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18/09/2007

Magazine Roundup

Le point | The Guardian | The Nation | Outlook India | London Review of Books | L'Espresso | Le Monde diplomatique | Magyar Narancs | The New Statesman | Die Weltwoche | The Times Literary Supplement | The Economist | The New York Review of Books | Das Magazine


Le point 13.09.2007 (France)

In his most recent book, ("L'Esclavage en terre d'Islam. Un tabou bien garde", Fayard) anthropologist and Islam expert Malek Chebel, defender of an enlightened Islam, decries the modern forms of slavery that exist in many Islamic states. The subject of "economic slaves" - often from Asia, working in Saudi Arabia or Dubai - has been addressed elsewhere by others. But Chebel believes that his opinion as a Muslim will pull more weight. In an interview he explains, "the subject is taboo in Islam. Slavery has been so internalized that even slaves are reluctant to identify themselves as such (...) Slavery stands in opposition to the basic principles of the Islamic religion. You could say that Islam is a victim of its culture of slavery. It's time to address the hypocrisy of those who commit themselves to Islam while at the same time insulting its essence by reducing people to vassals."

Chebel also presents his thesis in the current Nouvel Observateur, adding a call to Muslim leaders to put an end to the "grey" slavery market in their countries. "They should know that there are many of us, intellectuals and Muslim citizens, who are ready to support them in their initiatives."


The Guardian 15.09.2007 (UK)

In a major essay, David Grossman considers how the Holocaust has influenced the way he writes. He recalls his childhood in the 1950s and 60s, when nobody was talking about the Holocaust. "Because for people like myself, born in Israel in the years after the Holocaust, the primary feeling - about which we could not talk at all, and for which we may not have had the words at the time - was that for us, for Jews, death was the immediate interlocutor. That life, even when it was full of the energies and hopes and fruitfulness of a newly revived young country, still comprised an enormous and constant effort to escape the dread of death."


The Nation
01.10.2007 (USA)

Unlike in Europe, the truth in journalism is still taken seriously in America. That's why there, the question of whether all that Ryszard Kapuscinski (more) wrote in his books was in fact true is a serious one. Andrew Rice refers to John Ryle's criticism of Kapuscinski in the Times Literary Supplement (here) and reaches an ambiguous conclusion. "Kapuscinski was resolutely vague about what, precisely, he'd invented. In 'Travels With Herodotus,' he falls back on the old fabulist's defense, the mutability of memory, saying, 'The past does not exist. There are only infinite renderings of it.' I think this a failure on his part, and I think this failure matters. But I can't bring myself to dispense with what's true in Kapuscinski just because some things are falsified."


Outlook India
24.09.2007 (India)

William Dalrymple's review of V.S. Naipaul's most recent book "A Writer's People" amounts to a bitter farewell to a once great author. "There is a tragedy here. As Philip Roth has so dramatically shown, old age need not mean the end of a great writer's productivity. Humility, energy and ambition can still spur even the finest writer to attempt to scale ever greater peaks. Naipaul, in contrast, has died as a writer: the more he writes about his calling, the more impotent his pen seems to have become. The wisdom, the warmth, the humour and, above all, the compassion have all gone from the prose; and what we are left with now is only the bitter and desiccated husk of that once lively, warm and surprising writer from the village outside Port of Spain."

The title story is devoted to Indian haute couture. Shefalee Vasudev summarises: "A bit of business, a lot of hype, some disastrous collections, some beautiful ones; a reaffirmation of Indian textiles in designs, Manish Arora and Anamika Khanna to show next month at Paris Fashion Week, a growing local market - and the glass of Indian fashion is suddenly half full."


London Review of Books
20.09.2007 (UK)

Marxist historian Perry Anderson, who teaches in Los Angeles, is astonished by European's increasing sense of self-satisfaction, which in recent years has reached transformed into an "apparently illimitable narcissism". He sees no justification for it and proposes the opposite. "The paradox is that when Europe was less united, it was in many ways more independent. The leaders who ruled in the early stages of integration had all been formed in a world before the global hegemony of the United States, when the major European states were themselves imperial powers, whose foreign policies were self-determined.(...) Down into the 1970s, something of this spirit lived on even in Giscard and Schmidt, as Carter discovered. But with the neo-liberal turn of the 1980s, and the arrival in power in the 1990s of a postwar generation, it faded. The new economic doctrines cast doubt on the state as a political agent, and the new leaders had never known anything except the Pax Americana. The traditional springs of autonomy were gone."


L'Espresso 14.09.2007 (Italy)

In an opinion piece, Suketu Mehta warns that, should the needs of the poor not be met, India will explode. The caste system has become a victim of democratisation, he writes. "In the last sixty years, India has witnessed a shift in power relations, unprecedented in the world. The power of the majority has passed inexorably to billions of Indians. For more than five thousand years, the lowest castes were excluded from all political participation whatsoever. Today the country – where Hindus make up 82% of the population - has a Sikh prime minister, a female president (successor to a Muslim) a justice minister from the Dalits (formerly 'untouchables') and a Catholic-Italian leader of the government coalition. And the USA has not managed, after 260 years of independence, to elect a president – not even a vice president – who is not Christian, white and male."


Le Monde diplomatique 15.09.2007 (Germany / France)

Sinologist and lyricist Wolfgang Kubin reports from a journey through the regions of the Uyghur and Kyrgyz in China. "Anyone who 'dismounts from a horse' in Kyrgyz territory must be hosted by the Kyrgyz. We know what that means. Crouching on the floor, we are split into groups of ten during the meal and have to take turns emptying large cups of schnapps with our host. The cups, filled with two liangs of liquid, are to be taken from a tray, downed and put back. I am the only one who drinks in small sips. By the second round, the first have given up and must be excused. Anyone who is still not having problems will have them soon enough. But we still don't know when, because it never occurred to us that anyone who has dismounted from a horse will sooner or later have to get back on again."


Magyar Narancs
13.09.2007 (Hungary)

The Czechs are incapable of recognising the major figures of their own country, says filmmaker Jiri Menzel in an interview. Bohumil Hrabal, whose novel "I served the King of England" Menzel has just made into a movie, "is not at all such a cult figure in his home country as he is in Hungary or Poland. At best, people here are interested in how he died. The Czechs are dumb. Not just when it comes to Hrabal, but also in relation to their entire culture, for example Milos Forman or Vaclav Havel. The Czechs can't take it when one of them is better than they are. In Hungary, you're proud of your artists. But the Czechs don't stop asking: 'My God, what does the world like about Kundera?' When I get a contract as producer, a lot of people ask: 'Why Menzel of all people'?" Nevertheless he is well suited to his country, Menzel admits, because "I'm no better than other Czechs. I'm the first one to ask: 'Why Forman, of all people? Why not me?"


The New Statesman 17.09.2007 (UK)

Salman Rushdie praises the work of photographer Taryn Simon, now being shown at an exhibition in London. Simon shoots her photos in places notoriously difficult to gain acces to: "That she has managed to gain such open access to, for example, the Church of Scientology and MOUT, an inaccessible simulated city in Kentucky used, for military training purposes, as an urban battlefield, and the Imperial Office of the World Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, with its Wizards and Knight hawks and Kleagles, looking like characters from a Coen brothers movie, and even the operating theatre in which a Palestinian woman is undergoing hymenoplasty, a procedure generally used to restore virginity, is evidence that her powers of persuasion are at least the equal of her camera skills."

Andrew Lycett has written a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle, and Frances Wilson notes that we now know more about the inventor of Sherlock Holmes than we ever did: "A devoted son and a lousy father, a team player and an individualist, a walrus in a tweed suit with a brilliant literary gift; never has a figure seemed so simultaneously solid and slippery. Just who on earth was Arthur Conan Doyle? Deduction and analysis are Andrew Lycett's tools in his search for clues, and despite having the most ghastly battle with the Conan Doyle estate (described in a gripping Afterword), he has managed to present a more thorough and complete picture of the man than any biographer before him."


Die Weltwoche 13.09.2007 (Switzerland)

"I don't think much about thinking. Because that's what makes our existence so endlessly complicated," says the actress Hanna Schygulla in an interview with Andre Müller dealing, among other things, with ageing, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the complete superfluousness of despair: "I have no need for this idolisation of world-weariness. I've got no time for all this drivel, this eternal negation and criticism. If despair is the breeding ground of art, then to hell with art. If it's your intention to keep asking me questions until I admit I'm in despair, you're knocking at the wrong door... Fassbinder also always said he recognises no other truth than despair. So you're following in a long set of footsteps. There's absolutely nothing original about it, it just rehashes our whole occidental claptrap. That bores me. Can't you imagine, Mr Müller, that someone can live in a different power quadrant than your own?"


The Times Literary Supplement 14.09.2007 (UK)

Paul Duguid is at odds with Andrew Keen's "The Cult of the Amateur," which decries the growth of lay journalism on the Internet. In Keen's eyes, writes Duguid, "the collective cry for a democratized media" threatens "the very future of our cultural institutions". Duguid comments: "Formerly the head of an internet music start-up, he seems to have discovered that there are pornography and piracy at loose on the Web, while vulgar amateurs, with no regard for authority or expertise, are undermining respected institutions such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica or the New York Times. Keen is clearly outraged, and his book yearns for the programmers’ power to stamp it all out. Failing that, his last chapter proposes a range of government interventions, few of which are new and fewer likely to be effective. Effective or not, experience tells us that, without careful oversight, government intervention on the net tends to serve the interests of those who lobby Congress."

Other articles review Clive James' notes "Cultural Amnesia," Diana Pavlac Glyer's double portrait of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien "The Company they Keep" and an edition of Harriet Martineau's "Collected Letters."


The Economist 13.09.2007 (UK)

"Web 2.0" is taking off in China, even if not all its ideas are completely original: "XIAONEI.COM does not just look like Facebook, the booming social-networking website. As well as borrowing its design, it has also lifted its strategy and transplanted it to China. It is not alone. All the big 'Web 2.0' sites—those that let people share information, collaborate and link up with friends—have many Chinese knockoffs. YouTube, the video-sharing site that is now part of Google, has over 200 copycats in China, about 10 percent of them backed by venture capital."


The New York Review of Books 27.09.2007 (USA)

Legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin observes a "Jacobin" revolution ushered in by George W. Bush with the naming of ultra-conservative judges to the US Supreme Court. One central constitutional doctrine after the next is being revised, Dworkin writes: "These doctrines aimed at reducing racial isolation and division, recapturing democracy from big money, establishing reasonable dimensions for freedom of conscience and speech, protecting a woman's right to abortion while recognizing social concerns about how that right is exercised, and establishing a criminal process that is fair as well as effective. The rush of 5–4 decisions at the end of the Court's term undermined the principled base of much of this carefully established doctrine. As Justice Stephen Breyer declared, in a rare lament from the bench, 'It is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much.' It would be a mistake to suppose that this right-wing phalanx is guided in its zeal by some very conservative judicial or political ideology of principle. It seems guided by no judicial or political principle at all, but only by partisan, cultural, and perhaps religious allegiance."

Further articles: Sanford Schwartz has visited the Neo Rauch exhibition in New York's Metropolitan Museum, and is strongly reminded of Bacon, Balthus and de Chirico, but also of Herge and Winsor McCay. Ian Buruma has read "World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism" by "neo-conservative patriarch" Norman Podhoretz, and notes its "weird longing for the state of war." Michael Tomasky is not sure if Al Gore should make another bid for the presidency, but he has nothing but astonishment for the new Citizen Gore, freed from his political advisers (under whose aegis he would not have even criticised the creationism doctrine in Kansas schools).


Das Magazin 15.09.2007 (Switzerland)

Peter Haffner asks why it is that the peace movement in the western world gets excited about the war in Iraq but not the genocide in Darfur. Pressure in the UN would be decisive in this case, he writes. "The UN is rarely more than a sum of its parts: the major powers represented in its security council. These have to be willing to act when they should but most are only willing to act when their own vital interests are in danger. Basic human rights don't count. In order for something to happen in this realm, there has to be pressure from below. And the population of Darfur, victims of non-American bad guys, don't constitute such pressure. It's difficult to speculate how many people's lives would have been spared, had this catastrophe had the same impact as Iraq."
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