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31/05/2005

Magazine Roundup

Tuesday 31 May, 2005

Le Point | Gazeta Wyborcza | DU | Der Spiegel | The Guardian | Plus - Minus | Literaturen | London Review of Books | Elet es Irodalom | The New York Times Book Review


Le point, 26.05.2005 (France)

Bernard-Henri Levy sent a letter from Sarajevo, which did not stop him from commenting on the "non" of the French Left, even before the outcome of the referendum. For Levy, it is "not only absurd, frivolous and suicidal," but also "shocking and outrageous. This perfume of national egoism, this fearfulness on the part of the well-off who cling to all they have, this church-spire politics, this renunciation of the universalism that once made the noble greatness of the Left! Seen from Sarajevo, the navel-gazing attitude with which the French discuss a constitution they brand as 'social dumping', without ever having listened to the 'other Europe', is especially shocking and outrageous. We held the carrot out to this 'other Europe' and now we are indebted to it."


Gazeta Wyborcza, 28.05.2005 (Poland)

"Poland should make its decision on the European Constitution independently of the French. We must make our minds up on our own, and then cast our eyes about together with our European neighbours, to see the state Europe is in", according to Bronislaw Geremek, member of the European Parliament. Geremek, a former Polish foreign minister, admits that there is no "Plan B" in case the European constitution fails. He expresses the fear that, paradoxically, after the "non", France will apply itself to strengthening the confederation of the richer European countries, and that Poland will have no place in such an alliance.

Adam Leszczynski has read Thomas L. Friedman's praise of global free trade "The World is Flat. A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century", and finds it hard to share Friedman's optimism. "Alright, even if a few million Hindus join the middle class thanks to the new economic sectors, what happens to the hundreds of millions that don't? The rise of the few was possible because the world has become flat – that is, technological progress has allowed Indian, Chinese or even Polish specialists to compete with Americans. But will others also have a chance for a better life? For Friedman they have no prospects. If you look closer, this new economic revolution is a chance for the lucky few."


DU, 01.06.2005 (Switzerland)

Hungarian writer Imre Kertesz helped compile the articles in this month's DU, which also publishes a number of texts about him, only two of which are available online. György Spiro explains why Kertesz' merciless take on the murder of the Hungarian Jews is unacceptable to Jews and Hungarians alike. "His approach was never and is still not compatible with the Hungarian mentality. Which, by the way, is not limited to Hungary. It is unpleasant. Embarrassing. Not Jewish. Not Hungarian. Not anti-German enough. Telling the truth with murderous irony? Who benefits from such a thing? It's politically unusable. After all the temptations of the 20th century and the lack of any prospects for the future, people's souls are thirsting for kitsch. So a radical novel like 'Fatelessness' complies neither linguistically nor conceptionally with the usual tear-jerking Jewish salvific history, whose climax, whose 'extrahistorical event' (Agnes Heller) was Auschwitz."

Kertesz' German translator Ilma Rakusa investigates laughter in the character and work of the Nobel prize winner who "occasionally displays the sort of pessimism that makes Samuel Beckett look like an optimist." The magazine also publishes Laszlo Földenyj's small Kertesz dictionary (sadly not available online) of 10 terms ranging from Auschwitz to giving testimony. Also included are three short stories by Kertesz published in German for the first time, one of them an explanation to Claude Lanzmann, the French documentary filmmaker famous for his nine-and-a-half-hour documentary film "Shoa", titled "Why Berlin?" in which Kertesz describes his relationship to Germany.


Der Spiegel, 30.05.2005 (Germany)

"I can be wicked, but I don't know how to hate" the great German literature critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki (website) admits in an interview on his 85th birthday. The conversation focusses primarily on his dispute with Albert Speer's biographer Joachim Fest, and Fest's attempts to make the Nazi architect and armament's minister socially acceptable. "It is wrong to think Fest is naive. His presentation of Speer has nothing to do with good faith, but with his political convictions and tactics, and perhaps also with his patriotism. By selling Speer to the nation and particularly the small-time Nazis and their followers as an upstanding if not noble Nazi, he helped them clear their consciences. If a person with talents as extraordinary as Speer's allows himself to become ensnared, then everybody's sins are pardoned. The huge success of the Speer books is based on this. I do not accuse Fest of evil intent, but there never could be, and there never can be, talk of Speer's being ensnared. He was a dangerous national socialist criminal who differed from Göring and Himmler only because he had good manners."

The writer Peter Schneider's article about the end of the Red-Green coalition is only available in the print edition. In the face of the recent defeat of the SPD/Greens in local elections in North-Rhine Westphalia, Schneider did briefly feel that his team had "suffered outrageous injustice". But in fact he knows better, admitting the federal SPD/Green government has simply not kept its promise of lowering unemployment. And he has another thing to pin on Gerhard Schröder. "In contrast to Tony Blair in England or Göran Persson in Sweden, Schröder has never succeeded in wresting the monopoly on 'higher morals' from the traditionalists in his own party and revealing their self-important claims to fairness and justice as group egoism."


The Guardian, 28.05.2005 (UK)

Fascinating, gripping and luckily somewhat simplified, is how Edmund Fawcett describes "Medici Money", Tim Parks' portrait of the Medici dynasty. Fawcett praises Parks' way of first spinning out the myth surrounding the wealthy, artistically inclined family before rebutting it. "His overall message is sparklingly clear: whatever else you have heard about the Medici, politics, art and banking did not really mix."


Plus - Minus, 28.05.2005 (Poland)

"President Bush will win back an important ally in Europe, Russia will lose its most important lobbyist in the West, Chirac will lose his most important partner in constructing a multi-polar world, Turkey will have to wait longer for EU membership and the Chinese will have to wait longer for the weapons embargo to be lifted." An upside-down world? No, according to Jaromir Sokolowski in the magazine of the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita. Sokolowski looks at how German foreign policy will change under a (very probable) coalition of conservative CDU/CSU and FDP. From the Polish point of view, a change of government in Berlin would have one major disadvantage: the lobbying power of Germans expelled from Eastern Europe after World War II will possibly have more sway with a Christian Democrat government. And the CDU/CSU may well commit itself in its electoral programme to establishing a "Centre Against Expulsion" in Berlin. "We hope that in the name of a true German-Polish reconciliation, Angela Merkel will not allow young Germans and young Poles to be burdened with these historical disputes," writes Sokolowski.


Literaturen, 01.06.2005 (Germany)

The main focus of this edition is dedicated to Brasilian writer Paolo Coelho who is worshipped by his readers and ridiculed by the critics as "a philosopher for horoscope readers". Hanna Leitgeb met this "modern Hermann Hesse" and attempts to defend his honour. Because behind the kitschy new-age facade, Coelho has turned out to be the greatest populariser of Nietzsche, he is a writer who understands "spiritual ego-strengthening as political groundwork" without wanting to let the treasure of the insight dry out as mere metaphor. "Everything that has a symbolic aspect must also have a physical aspect, otherwise you get nowhere. Some readers are disappointed at the end of the 'The Alchemist', that the shepherd boy actually finds a real treasure. But when you set out to find a real treasure, then you should return home with one."


London Review of Books, 02.06.2005 (UK)

The topic of US estate tax might sound as dry as a bone, but Michael Graetz and Ian Shapiro's "Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight over Taxing Inherited Wealth" is, according to David Runciman, "one of the most interesting books about politics, and power, and the way the world is going, that you are ever likely to read." Why? Because it is a "mystery story (...) about how the repeal of a tax that applies only to the richest 2 per cent of American families has become a cause so popular and so powerful that it has steamrollered all the opposition placed in its way". For Runciman, "in the face of an endless readiness on all sides to heed the unmediated voice of personal experience, it has become harder to sustain the bigger picture needed for any plausible defence of progressive politics. This shifts politics, inexorably, to the right."


Elet es Irodalom, 30.05.2005 (Hungary)

György Spiro's novel "Captivity", which takes place in the Roman Empire of the 1st century, is being hailed as the literary sensation of the upcoming Budapest Book Festival. Spiro tells in an interview how the book came about. "I didn't want to know how Christianity originated, but what the world looked like in which it not only came into being but also triumphed incredibly fast. ... Politically, economically and intellectually, the Roman Empire of the 1st century was very similar to our world. That was a real surprise to me. The empire was in its infancy, it was a time of growth, a well-constructed, well-organised and tolerant world. And yet frenzy broke out, because the people sensed something intolerable."


The New York Times Book Review, 29.05.2005 (USA)


That The Nation has survived for 140 years is thanks to obsessive people like Victor S. Navasky, who has now published his memoires "A Matter of Opinion" (first chapter). Thomas Powers is enthralled: "But it is the fate of The Nation, and of feisty magazines, that concerns Navasky here. His account of what it takes to keep them going is wonderfully complete, a kind of primer, detailed as a county road map, on the practical, political, economic and diplomatic challenges of running a money-losing magazine by persuading men with millions to maintain a literary pulpit for a scribbling rabble mad about everything, while somehow convincing the oft-provoked patrons to bite their tongues."
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