel.
Mitch Abidor (contributing writer):The
time is long since past when baseball was the great American pastime.
Though attendance is still high, it’s football and basketball that rule
the roost these days. But if sports have long been a way out of poverty,
especially for immigrants and their children, baseball remains a way
out of despair. While Dominicans and Venezuelans are prominent on the
field, those most desperately clinging to baseball as an escape route
are the much smaller group of Cuban peloteros for whom the sport is a
way to save both themselves and their families.
The Last Out, showing on October 1st on PBS’s show POV and streaming all of October at PBS.org, follows a group of Cubans who, enticed by an American agent to defect, temporarily settle in Costa Rica in the hopes of attracting bids from American teams. Despite the complexities of their situation (Cubans cannot be signed by American teams unless they have legal residency in a third country, a process that, as we see in the film, can take a long, long time), the three players we follow are full of optimism—nay, certainty—that living the American dream is just around the corner.
If in general the life of an aspiring ballplayer is tough—an infinitesimal fraction of those who are signed ever make it to the majors—our protagonists’ are infinitely more miserable. Their agent, Gus Dominguez, who invests in their futures by supporting them minimally until they are signed (when he will receive 20% of their bonus), at first seems fine enough, but we eventually learn he has spent five years in jail for smuggling Cuban ballplayers and is in bad odor with the bigwigs in the sport. Tryouts held to spotlight the players are poorly attended and fruitless, and they begin to slack off in their training, which makes the prospect of being signed grow even more remote.
Like so many immigrant tales, The Last Out is a story of disillusionment. One player, appropriately named “Happy,” is expelled from the agent’s program and eventually takes the long, dangerous trip from Costa Rica to the United States. (He gets closer to the majors than anyone else when he meets the Cuban-born Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel. Gurriel—who is the son of one of Cuba’s all-time great players, and who won the American League batting title in 2021—is the fulfillment of the players’ dream.) Another, a promising pitcher, simply disappears, though the filmmakers later track him down. The third player, a pitcher casually considered lazy and unserious, is the only one still playing ball at the film’s end—though in the Dominican Republic, not the US, where he plays “alongside major leaguers.”