From the Feuilletons


From the Feuilletons


Last Friday the Bayreuth Festival opened with a new production of "Parsifal". The Norwegian director, Stefan Herheim, staged Wagner's opera as a ride through German history. In Die Welt, Manual Brug gave the following description: "Herheim's idea was to make a bold leap through time from the original performance in 1882 into the post-War years of the Bundesrepublik, from the weapon-rattling of the Empire, through the dual World-War catastrophes and on into the sober, democratic new start. He wanted to show how the opera, which is seemingly sealed off in its mythology bubble, was instrumentalised and abused throughout the history of the Bayreuth Festival by the respective zeitgeist. What was designed to be pure was rapidly soiled. Original sin sullies not only the characters in the opera but the 'Parsifal' itself, right from birth."

Most critics were positively disposed towards the directorial concept of the 'Parsifal' but underwhelmed by the musical aspects. Conductor Daniele Gatti, "one of the slowest 'Parsifal' conductors to ever work in Bayreuth" is only interested in the orchestra, writes Reinhard J. Brembeck in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. "Perhaps this neglect and the excessive power of the imagery so inhibited the singers that none of them dared to use the stage design to their advantage. (Photos) Their appearance was invariably more powerful than their singing, which tended to get lost in the walls of the set. And Wolfgang Fuhrmann, writing in the Berliner Zeitung says: "Daniele Gatti elicits exquisitely resonant sounds from the orchestra, but his overstretched interpretation, freed of all accent and rhetoric, left the singers out of breath and the audience bored."

From the blogs

The debate about the invitation of Securitate informants to a conference of the Romanian Cultural Institute in Berlin, which was kicked off by Herta Müller and Richard Wagner (more here and here), is also causing a stir in Bucharest. In his Achse des Guten column, Richard Wagner refers to Romanian author Mircea Cartarescu's article in the daily Evenimentul zilei, which seems far too conciliatory: "Cartarescu speaks about the two former informants' professional aptitude in glowing terms. One is supposed to have written a radical book about utopia whilst the other is an apparently an outstanding Germanist. This directly leads to the claim that morality and intellectual accomplishments rarely go hand-in-hand. And then something staggering happens. Cartarescu names Heidegger, Hamsun, Ezra Pound, Celine and Drieu la Rochelle as examples for his argument. This is scandalous. Not one of these characters served as an informant for the Gestapo. They all expressed their political views much more openly and accessibly. They were all stupendously mistaken, but they were publicly mistaken and so were publicly held accountable."

Neue Zürcher Zeitung 26.07.2008

Last year, Maurice Blanchot's essays written between 1941 and 1944 for the Journal des Debats were re-published. Blanchot, who later leaned to the left, was at this time still sympathising with the fascists. It makes for interesting reading all the same, promises Felix Philipp Ingold. "Reading the essays today, one is struck that a writer during the war, whose living and working conditions were greatly hampered, still managed to deliver a four to five page article on a weekly basis and that moreover, whatever the subject he was writing about, he was always able to maintain a consistently elegant style. That's quite aside from the fact that he managed an almost inconceivable reading workload stretching from medieval to contemporary literature from Meister Eckart and Nicolaus Cusanus through to Montherlant, Kafka and James Joyce. (...) Blanchot's concept-light but image-heavy arguments are not easy to understand, but provide plenty of mental fodder. Which is certainty what lends the enthralling aspect to his texts, whose logical untenability and metaphorical swirling open the floodgates to even the most audacious readings. But the difficulties of understanding the text are not off-putting, on the contrary they are stimulating, inviting, liberating."

Süddeutsche Zeitung

In the SZ Weekend's lead-story, Hasan Nuhanovic recalls the year 1995. Nuhanovic was then working as a translator for the UN and lost his entire family in the Srebrenica massacre. He is today suing the Dutch State and gives an account of some of the scenes in which the Dutch UNMO soldiers sent his family to death. "My parents are looking at me. It's about midnight. We hear shots outside. Again and again. There is no rhythm to the shots as there normally is when Serbs are firing in wars. It doesn't sound like DaDaDaDaDa, but more like Tak. Tak. Tak. The bullets obviously land somewhere very quickly, in a body, in flesh. I suspect people are being killed. The Serbs are killing boys and men outside the door."

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 26.07.2008

Gianfranco Ravasi, the new Culture Minister for the Vatican, wants to set up a pavilion of the Holy See at the 2009 Venice Biennale. In an interview in the weekend supplement, he regrets the lack of interest the Catholic Church shows in contemporary art. It's important to tolerate provocation: "I am well aware of what I'm getting myself into here. I can quite imagine that at the same time we are exhibiting, there might be a Madonna crying tears of sperm right next door, that recently showed in Bologna, or a scene of the Last Supper where the disciples are masturbating, which is now in Vienna, and, by the way, was drawn by an outstanding artist in Alfred Hrdlicka. There is something for everyone these days."

Neue Zürcher Zeitung 28.07.2008

Philosopher Carlos Fraenkel considers why Islam is not the state religion in Indonesia, given that it has the largest Muslim population in the world: "According to the law, as an Indonesian citizen, you don't have to be a Muslim, although you do have to be monotheistic. At the same time, many Indonesians interpret this principle as a minimal definition of Islam. In this sense, all Indonesians classify as Muslims. This not so much paternalism as an impressive attempt to make the commitment to Islam compatible with religious pluralism. It displays hermeneutic flexibility as well as a love of peace."

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Necla Kelek is fiercely critical of Tariq Ramadan's "Hand in Hand Against Forced Marriage" campaign, which is being launched in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin which has a large Muslim community. Kelek suspects that the initiative is out to "give Muslim advice" to girls in order to stop them "running to citizens' advice bureaus or women's shelters." And furthermore: "Ramadan and his followers are trying to reinterpret the basic rights and values of European civil society. They deny the right of individual self-determination, they define people as social entities rather than as individuals and they advocate the "society of shame" system with its fatal sense of honour. In the campaign booklet there is no mention that an individual has the right to decide whether or not he or she wants to enter marriage in the first place."

Die Welt 30.07.2008

The German artist Anselm Kiefer gives a fascinating interview to Klaus Dermutz, in which he talks about art and religion. "I am someone who has seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary. She appeared to me like a figure in a Nazarene painting. I think I was six or seven, perhaps even eight at the time... Mary appeared to me one morning. It was not in a dream, I was already awake. The vision took place in the room where I slept. I cannot tell you precisely what Mary was wearing. But she had on a light beige and blue dress. She looked exactly like a Pre-Rafaelite or Nazarene painting.. Today I would say she looked kitsch. Mary did not speak to me, she smiled."

Neue Zürcher Zeitung

French-Tunisian writer Abdelwahab Meddeb calls for an historical reading of the Koran, to neutralise the concept of Jihad for example. "If Islam wants to recover and escape its own curse, it will have to set up camp on post-Islamic territory which, historically-speaking, lies on a level with Jewish and Christians worlds. This is indispensable if the community of nations is to function as such. But Islamic countries, and Saudi Arabia in particular, are content to force their citizens into practising moderate Islam, to keep them away from extremist circles. They use theological arguments to try to isolate the extremists by labelling them ghulu – the mass which the Koran rejects and spurns. This is a praiseworthy step but oh so insufficient and timid! Particularly when they're up against the Islamic community in Europe." Read our feature by Abdelwahab Meddeb "Islam's heritage of violence".

Frankfurter Rundschau 31.07.2008

The European satellite company Eutelsat has pulled the plug on the Bejing-critical broadcaster New Tang Dynasty Television, in order to curry favour with the party leadership, as Henrik Schmizt reports on the Media page. "In the internet, Reporters Without Borders published the transcript of a telephone conversation between a democracy activist posing as an employee of the Chinese 'Propaganda Ministry' and a Eutelsat representative in China, who reveals some juicy bits of information: "It was our chairman in France who decided to cancel the NTD-TV signal.' It seems there was a genuine technical problem with the W5 satellite but it was still functioning. The cancellation of NTD-TV should be understood as a 'friendly gesture' towards China, the Eutelsat representative said on the phone." (Read the full transcript on the French site of Reporters sans frontieres)

Perlentaucher 31.07.2008

A few weeks ago on Perlentaucher and, French intellectual Pascal Bruckner launched his appeal to "Boycott Durban 2". In it he described how the concept of Human Rights was being subverted by the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Now a group of intellectuals have taken up his call to boycott the follow-up conference which is planned for April 2009 in Geneva. "We, the undersigned – journalists, political columnists, scientists and artists – support Bruckner's appeal and demand that the member states of the European Union – and Germany in particular – boycott the Durban 2 conference and commit themselves to sweeping reforms of the UN Human Rights Commission." The signatories include Pascal Bruckner himself, Necla Kelek and Lars Gustafsson.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Hubert Spiegel conducts a lengthy interview with German author Ingo Schulze, whose new novel "Adam und Evelyn" is due out next week. Through its protagonists the novel takes stock of the fall of the Wall and the twenty years that followed. "More interesting than the comparison of East and West is the question of how the West has developed through the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. My book also alludes to the overwhelming sense of relief and the hopes that existed at the time, that two systems, which were armed to the teeth, would put an end to their hostile face-off. That was the time when it seemed as if disarmament stood a chance. But if you measure all those hopes and possibilities for creating a new, very different world, what actually happened looks less than minimal." - let's talk european