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13/01/2009

Magazine Roundup

Portfolio | Observator Cultural | The Guardian | Al Ahram Weekly | The Times Literary Supplement | HVG | The Economist | L'Espresso | The New Yorker | La vie des idees | The New York Times


Portfolio (USA), 01.02.2009

Andrew Rice portrays Barney Frank, the sharp-tongued chairman of the financial committee of the House of Representatives who is at the centre of the debate over whether Congress "has what it takes to rewrite the rules of finance." Frank is not everybody's darling: he's a gay, Jewish, Roosevelt fan who "walks like a penguin and speaks in a distinctively sibilant, rapid-fire patois, casually tossing off references to economist Joseph Schumpeter, philosopher Georg Hegel, and comedian Henny Youngman. He is also "famous for his biting wit and volcanic temper, for ridiculing arguments that he finds stupid, and for administering tongue-lashings to the industry executives in both public and private settings. A former Harvard Ph.D. candidate, his only business experience comes from pumping gas at his father's truck stop as a youth in Bayonne, New Jersey. His proclamation of a new era of regulation—and bold dismissal of more-cautious voices - has heightened already stratospheric anxieties on Wall Street, leading some to question whether Frank - or indeed, Congress - has the proper temperament and experience to rewrite the rules of the complex world of finance." Witness his slanging match with the right-winger Bill O'Reilly of Fox.

Further articles: Gary Weiss portrays the man who has profited most from the market crash. Hedge fund king John Paulson garnered 3,7 billion dollars from a two-year bet "that the calamity we are now experiencing would take place". Weiss, who can't get rid of the bad taste in his mouth, asks: "If he saw all of this coming, was it right for him to keep his own counsel, quietly trading while the financial system melted down?" But Paulson's fund was no secret and anyone could have joined in the fun. Lloyd Grove portrays the 85 year-old CBS and Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone as an egomaniacal, back-stabbing, crazy bastard.


Observator Cultural 11.01.2009 (Romania)

The latest edition of the Observator Cultural's translation project features a short story by writer Radu Cosasu "An Olive Branch". Sadly there is very little biographical information about the author online except in Romanian. But there is one page in English where Romanian writers explain why Cosasu is one of the most important writers in the post-WWII period.

Here is the opening passage to "An Olive Branch": Tinibalda had suggested going for a hike in the Piatra Craiului mountains, to forget about everybody and everything. I was in love with her back then. Her hips were way too broad. It didn't bother her, though. Nothing would ever bother her. She used to wear tight-fitting dresses much to her disadvantage and on the other hand ate Jonathan apples which, she claimed, made up for… Made up for what? She had a way of leaving her sentences unfinished. I was thrilled by her contempt for syntax. She believed in my talent. If I asked her for details she obliged and said that I'd survive. No one ever died out of a case of hunger. Her father had gone on a hunger strike in prison, back in '38. And was he dead? No, siree."


The Guardian 10.01.2009 (UK)

In a George Orwell Memorial Lecture, Scottish writer Andrew O'Hagan talks about the imperial snobbery of the English, the uselessness of the upper classes which Orwell described in "England, Your England" and, in particular, the docility of England's working class. "There is an aversion in England to organised or even personal resistance, a frightening bend towards compromise. There have always been good causes worth fighting for, but seldom, in the modern era, has there been the common volition to fight for them. Perhaps that is why we love the memory of the world wars so much: they are a national heritage exhibition of our least likely selves, a testament to our nature as it might have been. The old wars show us what it was like to be a people willing to resist a vast encroaching power. It is not a posture that comes naturally to the English. Usually, the ordinary people of England only have one word to say to authority, and that word is "yes". Orwell would not be surprised to see such forces at work over the English, but he might be shocked to see the extent to which the English themselves lacked, as time went on, all political resolve to change it. The populist mode in England is silent paralysis. No to change."

Nicholas Wroe talked to writer, actor, director (more), neurologist, philosopher (more), photographer and sculptor Jonathan Miller, who is staging an upcoming production of Puccini's "La Boheme" and at the English National Opera. "Miller has a reputation for updating operas but says that is usually because the composer had originally backdated the work. "I just don't believe in the mid 19th-century world with which Puccini was not acquainted. Almost without exception 19th and early 20th-century composers set their work in the past, so there is a curious inconsistency between the sound of the music and the period in which it takes place. The historical representation is always kitsch which is why Trovatore really needed all the help from the Marx Brothers it could get.'"

Further articles: Andrew Anthony describes in detail the effects of the Rushdie Affair on British culture. Disappointed by the film "Valkyrie" Justin Cartwright outlines Stauffenberg's intellectual background. There is a promising excerpt from Edmund White's Rimbaud biography, as well as reviews of Stephen Baker's book "The Numerati: How They'll Get My Number and Yours", Bruce Riedel's book "The Search for Al Qaeda: Its Leadership, Ideology, and Future", Susan Sontag's early diaries and Sarah Abrevaya Stein's history of the trade in ostrich feathers.


Al Ahram Weekly 08.01.2009 (Egypt)

It is not the Palestinians or Hamas who are the aggressors in Gaza, it's the Israelis who have illegally occupied Palestinian land for 60 years and therefore cannot be said to be acting in self-defence, writes Curtis Doebbler, an international human rights lawyer and professor of law at the An-Najah National University in Nablus. He accuses Fatah of playing into Israel's hands. 'Abbas was furious. Everything he did may never be known, but the fact that as Gaza burns he appears at dinners with representatives of the US, Europe and Israel, apparently nonchalant about the horrors his people are confronting, is revealing."

While the world gets progressively uglier and more horrible, Nehad Selaiha has developed a taste for escapist theatre, like Murad Munir's musical adaptation of Alfred Farag's play "At-Tabrizi and His Servant Quffah". Farag actively drew, whether unconsciously or not, on a long stage tradition of crafty, clownish, down-to-earth and worldly wise servants and foolish, dreamy and harebrained masters - a tradition which stretches back to the Romans, progressing through Shakespeare and Cervantes, down to Brecht's Mr. Puntila and his Hired Man, Matti, Yusef Idris's 1964 ground- breaking 'El-Farafeer' (The Underlings) and Milan Kundera's unforgettable 'Jacques and his Master'. (...) With showers of confetti and artificial snow occasionally raining down from the flies, a bridal bed suspended in midair, and so much gold and gauze in the palace sets, not to mention a white horse at the end that carries Ali and the Princess to safety, Si Ali seemed like a carefree Christmas pantomime that sticks out its tongue at reality."


The Times Literary Supplement 31.12.2008 (UK)

Jane Yager introduces new German novels: Uwe Telllkamp's "Der Turm" (The Tower - English excerpt), Marcel Beyer's "Kaltenburg", Ingo Schulze's "Adam und Evelyn" (English excerpt) and "Hundert Tage" (100 days) by the Swiss writer Lukas Bärfuss. She concludes: "'Tale from a lost country' is the subtitle of 'Der Turm', and the making of histories and geographies of loss has long been a forte of German literature. Tellkamp, Beyer and Schulze have explored the GDR with commendable depth and complexity. Bärfuss's book, meanwhile, has pointed to a promising new direction for German literature. The next literary generation will be well served if others of its best writers follow his lead in turning their considerable powers of observation outwards, towards losses less often chronicled by German-language writers."


HVG 12.01.2009 (Hungary)

"Contemporary Hungarian art is no bad investment," writes former businessman and art collector Gabor Pados. "It's a myth that it's impossible to sell. It's getting more and more press and international awards all the time ... and increasing numbers of artists are selling to major western collectors. Contemporary Hungarian art appeals to people who cherish the uniquely East European sense of absurd and grotesque. [...] But Hungarian works of art are not like their Russian counterparts. If there is a picture Stalin in a work from 2008, everyone in the world will understand it to some extent. But a portrait of Rakosi or Kadar will only have meaning for other Hungarians. In other words, works that reflect Hungarian reality and global conditions will sell on the international market; works that poke fun at Socialist Realism will not."


The Economist 09.01.2009 (UK)

In a lengthy article George Bush gets his knuckles rapped again for his anti-scientific stance before a number of scientists are introduced who have been appointed to the White House by the president elect. Nobel Prize winning physicist Stephen Chu, for example, or the marine biologist Jane Lubchenko, the physicist John Holdren, the geneticist Harold Varmus (another Nobel laureate) and Eric Lander (more here). "These appointments mark a shift in political attitudes towards scientific advice. When he announced his selections Mr Obama said that promoting science is not just about providing resources (though he has promised to double the budget for basic science research over the next decade), but also about promoting free inquiry and listening to what scientists have to say, 'especially when it is inconvenient'. Remarks such as this are causing excitement among researchers, particularly those who have had difficulty making their voices heard over the past few years."

There are reviews of the book "Lords of Finance" (publishers' site) about the – not excessively competent – heads of central banks in the 1920s, and a scholarly publication on "Snow Tourists" – here the website of the book with an excerpt.


L'Espresso 09.01.2009 (Italy)

The fascination for bizarre reliquary is not just a Christian eccentricity, Umberto Eco emphasises in his Bustina di Minerva. Every religion safeguards historical fragments and even atheists have Lenin's mummy or Elvis's cadillac. But Eco has to admit that the Church might be splitting hairs. "We know for example, that the head of John the Baptist is sitting in the church of San Silvestro in Capite in Rome, whereas an earlier tradition puts it in Amiens cathedral. But the head in Rome is missing a lower jaw which is kept in the San Lorenzo cathedral in Viterbo. The plate on which his head was carried is in Genoa, in the treasury of the San Lorenzo cathedral, together with the saint's ashes, although some of these ashes are also in the ancient Benedictine church in Loano. One of his teeth is in the cathedral in Ragusa and another, together with a strand of hair is in Monza. What happened to the other 30 no one knows."

The New Yorker 19.01.2009 (USA)

Tad Friend takes us into the world of a Hollywood movie marketer and in the process delivers profound insights into the highly sophisticated art of the tease. TV spots are core business and they must be "babysitter worthy" and get people out of the house. Marketing considerations shape not only the kind of films studios make but who's in them who their audiences will be. "Such considerations account for a big role being written for Shia LaBeouf in the most recent 'Indiana Jones' (to attract youthful viewers as well as Harrison Ford's aging fans). They also account for the virtual absence from the screen of children between the ages of newborn (when they appear briefly, to puke on the star for the trailer) and that of the Macauley Culkin character in 'Home Alone.' Why have a four-year-old character, when one who is ten will prompt ten-year-olds to find him 'relatable,' and four-to-nine-year-olds to look up to him? 'If we weren't making decisions based on marketability, John Malkovich would be in every movie,' a top studio marketer says. 'Great actor, but not someone you want to see half-naked in the sheets next to Angelina Jolie.'"

Anthony Lane slates Steven Soderbergh's Chevara biopic "Che". There is a short story, "Soldier's Joy", by Antonya Nelson and poems by Nathalie Anderson and Franz Wright.


La vie des idees 09.01.2009 (France)

In an interview Mamadou Diouf a Senagalese historian at Columbia university who has published countless studies on African political and cultural history, talks about the continent's post-colonial process of democratisation and the necessity of modernising scientific research. The humanities and social sciences need to enter into dialogue and exchange ideas and they should not move beyond European universalism. "The universal should be additive, not based on force or success, which is measured in moral, religious or technical terms. In all non-western societies universalism and modernism always go hand-in hand with violence. For this reason Africa is rejecting this universalism and modernism, in essence not in practice. Europe today has entered a transitional phase and has yet to develop a clear position on the matter."

There is also an introduction to a cultural history of the theatre, which addresses the rise of the "theatre market" in Europe's capitals: "Theatres en capitales. Naissance de la societe du spectacle a Paris, Berlin, Londres et Vienne, 1860-1914" (Albin Miche)by Christophe Charle.

The New York Times 12.01.2009 (USA)

Psychologist Steven Pinker looks at the brave new world of consumer genomics where tests can be bought for "the price of a flatscreen TV":"At one end of the price range you can get a complete sequence and analysis of your genome from Knome for 99,500 dollar. At the other you can get a sample of traits, disease risks and ancestry data from 23andMe for 399 dollar. (...) Until recently, the only portents on offer were traits that ran in the family, and even they conflated genetic tendencies with family traditions. Now, at least in theory, personal genomics can offer a more precise explanation. We might be able to identify the actual genes that incline a person to being nasty or nice, an egghead or a doer, a sad sack or a blithe spirit."
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