From the Feuilletons


From the Feuilletons

Neue Zürcher Zeitung 18.04.2009

Freshly octogenarian, literary critic, essayist, author and professor, George Steiner, talks in an interview about the new anti-Semitism, the value of rote learning and the art of understanding: "When you enter someone's house you wash your hands. You try to approach a text cleanly. There is an ethics to understanding – you don't try to reshape a text while reading it. And above all: You should not forget the billions of kilometres that lie between the best critics, teachers, readers, publishers and the person that created the work. It is one of the evils of modern that Messrs Tutor and Critic take themselves so seriously. A great teacher or critic is just a postman, delivering the letter to the right address."

Neue Zürcher Zeitung 20.04.2009

During the Russian Orthodox Easter celebrations, Russian poet Olga Martynoa remembers how the Church regained its hold in the Soviet Union: "Even at that time, lots of members of the party elite were being drawn to the increasingly fashionable Russian nationalism and their goodwill towards the Orthodox Church was tangible. When, in Petersburg in 1981, an official association was founded for unofficial writers, the KGB supervisor rang up the leading underground poets over Easter to say: 'Christ is risen.' Another parallel with Roman times. Almost immediately after Constantine proclaimed equal rights and freedom for all religions, Christianity became the most equal of them all." Read our feature by Olga Martynova, "The source we drink from".

Urs Schoettli sounds out China's world political strength in a full-page article, only to conclude that it's much wobblier that we might think. "All the whole world is picking on the western financial markets from New York to Zurich. The Chinese banking system seems like the land of milk and honey. But it would be useful to cast an eye into the poison cabinets of the People's Banks. You are likely to come across the sort of problem loans that make UBS or Citigroup 'toxic papers' look positively harmless. It's all too easy to forget that China's big state-controlled banks are essentially the financing instruments of the autocratic Chinese Communist Party."

Frankfurter Rundschau

Open Access
and Google Books critic, Roland Reuß, has by now collected 1,300 signatures for his "Heidelberg Appeal" for the freedom to publish and protect copyrights, and has written to Chancellor Merkel to ask her to take up the fight. Matthias Spielkamp and Florian Cramer have the feeling that these scholars, authors, publishers and journalists have essentially signed the appeal out of some "diffuse, generalised sense of unease about the Internet." And "precisely this insistence on familar structures will ultimately only play into the hands of the global players, who now have the opportunity to expand their oligopoly into the humanities, literature and arts. But Open Access is not some 'new economy' business model; it's an attempt by academics to try to regain some control and create a medium for independent research. From a philological perspective the 'Heidelberg Appeal' looks like a grotesque, with tragic potential.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung 22.04.2009

Mona Naggar gives a depressing view of the cultural pages in the Arab newspapers. "The poverty of cultural life in the Arab world is just one factor that is reflected in the cultural pages. Considering the ongoing crises afflicting Arab societies, starting with the desperate state of education through to issues of violence, there is an astounding lack of serious debate. The exponents of Arab intellectual life make a point of writing regularly in the cultural pages – the Syrian poet Adonis and the Egyptian literary academic and cultural official Jabir Asfur, for instance, have regular columns in the national daily Al-Hayat. But they don't have much to say." (One important exception being the Al Ahram theatre critic Nehad Selaiha whose recent article, on the 10th Golf Theatre Festival in Kuwait, describes the consequences of censorship in the Arab world."

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Dutch writer Adriaan van Dis has been in South Africa researching a new novel. Despite the dire state of violent crime, disease and corruption in the country he does see grounds for hope: "Writers and intellectual campaigners who once raised their voices are standing up in opposition once again. Stronger still is the choir of critical black voices, trade unions and social movements like the Treatment Action Campaign. It is a hopeful sign that the South African media does report in depth about the social evils in the country. And when this is no longer possible, because the South African government bans bad news, then it's up to us to fight the censorship."

Die Zeit 23.04.2009

"From the point of view of the past, the book might seem to be losing its soul – but if we look to the future, it looks as if it's freeing itself of its body," writes the author and Darwin biographer, Jürgen Neffe, as he waves farewell to print and welcomes in multimedia. "We can admire 17th century Venice, take a tour through the Vatican or the Pentagon, read an epistolary novel via email, or find out the biographical background to key scenes in Robert Walser. Others can write round books with eternal stories that never begin or end. (...) And only in the blink of an eyelid you can access all-you-can-eat secondary literature – happy days for scouts on the trail of K, who want to understand more than they can grasp single-handedly."

Die Welt 24.04.2009

The German environmental protection group PAN is staging a press conference for World Malaria Day tomorrow. A million people die every year from this disease and half the world's population live under its shadow. But the press conference has just one aim: to keep up the pressure on outlawing DDT, the one chemical proven to fight mosquitoes effectively. Ulli Kulke writes an impassioned appeal to reintroduce it. "I am not talking about deploying DDT as it was used in the 60s, when in any one day, US fields were sprayed with several times the amount needed to kill off malaria in entire African states by spraying interior walls over the course of a year. But the ban on the chemical, which could have saved 40 or 50 million human lives, is responsible for the deaths of just as many." - let's talk european