Elsewhere

In this week's New Yorker, Kathryn Schulz writes about the experience of losing—things, loved ones and, finally, at our death, the world itself:

When we are experiencing it, loss often feels like an anomaly, a disruption in the usual order of things. In fact, though, it is the usual order of things. Entropy, mortality, extinction: the entire plan of the universe consists of losing, and life amounts to a reverse savings account in which we are eventually robbed of everything. Our dreams and plans and jobs and knees and backs and memories, the childhood friend, the husband of fifty years, the father of forever, the keys to the house, the keys to the car, the keys to the kingdom, the kingdom itself: sooner or later, all of it drifts into the Valley of Lost Things.

There’s precious little solace for this, and zero redress; we will lose everything we love in the end. But why should that matter so much? By definition, we do not live in the end: we live all along the way. The smitten lovers who marvel every day at the miracle of having met each other are right; it is finding that is astonishing. You meet a stranger passing through your town and know within days you will marry her. You lose your job at fifty-five and shock yourself by finding a new calling ten years later. You have a thought and find the words. You face a crisis and find your courage.

In the Nation, Benjamin Kunkel writes about Karl Marx and a new biography of Marx by Gareth Stedman Jones:

By any reasonable criteria—the fascination of his person, the achievement of his work, the scope of his influence—Marx counts as a great man. But there exists no great full-scale biography of him, capturing his spirit and ideas in their complexity.

In his studious reconstruction of Marx’s social milieu and intellectual formation, Stedman Jones comes close at times, but he imparts little of the enthusiasm, anxiety, hope, and dread that Marx can only have felt as a person who, like anyone else, had to live his life as a project and try to understand it as history. Stedman Jones seems to take for granted Marx’s posthumous eminence in a way that Marx, even at his most grandiose, naturally could not do himself. The result is a story deprived of the drama of uncertain expectation that informs any life, especially one devoted to the hypothesis of a new kind of society. And yet the shape of the story—as singular, jagged, and intent as the key to some door—still comes through, a bit as if you were reading a great novel in what you suspect is a so-so translation.

Finally, at the New York Review of Books website, Ingrid D. Rowland (a Commonweal contributor) writes about the Italian documentary Fire at Sea:

While countries from Malta to Norway have been shutting their doors to this cataclysmic mass migration, a sixty-year-old Italian named Pietro Bartolo has decided to spend his energy otherwise. Many nights of the year, he heads down from his home to the port of Lampedusa, the tiny Mediterranean island (seven miles by four) of 6,304 souls that marks the southernmost outpost of Italy. Today, as one of the island’s three doctors (including his wife), it falls to him to examine, one by one, the refugees who reach Lampedusa after making the terrible passage across the sea in search of safety: Syrians, Afghans, Somalis, Eritreans, Senegalese, Nigerians, the whole world. He gives first aid to the living and confirms that the dead are dead. He has delivered babies on the quayside. The work is brutal and unrelenting, and it comes on top of his normal rounds. But he believes he has no alternative. As he tells filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi in the central episode of the latter’s haunting documentary Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea), “If we want to stop these people, we need to create the conditions that will prevent them from dying of hunger or war. In the meantime, we have the duty, as human beings, to take them in.”

In these dismal weeks when Italians have been hammered by earthquakes, blizzards, and avalanches, as well as the recent collapse of their government and a crumbling transatlantic alliance, the news that Fuocoammare has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary provides some welcome respite, drawing international attention to this beleaguered island’s perpetual crisis. 

Commonweal's digital editor, Dominic Preziosi, wrote about Fire at Sea here.

Matthew Boudway is senior editor of Commonweal.

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