The first short story I’ve ever written is forthcoming in Akashic Books’ fantastic noir series. I just got this copy of the cover; the book comes out in early November.
Each volume in Akashic’s series is based in a different city around the world. The publisher has been particularly attentive to cities in the global South, with titles like Kingston Noir, Delhi Noir, and (forthcoming) Lagos Noir featuring prominently in their catalog.
The series features and is edited by local writers, so it plays an important role in bringing collections of authors to the attention of audiences in the North who might otherwise remain below the radar.
I intend to explore the rubric of noir in future scholarly work. In what ways, I want to ask, are crime and policing responses to the contradictions of neoliberal capitalism that have forced literally millions of people off the land and into sprawling mega-cities in postcolonial nations? How adequate is the discourse of noir to reflecting critically on the impasses of neoliberal globalization? What gets left out of crime lit, and what crimes cannot be solved be even the most hard-boiled sleuth?
I hope my scholarly work on these kinds of questions will be productive. For now, though, I can say that I had great fun writing “Teenage Wasteland.” This story, set, of course, on Staten Island, explores the politics of toxic garbage disposal in the Fresh Kills dump during the late 1970s. The protagonist is a young Italian-American woman who gets diverted from her career as a fledgling punk rocker in her favorite stomping ground – CBGBs – by a rash of toxin-induced illnesses in her home neighborhood on Staten Island.
I definitely feel that there is more ground to explore here. Both in terms of garbage politics in NYC and in terms of the protagonist I created. I have ambitions to send her to Love Canal and to Italy. After all, the story is set during the anni di piombo (the years of lead), when the Italian government colluded with the mafia, NATO, and the CIA to shift Italian politics to the right by staging a series of bombings which were blamed on anarchist groups and on the Left in general. Lots to explore… Stay tuned.
I’m in Torino, Italy for a couple of weeks to teach a course in the Masters in American Studies program. The course is on American Disasters, but while I’m here I’m trying to catch up on Italian culture. Part of that process simply involves walking around Torino soaking up the ambiance on the streets. Here are some photos that give a sense of the city:
I’ve also been having some pretty interesting conversations. My friend Andrea Carosso, who teaches at the university here, told me recently about how pope John Paul II funded Solidarnosc in Poland in order to bring down communism, in the process bankrupting the Vatican’s bank. Andrea told me that it is quite well known in Italy that the Vatican turned to the Roman mafia for funds following its bankruptcy. Apparently there were numerous other suspicious dealings, including the hanging of “God’s banker” Roberto Calvi – who, as the nickname suggests, was lending the Vatican money – under the Blackfriars bridge in London in 1982 after a complex plot involving Italy’s biggest private bank, Banco Ambrosiano, and the Sicilian mafia.
Adding to the sense of skullduggery, last night I went to see the latest film by the exceptional Italian film director Marco Tullio Giordana. The film deals with a bombing that took place in a Milanese bank: the so-called Piazza Fontana bombing. The subject has been treated before, including in the great playwright Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist.
The story, as the film explains, hinges on the framing and then “accidental” suicide of an anarchist activist who was being held in custody in relation to the bombing. Giordana’s Romanzo di una strage demonstrates that this suicide was actually a murder carried out by interrogators who are working in cahoots with state authorities. During a time of political mobilization in the 1970s, Right wing elements within the state colluded, the movie suggests, with CIA agents to carry out the devastating Piazza Fontana bombing in order to legitimate the decree of a state of emergency in Italy and the suspension of constitutional liberties. The idea was for Italy to follow in the footsteps of Greece, where a military regime had taken power two years before the Piazza Fontan bombing (with NATO support). Giordana’s film also focuses on the role of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro in staving off the imposition of martial law, implying that this helps explain his subsequent killing (which, we are led to suppose, did not occur at the hands of the Red Brigades). Here’s a trailer for Giordana’s film:
Pretty scary stuff, particularly given the financial instability currently roiling southern Europe. The resonance of this history was underlined to me this morning, when I came across the following video about the resurgence of Greek fascism while readingThe New York Times:
An article in today’s New York Times offers a powerful and unsettling comment on the video I made several weeks ago in Italy.
The article describes a demographic time bomb in southern Europe, where young people are locked out of the labor market by older generations and victimized by laws intended to increase the flexibility of employment. Highly educated young people in countries such as Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal must live with their parents well into middle age since they seldom succeed in finding well paying jobs. In many cases, they simply leave their countries, just as the young Italians in the video I shot discuss doing. For obvious reasons, these young people are also not having children, meaning that there are no future generations to support the generous welfare state that their elders are benefiting from.
Interestingly, the article noted that, in this context, protests against austerity measures imposed on the universities are intimately linked to much broader frustrations over the failure of society to create a viable future for these lost generations.
It seems that wherever one looks there are more and more of what Zygmunt Bauman calls “surplus people.” The problems described in the article are much worse throughout the global South.
Here is a short film made with the collaboration of some friends and colleagues in Torino, who reflect on the challenges facing contemporary Italians:
I’m spending a week in Turin, Italy, teaching a short seminar on “American Disasters” in the M.A. course at the Università di Torino. Here’s a copy of the syllabus.
During the evenings, I’ve been walking the city. It’s a truly beautiful place, filled with nineteenth century arches and arcades. At this time of year, the city is also full of light displays. Here’s a brief video of the city of lights: