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17/06/2008

Magazine Roundup

Lettre International | The Nation | Le point | London Review of Books | Elet es Irodalom | Die Weltwoche | Vanity Fair | Gazeta Wyborcza | The Atlantic | Polityka | The New Statesman | Eurozine

Lettre International 10.06.2008 (Germany)

To celebrate it's 20th birthday, the German edition of Lettre treats itself to an opulent birthday edition which includes articles by Alexandra Fuller, Rafael Sanchez Ferlosio, Nimrod, Ko Un, Tzvetan Todorov, Bora Cosic, Laszlo Vegel, Dzevad Karahasan and Abdelwahab Meddeb and many more, on questions about how we live.

Berlin-based Russian philosopher Michail Ryklin writes about the death of his wife, the artist Anna Altschuk, who was tried in court for her involvement in the Moscow exhibition "Caution Religion!" (more here) and was later found dead in the Spree in Berlin. "After Anna's disappearance, I found a diary of her dreams from the last five years when she and other artists were the target of a Russian smear campaign. Soon after that my wife, whose innocence was obvious to the court from the outset, was singled out to be charged. But after over five months of uninterrupted abuse and humiliation in the court, the judge, who didn't have a single piece of incriminating evidence against her, decided to acquit her (something that almost never happens in Russia because acquittals are damaging to a judge's career). An acquittal is a formal legal process, but in an authoritarian society once you have been criminally charged, you bear the stigma of guilt forever. The Moscow art scene saw who had the power (in the minds of the yesterday's homo sovieticus this equates with being in the right) and turned its back on Anna Altschuk."


The Nation 30.06.2008 (USA)

The focus of the magazine is the rapidly growing rift between rich and poor in the USA. John Cavanagh and Chuck Collins note: "Over the past three decades, market-worshipping politicians and their corporate backers have engineered the most colossal redistribution of wealth in modern world history, a redistribution from the bottom up, from working people to a tiny global elite."

Globalisation critic Naomi Klein explains why we shouldn't expect too much from Barack Obama on the equity front: "Barack Obama waited just three days after Hillary Clinton pulled out of the race to declare, on CNBC, 'Look. I am a pro-growth, free-market guy. I love the market. Demonstrating that this is no mere spring fling, he has appointed 37-year-old Jason Furman to head his economic policy team. Furman is one of Wal-Mart's most prominent defenders, anointing the company a 'progressive success story.'"


Le point 12.06.2008 (France)

Historian Patrice Gueniffey, former student of Francois Furet, has written a highly-acclaimed book about the 18th Brumaire (Gallimard). Napoleon III used this democratic coup d'etat to save the revolutionary achievements, just as de Gaulle saved the Republic on 13 May 1956, writes Le Point in a resume of the main thesis. In an interview about his book, Gueniffey explains: "The French Revolution is the unifying moment of humanitarian sympathies and resentments. This combination of brotherly friendship and compassion for society's weak with deep social resentment spawns terrorist violence. And this very French alliance between human goodwill and a hatred born of resentment is still at work today..." Patrice Gueniffey then moves on to talk about the mature democracy: "No one believes in it, because no one thinks about abolishing it. Not even in France. But here the revolutionary spirit constantly rumbles away in the background poised, when the circumstances are right, to resurge in one of those episodes that pepper French history." Gueniffey has also written a long essay about Francois Furet and Napoleon in the excellent internet magazine La vie des idees.


London Review of Books 16.06.2008 (UK)

In a sumptuous literary reportage, British essayist, novelist and London psychogeographer Iain Sinclair describes the destruction of London's East End in the run-up to the Olympics. "Footballers, with loose change to invest, are rumoured to be buying up entire buildings as investment portfolios; many of these gaudy shells, low-ceilinged, tight-balconied, are doomed to remain half-empty, exhibitions of themselves. The look is mirthlessly playful, Ikea storage boxes gimmicked out of swipe-cards and toothpicks. The urban landscape of boroughs anywhere within the acoustic footprints of the Olympic Park in the Lower Lea Valley has been devastated, with a feverish beat-the-clock impatience unseen in London since the beginnings of the railway age. Every civic decency, every sentimental attachment, is swept aside for that primary strategic objective, the big bang of the starter's pistol."


Elet es Irodalom 13.06.2008 (Hungary)

Communications expert Julia Sonnevend reports on the "Symposium National Culture", which the Goethe Institute is hosting together with Berlin's state museums at the end of April, only to express her regret that this sort of conference would be nigh on impossible in Hungary and not only because of lacking political consensus: "To redefine the role of national culture, you have to view it from outside. This thought process is not aided by the extreme rarity of complex analyses of foreign countries in the Hungarian press and the absence of discourses, which determine the globalised public sphere (climate change, the problems of centre and periphery etc.). Hungary is dominated by a culture of hysteria, in which hysterical step follows hysterical reaction, but debate tends to be restricted to a local level and is often provincial... The paradox of the situation is that in the European countries Hungarians like to look up to in this respect, it is the global-level thought processes that have helped raise the level of local debates, which deal with local business and which could redefine national culture."

While the well-educated citizen would consider it impolite to ask "What's the point of the humanities? Why do we need literature?", "less cultivated" circles have a growing disrespect for such restraint. Often this has less to do with provocation than genuine perplexity, according to theatre academic Laszlo Limpek: "In times when society is burdening the most simple average citizen with a series of 'new' responsibilities (from climate awareness to the idea of the conscious voter and the conscious consumer), one shouldn't be surprised if this average citizen then turns round and asks :What about the humanities? ... By now even a boiled sweet comes with instructions. Yet literature, which dissects language and must be mankind's most complex invention, and the other humanities which deal with the most abstract inventions of human mind, come with none. So it's not surprising that some people feel the absence."


Die Weltwoche 12.06.2008 (Switzerland)

US magazines are full of reports about al-Qaeda infighting. Urs Gehringer discusses the subject with Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright, who reported in the New Yorker that Sayyid Imam al-Sharif alias Dr. Fadl had drawn up a less bloodthirsty set of rules for Jihad. For Gehriger, this is "as if Marx had returned from the dead, to tear the ideological carpet from beneath Lenin's feet" and he fears that the revolt might just be a storm in a teacup. Wright replies: "Al-Qaeda will continue to terrorise, no doubt about it, but no one can take their philosophy seriously. The organisation has nothing to show for itself except blood and misery. Its ideology is patched together from rotten intellectual fragments false interpretations of religion and history. Dr. Fadl's manifesto has exposed this mercilessly."


Vanity Fair 16.06.2008 (USA)

"Don't do it", implores Christopher Hitchens, to the property developers who are greedily descending on New York's Greenwich Village."It isn't possible to quantify the extent to which society and culture are indebted to Bohemia. In every age in every successful country, it has been important that at least a small part of the cityscape is not dominated by bankers, developers, chain stores, generic restaurants, and railway terminals. This little quarter should instead be the preserve of - in no special order - insomniacs and restaurants and bars that never close; bibliophiles and the little stores and stalls that cater to them; alcoholics and addicts and deviants and the proprietors who understand them; aspirant painters and musicians and the modest studios that can accommodate them; ladies of easy virtue and the men who require them; misfits and poets from foreign shores and exiles from remote and cruel dictatorships."


Gazeta Wyborcza 14.06.2008 (Poland)

Michel Houellebecq has interrupted a creative crisis with a reading tour of Poland. He has "absolutely no ideas" for a new book, he admits in an interview. One of the reasons for this might be his attitude to reality. "Capitalism is neither hell nor paradise. It's just the world I live in. You could say that it has replaced my inner life. In our everyday life, we get excited about buying things in supermarkets or the vast choice of programmes on TV. There are certain advantages to the world looking like it does. People are satisfied with it. I don't know, perhaps I'm only dissatisfied because I was born that way." And what's more, he thinks it's easier to be original today than it used to be.

Historian Janos Tischler looks back on the 50th anniversary of the hanging of Imre Nagy, the Hungarian prime minister, who led the anti-Soviet Uprising of 1956. This "reformer" was actually more swept along by events than anything else, but "the decision to step out of the Warsaw Pact, was an historical one the Communist Imre Nagy identified himself with the nation, against the interests and dogmas of the party and the international communist movement."


The Atlantic 01.07.2008 (USA)

Newspapers seem to be hurtling to their deaths in the USA. But in the midst of this grim end-game scenario Rupert Murdoch, mistrusted by all, wants to make a success of the Wall Street Journal. Mark Bowden puts us in the picture: "We've come here to expand, he said. He has announced his intention for the remade Journal not just to supplant The New York Times as the nation's preeminent daily newspaper but to become the first truly global daily. This would be music to the ears of any newsroom, so hope mingled with the professional dread in Murdoch's audience that afternoon. He may be awful, but he is rich and awful, smart and awful, powerful and awful, and while he may well be crazy to still believe in the future of print, he is determined and crazy."

"Is Google Making Us Stoopid?" asks Nicholas Carr and seeks expert advice on how all the internet scanning and browsing is changing our understanding of text, our ability to concentrate and our entire thinking.


Polityka 10.06.2008 (Poland)

Adam Krzeminski gives two examples to illustrate the problems involved in Polish-German discussions about the past. "Our neo-National Democrats are bringing in the big guns against von Stauffenberg in Warsaw. The German Left has taken on Josef Pilsudski in Magdeburg, and is protesting against plans to erect a plaque in the place he was interned in 1918 and from where he returned to Warsaw on 11 November. For our neo-National Democrats, Stauffenberg is a persona non grata, because he was 'ecstatic' about the victory over France and because he wrote derogatively about Poland after its humiliating defeat in 1939. For the post GDR town councils, Pilsudski is a banana republic caudillo and not a Polish Bismark. ... Polish and German historians might have few significant problems in assessing German-Polish relations in the 20th century, but this is amply compensated for by politicians and journalists, who are caught up in their own national mythology and in an interpretation of the politics of history exclusively as a "race of egoisms", confrontations with the enemy and non-cooperation with the neighbours." (Here the German translation of the article in full.)

The New Statesman 16.06.2008 (UK)

With the Euro 2008 well underway, Robin Stummer recalls a time, not so long ago, when Austria alongside England was one of the most feared teams in world football, with one the world's best players: Matthias Sindelar. A man who is almost entirely absent from official Austrian history: "A few seconds of grainy newsreel, a handful of fragile press cuttings, a street name, a grave. Such is the meagre legacy of Matthias Sindelar - one of the world's greatest soccer players, the Pele of the interwar years, a sporting genius who not only took the game into the modern era, but snubbed Hitler en route. Many believe that the Austrian centre-forward's contempt for the Nazis cost him his life. But has Austria snubbed Sindelar? In a small country not overflowing with world-class sports heroes or, for that matter, high-profile anti-fascist martyrs, the absence of Sindelar from Austria's official past and present is strange. No statues, no stadium name, no posters. No football academy bears his name; there has been no big biopic, no exhibition, no plaques, no new investigation into his suspicious death."


Eurozine 10.06.2008 (Austria)

Eurozine is working through the literary perspectives of the EU, country by country. To coincide with the Euro 2008, Daniela Strigl surveys the flourishing Austrian scene and enthuses about the return of the idiom: "For most writers in Austria, the prerequisite for a literature fit for the EU is a German language fit for Germany. German editors have always tried to adapt their Austrian writers to the German market by weeding out 'national-linguistic idiosyncrasies' in their texts. The more they found the greats, Bernhard and Jelinek, hard nuts to crack, the more keenly they nibbled away at the idiomatic 'problem areas' of the lesser writers, with half-hearted intervention often begetting bilingual cross-breeds. Many Germanize themselves of their own accord in over-hasty obedience, whereas braver writers go on the attack: Wolf Haas's thrillers featuring the ex-detective Brenner have become cult books the most recent being 'Das ewige Leben' ('Eternal Life', 2003). However they were originally rejected by many publishers, not least because of the highly colloquial style which subsequently made them famous. In his most recent book, which takes the form of an interview, Haas sarcastically translates from German into German ('Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren' ['The weather fifteen years ago', 2006])."
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