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21/04/2009

Magazine Roundup

L'Espresso | The Guardian | Tygodnik Powszechny | Commonweal | Eurozine | The Economist | MicroMega | Observator Cultural | The Atlantic

L'Espresso 16.04.2009 (Italy)

New York based author and journalist Suketu Mehta, calls upon his fellow writers to save the world from the bankers. We have to reclaim our terms and definitions, Mehta explains. "If the business section of a newspaper is as impenetrable as a scientific publication, warning signals should be going off in our heads. In 'Politics and the English Language' George Orwell points to the spread of jargon that is used to conceal wrongdoings and tyranny. 'In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible," Orwell writes. If we substitute the word 'political' with the word 'financial' we get an analysis of the language of our modern economy. (...) Just as Tolstoy wrote about the Napoleonic wars, contemporary novels should serve to understand and illuminate the financial crises of the 20th century. Our democracy is dependant on normal people understanding the language of the elites."


The Guardian 18.04.2009 (UK)

Julian Barnes warmly recommends the poet Arthur Hugh Clough (1819 – 1861), whose sarcasm, honesty and criticism of modern life have kept him in the shadow of his friend Matthew Arnold. This month Persephone Books is bringing out a new edition of Clough's "Amours de Voyage". "This great long poem which is also a great short novella - is in the end about failure, about not seizing the day, about misreading and over-analysing, about cowardice. But cowardice is generally more interesting to the writer than courage, as failure is more exciting than success; and perhaps, as Claude [the protagonist] observes in one of his more chilling rationalisations, perhaps the need for kindness precludes the getting of it. As for success: 'Amours de Voyage' was first published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1858; and writers today, as they fret about royalties and advances and reading fees and PLR and copyright and agents and status, might reflect that this was the only occasion in his entire life when Clough received the slightest payment for any poem that he wrote.

Further articles: In line with the London Book Fair, whose focus this year is on India and ideas of India, the writer Amit Chaudhuri collects some loose thoughts about what unites writers such as William Dalrymple with the likes of K. Satchidanandan and Tarun J. Tejpal. Adam Thirlwell reassesses the Nouvelle Vague: "It put cinema into the street. Then it entered the bedroom, the bathroom - the world of the censored and the hidden. The ideal of youth was absolute truthfulness." And James Campbell portrays the American poet August Kleinzahler.


Tygodnik Powszechny 19.04.2009 (Poland)

This week's magazine focusses on the state of the Polish language. Literary critic Piotr Sliwinski accuses the mass media of vulgarising the language in a desperate attempt to be with-it. But the problem goes much deeper: "Language has come to express the all-time low in mutual trust. We neither believe in the competence nor the good will of others. We no longer even believe in the possibility of communicating through language. Agreement – no – humiliation – yes."

While philologist Krystyna Waszakowa tries to reassure the magazine that, from a historical perspective, the current flood of Anglicisms is nothing unusual (the main point being that Polish continues to be a living language), the writer Eustachy Rylski is worried: "Only one thing gets me about the way our language is spoken in the media, but it really gets to me - intonation. In lots of languages, Russian for instance, intonation is fundamental. In Polish it is ignored. It gives me toothache to listen to announcers, newsreaders, journalists - all people who earn their money speaking Polish. Intonation is the soul of the language. False intonation robs the language of its nature, its form."

Marcin Wicha portrays Feliks Topolski - the "most famous forgotten artist". Twenty years after his death, his monumental painting "Memoir of a Century" has been restored on the walls of in his former studio at London's Waterloo station, and opened to the public. (Here's a blog on the subject). Although Topolski is important in the history of drawing, Wicha writes: "His painting would hardly be recognised as great art today. What remains is the story of a man who for three-quarters of a century, never laid down his pencil, who pursued his career for the duration of his life and obviously had plenty of fun in the process."


Commonweal 01.04.2009 (UK)

Marxist Christian literary academic and critic Terry Eagleton is astounded by the sort of people, himself included, who are suddenly talking about God. Cultural belonging, he says, is the answer to globalisation and capitalist relativism. The current conflict is not so much a clash of cultures or a clash of civilisation vs. barbarism, as a clash of civilization and culture. "Civilization in this dichotomy means the universal, autonomous, prosperous, individual, rationally speculative, self-doubting, and ironic; culture means the customary, collective, passionate, spontaneous, unreflective, unironic, and a-rational. Culture signifies all those unreflective loyalties and allegiances for which men and women in extreme circumstances are prepared to kill. For the most part, the former colonizing nations are civilizations, while the former colonies are cultures."

Eurozine

Continuing its series of literary perspectives from Europe, Eurozine provides a run-down on new Austrian and Croatian writing. In the former, writes Daniela Strigl: "'Difficult' prose of the past has been replaced by a focus on story-telling ... yet darkly humorous and self-referential writer's novels are also booming". Andrea Zlatar looks at the huge variety of individual poetics in Croatian literature, that share a thematic preoccupation with "postwar experience, with authors using marginal characters to explore existentialist tensions between individual and society."


The Economist 20.04.2009 (UK)

Google can do anything, know everything and swallow everything. Now, it seems, the search engine also has powers of clairvoyance. "Hal Varian, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley who also happens to be Google's chief economist believes that data on internet searches can help predict certain kinds of economic statistics before they become available. In a new paper written with Hyunyoung Choi, a colleague at Google, he argues that fluctuations in the frequency with which people search for certain words or phrases online can improve the accuracy of the econometric models used to predict, for example, retail-sales figures or house sales. Actual numbers for such things are usually available only with a lag. But Google's search data are updated every day, so they can in theory capture shifts in consumer behaviour before official numbers are released."

The magazine presents a book by Ali Allawi, a former high-ranking official in Iraq's post-Saddam government, which describes "The Crisis of Islamic Civilization": "Mr Allawi calmly and methodically deconstructs an Islamic revival which has failed to live up to its promise. Islamist movements and secular governments anxious to pay lip-service to Islam have, between them, failed spectacularly to anchor themselves in genuinely Islamic principles: principles which, for Mr Allawi, are as much about inner spirituality as outward religiosity. The results are everywhere to be seen. Autocratic governments abuse human rights, whether in Islamic Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan or in secular Egypt and Syria. Economies are corrupt and maladministered, and their supposed ethical principles, such as Islamic banking, are a sham."

Other articles look at Nintendo's poor sales figures, which the company is trying to counter by extending its product range, and about France's proposed and now postponed law to cut broadband access to illegal downloaders. The cover story about Africa's next big man, Jacob Zuma, is complemented by a review of three books on the recent history of South Africa. There is also a review of Richard A. Goldswaite 's "masterly" study of the "Economy of the Renaissance Florence". And an obituary of film composer Maurice Jarre.


MicroMega 17.04.2009 (Italy)

Italy has been hit by a second earthquake, this time in the media. Michele Santoro, a presenter of the weekly magazine show "Annozero" on the state-owned TV channel RAI 2, has come under pressure for posing critical questions about silencing warnings and the poor handling of the earthquake in L'Aquila on April 6. One of his colleagues, Vauro Senesi, has also felt the wrath of the RAI 2 boss. The media is not allowed to criticise the heroic efforts of the rescue operation and the two presenters have been branded as traitors by their colleagues. On the Tuesday after Easter the daily newspaper Il Giornale ran the headlines "Santoro has his back against the wall". In MicroMega, Giovanni Perazzoli comes to Santoro's defence: "Punishing Santoro is all about pecking order. Santoro will now have to apologise on one of his next shows and Vauro will be suspended for a week. This is not RAI-internal tit-for-tat. The point is to show the public who wears the trousers. To convey the message that behind the scenes is a circle of friends who have everything under control. Even if the deed stinks to high heaven. The more evident this becomes, the more imposing the boss appears when he pronounces the absurd punishment. One or two fancy writers might get upset about it but the game is won, the dice are thrown. And Italy is yet another little bit less democratic."


Observator Cultural
27.03.2008 (Romania)

Here's something we mangaged to overlook but better late than never: Observator Cultural throws a spotlight on Norman Manea, a writer Orhan Pamuk described as "one of the great men of Romania". The site's Translation Project features a number of synopses of his works, an illustrated bibliography and a translation of Manea's "Sentimental Education", "a charming, sexy, wistful and ferocious take on Flaubert's novel of the same name," according to Jean Harris who translated it. It opens with the following paragraph: "It had been raining for some time when the lady accosted me at the Gheorghi Dimitrov intersection. She asked me about a tram stop, Number 17 toward Lacul Tei. When she tilted her immense red umbrella, I saw her: Madam Doctor Alfandari!—the blond of one summer afternoon a millennium ago, when that star had plunged straight from the studios of Hollywood into our wretched little kitchen, there, where everything was cramped and dark and Bukovina in the 1950's...."


The Atlantic 01.05.2009 (USA)

Simon Johnson is a former chief IMF economist who worked with countries such Russia, Ukraine and Argentina. Now, writing about the financial crash in the USA, he feels compelled to draw alarming parallels: "Elite business interests - financiers, in the case of the U.S. - played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive. The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them."

And Benjamin Schwarz discusses new books on National Socialism, among them publications by Richard J. Evans and Peter Fritzsche.
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