dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

It Came from Kearny

If Phil, Butchie and the gang decide to go looking for Tony Soprano at Satriale's Sunday night, I hope they first consult today's Our Towns column in the New York Times. If so they'll waste sufficient time looking for a non-existent New Jersey city on mapquest for Tony to advance several moves ahead of his dim-witted New York rivals. It's Kearny, NJ not Kearney; it's pronounced like the name of the profession of those itinerant guys that install the Whirl-A-Gig for your parish festival. So what's in an extra vowel? Well Kearny is only around five miles west of the very fancy new HQ skyscraper the Times has raised just across the street from the 'Port of Authority' bus terminal. I've never bought the argument that the Times is anti-Catholic but if the Pope lived in Kearny I'd have to change my mind because they'd surely misspell his name there too.

      If you made a list of the 50 all-time greatest American soccer players at least four names would belong to Kearny natives. First it was the Scots then the Irish then here comes everybody. The point about the Sopranos is that David Chase got this whole Jersey location thing right from the start: his sense of place is extraordinary even by Jersey standards and he was perhaps the first creative artist to understand how truly important this was not just as detail, color etc. but as the foundation of his character's self-understanding; their spirituality, all of it. Philip Roth has been pretty good at times with Newark (he relied very heavily on a wonderful local historian names Charles Cummings who died in December); the Boss of Monmouth County has certainly had his moments too and surely the casting of Little Steven as Silvio was in part homage to Freehold's native son.

      Springsteen anticipated Sunday's finale with Meeting Across the River from the Born to Run album way back in 75. You knew in the end it had to come down to New York versus Jersey. The Garden State is just an amorphous land mass to Phil Leotardo as it is to the NYT: a couple years ago the paper of record ran a story on the city of North Bergen explaining why new condos there were so appealing to empty-nesters that had raised their families in Bergen County and wanted to remain in-county. Only problem is North Bergen is in the County of Hudson, you know, the place where people remain active in politics long after they die (of course it's also true that mobster Joe Adonis once helped run the Republican Party in Bergen but that's for another time).

     As to the interests of Commonweal folk: it seems to me there's a growing divide in Catholic studies between focus on value of experience (like where you grow up) and ideology (like no matter where you grow up you're really from Rome--not the one in upstate New York the other one--) and ideology is winning by a landslide. So maybe it's not such terrible idea to make stand as Sopranos bows out: it's more than important to know where you come from and where your students come from and what was important to their relatives; like what it meant for Corrado Soprano to grope his way back to the Clay Street Bridge in Newark that night.      

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

So its Carney as in Art Carney?

I'm from Chicago and I've never understood why the New York Times shouldn't pay more attention to the Second City (while sparing us the dumb articles suggesting that Chicagoans are on thev verge of voting a Daley out of office) than to New Jersey or, for heaven's sake, Connecticut. But what does Jim mean by ideology? Theology?

It's nice to see some Jim Fisher writing again, especially about New Jersey. I took a class in American religious history at SLU with him in the mid 90s. I agree with the final insight: ideology is winning. And so is a reductive model of priesthood.

Peter you know I can't make an argument straight but why let that stop me: everytime I see 'Catholic imagination' invoked I always wonder what's that grounded in? Then the real sly claim is that this 'CI' IS grounded in 'incarnational, sacramental' i.e. material reality. But is it or is it an idea-construct for re-drawing boundaries? If it is not I might propose that everytime one is tempted to invoke the 'CI' one might then look at REAL material conditions of reality--via real inquiry that's not pre-framed to return us to same place we started. So by ideology I mean at least a semi-prefab 'Catholic' approach which uses terms like 'history' and 'anthropology' in ways at great variance with how these are used and understood by working historians and anthropologists, say. I don't equate ideology with theology tho theology is the 'privileged' mode of Catholic studies. It's all debatable anyway since there is really no lit. on what makes Catholic studies Catholic studies. We're trying to work on that via edited Fordham Press volume. And thanks to Ken Forton and good to hear from you!

I forgot to respond Peter's good point about NYT and Chicago: seems like a huge enterprise like NYT needs to keep generics for the big wide world out there; Daleyesque pols for Chi.; Jersey Girls (like Soprano Sue the subject of today's Our Towns column) for Jersey etc. (it was that more than spelling that bugged me). Guess it's hitting us that we'll never again have that truly Jersey fresh Jersey apotheosis; new way of seeing familiar locations courtesy Chase et al. And finally there's no better cure for a little NY-aphobia than run around Central Park loop then over to Hudson Riv. Park. They do some things real nice over this way.

So it is because of the Times that I don't appreciate Chicago. I guess I have to take it on faith about the greatness of Chicago. They do have Jordan, the Bears and Capone. But Jersey? Even Rhode Island has more attractive gangsters. Sinatra pretended he never heard of the place. Tho the Sopranos may help them some, fiction or not.James, Even Gibbon laments that theology gets the nice task of describing the pristine state while history must look at the facts. One of the achievements of our age is that we are willing to look at the facts, with the usual exceptions. What should Catholic Studies do but look at the facts? That had become refreshing until the restorationists resurfaced. The factual approach should prevail despite all those people who wear Constantian dress. Be careful though. Even Gibbon could not refrain from condemning the infidels.