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13/03/2007

Magazine Roundup

The New York Review of Books | Le Nouvel Observateur | ResetDoc | The American Scholar | L'Espresso | The New Yorker | Elet es Irodalom | Il Foglio | Le Monde diplomatique | Al Hayat | Semana | Plus - Minus | The Times Literary Supplement | The Economist | Al Ahram Weekly | The New York Times


The New York Review of Books 29.03.2007 (USA)

Writer Julian Barnes has read Robert and Isabelle Tombs' stories of British-French animosities "That Sweet Enemy". "'Why are we (the French) doing so badly,' a visiting writer is frequently asked; even the less loaded question 'Why is British literature currently stronger than French?' manages to imply that this too could be fixed if France finally acknowledged Adam Smith. Sometimes this is routine morosity, the strain of masochism which is the counterpoise to French jauntiness. But now it is a little more serious. Luc Ferry, professor of philosophy at the University of Paris VII and former minister of education, described his recent discussions with rebellious left-wing students (if those two modifiers are necessary when referring to France). He himself, he specified, had never been a soixante-huitard; but whereas the rebels then were denouncing a government for denying them access to Arcadia, Parnassus, or the Earthly Paradise, today's were complaining about the threat to their future pension rights. Was it for this, his tone suggested, that Napoleon's Imperial Guard fought to the last man at Waterloo? For this that General Cambronne, the guard's commander, famously (if in all likelihood apocryphally) cried 'Merde!' to the British demand for surrender?"


Le Nouvel Observateur 08.03.2007 (France)

The race to the French presidency is finally entering its final stages. The Nouvel Obs documents a discussion that took place in French television with Alain Finkielkraut, Cynthia Fleury, Bernard-Henri Levy, Michel Onfray, Alain Minc and Jean Daniel on the role that intellectuals played in the campaign. They also talked about the nation and democracies in general. There was no consensus on the question of whether it is right to take public positions - as in the case of Andre Glucksmann, who spoke out openly for Sarkozy, thus "de-masking" himself, in the words of Alain Finkielkraut. Economist Alain Minc finds: "When you announce you're going to vote for Nicolas Sarkozy, as I am going to, you're going to be considered tainted in some quarters. You don't have to exaggerate, you walk through laughter at the Cafe de Flore but it won't kill you. Incidentally, I think that what we think hardly influences votes. To the contrary, when you are part of public life, you have an obligation to be transparent. Saying how you're going to vote is part of that."


ResetDoc 09.03.2007 (Italy)

The Iranian lawyer and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Shirin Ebadi vents some steam in an interview about "Enlightenment fundamentalists," saying they basically play into the hands of regimes like Saudi Arabia. People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, she says, "end up presenting Muslims with an ultimatum: either accept Islam, and with it all the injustices which you are suffering, or abandon the religion of your fathers in favour of democracy. It is not fair to force such a decision. I propose another way - that Islam be interpreted in a way which allows for democracy. Within Christianity, too, there are some churches which condemn homosexuals, and others which accept them. They are all Christian, but they interpret their religion in different ways. The same can be true for Islam. In a country like Saudi Arabia there is not even a parliament, whilst Malaysia has a fairly advanced democracy. Which Islam are we talking about? Islam is completely compatible with women's rights. Those who maintain otherwise simply give justification to non-democratic Islamic governments."


The American Scholar 12.03.2007 (USA)

Peter Handke
"is the strongest, most inventive writer to have emerged in German literature since, well, Günter Grass". But should we, for this reason, forgive him his admiration for Milosevic? Michael McDonald thinks not and explains so in an essay (unfortunately not online), quoting, with a certain degree of bitterness, Grass, who said the genius was no excuse for dangerous nonsense. But what if Handke is no genius? Because truth, in McDonald's opinion, has little to do with Handke's romantic understanding of writing. "By concentrating with surgical precision on the physical details of life, Handke can paint a horrifying image of the mechanical numbness of everyday habit. But is what he describes really life? Literature is many things, but it wouldn’t be worthy of our attention if it didn’t have something to do with human psychology—from which Handke clearly wishes to escape. Literature that deals exclusively with the external forms of life ends up being repetitive and trivial—which is what Handke’s writing often is. His reputation as a writer is unlikely to survive except in textbooks. Who reads (outside of the classroom) Robbe-Grillet and the other nouveaux romanciers from whom Handke has learned so much?"

Maybe Handke would answer, cooly, that 2+2=5 and refer to an article by Robert Orsi. Orsi is Catholic and empiricist. And because of this, he longs for a radical, "abundant" empiricism of visible and invisible realities. The invisible real – such as the bloody tears of a Madonna statue – is embarrassing for Protestants. "The challenge is to go beyond saying 'this was real in her experience' to describe how the real - whether it’s the Holy Spirit at a Pentecostal meeting or the Virgin Mary on a hillside or a vision of paradise so compelling that people will kill for it - finds presence, existence, and power in space and time, how it becomes as real as guns and stones and bread, and then how the real in turn acts as an agent for itself in history. An abundant empiricism of the real allows us to probe the conditions of such creativity in culture, where 2+2=5, for better or worse, meaning that the sum of 2+2 can also be cruelty and violence, cultural dissolution as well as cultural innovation."


L'Espresso 15.03.2007 (Italy)

Umberto Eco thinks it's not a bad idea for a fake Greek temple to be built near Albanella in southern Italy, because then he could have the original to himself. "You have to exploit the natural tendencies of mass tourism, that make no distinction between the Pieta Rondini and Mulino-Bianco cookies and which result in Americans finding Cesar's Palace in Las Vegas more Roman than the Colosseum. Many people would be more satisfied with the fake temple of Albanella – everything intact, shiny and magnificent – than the tired remains at Paestum. The masses would go to Albanella, while Paestum would remain for those who go there consciously and aren't too concerned about the afternoon snack. How useful it would be to have a Uffiziland on the edge of Florence, with perfect reproductions of the paintings in the Uffizi, maybe with slightly freshened-up colours – as American burial services do to the lips of corpses."


The New Yorker 19.03.2007 (USA)

John Colpitano portrays fashion meister Karl Lagerfeld, who has been designing for Chanel since 1983. "Paradoxically, Lagerfeld is a devotee of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, and he has been a serious collector of Art Deco. His passion for history is reflected in his dress, a mixture of the contemporary (Dior jackets worn with skintight Diesel jeans) and the self-consciously retro, including antique jewelry and custom shirts by Hilditch & Key, with high, stiff collars that recall gentlemen like Walther Rathenau, an early-twentieth-century German Jewish industrialist who was the model for a character in Robert Musil’s 'The Man Without Qualities,' and Count Harry Kessler, a nineteenth-century Anglo-German art patron who ran a small publishing house, wrote several volumes of diaries (which Lagerfeld has read), and was legendary for his dandified style of dress. To Lagerfeld, Rathenau and Kessler represent all that was noble about Weimar Germany. 'I’m German in my mind,' Lagerfeld says, 'but from a Germany that doesn’t exist anymore.'"

More: Paul Goldberger portrays the architectural office Single Speed Design from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Judith Thurman reviews the biography "Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl" by Steven Bach (Knopf).


Elet es Irodalom 09.03.2007 (Hungary)

According to a recent survey, ever more Hungarians are rejecting the immigration of Piresians. Not familiar? It's an ethnic group that was invented for the survey in order to compare the Hungarian attitudes towards minorities - Romanies, Germans, Slovaks, Serbs – with those towards a ficticious group. Gusztav Megyesi comments sarcastically: "What's surprising is that the Piresians are most hated by the Left and the well-off inhabitants of western Hungary. They hate the Piresians mainly because they don't know any. Personal contact might help to reduce prejudice." And why is it, Megyesi asks, that no politician has had the idea of building a career on a platform of saving Hungary from the Piresians? "'I've deported all Piresians, I'm the hope of the Hungarian people, I want power,' he could say. And his political opponents wouldn't be able to produce one single Piresian as evidence to the contrary."


Il Foglio 10.03.2007 (Italy)

Gabriella Mecucci tells the story of the two big art robberies that are currently preoccupying Italy. The protagonists are, in her account, crooks: former director of the Getty Museum, Marion True, and the art dealer Giacomo Medici. "It all began in 1964. In the grey of dawn, the fishing boat 'Ferri-Ferruccio' crossed the waters of the Adriatic, off the coast of Marken, near Fano. Captain Romeo Pirani devoted himself to the every-day little tasks, until he noticed that he had caught something heavy in his nets. With the other fishermen, he hauled his booty onto the boat and lo and behold – a statue, clearly a masterpiece, covered with algae and mud: the feet and the legs were broken-off but the rest was in good shape. They understood it was their lucky day, even if they didn't realize that they had found Lisippo's Athlete."


Le Monde diplomatique 10.03.2007 (France)

Gerard Prunier explains why we shouldn't expect the killing in Darfur to end any too soon. "The project of building a protective ethnic barrier in the region should take priority. And it should encompass the Nuba mountains in Kordofan and Darfur. The Nuba tribes were quashed in numerous military operations between 1992 and 2002 . Darfur is now proving to be a big problem: Khartoum fears nothing more than an alliance between the black Africans in the West and the independent black African south, who have access to oil wealth. That's why the rebellion in Darfur us being clamped down with all military means available."


Al Hayat 11.03.2007 (Lebanon)

In view of international concern over the misery in Darfur, Muhammad al-Haddad asks: "Why don't we see the same zeal around a solution of the Gaza problem? Why doesn't the international community at least bring in observers, to alleviate civilian suffering? Why is the Security Council not actively discussing the case, criticising attackers and negotiating between the conflicting parties? Why does the world remain silent about the circumstances where children are deprived of milk and medication? What we're seeing is a double standard, one that refuses that a good cause be recognised as such."


Semana 10.03.2007 (Colombia)

The writer Hector Abad Faciolince calls for a binding agreement on certain fundamentals to get his country out of its crisis: "Let's bear in mind Deng Xiaoping's maxim: 'Black cat, white cat - the main thing is it catches mice.' One example for such a (black, white, red, neo-liberal, communist, conservative, anarchist) national project would be the abolishment of child undernourishment. 'But how?', you will ask, 'by making the economy more flexible? By collectivising agriculture?' That's exactly what it's all about: No matter how. By doing whatever it takes. Under any government, Colombia produces foodstuffs today and will go on producing them in the future. A sizeable part of that could be set aside to feed children, if necessary for free.... I can think of other things: compulsory education for eight years, the right to housing, care for children and the elderly, environmental protection. But I'd limit it to five things, so that they can be properly checked up on, year for year and under any government."


Plus - Minus 10.03.2007 (Poland)

Blues rock legend Tadeusz Nalepa died last week at 64. His band Breakout had a huge following in the other countries of the Eastern Bloc, and is considered a musical anomaly in postwar Poland. For Krzysztof Maslon, Breakout was right up there with Cream and The Doors, and Nalepa a figure like Eric Clapton or John Mayall. He remembers coming back from a Breakout concert in Zoppot in July 1969, and how his father was waiting for him at the door. "Wonderfully, he wasn't upset at all. He just repeated: 'Fantastic, no? Fantastic!' 'Out of this world,' I said, 'just a terrific concert.' He looked at me as if I was crazy, and said 'What are you talking about? A man has landed on the moon!' All I can say is, for me as a 16-year-old, Tadeusz Nalepa was more important that summer than Neil Armstrong."


The Times Literary Supplement 09.03.2007 (UK)

Zinovy Zinik is not entirely convinced by "The Solzhenitsyn Reader," which defends Alexander Solzhenitsyn against criticism that he is a theocratic, anti-Semitic and Slavophile monarchist: "For twenty years of his life in Vermont (following the publication in the West of The Gulag Archipelago), he noticed only the uglier manifestations of mass culture, overlooking the revolutionary social forces of American democracy. Temperamentally, he tends to see the life of a country as that of a commune that achieves harmony by reaching a collective consensus on social issues. He cannot comprehend the political value of the right to disagree, of agreeing to disagree, an attempt (quite successful) at cohabitation of those with opposing views. He didn't learn in the West that political ideas have no spiritual value without practical application. And in practice, his views on patriotism, morality and religion attracted the most reactionary elements of Russian society – from top to bottom."


The Economist 08.03.2007 (UK)

The magazine takes a worried look at the upsurge of fanatic nationalism in Turkey: "New ultra-nationalist groups, some of them led by retired army officers, have been vowing over guns and copies of the Koran to make Turks 'the masters of the world' and even 'to die and kill' in the process.... The upsurge threatens to undo the good of four years of reforms by the mildly Islamist government led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Indeed, it is partly in response to these reforms—more freedom for the Kurds, a trimming of the army's powers, concessions on Cyprus—that nationalist passions have been roused."


Al Ahram Weekly 08.03.2007 (Egypt)

Israeli-born filmmaker, author and avowed anti-Zionist Haim Bresheeth ("Introducing the Holocaust") demands the cultural boycott of his home country as an answer to the "campaign of vile propaganda" against "liberal Jewish intellectuals who have angered the dominant Jewish communities of the main Western countries." Such liberal intellectuals include Noam Chomsky and Tony Judt: "The charge? Anti-Semitism, no less. In different communities, an accusatory finger is pointed at those Jewish thinkers and artists who have dared to criticise Israel and its illogical, barbaric and counter-productive policies and actions. Anyone who strays from the simple line of full support for whatever Israel chooses to do, however infuriating, is tarred with the brush of anti-Semitism, used as a magical incantation against heretics outside the Zionist faith... All the above are part of a wider phenomenon: the closing of ranks within Jewish communities against the increasingly prevalent voice of Jewish critics of Israeli atrocities, both in Palestine and beyond."


The New York Times 11.03.2007 (USA)

Intelligent, beautiful and "simply horrible" is how Geoffrey Wheatcroft describes the portrait of Winifred Wagner - wife of Richard Wagner's son Siegfried - that emerges from Brigitte Hamann's biography. Even her son Wieland was a Nazi, Wheatcroft laments. One thing especially bothers him: in recent years Germans (primarily Günter Grass in "Crabwalk" and Jörg Friedrich in "The Fire") have started bewailing their own victims of World War II. "Those sufferings were real. But then we may recall Emil Preetorius writing to his friend Thomas Mann: 'No German today has the right to complain. ... Among many questionable German postures, self-pity is the most pathetic.' It's fair to surmise that few readers will finish Hamann's book with huge sympathy for Grass or Friedrich. Then again, if the Third Reich taught us anything it was the folly of generalizing about 'races' or nations. By birth, Winifred Wagner was a compatriot of Winston Churchill (and, humbly, myself). So where does that leave us?"
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