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17/10/2006

Magazine Roundup


NRC Handelsblad | Esprit | The Guardian | Asharq Al-Awsa |Tygodnik Powszechny | Il Foglio | Gazeta Wyborcza | The New Yorker | Die Weltwoche | The Spectator | L'Express | The Nation | The New York Times


NRC Handelsblad, 12.10.2006 (The Netherlands)

"What has happened to the debate?" asks Ian Buruma in a polemic directed against the "political orthodoxy of the Neocons in the Netherlands and the USA: "Seldom has a group of intellectuals in American history had so much influence on a country's abilities as the Neoconservatives and their organisations today. They have access to the White House and President Bush, to the Pentagon and to the office of Vice President Cheney. And yet they sell themselves as a margin group, struggling under the yoke of the political correctness of the so-called 'liberal establishment'. This singular maquis, closely huddled around prominent personalities, behaves as if it were permanently beset by enemies. It is hardly a coincidence that so many of the Neocons – in America and also in the Netherlands – once belonged to the extreme left: Trotskyists, Maoists and the rest. Because there too reigns the spirit of a repressed minority which must arm itself so as to deliver the first blow when it comes to the crunch. The absolutist tone of these new converts who have suddenly seen the light, is a bit like that of the former chain smoker who can no longer stand the smoke of others."

Merijn de Waal was present when a chipper Al Gore introduced his climate crisis film "An Inconvenient Truth" in Amsterdam. A "stiff, gauche, colourless presidential candidate" no more, Gore recounted an anecdote about an unexpected fan from the Republican camp: "The other day, Arnold Schwarzenegger called me up. He said (Gore puts on a German accent): 'I'm selling my Hummer.' And he did!'

Further articles: Anila Ramdas in his column dwells on Gandhi's loin cloth and the political significance of clothing. And in her Weblog, Marie Jose Klaver quotes Raymond Spanjar, the 29-year-old founder of the social network platform Hyves (more popular in the Netherlands than Youtube or Myspace) who, on the subject of a potential takeover by Google of the business magazine Sprout remarked: "1.65 billion dollars. We wouldn't do it for that."


Esprit, 01.10.2006 (France)


Marie Mendras writes an extremely well-informed online commentary (dated 13 October) on the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. She warns, among other things, against believing the now widespread official version concerning the perpetrators, according to which warring Chechnian factions are responsible for the murder. "This version has the double advantage of erasing the enemy No. 1 and, at the same time, laying the blame with Chechnians of all factions. (...) It would be unbearable if this emerging official thesis were to be swallowed by the Russian public which is in the hands of television, and European governments who are keen not to get on the wrong side of Putin. No, Anna Politkovskaya is not the victim of score-settling among Chechnians. Let us not believe in these allegedly guilty persons who are now being pulled out of the hat. The murder of Anna Politkovskaya was a political act."


The Guardian, 14.10.2006 (UK)

The Guardian prints a previously unpublished article by the murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, in which she complains about her oppressive working conditions. "Some time ago Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration, explained that there were people who were enemies but whom you could talk sense into, and there were incorrigible enemies into whom you couldn't and who simply needed to be "cleansed" from the political arena. So they are trying to cleanse it of me and others like me.(...) The Kremlin is trying to block my access to information, its ideologists supposing that this is the best way to make my writing ineffectual. It is impossible, however, to stop someone fanatically dedicated to this profession of reporting the world around us. My life can be difficult, more often humiliating. I am not, after all, so young at 47 to keep encountering rejection and having my own pariah status rubbed in my face, but I can live with it."


Asharq Al-Awsat, 11.10.2006
(Saudi Arabia / UK)

Ibn Khaldun died 600 years ago. Born in Tunis, died in Cairo – yet his sociological writings inspired mostly European thinkers. Moroccan historian, Abdesselam Cheddadi, who has been researching Ibn Khaldun for over thirty years, sees this as one of the causes for the current crisis in the Arab world. Products of technical progress are easy to import. "A culture, on the other hand," Cheddadi explains in an interview, "cannot be borrowed from just anybody." Neither the search for a supposedly authentic culture in the past, nor the import of motorways represents a solution. Only "cultural motorways" lead out of the crisis. For Cheddadi, Ibn Khaldun is a point of connection, "a symbol of cool, rational thinking, free from dogma. We have to make him a symbol for the modernisation of our culture. The regeneration of a modern culture essentially takes place through the human and sociological sciences - and Ibn Khaldun was, in the global history of thought, a forerunner in these areas, one of their leading representatives. Our past culture needs a fresh examination... We have to read our cultural legacy anew, we have to conduct new research into our writings, using modern analytical methods."

Lisas Hatahat sees in Syria a growing interest in traditional music – clearly observable in the countless institutes offering courses in oriental music. Which is why she was somewhat taken aback at the statement of the founder of the famous music school Bayt al-Oud in Cairo, Naseer Shamma: "There is no such thing as West or East in music. Music is a world with different dialects. Everything else is just a label. Culture is one, and the arts and instruments are similar. The most important thing is where man finds himself."

In Cairo, Muhammad Abu Zaid frustratedly observes an argument between intellectuals over nothing less that the intellectual legacy of Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian Nobel Prize for Literature laureate who died this year, and who should be allowed to speak o his behlalf in the future.


Tygodnik Powszechny, 15.10.2006 (Poland)

What has not been written about the young generation of writers in Poland now that Dorota Maslowska (see our feature "The sweet taste of underground") has been awarded the coveted NIKE prize? Michal Olszewski, a young writer himself, describes the everyday life of this species in more sober tones: "No sooner has a publisher decided to promote a young writer than the bitching begins: the books are full of cliches, vulgar, provincial, and cheaply postmodern. If writers don't write about the here and now, they are accused of escapism, if they do address it, journalism. Olszewski asks people to take a closer look, and not to see only Maslowska, because "something is happening here. Young literature is fast-paced because it reflects the zeitgeist. It's as if the authors are writing in a state of tension, writing after coming home from work. This is something new!"

And what does Dorota Maslowska have to say about all this? In a lengthy interview with Tygodnik, she compares receiving the award with the birth of her child: "A huge relief. I no longer have to prove anything. I've always been considered a pseudo-writer and now I've landed in the right pigeon hole. On the other hand I feel the weight of this decision: everyone feels insulted!"


Il Foglio, 14.10.2006 (Italy)

Ugo Bertone describes the tragic story of the Japanese-born American, Iva Toguri, who during the Second World War was stranded in Japan and recruited as a spokeswoman for propaganda programme aimed at the U.S military. She was famously and infamously known among the soldiers as "Tokyo Rose". "Her destiny-determining voice had thousands of Marines under its spell – in the jungles of New Guinea and in the landing boats before the beaches of Iwo Jima, soon to be saturated with blood. In these nights of waiting, where every night was the last night, the jazz from the Tokyo radio station was interrupted by a woman's voice, perhaps the last woman's voice in an all too brief life: "Listen, men, listen, as long as you're still alive."

On the same page, Siegmund Ginzberg asks how long China will support North Korea. Giuseppe Garibaldi, the hero of the Italian Risorgimento and Aureliano Buendia from Gabriel Garcia Marquez' "Hundred Years of Solitude" are astonishingly similar, writes Nicola Fano. Andrea Riccardi, the founder of the German Community of Sant'Egidio has tremendous faith in Benedikt XVI when it comes to the spiritual regeneration of the West.


Gazeta Wyborcza, 14.10.2006 (Poland)

What is neoconservatism? Neocon Norman Podhoretz has the answer: "It is quite simply a new conservatism". He gets more informative later on. "I found even Reagan too soft, particularly with the communists in Poland. I admit that in matters totalitarian, we were always hawks. Communism no longer exists but we, like President Bush, believe that the current Islamofascism is a direct successor of the totalitarian ideologies that we fought in the Second World War. In our own interest and for ideological reasons, the USA should take up the fight against this totalitarian threat." On the proceedings in Iraq Podhoretz says: "We are testing our new policies there. The fight against Islamofascism may take 30 to 40 years, just like the Cold War. We are sowing the seeds now, but we don't know what will grow from them. One thing is certain: a new order is possible."

Further articles: the journalist and writer Peter Lachmann portrays writer and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann, who "was made of contradictions. An artist and civil servant whose life between Poles and Germans provided enough material for a picaresque epic", but for some unknown reason has not merited a monument in Warsaw. Katarzyna Bik enthuses about the "Futurism of Industrial Cities" exhibition fittingly shown in the famous "Real Socialist" industrial suburb of Krakow, Nowa Huta. Artists have designed future visions for two working-class towns which were completely reconstructed under totalitarian systems: the National Socialist Wolfsburg and the Stalinist Nowa Huta.


The New Yorker, 23.10.2006 (USA)

In a wonderful review of William Clark's history "Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University," Anthony Grafton looks back on one of the biggest star professors ever: "At a Berlin banquet in 1892, Mark Twain, himself a worldwide celebrity, stared in amazement as a crowd of a thousand young students 'rose and shouted and stamped and clapped, and banged the beer-mugs' when the historian Theodor Mommsen entered the room: 'This was one of those immense surprises that can happen only a few times in one's life. I was not dreaming of him; he was to me only a giant myth, a world-shadowing specter, not a reality. The surprise of it all can be only comparable to a man's suddenly coming upon Mont Blanc, with its awful form towering into the sky, when he didn't suspect he was in its neighbourhood. I would have walked a great many miles to get a sight of him, and here he was, without trouble, or tramp, or cost of any kind. Here he was, clothed in a titanic deceptive modesty which made him look like other men. Here he was, carrying the Roman world and all the Caesars in his hospitable skull, and doing it as easily as that other luminous vault, the skull of the universe, carries the Milky Way and the constellations.' Mommsen's fantastic energy and work ethic—he published more than fifteen hundred scholarly works—had made him a hero, not only among scholars but to the general public, a figure without real parallels today. The first three volumes of his 'History of Rome,' published in the eighteen-fifties, were best-sellers for decades and won him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1902. Berlin tram conductors pointed him out as he stood in the street, leaning against a lamppost and reading: 'That is the celebrated Professor Mommsen: he loses no time.'"

The magazine reprints from the archive an autobiographical story by Orhan Pamuk, this year's laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature (more here), together with portraits of the Turkish writer by John Updike and David Remnick. And here you can read the story "Stairway to Heaven" by Aleksandar Hemon.


Die Weltwoche, 12.10.2006 (Switzerland)

Assuming that North Korea was not bluffing with its atomic test, writes Christoph Neidhart on the spine-chilling birth of the nuclear power, almost everything is now going Kim Jong Il's way: "International reactions could be categorised as 'resolutely perplexed.' Nevertheless Kim has miscalculated, as he has so often done. China, once Pyongyang's last ally, does not want a nuclear North Korea. Especially because if North Korea builds atomic weapons, Japan could also quickly become an atomic power. Japan's highly developed nuclear industry wouldn't need more than half a year to build a bomb."

Franziska K. Müller talks with Viennese evolutionary biologist Karl Grammer, who explains why all the talk about inner values is humbug: "Every time a man sees a woman, the same programme starts running, just like in a washing machine. Our field studies in Japan and Germany concluded that in general men find all women interesting, and they assess their chances as far better than they actually are. Then they try to impress the most beautiful woman. No matter whether they are successful or not: men believe they're hunters. In truth, every woman decides for herself 100 percent whether and to whom she will succumb."


The Spectator, 13.10.2006 (UK)

In his title story on South Africa, Rian Malan has one positive thing to say: "There won't be civil war." Otherwise things look grim: "Nine months ago South Africa seemed to be muddling through in a happy-go-lucky fashion. The economy was growing, albeit slowly. Trains ran, if not exactly on time. If you called the police, they eventually came. We thought our table was fairly solid, and that we would sit at it indefinitely, quaffing that old Rainbow Nation ambrosia. Now, almost overnight, we have come to the dismaying realisation that much around us is rotten. Nearly half our provinces and municipalities are said to be on the verge of collapse. A murderous succession dispute has broken out in the ruling African National Congress. Our Auditor–General reportedly has sleepless nights on account of the billions that cannot be properly accounted for. Whites have been moaning about such things for years, but you know you're in serious trouble when President Thabo Mbeki admits the 'naked truth' that his government has been infiltrated by chancers seeking to 'plunder the people's resources.'

Allister Heath has met French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who explains once again that anti-Americanism is a form of fascism. But Heath is inspired by what Levy has to say about multiculturalism in the UK: "British citizens 'from ancient origins and recent origins should sit together around a table and try to find a way to rewrite the social contract. It's an emergency; if not you will have riots everywhere, more and more, as we had in France, but yours might be even worse in Britain.' On that note Levy shrugged, leaving me to wonder for the first time in my life whether we would not in fact be better off if our public intellectuals were more like those in France."


L'Express, 12.10.2006 (France)

At regular intervals people in France discuss the state and significance of philosophy. This time things are sparked off by recent diagnoses of an increasing popularisation of the discipline in which "purists" are already scenting a whiff of "vulgarisation": "Morally pepped-up pret-a-porter thinking, cheap ideas: in short: Spinoza would turn in his grave." One article in this issue looks at these assessments and France's "new hunger for meaning and orientation", and presents a new book by the philosopher and former French education minister Luc Ferry: "Vaincre les peurs" (Odile Jacob). Ferry explains in an interview why he sees philosophy's current popularity as nothing new, but a "return to normality." Abnormal, by contrast, were all the French philosophers who are internationally so much better known than Ferry: "The charm of the deconstruction or post-structuralism of Deleuze, Derrida and Foucault, which dominated the 60s and 70s, lay in their avant-gardism, which turned it into something elitist. This ultra-critical 68er thinking wanted to deconstruct the triumph of the Western tradition and classical rationalism. It is esoteric, intentionally obscure and marginal for the sake of marginality. And that's what makes it so seductive."


The Nation, 13.10.2006 (USA)

In an long reportage from Afghanistan, Christian Parenti accuses the President Karzai's government of corruption, and also holds the Americans responsible for the problems which have led to a new rise of the Taliban: "Five years after the overthrow of the Taliban, Kabul has only three hours of electricity per day and unsanitary and inadequate drinking water. The healthcare system is nonexistent or run by foreign NGOs, and primary schools lack teachers. The government undertakes almost no public works; there is no food-safety system or program of agricultural extensions; state-owned industries - such as coal mines, gas works, cement factories, the national airline with its half-dozen planes, a chain of old hotels and several massive granaries - receive little or no investment."


The New York Times, 15.10.2006 (USA)

In The New York Times Magazine, Pankaj Mishra presents the Chinese intellectual Wang Hui, one of the co-founders of the magazine Dushu (here some articles in English), and the most high-profile leader of the "New Left." This still small but dynamic group feels that the uncritical adoption of the capitalist model is a mistake, and a betrayal of the country's 800 million poor. "Wang readily acknowledges that China's efforts at economic reform have not been without great benefits. He applauds the first phase, which lasted from 1978 to 1985, for improving agricultural output and the rural standard of living. It is the central government's more recent obsession with creating wealth in urban areas — and its decision to hand over political authority to local party bosses, who often explicitly disregard central government directives — that has led, he said, to deep inequalities within China."
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