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12/12/2006

Magazine Roundup

Lettre International | Vanity Fair | Outlook India | Asharq al-Awsat | Le point | Le Figaro | London Review of Books | Tygodnik Powszechny | The Economist | Gazeta Wyborcza | The New York Times


Lettre International 11.12.2006 (Germany)

The Hungarian Uprising of 1956 had a number of consequences, precisely because it failed, avers writer Peter Nadas. "The Hungarian Revolution brought about a qualitative change in the way the superpowers related to one another. It put an end to the hot phase in the Cold War, reduced the danger of nuclear war and brought about an epoch of peaceful coexistence as an acceptable minimum for the two opposing sides. This was forced through not by a victory of either 'res publica' or democracy, but by defeat. Here an excerpt in German.

Bora Cosic remembers the Serbian writer Marko Ristic, his novel "The Vampire" which Ristic wrote in a lunatic asylum and Belgrade's surrealists of the 1930s. "One of them punched a conventional literary critic in a public place, another sat down in an elegant city cafe and calmly ate a sliced cockroach. Some of them came from civil servant families, others were very wealthy. And one of them removed his bow tie each night with a razor blade." Belgrade was at the forefront of the destruction of all values, writes Cosic. "Which every journalist, whether from Portugal or Iceland should bear in mind when writing about my country as a primitive part of the world where the knife is the sole means of communication. And I maintain that Belgrade is a long way off from the primitive mentality that Levy-Bruhl ascribed to it. On the contrary, it slid into decadence long ago."


Vanity Fair 11.12.2006 (USA)

The tragedy of man, Christopher Hitchens declares, is that the two things he prizes the most – women and humour – are so antithetical. "There is something that you absolutely never hear from a male friend who is hymning his latest (female) love interest: 'She's a real honey, has a life of her own … and, man, does she ever make 'em laugh.' Why are men, taken on average and as a whole, funnier than women? Well, for one thing, they had damn well better be. The chief task in life that a man has to perform is that of impressing the opposite sex, and Mother Nature (as we laughingly call her) is not so kind to men. In fact, she equips many fellows with very little armament for the struggle. An average man has just one, outside chance: he had better be able to make the lady laugh. ...Women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way. They already appeal to men, if you catch my drift."


Outlook India 19.12.2006 (India)

Five years after the attack on the Indian parliament and the controversial trial of the alleged string-puller Mohammed Afzal who had no proper legal representation, Penguin has published "13 December: A Reader". Among this collection of essays is one from Arundhati Roy demanding that the case be reopened. "A genuine inquiry would have to mean far more than just a political witch-hunt. It would have to look into the part played by intelligence, counter-insurgency and security agencies as well. Offences such as the fabrication of evidence and the blatant violation of procedural norms have already been established in the courts, but they look very much like just the tip of the iceberg. ... Given the track record of Indian governments (past and present, right, left and centre) it is naive - perhaps utopian is a better word - to hope that it will ever have the courage to institute an inquiry that will, once and for all, uncover the real story. A maintenance dose of cowardice and pusillanimity is probably encrypted in all governments. But hope has little to do with reason." Read more of the extract here.

Ravina Rawal puts the party-giving skills of foreign diplomats to the test. "The Germans get kudos for entertaining often, offering quantities of beer, sausages and earnest conversation." The Americans come off worst. "They are terrible hosts" seconded only by the French who "serve terrible wine" and the Brits who dish up "dal in sauceboats" and "curry".


Asharq al Awsat 11.12.2006 (Saudi Arabia / UK)

Osama Alaysa is sceptical about the future of Palestinian cinema. Although Palestinian films are met with considerable interest at international festivals, in Palestine no one goes to watch them even if entry is free. Under present conditions, says Alaysa, what was once a lively cinema culture is going to seed. "At the height of the Palestinian revolution, documentary films were part of the fight which was fought by Arab cineastes in general and Palestinian ones in particular. The (Palestinian) issue continues to await a solution, one Intifada follows the next. And Europe continues to finance Palestinian film. But that's not enough. Palestinian cinema cannot recover if it is not embraced by the population itself."

Cultural issues are always political issues at the same time. This is the stuff of Muhammad Abu Zaid's report on the recent AGM of the Arab Writers Union in Cairo. Twenty-seven years after the union moved its headquarters from Cairo to Baghdad, where in 1979 it was closed in protest against the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement, it has now returned to Cairo. Under turbulent conditions. The participation of the Iraqi delegation was thrown into question on the grounds that it was dependant on a puppet government. Abu Zaid recounts the Iraqi reply: Unlike many national associations, which have been put into place by dictatorial regimes, "our establishment is an independent cultural NGO, which has no connection to the Iraqi government or to the Iraqi cultural ministry. The occupying troops have no influence on it whatsoever." The chairman of the Egyptian association, Mohamed Salmawi, who levelled the accusation, has nonetheless been nominated to be the new general secretary of the union.


Le point 07.12.2006 (France)

On the occasion of the appearance of the French translation of his book "Im Weltinnenraum des Kapitals" (inside the internal space of world capital, translated into French as "Le palais de crystal"), German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk explains in an interview with Elisabeth Levy how globalisation was set off by the big discoveries at the end of the 15th century: "The decisive characteristic of early modernity was the worldwide networking that started as a result of European expansion. The Europeans began to take the world seriously, first as an object where you can move about freely and that you can study – then as something to conquer and exploit. So Europe was the starting point for this 'world conquest' which led to the world as we know it today: a universe in which the law of 'remote action' reigns – telecommunication, tele-conflict, tele-violence, tele-obscenity, tele-aid, tele-charity. Only tele-realistic thinking can interpret, construct and reform such a world."


Le Figaro 11.12.2006 (France)

As a sign of international solidarity in face of Iran's current nuclear policy, a meeting of numerous intellectuals and politicians, among them Elie Wiesel, will take place in Paris this Thursday. Some of the participants explain to the Figaro their reasons taking for taking part. French philosopher Andre Glucksmann writes: "We've been warned. The bomb of the Islamic revolution is not 'like the others.' It is specifically dangerous in that it multiplies the risks of an apocalyptic aberration. Stanley Kubrick foresaw it all, with the exception of Tehran." For his part, author Pascal Bruckner writes: "Europe should see the small Persian führer at least as an enemy, and it should make no bones about calling him that. We should stand by the United States and not rule out any options, not even military ones. But to end a dictatorship you have to recover a culture of courage, which is not exactly widespread on our Old Continent."

In the Figaro Litteraire, Medieval expert Jacques Le Goff explains the importance of national sentiment and a knowledge of history for current politics.


London Review of Books 14.12.2006 (UK)

Ian Hacking praises Lesley Sharp's anthropological study "Strange Harvest: Organ Transplants, Denatured Bodies and the Transformed Self." Both in legal terms and in everyday perception, transplantation is increasingly associated with adoption. "In the world of organ transplants, technology has created new kin. Many recipients feel a strong relationship with the family of their donor. The bond is especially strong with the mother. Strange family relations are created when Mr B, a man of 60, gets the heart of motorcyclist C, a youth of 17, whose mother, Mrs D, is 40. Mr B comes to regard Mrs D as a new mother who has participated in his rebirth. She calls him son, even if she is 20 years younger than he is... Fifteen years ago, the anthropologist Paul Rabinow introduced the concept of 'biosociality' to describe the bonds of community grounded in new biotechnologies. Sharp suggests we may be witnessing something more like biosentimentality."


Tygodnik Powszechny 10.12.2006 (Poland)

Marek Zajac analyses in the liberal Catholic weekly the Pope's visit to Turkey: "One Turkish journalist wrote: 'If Benedict XVI had been in Turkey for two more day's he'd have converted to Islam.' And in fact, his visit took place differently than expected. The Pope wanted to give a new impulse to the dialogue with the Orthodox Church – and he wrote a new chapter in the history of contact with Islam." Zajac comments on the similarities and differences with John Paul II's visit in 1979. At that time many people in Turkey reacted very sensitively to any manifestation of the Christian religion in Istanbul. Today, by contrast, Benedict XVI earned recognition for his prayer in the Blue Mosque.


The Economist 08.12.2006 (UK)

The Economist reprimands (and rightly so!) the macho culture of the German press, in which women are dramatically under-represented at top editorial positions. More women should be given leadership positions, writes the magazine (where a third of top spots are occupied by women, it writes). "Such appointments may not only win female readers, but also have a positive effect on journalism, rather as Ms Merkel has done on the political culture. Criticism aside, she represents a down-to-earth, fact-oriented style. More of that would do Germany's puffed-up political journalism much good."


Gazeta Wyborcza 09.12.2006 (Poland)

Waclaw Radziwinowicz writes on purported connections between the murders of Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko and the end of Putin era in 2008. "'Putin's henchmen don't want to let him go,' writes Alexander Pumpianski, editor of the weekly Nowoje Wremja, on speculations circling among Moscow observers. These say Putin's followers are even ready to kill, so the world will see in Putin a new Lukashenko. Connecting Putin and the murders would leave him no option but to hold convulsively onto power. His acolytes are ready to see the country fall into chaos, if it will prevent his departure."

Also a good read: the magazine prints a speech given by Yuri Andrukhovych at a conference on the significance of Jerzy Giedroyc. Andrukhovych sees the EU as "a kind of psychological ersatz: a collection of post-imperial losers who didn't manage to become superpowers on their own." As an alternative to the EU model, he suggests an archaic, carnival like "free Europe." "For there is no more gripping – or more important – undertaking than the unification of Europe. At least in those places where the EU structures have torn Europe asunder."


The New York Times 10.12.2006 (USA)

The writer Cynthia Ozick describes the ethical conversion she underwent on reading Leo Baeck's "Romantic Religion": "I had been surrendering my youth to Weltschmerz, to Schwärmerei, to Welttrunkenheit, all those unleashed Wagnerian emotions... But I, pursuing passage after passage of Baeck’s reprise of the incantatory romantic — its transports and exultations, its voluptuously nurtured sorrows, its illusory beauty anchored in nothing but vapor — I came to see it all as loathsome, no different from those mindlessly coiling water snakes. What did it lead to? The self. What did it mean? Self-pride. What did it achieve? Self-delusion and delirium. That way lay Dionysus. I chose Rabbi Baeck."
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