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08/04/2008

Magazine Roundup

New Left Review | Outlook India | Caffe Europa | Nepszabadsag | London Review of Books | Folio | Europa | The Economist | Elet es Irodalom | Vanity Fair | La vie des idees| The Guardian | Le point | Al Ahram Weekly | The New York Times


New Left Review 01.04.2008 (UK)

Dushu is China's most important and influential intellectual magazine. Since 1979 it has hosted debates on western theory from structuralism to Habermas and Derrida (more here). Now it has published a six-volume Chinese edition featuring the most important texts from 1996 to 2005, a time in which the magazine's editors stepped up their criticism of the Communist Party's economic liberalisation course. In his article "No Forbidden Zone in Reading" Zhang Yongle provides a detailed history of the magazine. It reorientation in the 90s "reflected the dramatic ideological cleavage that has taken place within the intelligentsia from the mid-90s, when many of its authors began to articulate a critique of China's development path. This was a highly controversial stance, soon dubbed 'new left' or 'post-modernist'. Both labels had strong negative connotations in this context: for a long time after the 1970s, it was almost scandalous for an intellectual to be described as 'left’ (as opposed to l'iberal'), because the majority of the intelligentsia had once been the victim of the ultra-leftism of the Chinese Communist Party. Post-modernism seemed even stranger: how could an intellectual criticize the ideal of modernization in a backward society?"


Outlook India 14.04.2008 (India)

The Dalai Lama's presence in India is a thorn in the country's ties with China. Anjali Puri examines the dilemma, with particular regard to the way India sees itself, its values, its political identity. "Srikanth Kondapalli of the East Asian studies department of Jawaharlal Nehru University says that the Dalai Lama's being in India represents, among other things, 'civilisational soft power. That he left China and came to India meant something'. He feels that Indian civil society supports him at a subterranean level: 'There could never be a demonstration against the Dalai Lama.' Is there something else at work here, beyond politics? After all, Outlook's opinion poll shows 73 per cent of respondents seeing him as a spiritual leader, not a political one, even if he has been talking a lot of politics recently. (...) Can it be that it would embarrass us, in our own eyes, to be embarrassed by him?"

On the same subject, Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan ("Lagaan") who is one of the Olympic torch bearers explains:'When I do run with the torch on the 17th of April it is not in support of China. In fact it will be with a prayer in my heart for the people of Tibet, and indeed for all people across the world who are victims of human rights violations."


Caffe Europa 07.04.2008 (Italy)

The precariat or precarious workforce is not just a Berlin phenomenon; in Italy young graduates rarely find secure employment, and part-time and temping jobs are the norm. Paola Casella is pleased to report that the cause of the "Generation 1,000 Euro" has finally been taken up by the cinema. The most popular film is Paolo Virzi's "Tutta la vita davanti" which, Casella writes, clearly demonstrates the gradual debasement of the precarious worker. "The only thing you could hold against Virzi is his depiction of the call centre as a Kubrick-style Sci Fi space. This means that viewers who don't belong to Generation 1,000 Euro can continue to delude themselves that the film is dealing only with extremes and not the everyday reality of the majority of young and no-so-young lawyers, doctors, journalists, postmen, ministerial workers."


Nepszabadsag 05.04.2008 (Hungary)

"In 1967 Jewish journalists cursed Israel and today they are cursing the Arabs. And the Fidesz. And us. Because they hate us more than we hate them. They are our 'occasion Jews' whose simple existence gives us occasion to be anti-Semitic...," wrote journalist Zsolt Bayer on March 19 in the daily Magyar Hirlap. Philosopher Miklos Tamas Gaspar uses this as an occasion to sound the death toll for this sort of diatribe: "Anti-Semitic rabble rousing – as part of the general decadence - in Hungary today takes place on a much lower level than previously. While the old anti-Semitism, as disgusting as it was, was linked to the 'key questions' of the fatherland, today it is part of the terrible and pitiful crisis of degraded democratic politicising. You encounter the most deplorable arguments: that 'anti-Semitism' is just an accusation thrown by the government to divert attention, when actually it is people who like to bait Jews who are diverting attention from burning socio-political questions. It is still possible to get short-lived attention with anti-Semitic hate stirring but their days are over. Which is why it is time our anti-Semitic colleages should change profession – if they still have any talent left."

London Review of Books 10.04.2008 (UK)

Elif Batuman looks at the latest publications in the world of the graphic novel and explains the attractions of the super heroes and their younger siblings. It's their double character we find so fascinating. "The most striking similarity between the superhero comic and the memoir-in-comics is the motif of 'double identity'... We recognise Superman not by his ability to freeze objects by blowing on them but by his second life as Clark Kent. In an essay on Superman, Umberto Eco characterised superhero comics generically as an amalgam of 'mythopoeic' and 'novelistic' narratives: Superman is simultaneously an epic-eternal hero who exists outside time (the Man of Steel), and a 'consumable' romantic-novelistic hero (Clark Kent) who gets older every week. These two types of hero also correspond to the double nature of the comics medium: a hybrid of words and pictures.

Further articles. Civil rights lawyer Gareth Peirce compares the situation of Muslims in Britain today with that of the last 'suspect community' in Northern Ireland. Somewhat sceptically, John Lanchester assesses the London mayoral candidates: Ken Livingstone is washed out, but he cannot for the life of him imagine that 'clown' Boris Johnson in office either.


Folio 07.04.2008 (Switzerland)

Luca Turin is so enthusiastic about the sound experiments of electronic engineer William Sethares, that he calls them nothing less than revolutionary. Sethares divided the octave scale into 13, sometimes into 19 tones and used this system to devise compositions which sound so mind-expandingly harmonious that "classical harmony feels penned in" by comparison. Turin describes listening to the distortions of one of these stretched octaves: "When I first heard it I felt a twinge of terror, not unlike when the little girl in the Exorcist speaks in a man's voice. No musical instrument could have produced this sound. Physics had been violated and the world was about to end."

The entire new issue of the NZZ Folio is dedicated to the senses: here a list of contents.


Europa 05.04.2008 (Poland)

The fight over ratification of the Lisbon Contract in Poland has led a number of commentators to hope for a return of the ideological debate. In a conversation with Europa magazine, philosopher Jerzy Szacki dismisses this hope outright. "In Poland there is no social power capable of keeping liberal modernisation in check or even making any significant changes to its character. A little more or less authoritarianism, a little more or less religiosity (real or illusory), but sooner or later it will all end up the same way. We have very little room to manoeuvre, because we just are where we are."


The Economist 05.04.2008 (UK)

Since 2004 Amazon has features lists of the best-selling books in Germany, Britain, Canada, France and Japan. This month, the Economist reports, for the first time a German book is the "world's best-selling book". "Feuchgebiete" which means damp or moist areas was penned by former music TV presenter Charlotte Roche and is a homage to the unhygienic. In the novel, a young lady, who is rushed off to hospital after an intimate shaving incident, soon reveals an unladylike interest in sex, vomit, slime, blood, pus and scabs. Here the top ten list of bestsellers.

Elet es Irodalom 04.04.2008 (Hungary)

UNESCO has recommended that there should be no further demolition of Budapest's old Jewish quarter so as not to damage the World Cultural Heritage Site of the neighbouring Andrassy ut. Will protecting mere buildings retain the character of a city district? This question is addressed by Attila Batar, an urban planner who lives in France and USA, in an interview with Julia Cserba: "Those who want to protect the Jewish quarter have to be aware that the cultural heritage that they want to conserve and revive, the 40-50 former prayer houses and more than 100 religious, cultural and youth institutions no longer exist, they are gone forever. The social structure that once existed cannot be rebuilt and the former inhabitants cannot be resettled. The great challenge is now to preserve what remains of this cultural heritage by protecting the memorials to the past which can still be saved – naturally in the knowledge that the past can no longer be brought back. But I think it is extremely important that the people are reminded of their history."


Vanity Fair 01.05.2008 (USA)

In a report that is bursting its sides with information, Donald L. Barlett und James B. Steele describe how the chemical giant Monsanto is using genetically altered seeds and ruthless legal action to bring the American grain market under its control. Now the company has moved on to milk. The company is using legal action and campaigns to fight all farmers who label their milk as free of the Monsanto-owned growth hormone rBGH. "On this issue, the tide may be shifting against Monsanto. Organic dairy products, which don't involve rBGH, are soaring in popularity. Supermarket chains such as Kroger, Publix, and Safeway are embracing them. Some other companies have turned away from rBGH products, including Starbucks, which has banned all milk products from cows treated with rBGH."


La vie des idees 04.04.2008 (France)

Following the publication in France of the second volume of his study on Nazi Germany begun in 1997, ("The years of extermination 1939-1945"), historian Saul Friedländer talks at length to his French translator Pierre-Emmanuel Dauzat about the language of the executioners and the language of the victims. About the latter, Friedlander says: "There are new impulses to revive it, it is being taught in universities in the USA and there are Yiddish courses and plenty of students who want to learn it. But the effort is a little artificial because this language has quite literally become a dead language. People always forget that the Nazis not only killed millions of people but they also wiped out a culture, a culture and the words to express it. They collected together everything they could find in Jewish museums and archives – to have it in a certain place – and this is a further example of their maddness – to preserve something of a people which they themselves had destroyed, deliberately destroyed, people, way of life and culture. And finally they found a museum in Prague to house everything that has been collected. Try to understand the sick logic of this system! But Yiddish as culture, as way of life, I can only repeat this, was destroyed by Nazi Germany."


The Guardian 04.04.2008 (UK)

In a long interview following the publication of his new book, "The Enchantress of Florence," Salman Rushdie tells the Observer that it nearly didn't happen. Because halfway through writing the novel that was inspired by his wife, Padma Lakshmi, she announced that she wanted a divorce. "It was like a nuclear bomb dropped in your living room when you're trying to work,' he says. 'I really feared for a time at the beginning of last year that I'd lost the book." Inevitably, though, much of the talk revolves around politics and the involvement of Rushdie and his more outspoken friends in the debate on Islam. "'My instincts are completely liberal, but I do think we live in a very weird world and we do need to realise that the world has changed. And when Martin [Amis], Ian [McEwan] and I say that we get called conservative. But,' he emphatically adds, 'we're not conservative.' It's the one moment of annoyance he shows."


Le point 03.04.2008 (France)

Bernard-Henri Levy watched Geert Wilders' film "Fitna" online and found it "vulgar and inane." But not without its uses: "It demonstrates what is important and what is not in the current debate about Islam. (...) If this film is worth hating then it is less for its montage of Suras and horror images, and more for its claim that the Koran per se is a source of barbarity and that there is no choice but to confront it. A good film about Islam would be one which applies criticism to differentiate between that which in the scriptures or the customs is which developed from them is a source of violence, and that which by contrast promotes peace and the elevation of souls. In other words, the sort of work, neither more nor less, that in the past the Jews and the Christians carried out with their own holy scriptures. More moderate against more radical Islam? The Islam of enlightenment against the caricature of it that fundamental Islam represents? Exactly. This is the great question of our time. The only clash of cultures which counts."


Al Ahram Weekly 03.04.2008 (Egypt)

Gamal Nkrumah collects different opinions on Geert Wilders' film "Fitna". Samir Farid, one of Egypt's leading film critics, criticises the dictates of self-proclaimed religious authorities who are only interested in power. "In 1935 an Egyptian writer, Ismail Adham, published a book entitled Why I am an Apostate. Nobody called for his trial, let alone his death. Nobody called him an infidel. That was freedom of expression." But Gamal Qutb, Islamic scholar, told the weekly."The film is an unwarranted affront to Prophet Mohamed and Islam. We have an inalienable right to defend the values of Islam and monotheistic religions. Westerners may have forsaken religion but we in the East uphold its sanctity and the respectability of the prophets of old, not just the Prophet Mohamed, but of Jesus, Moses and other prophets."

And Nehad Selaiha looks back on the Monodrama Festival in the Al-Saqia cultural centre.

The New York Times 06.04.2008 (USA)

Helene Cooper tells the fascinating story of Liberia which was founded by freed American blacks who, after the abolition of slavery, were sent to Liberia and Sierra Leone by boat whether they came from there or not. She herself is a descendent of one of the founders and today works as a diplomatic correspondent of the New York Times. She emigrated with her mother to America in 1980. Her story goes back to 1820 when the ship Elizabeth landed in West Africa. "The group (of black Americans) spent almost two years trying to get various African kings and chiefs to sell them land. The Africans were not easily swayed, suspecting - correctly, it turned out — that the black Americans, once ensconced, would not cede to the authority of the village chiefs. The Africans also didn't want the new black colonists interfering with their slave trade. Still, the colonization movement plowed on. The American Colonization Society sent more ships, with fresh agents and more settlers." (The text is an excerpt from Cooper's book "The House at Sugar Beach")


More articles in the Sunday supplement: Arthur Lubow portrays Prizker prizewinner Jean Nouvel. In the Sunday Book Review Fareed Zakaria reviews Benazir Bhutto's posthumously published book "Reconciliation" (first chapter) There is also a review of Jhumpa Lahiri's new book or short stories (excerpt).


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