Features » Magazine Roundup


Magazine Roundup

Vanity Fair | Eurozine | Polityka | The Spectator | Europa | The New Statesman | Al Ahram Weekly | Le Nouvel Observateur | La Croix | | Clarin | The Guardian

Vanity Fair 01.03.2009 (USA)

Frank DiGiacomo recounts how New Line, the production company run Bob Shaye and his partner Michael Lynne were dumped by Warner. New Line was responsible for a string of blockbusters, "Lord of the Rings" among them, and this is how they lost their company: "When they reached Bewkes's floor, Shaye and Lynne were ushered into theC.E.O.'s office. Bewkes wasted no time. He had decided to cut New Line to the bone and place what remained of the company under the oversight of Warner Bros. Moreover, Bewkes told Shaye and Lynne that, since he presumed they would not want to report to Warner's studio heads, they would no longer operate as New Line's chief executives. Bewkes's announcement was swift and surgical, and it had to have cut through Shaye like a scalpel to the gut. 'I don't think it's a good idea,' Shaye told the executive, who was demolishing the company Shaye had spent four decades building from scratch. But then he realized that there was nothing he could say. He had sold his company in 1994, and though he still liked to think that he ran New Line as if it were his own – as if, he sometimes said, his employees were family - in reality he was just a recently terminated employee of Time Warner."

Eurozine 09.01.2009 (Austria)

Two Danish writers, Jens-Martin Eriksen and Frederik Stjernfelt, discuss Islam and left and rightwing "culturalism". Using the example of their own country which was traumatised by the caricature conflict they describe the astoundingly thin line between the "racism" of the populist right and the multiculturalism of the left. Even the far right no longer defends racism outright but talks in terms of culture. "Both culturalisms express respect for cultural differences and espouse their belief in the protection of these identities. Right and leftwing culturalists merely maintain these protective measures under various guises. Leftwing culturalists claim that various distinct cultures should be able to co-exist on the same territory or in the same state, where, formally or informally, different jurisdictions for individuals are applied, according to the cultural group into which they were born. Rightwing culturalists maintain the same attitude towards preserving cultural identity, but each culture in its own territory, each culture in its own country."

Polityka 09.02.2009 (Poland)

In matters of alcohol-fuelled literature Poland is a global power, writes Justyna Sobolewska. Two excellent sources on the subject are the poet Julian Tuwim's "Dictionary of Drink" and the American magazine Modern Drunkard. "Once you enter this alcoholic treasure trove, it's very difficult to leave again before you've drunk it dry, and the same goes for Tuwim's book. The Modern Drunkard has been around for over 10 years, but all its editions are available online – so much for the warning – and it's still as addictive as liquor. The impressive thing that emerges from Tuwim's book is the inventiveness of the Polish language. Vodka is referred to as checked percale, prayer and fusel, and in fasting periods people drank 'white Mocca' or vodka out of cups. The mind boggles at some of the popular cocktails, at least the so-called Polish ones: ''30 ml Starka, 15 ml Hungarian wine, 10 ml plum extract, 10 ml sour cherry juice, 10 drops saturated honey, 10 ml lemon juice, 5 drops of Danziger caraway schnapps, 4 ml Angostura bitter, all mixed with ice and poured into a glass with a slice of lemon and a cherry.' This recipe comes from the book 'The New Perfect Cook' dates from 1929 and is an excellent window into the alcohol-fulled prosperity pre-war Poland."

The Spectator 06.02.2009 (UK)

Norman Moore was a friend of Charles Darwin and also his local doctor. After sorting through the attic, Moore's granddaughter Charlotte quotes from the letters her grandfather wrote about his meeting with the industrious and jovial revolutionary. "'Mr Darwin is working at a curious acacia. It grows execrescences [sic] on its leaves which feed ants which live in its thorns. These ants in return protect the tree from another kind which would otherwise strip it of leaves, a natural example, Mr Darwin says, of a paid standing army'; 'we found Mr Darwin in high spirits. He has proved that the sundew manufactures starch from meat'; 'I think I told you of his experiments which showed the constant diurnal movements of cotyledons. He is now trying whether these depend on an effect of light on the tip of the young leaf'; 'Mr Darwin... talked... about monkeys, idiots and deaf mutes. An infant, he says, only notices the transparency of a lens but a monkey finds the focus.'"

Europa 07.02.2009 (Poland)

The topic of the week in Poland is the Round Table where, in February 1989, Solidarnosc began talks with the Socialist regime. In a highly emotional discussion, the commentator Tomasz Merta asks about precise moment of change in Poland: "Some people say it was the Round Table, or the elections on June 4th; others say it was the creation of the Mazowiecki government in September. Or was it when the name was changed to 'The Republic of Poland', or the presidential elections in 1990? Were I to curate an exhibition on the history of the Third Republic, I would set the August 1980 strike as the turning point. It was the moment when social energy gained its voice, a memory which connects people, a true founding moment. That's why August 1980 can become a symbolic date, more so than events of 1989 less so, however important and memorable they are." But the Round Table was the moment – this point is emphasised in the conversation – when the former dissidents started getting involved in politics. The ethos of the early Solidarnosc, which called for introducing morals to politics, did not survive the confrontation with the realities of governance."

The New Statesman 05.02.2009 (UK)

Philosopher Denis Dutton explains in his new book "The Art Instinct" and in an article in The New Statesman, that our aesthetic preferences are as much nature as nurture. "For example, the biologist Gordon H Orians has described the ideal landscape that human beings would find intrinsically pleasurable. In his formulation, this landscape has much in common with the savannahs and woodlands where hominids split off from chimpanzee lineages and where much of early human evolution was played out... African savannahs are not only the probable scene of a significant portion of human evolution, they are to an extent the habitat meat-eating hominids evolved for - savannahs contain more protein per square kilometre than any other landscape type. Moreover, savannahs offer food at or close to ground level, unlike rainforests, which are more easily navigable by tree-dwelling apes"

Another philosopher John Gray introduces the book that changed his life: Norman Cohn's "The Pursuit of the Millennium", a study of revolutionary millennarism in medieval Europe that left him with a suspicion of all world-changing political projects. "At the same time, I was convinced that no view of the modern world which neglects the persistent power of religion could be taken seriously."

Further articles: Isabel Hilton throws a spotlight on China which has just entered the Year of the Ox. And Alice O'Keefe won't let Charlotte Roche's "Wetlands" pass as the feminist manifesto it's being sold as in Britain, but she says, it is a "sharply written, tabo-busting black comedy".

Al Ahram Weekly 05.02.2009 (Egypt)

Gamal Nkrumah introduces the programme of the American University in Cairo Press which has taken it upon itself to translate Egyptian fiction and non-fiction books into English. Nkrumah is suspicious: "The AUC Press might not intend to be a Trojan Horse for US imperialism. But nonetheless, neocolonialism inevitably seeps in to its activities here in Egypt.... After all, who selects the so- called treasures of Egyptian culture to 'export'? It is Americans and American-trained Egyptians, who invariably reflect what liberal Americans would like to see Egypt as, to see Egypt become."

Further articles: Abdel-Moneim Said, director of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, explains why the Muslim Brotherhood is anti-Egyptian.

Le Nouvel Observateur 05.02.2009 (France)

In an article titled "Bitter Victory" Israeli writer Abraham B. Yehoshua takes stock of the war in Gaza. Israel's image certainly took an international bashing and the conflict, which is officially reffered to not as a war but as a "military operation", did not bring victory but at most "abatement". "The rest of the world does not see the Israeli operation as principally legitimate if de facto brutal, because of its justifiable anger about Israeli settlements on the West Bank. An independent Gaza Strip is not a prison. In theory at least there is opening to the world on the Egyptian border. (...) I am all for opening the checkpoint to people and goods travelling to Israel in order finally to guarantee a ceasefire in Gaza. Even if Hamas refuses to recognise the state of Israel, it is our moral duty and in our political interests to allow the people of Gaza to meet their brothers on the West Bank and to work and trade freely in Israel."

La Croix 04.02.2009 (France)

When Tel Quel, the avant-garde magazine run by Philippe Sollers and Roland Barthes, took a trip through China, the genre of the Communist-sponsored writers' trip entered its late postmodern phase. Barthes later published his very lukewarm notes from the trip in Le Monde and was excoriated by sinologist Simon Leys for failing to mention totalitarian evils. Now Barthes's tepid diaries from the journey are being published and Leys lays into him for a second time in the Catholic paper La Crois: "In the last edition of the Magazine litteraire, Sollers claims that Barthes' diaries possess the virtue once so celebrated in George Orwell's writing, that of 'common decency'. The opposite seems true to me, because what Barthes fails to mention is unusually indecent. The comparison is absurd anyway, (Orwell's 'common decency' is based on simplicity, honesty and courage. Barthes certainly had good characteristics, but not these). With respect to the China diaries of Barthes (and his friend from Tel Quel) another Orwell quote springs to mind: 'You have to be an intellectual to write such stuff, no ordinary man could be such a fool.'" 03.02.2009 (Slovakia)

After 1989 two waves of nationalism swept over Eastern Europe, writes Hungarian political scientist Lazlo Lengyel in an article which Salon has translated into English. Now it looks as if a third wave is on the way, and it is much more threatening. Because for the first time it is not blue-collar workers and low-wage employees who are losing their jobs but "modernizers, supporters of a rapid europeanization, leading industrialists, people who have been buying flats on Swiss mortgages....This time it is bank officials, engineers in car factories, well-heeled proprietors of real estate and respected judges, who might discover inside them the tribal Hungarian, the real Slovak, the Polish aristocrat, the Czech patriot. Now they can regard the Jew, the Gypsy, the Pole, the Czech, the Slovak, the Hungarian, the European, the American, and anyone else, as the scapegoat who is responsible for their lot, for the Treaty of Trianon, for everything. It’s always someone else's fault. There is no future, but if there were, it would be a Hungarian future. Or Czech. Or Polish. Or Slovak. Happy 2009.

Clarin 07.02.2009 (Argentina)

Uraguayan writer Juan Carlos Onetti would have turned 100 on July 1st this year. Mario Vargas Llosa embraces the opportunity to write a long essay about Onetti's work. In an interview with Clarin, Vagas Llosa describes Onetti's world as "eternally sad and demoralising – but when you see that someone can write so well, it makes you want to believe that things can't be so bad in this world. Moreover he shows literature does not just only offer us compensation for our the suffering, reading deeply enriches our lives and allows us to experience the most unbelievable things."

The Guardian 07.02.2009 (UK)

Will Self sends his sensibility on a three-day walk in the footsteps of W.G. Sebald's alter ego. It's not entirely clear what happens next, except that it's steeped in deja-vu. But he does have a few great things to say about Sebald. "For me, reading Sebald feels like the literary equivalent of watching that famous shot in Jaws - tracking forward, while zooming out - when Police Chief Brody is dragged into the terror of a shark attack. This track forward, reverse zoom shot was first used by Hitchcock in his own Vertigo.) It is exhilarating, certainly, but once you begin to scrutinise it - and how I wish I hadn't - the awareness that one is being manipulated becomes inescapable."

Other articles: Sarah Crown talks to poet Peter Porter about work, love and death: "There's a phrase in a poem called 'The Violin's Obstinacy' in 'Better than God' that captures it: 'the endlessness of almost ending'. The obsession is to keep going, but the means of keeping-going is threatening to stop." Victoria Glendinning is enthralled by the love letters that Elizabeth Bowen wroted to the Canadian diplomat Charles Ritchie.

Rachel Cooke puts on sensible shoes to go on a long walk through Hackney (home to approx. 30 percent of the Olympic site) with one of its long-standing inhabitants, London's visionary chronicler Iain Sinclair. His new book book "Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire" (excerpt) is being marketed as "the book they tried to ban" after Hackney Council used the Freedom of Information Act to keep him and his "anti-Olympics" stance out of their libraries. The book, says Cooke, "drives you nuts but it repays effort. Sinclair traces the borough's rise and fall and putative rise, its many guises and its reinventions, through its people and its myths. Among those who have passed through its teetering lanes are Joseph Conrad and Orson Welles, Julie Christie and Tony Blair, even one Astrid Proll, the Baader-Meinhof urban guerrilla who hid out in Hackney when half of Europe was looking for her. Hackney is, it quickly becomes clear, a place of disappearances. People come by, lurk awhile, and then leave (Sinclair's own 40-year residence starts to seem ever more remarkable). Now it is the place itself that is disappearing." - let's talk european