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24/04/2007

Magazine Roundup

London Review of Books | The New York Review of Books | L'Espresso | Revista de Libros | Il Foglio | The Times Literary Supplement | Elet es Irodalom | The Spectator | De Groene Amsterdammer | Dissent | Elsevier | Le point | The Economist | Magyar Hirlap | The New York Times


London Review of Books 23.04.2007 (UK)

"The penis, in the contemporary novel, has been a mighty matter, looming large," author Colm Toibin asserts manfully in his review of Ian McEwan's latest novel, "On Chesil Beach". And the penis plays such a central role in the book - detailed at length in the reveiw - as it essentially takes place on the first night of a young couple's honeymoon. The title of the article, "Dissecting the Body" refers also to McEwan's stylistic precision: "The style of the book may seem plain: there is no recourse to the use of cadence for effect, and there are no elaborate sentences or pyrotechnics of any sort. We are, after all, in England, where words mean what they say.... The sheer skill in holding tone, and playing with it, is hidden much of the time. The novel is a pure comedy, but it is told from the point of view of the two protagonists who do not think it is funny at all, and this is managed without making either of them seem tedious."


The New York Review of Books
08.05.2007 (USA)

The magazine publishes an excerpt from Vaclav Havel's memoirs, "To the Castle and Back", which deals with his time as Czech president, in what might be called the anni horribiles under Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus. "I suffered many such defeats. But my worst memories of all are the Wednesday meetings. Klaus came up with an idea that was, on the face of it, quite all right: he suggested that just as the British prime minister visits the Queen every Wednesday afternoon to report to her on cabinet meetings and the situation in the country, he would come to the Castle every Wednesday afternoon for an hour. I couldn't refuse. Nevertheless, those Wednesday afternoons soon became my biggest nightmare, and from Tuesday evening on I was out of commission. The meeting always unfolded in exactly the same way: there would be fifteen or twenty minutes of friendly conversation about everything under the sun, and then the moment of truth would come, the reason why this was all taking place, some complaint about my recent behavior. It was always complete nonsense, but making sense was not the point; the point was to put me on the defensive. If Klaus landed the first blow, I could offer any explanation at all, and he would even agree with everything I said, but I could not erase the beauty of that first blow, nor could I find a way to move out of a defensive position."

And to return briefly to that small object of Colm Toibin's fascination: In an article on Sarah Berhardt Robert Gottlieb quotes one of her lovers, "her male vis-a-vis at the Comedie Francaise, Jean Mounet-Sully - a lion of a man. (In his old age he was to remark, 'Up to the age of sixty I thought it was a bone.')"


L'Espresso 26.04.2007 (Italy)

Andrzej Stasiuk has a sneaking feeling that the Kaczynski twins are slowly but surely stealing his country from him. Everything is politics now, everything is a battle. "Every concession is a defeat, every compromise an act of treason. Their statements concerning their opponents are full of poison, aspersions and contempt. This is the atmosphere they need in order to rule, even to exist. Which is why they have so systematically politicised life in Poland. Which is why they have teamed up with the most questionable powers in Polish politics: with the clerical milieu, whose religiousness has nothing in common with Christianity or Catholicism, but with a national tribal cult. And as if that wasn't enough, they have also climbed into bed with a party that has fascist roots. This is the natural element of the twins: division, confrontation, mutual dislike, suspicion. This is the condition necessary for their existence. This is the way politics is for them, and life too."


Revista de Libros 22.04.2007 (Chile)

Right on time for the International Book Fair in Bogota, and for World Book Day, Mexican writer Juan Villoro examines the state of the black art: "Contrary to McLuhan's prophesy, the image has never taken absolute control. Were McLuhan to be brought back to life in a cyber cafe today, he would assume he had landed in a weird Middle Ages, among groups of monks sitting in front of screens trying to decode secret texts. Technology has joined forces with the alphabet. And it seems bizarrely mythological that we continue to live in a world created by books. Reading is still the most effective way of conveying abstract notions and of making (indirectly) the invisible visible."


Il Foglio 21.04.2007 (Italy)

Andrea Monda portrays Sister Christiana Dobner, a sharp-witted intellectual nun who describes herself as a feminist, translates from ten languages, is an Agatha Christie fan and works as a literary critic among other things. "As I contacted her via email, she told me she used Skype: 'It's faster than Messenger and electronic post. There are glitches every now and then but the connection's getting better all the time. My prioress knows that I use it for my work and she trusts me.' And so I video conference Cristiana about Skype. On the monitor appears the attractive face of a woman of about 60, wrapped in the head covering of the Carmelites, topped with a white headset for telephoning."


The Times Literary Supplement 20.04.2007 (UK)

Leo A. Lensing, professor of German Studies at Wesleyan University, sings a hymn to "the wunderkind" Rainer Werner Fassbinder whom the Germans, he says, have failed to appreciate as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. Lensing has even read Fassbinder's juvenilia, "Im Land des Apfelbaums" (in the land of the apple tree) with relish. "Asked whether she supported Fassbinder's literary leanings, his mother, the actress Liselotte Eder confessed: 'He made me nervous. Don't forget that the entire Fassbiner clan, his father, his uncle, his cousins – all wrote poetry. And it all sounded like Rilke! Whenever you went to visit his uncle and cousins, you'd always be presented with the children's latest efforts. And I said to myself: 'Oh God, please not Rainer too!' Fassbinder's early poems clearly illustrate that his mother was successful in protecting him from Rilke's influence."


Elet es Irodalom
20.04.2007 (Hungary)

The Charles University in Prague has rejected a suggestion by the Arts Faculty to award an honorary doctorate to Adam Michnik, the editor in chief of the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza. No reasons were given for the decision. The deputy rector mentioned an internal, unwritten rule; the dean of the Arts Faculty suspects political motives. "Michnik has a string of honorary doctorates from several famous universities in the USA, so he will hardly miss one from Prague," writes Martin M. Simeka, editor in chief of the Czech weekly Respect, in a commentary. "Actually the Charles University in Prague deserves our pity. Central Europe is wandering aimlessly between all sorts of values these days, and this lack of orientation expresses itself differently in each country. But as a result, all of these countries mistrust or even dismiss the spokesmen of the former democratic opposition, people who steered a peaceful path from communisn to democracy.... In the Czech Republic too, there is a drive towards reevaluating the history of the past twenty years, even towards re-writing it."


The Spectator 20.04.2007

Putin will stop at nothing, fears historian Anne Applebaum after the recent moves by his regime to silence the opposition. The Kremlin is obviously not nervous about bad publicity from the western press. And the public language used for Putin's opponents has also stepped up in tone, Garri Kasparov being a particular target. "Last week, the website Pravda.ru called him a 'political pawn who has sold his soul to the traitors who plot Russia's demise' as well as a 'wild-eyed Azeri Berezovsky supporter' who 'sits amid his Western habits in his millionaire apartment'. The same article called the new dissident organisations a 'motley army of deviants, criminals, wannabe politicians, fraudsters and gangsters on the fringes of Russian society'. Nice, no?"


De Groene Amsterdammer 20.04.2007 (The Netherlands)

Hubert Smeets advises Russia's president Putin to follow the example of France: "The arrest of Garry Kasparov (news story) shows how Putin's power is vanishing, because Charles de Gaulle's words about Jean-Paul Sartre - 'You don't arrest a Voltaire' - also hold true for Kasparov. Now that the chess champion has been elevated to the level of a symbol, the Kremlin has no end of trouble. Discontent is also brewing in the universities. At Lomonosov University in Moscow, battle lines have been drawn between students and the administration. According to students in the Arts Faculty, the university has been renovated into a barracks, and movements are controlled with cameras and passes. In addition, prices at the cafeteria have skyrocketed since the canteen was privatised and taken over by the dean's son. And the curriculum is far removed from the demands of the 21st century: 'All we want is that this faculty should be more than a school for apprentices,' explains one student."


Dissent 01.05.2007 (USA)

Dissent poses the (self-) critical question: "Exporting Democracy: What is to be Learned from Iraq?" Most authors stick by their guns, including Paul Berman ("Terror and Liberalism" - full essay here), who is coming under fire today for having supported the war: "I do not believe that, just because the Bush administration has bungled the promoting of democracy, we should abandon the very idea of democracy promotion. The United States is too powerful to be a neutral entity—a giant Switzerland with no influence on anybody else. If we in the United States are not promoting democracy, we will end up willy-nilly promoting something nondemocratic, which will either have to be dictatorship (the policy of the previous sixty years) or chaos (the result that we have actually achieved)."


Elsevier 20.04.2007 (The Netherlands)

"We're living in strange times, in which a depressive murderer will copy politically motivated suicidal killers," writes law professor Afshin Ellian on Cho Seung-Hui's multiple shooting in Blacksburg. Is this an example of the violent character of the American society? "No, something like it could happen anywhere, even in Holland. Modern people like to imitate. Is Blacksburg a consequence of weapons ownership in the United States? Here too the answer is no. Despite the ban on weapons in Amsterdam, Cho would have had no problems obtaining his hand guns here. All this says something horrible about us, about our education and our morals. We are as good as powerless in face of modern egoism, which knows nothing apart from its own self."


Le point 19.04.2007 (France)

Elisabeth Levy and Dominique Quessada talk to Peter Sloterdijk, a connoisseur of French politics and one of the "most inventive" German philosophers, about the French presidential campaign. Sloterdijk sees the current election as a chance to leave the "museum of illusions" behind and break with "political lyricism." In his view, "France is just a pretence for the majority of candidates. They're in search of a country that will align itself with their own phantasms. We Germans spent seven years with a chancellor who embodied pure ambition. Germany was the symptom and the plaything of its political leader, just as France could become the symptom and plaything of Sarkozy, or someone else. But France needs a president for whom it is not just a symptom."


The Economist 19.04.2007 (UK)

The title story is dedicated to the Blacksburg massacre. In the lead article, the magazine explains why despite its liberalism in other matters, it backs tighter weapons control: "When it comes to most dangerous products - be they drugs, cigarettes or fast cars - this newspaper advocates a more liberal approach than the American government does. But when it comes to handguns, automatic weapons and other things specifically designed to kill people, we believe control is necessary, not least because the failure to deal with such violent devices often means that other freedoms must be curtailed. Instead of a debate about guns, America is now having a debate about campus security."


Magyar Hirlap 15.04.2007 (Hungary)

Over 500,000 Hungarian Jews were deported and murdered in concentration camps during the Second World War. "Not only the victims, but also the collaborators were Hungarian citizens," stressed Zoltan Pokorni, vice president of the conservative opposition party Fidesz, during the memorial ceremony of the Hungarian parliament. With these words he dismissed two accusations on the part of the anti-Semites: that Hungarian Jews weren't Hungarians, and that the sole perpetrators were Germans. The liberal-conservative newspaper calls on its readers to actively reject the country's new anti-Semitism: "The past is not over. It is important to face up to the misery, suffering and tragedy of the 20th century. This wasn't possible during the dictatorship because questions about the past were artificially suppressed.... We still haven't confronted the old anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust, and now we're facing a new form of anti-Semitism.... We're always shoving the blame onto others, the other political camp. Thousands of people demonstrated in Budapest yesterday to commemorate the Holocaust. Only together can we successfully face the past and challenge the new anti-Semitism."

The New York Times 22.04.2007 (USA)

After Outlook India, now The New York Times has warm words for Mohsin Hamid's novel "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," in which a Pakistani Princeton graduate explains his world view before and after September 11, 2001. Karen Olsson praises the many-levelled character of the narrator, who swings back and forth between fondness and aversion for the USA: "It seems that Hamid would have us understand the novel's title ironically. We are prodded to question whether every critic of America in a Muslim country should be labeled a fundamentalist, or whether the term more accurately describes the capitalists of the American upper class. Yet these queries seem blunter and less interesting than the novel itself, in which the fundamentalist, and potential assassin, may be sitting on either side of the table."
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