Monday, May 28, 2018

I am very happy to be a retired committeeperson!

Although I enjoyed my 32 years as a committeeperson, I am very happy to be a retired committeeperson. I hope to continue some involvement in the ward as an Associate Committeeperson, helping out on Election Day and with distribution of flyers as needed. I’m still intensely interested in politics, and want to be in involved in the ward at some level, but at this stage in my life I don’t think I can handle that long day at the polls; also walking around the neighborhood delivering all those election flyers is getting really difficult.

I strongly believe that if someone is not willing or able to get out there and knock on doors and talk to their neighbors about what’s at stake in each election, that person should not be a committeeperson. It was becoming clear to me that I no longer had the energy for going door to door and after 32 years I had think I have earned a rest. I look forward to helping out on election day but I need to ratchet down the level of responsibility. And fortunately there is a very smart, energetic young woman in my division who ran for committeeperson.

At this stage in my life, I would much rather read and write about politics than do door-to-door organizing organizing. See my analysis of the May 15 primary results in the Chestnut Hill Local.

I think probably the most useful thing I have done in local politics was my documentation and analysis of the efforts of progressives to reform the local political system in Green Shoots of Democracy. I’m frequently asked if I will do a sequel; my answer has been that I sure hope someone continues this story with an in-depth analysis of the efforts of progressives in 2018, but that it won’t be me.

The 2018 campaign to reinvigorate the Philadelphia Democratic Party has been very much the work of millennials. That’s where the energy is and I do not have enough connections and knowledge of the work of young activists. Philly has many talented young political writers; I sure hope one of them is interested in documenting/ analyzing progressive organizing in 2018 committeeperson and ward leader races.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Domenico Starnone's Trick

Domenico Starnone has joined the list of writers whose books I pre-order and read as soon as they are available. His latest, Trick, translated by and with an introduction by Jhumpa Lahiri did not speak to me as powerfully as its predecessor, Ties, also translated and with an introduction by Lahiri. But I expect more of its power will emerge upon re-reading—that was certainly the case with Ties and with First Execution, the first of Starnone’s books translated into English.

Only three of Starnone’s 14 novels have been translated into English. If his role in the books attributed to Elena Ferrante is ever acknowledged, we might have the opportunity to read more of his work in translation. Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym, a fictional character created to camouflage the identity of its probable co-authors, Starnone and his wife, Anita Raja. (To date, four teams of experts using text analysis software have identified Starnone as the principal author of the Neapolitan novels.)

Although the plot of Trick is very different from that of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, there are thematic similarities. The central relationship in the Neapolitan novels is the complicated friendship between two young girls growing up in a Neapolitan working class neighborhood in the 1950s. One escapes Naples; the other doesn’t. In Trick, like the Neapolitan novels, Naples itself becomes a character, although unlike the Neapolitan novels which depict both the beauty and the misery of Naples, Trick focuses on the misery. The central relationship in Trick is between Daniele Mallarico, an elderly artist struggling with the frailties of old age and disappointments of a declining career, and his precocious four year old grandson.Like Lila and Elena of the Neapolitan novels, Mallarico, generally referred to as Grandpa, grew up in 1950s working class Naples.

Like Elena, Mallarico longed to escape Naples and his difficult family; like Elena, through education and talent he managed to do so. Several of the details of working class life recalled by Mallarico in Trick are reminiscent of descriptions of Elena’s family dealing with the difficulties of a large family living in a relatively small space: Elena describes the daily ritual of dismantling the dining room furniture, making up the beds at night and unmaking them in the morning, so the dining room could double as a bedroom. Similarly, Mallarico describes himself and his brother making their “beds in the evenings, in the living room, putting an end to my mother’s elegant aspirations."

Elena at times speculates on what she might have become if she hadn’t had the strength to leave Naples, and what the far more talented Lila might have become if her family, like Elena’s, had allowed her to continue her education. Similarly, the elderly artist in Trick becomes obsessed with the roads not taken.

Starnone’s novels are characterized by narrative complexity and intertextual drama; in Trick there are running allusions to the Henry James novella The Jolly Corner, which Mallarico has been called upon to illustrate. In the James story, the protagonist Brydon Spencer, who has been living for years in Europe, returns to the New York City house in which he has grown up. Like Starnone’s aging artist who has also returned to his childhood home, Brydon is obsessed with the road not taken and searches for the ghosts of possible alternative selves.

Lahiri thinks that a knowledge of James’ story enriches the experience of reading Trick and on her recommendation I re-read The Jolly Corner. James is every bit as wordy and repetitious as I recalled and I have no desire to read James again, but The Jolly Corner does add a dimension to Trick, suggesting the universality of the experience of mulling over never to be realized possibilities as one moves into one’s later years.

Faced with physical frailty and declining career prospects, Mallarico is unnerved by the talent and physical vitality of his grandson Mario. Their relationship becomes a dangerous contest of wills, culminating in Mario’s telling his grandfather he intends to play a “trick” on him. He locks the door to the balcony and exposes his grandfather to the wind and the rain—echoes of King Lear, intentional or not.

Starnone’s novels, with their literary allusions and avoidance of straightforward narration, are often described as metafiction. I’ve wondered if Starnone decided to write or co-write the Neapolitan novels in order to try his hand at the old-fashioned straightforward narration he has generally avoided. However, on rereading, the Neapolitan novels reveal themselves as far more complicated than the old-fashioned Bildungsroman they are generally thought to be.

Trick concludes with an appendix complete with sketches. I haven’t quite figured out the purpose of the appendix beyond shifting the perspective from “grandpa” (Daniele chafes at the name grandpa) to the artist Daniele Mallarico. However, upon re-reading, the relationship between the main text and the ”appendix” might become clearer. Starnone (like Ferrante) is one of those novelists you have to re-read.