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11/12/2007

Magazine Roundup

Outlook India | Letras Libres | The New York Times | L'Espresso | Nepszabadsag | The New Republic | London Review of Books | Gazeta Wyborcza | Il Foglio | The Spectator | The Economist | The New Yorker |

Outlook India 17.12.2007 (India)

The Indian calendar has a new winter festival, writes Ramachandra Guha, the ritual return of the NRIs, or non-resident Indians, for the New Year. They are worshipped like gods, at least some of them are, because "those who live with Arabs in the Gulf or with Fijians in the South Pacific do not qualify; still less those who have made their home with humans of African descent in the Caribbean. To be worthy of worship, an NRI must live with people whose skin pigmentation is, in the Tamil phrase, paal maadri, literally, the colour of milk." Among NRIs themselves, there are three major divinities: "Analagous to Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, we have Salman the Creator, Amartya the Preserver, and Sir Vidia the Destroyer."

Priyamvada Gopal, author of a book on "Literary Radicalism in India" and lecturer at Cambridge (blog), attacks the Communist Party of India (and at the same time a manifesto written by Noam Chomsky calling on the Indian left to unite) for its hypocritical position on the persecution of Taslima Nasreen in Bengal: "Many CPI(M) leaders parrot the conservative statist line that Taslima is free to stay in India if she behaves herself and refrains from 'hurting religious sentiments'. But those oppressed by religious orthodoxies, like women and Dalits, often have no choice but to speak of how those very sentiments are used against them."


Letras Libres 09.12.2007 (Spain / Mexico)

Mexico is also home to a discussion on the compatibility of Islam and democracy. Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Husain Haqqani, a Pakistani ex-diplomat and current leader of the Center for International Relations at Boston University, were to confront one another in a podium discussion on the subject in Monterrey. For security reasons, however, Ayaan Hirsi Ali had to take part from Washington by means of a video conference. Hirsi Ali: "A first proof for the incompatibility of Islam and democracy is the fact that I can't be present at this discussion today." Haqqani: "I believe the question 'are Islam and democracy compatible?' is wrongly put, because it reduces everything to a question of theology. Better would be: 'why is there no democracy in much of the Islamic world?' This could be empirically investigated, it's a political and sociological question."

Leon Krauze reports "from a new land". For the first time, almost the entire group of Democratic presidential contenders have presented their programmes in Spanish – "not a risk, but a privilege," as Hillary Clinton assured the audience in Miami. "Meanwhile the usual suspects among the journalists at the event, a large group of Anglo-Saxon veterans, cast irritated glances back and forth: their Latin colleagues' hearty laughter and lively talk made it difficult for them to get their thoughts down on paper."


The New York Times 07.12.2007 (USA)

Three examples of "Islamic justice" have received world media coverage in recent weeks: the sentencing of a 20-year-old rape victim to 200 lashes in Saudi Arabia, the jail sentence for a British teacher in Sudan who allowed her pupils to call a teddy bear Muhammad, and fatwas against Taslima Nasreen in India. But where were the voices of the "moderate Muslims" in all these cases? asks Ayaan Hirsi Ali. "I wish there were more Islamic moderates. For example, I would welcome some guidance from that famous Muslim theologian of moderation, Tariq Ramadan. But when there is true suffering, real cruelty in the name of Islam, we hear, first, denial from all these organizations that are so concerned about Islam's image. We hear that violence is not in the Koran, that Islam means peace, that this is a hijacking by extremists and a smear campaign and so on. But the evidence mounts up."

Books reviewed include a biography of Bernard Malamud and a volume of fragments by Malcolm Lowry. The Sunday Magazine lists the great ideas of the year 2007 – among them the braille tattoo.


L'Espresso 06.12.2007 (Italy)

In his encyclical "Spe Salvi" (excerpts), the Pope points out that the major barbarities of the 20th century were the result of the atheist ideologies of Nazism and Communism. Umberto Eco answers modestly that "'God with us' was written on the Nazi flag, the Falangist military chaplains blessed the fascist pennant, the mass murderer Francisco Franco was inspired by religious principles, Catholics and Protestants gaily massacred each other for centuries, and both the crucified and their enemies acted out of religious motives." Religion is not the opiate, but the cocaine of the people, Eco concludes.


Nepszabadsag 08.12.2007 (Hungary)

Why do today's authors no longer leave extensive bodies of work behind them, as Dumas or Balzac did? Nobel Prize winning author Imre Kertesz answers in an interview with Sanor Zsigmond Papp: "Back then writing was unproblematic, because all of existence didn't hang in the balance and the stories literally gushed from these writers' pens. Mozart, too, was a well-spring of wondrous, joyful abundance. Today a contemporary composer can be happy if he makes it to his second symphony. Something has happened in the world that has made art unnatural. It's as if our natural powers were blocked at the source. Perhaps our linguistic reserves are depleted. We have been confronted with the fact that humans are capable of something unimaginable. That's how atonal prose came about. Atonal music appeared after World War I, when composers were confronted by the emptiness of the language they had used until then. I call the new prose atonal because it has to deal with the fact that the fundamental ethical and moral consensus – the keynote – is lacking. Today words mean something different in every mouth. Prose must also reflect this, but in doing so it loses its natural purpose: that I tell a story, while the audience listens in amazement. If you fail to express the essence of this turn of events, you're no longer a writer, and miss out on your own life and times."


The New Republic 04.12.2007 (USA)

The title story is dedicated to American literary criticism, which former Boston Review critic Gail Pool rakes through the coals in her book "Faint Praise." James Wolcott doesn't want to contradict her, but finds her appraisal misses the point. "Pool appears squeamish about too much personality being injected into the reviewing format, fearing a sloppy overdose of subjectivity and exhibitionism. But if critical deportment means pouring each phrase into a measuring cup, we might as well turn in our magic kits. You wouldn't divine from this landscape survey of the literary flatlands the thunder and illumination of which book reviews are capable when the right reviewer and the right book meet head-on. Book reviews at full billow can become cultural events: acts of exaltation (Mary McCarthy on Pale Fire), social advocacy (Dwight Macdonald on Michael Harrington's The Other America), reassessment (Brigid Brophy on Franoise Sagan), wrecking-ball demolitions (Macdonald on James Gould Cozzens's By Love Possessed, Sheed on Norman Podhoretz's Making It, Whittaker Chambers on Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, Alfred Chester on John Rechy's City of Night, Pauline Kael on Mailer's Marilyn, Dale Peck's Sweeney Todd exploits in these pages), reconstructive character surgery (Clive James on Zachary Leader's biography of Kingsley Amis in the Times Literary Supplement), and literary resurrection (Gore Vidal on Dawn Powell). Why not reach for the stars?"


London Review of Books 13.12.2007 (UK)

In his review of Michael Ondaatje's novel "Divisadero", Brian Dillon settles scores with the author, concluding: "Divisadero is the sort of book that makes you wonder what some people are after when they open a novel. Vapid nostrums dressed as timeless wisdom? Pretty vignettes from a simpler life? Flowery assurance that this simpler life conceals, would you believe it, a seam of tragedy? Cooking tips? Whatever it is, it is all there, and they are welcome to it. Ondaatje takes some of the techniques that we might value most in fiction – the formal refutation of strict chronology; the elaboration of character as little more than a rumour or a scattering of particles; a narrator's capacious sense of literary and intellectual history – and drains them of all energy, wit, mystery and real ambition."

Further articles: in an excerpt from his book "The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power," which will appear in 2008, Tariq Ali describes with a good dose of sarcasm recent events in Pakistan and the country's relations with the USA. Terry Castle reviews two books, one about the artist Claude Cahun and her lesbian partner Marcel Moore, and one on Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas – poking fun at gender studies jargon along the way.

Gazeta Wyborcza 08.12.2007 (Poland)

Stalinism is even dying in North Korea now. The burgeoning corruption of officials and small-scale capitalism - practised mostly by women - of the black market are signs of a secret economic liberalisation of the country, North Korea expert Andrej Lankow states in an interview. But he is sceptical about the prospect of a German-type reunification scenario. "The GDR was only twice as poor as West Germany and North Korea is 15 to 30 times poorer than the South. The reunification of Germany was observed carefully and rejected as a possibility. This is hardly surprising from a human perspective – South Koreans go on holiday every year and buy a new car every five. Why should they have to give all this up just because of the fool in the North?"

A week after the "elections" in Russia, the popular Kremlin-friendly band Lubeh played in Warsaw. How aware are Poles about popular music from the East? Robert Sankowski asks. "Having spent many years shaking off the compulsory friendship with the USSR we are slowly turning to Russia again. We are now reading contemporary Russian literature, and the odd Russian film even makes it into our cinemas. But we are much more hesitant when it comes to rock music. Were it not for the Internet it would be just as difficult to get Russian CDs today as it was to get underground music from New York or London twenty years ago." His enthusiasm for the Lubeh concert notwithstanding, Sankowski admits that he would much rather have watched the ska-punk band Leningrad.


Il Foglio 08.12.2007 (Italy)

Simona Verrazzo writes about Cairo's al-Azhar university-cum-theological seminary. However much the institution has lost credibility in the Arab world, it will always retain a certain authority. "From Saladin to Napoleon, anyone who set foot on Egyptian soil could not assume power without first coming to an agreement with al-Azhar. Where its prestige originates is a mystery and perhaps this is indeed its trump card. The architecture is nothing special, it could be any ordinary mosque: four walls, an inner courtyard, six minarets, a Mihrab which faces Mecca. Even the city where it stands has no particular significance for Islam. Cairo is not a holy city like Medina, Mecca or Jerusalem, and it was never the seat of a Caliph like Damascus or Istanbul. Al-Azhar is al-Azhar. And this is something the Shiites will perhaps never understand."


The Spectator 08.12.2007 (UK)

Richard Orange meets the pioneer of Indian wine, Rajeev Samant. "With his shaved scalp, goatee and ear-ring, Samant has used his playboy image to market Sula wines since they were launched in 1999. Chateau Indage in nearby Pune and Grover Vineyards in Bangalore began producing a decade earlier, but it was Sula's efforts to make wine the drink of India's aspirational classes that sparked today's boom. Some of the world's biggest drinks companies, including Diageo and Pernod Ricard, are rushing to set up wineries to capture a market that is growing at 30 percent a year. Bollywood's leading ladies can now be seen clutching glasses of wine on and off screen. For the new professional classes of Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi, fresh from business trips to Europe and the US, wine is a major status symbol. And Samant's enterprise grows apace. 'We're planting 500 acres a year,' he says. 'There are very few wineries in the world that are planting that kind of number.'"

The Economist 07.12.2007 (UK)

The price of food, and of grain in particular is rising around the world. The cover story examines the dangers and opportunities raised by this development – and points to one of the root causes. "The rise in prices is also the self-inflicted result of America's reckless ethanol subsidies. This year biofuels will take a third of America's (record) maize harvest. That affects food markets directly: fill up an SUV's fuel tank with ethanol and you have used enough maize to feed a person for a year. And it affects them indirectly, as farmers switch to maize from other crops. The 30m tonnes of extra maize going to ethanol this year amounts to half the fall in the world's overall grain stocks."


The New Yorker 17.12.2007 USA)

In his review of James Flynn's study "What is intelligence?" Malcolm Gladwell surveys the problems and questions involved in intelligence research and throws some new light onto the debate about links between race and I.Q. In the most widely-used I.Q test the so-called WISC (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children) there have been dramatic rises "in the category known as 'similarities,' where you get questions such as 'In what way are 'dogs' and 'rabbits' alike?' Today, we tend to give what, for the purposes of I.Q. tests, is the right answer: dogs and rabbits are both mammals. A nineteenth-century American would have said that 'you use dogs to hunt rabbits.' (...) Our great-grandparents may have been perfectly intelligent. But they would have done poorly on I.Q. tests because they did not participate in the twentieth century's great cognitive revolution, in which we learned to sort experience according to a new set of abstract categories. (...) An I.Q., in other words, measures not so much how smart we are as how modern we are."
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