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26/05/2009

Magazine Roundup

Wired | Literaturen | The New York Review of Books | Elet es Irodalom | London Review of Books | Tygodnik Powszechny | El Espectador | The Nation | L'Express | L'Espresso | The New Republic | Le Nouvel Observateur | The New York Times

Wired 01.06.2009 (Wired)

Wired features a fascinating article about whether the Internet is changing the economy. Steven Levy heard Hal Varian, the "Adam Smith of the new discipline Googlenomics", talk at a conference and summarises the underlying principle of this new branch of economics: "Varian is an expert on what may be the most successful business idea in history: AdWords, Google's unique method for selling online advertising. AdWords analyzes every Google search to determine which advertisers get each of up to 11 'sponsored links' on every results page. It's the world's biggest, fastest auction, a never-ending, automated, self-service version of Tokyo's boisterous Tsukiji fish market, and it takes place, Varian says, 'every time you search.' He never mentions how much revenue advertising brings in. But Google is a public company, so anyone can find the number: It was 21 billion dollars last year. His talk quickly becomes technical. There's the difference between the Generalized Second Price auction model and the Vickrey-Clark-Groves alternative. Game theory takes a turn; so does the Nash Equilibrium. Terms involving the c-word—as in clicks—get tossed around like beach balls at a summer rock festival. Clickthrough rate. Cost per click. Supply curve of clicks. The audience is enthralled. During the question-and-answer period, a man wearing a camel-colored corduroy blazer raises his hand. 'Let me understand this,' he begins, half skeptical, half unsure. 'You say that an auction happens every time a search takes place? That would mean millions of times a day!'Varian smiles. 'Millions,' he says, 'is actually quite an understatement.'"

Also in the June edition: The Internet visual Kevin Kelly writes about the new digital socialism, which manifests itself on websites such as Digg.com and Wikipedia.


Literaturen 01.06.2009 (Germany)

"Everything you always wanted to read about sex" boasts the cover of Literaturen magazine. Inside, novelist Barbara Vinken looks at contemporary women's literature from Charlotte Roche to Tracey Emin (whose memoirs have just been translated into German). "The writers who spread out their countless sex stories before our eyes are not so much young girls as children. This drastically separates the current wave from the explicitly erotic French novels which grabbed our attention a few years ago. From Catherine Millet to Catherine Breillat, these writers were describing the obsessive destinies of grown women. For all their incredible sexual activities the new childish English and German heroines, on the other hand, want nothing more than for their parents, who are divorced or unmarried, to get back together. This explains why men play such a negligent role in these scenarios."

The New York Review of Books 11.06.2009 (USA)
As the Taliban strengthens its hold in Pakistan, Ahmed Rashid is growing increasingly worried by the government in Islamabad's denial of reality. "Pakistan is close to the brink, perhaps not to a meltdown of the government, but to a permanent state of anarchy, as the Islamist revolutionaries led by the Taliban and their many allies take more territory, and state power shrinks. There will be no mass revolutionary uprising like in Iran in 1979 or storming of the citadels of power as in Vietnam and Cambodia; rather we can expect a slow, insidious, long-burning fuse of fear, terror, and paralysis that the Taliban have lit and that the state is unable, and partly unwilling, to douse."

Further articles: Gary Wills recommends Henry Louis Gates' collection of documents "Lincoln on Race and Slavery" which shows that Abraham Lincoln was not as free of racist sentiment as people would like to believe. "Though Lincoln always opposed slavery, he did so on rather cold economic grounds. He showed little indignation at the degradation and cruelty of slavery." Hussein Agha and Robert Malley examine whether a two-state solution would really solve the Middle East conflict, or whether it would just take it onto another level. Julian Barnes continues to mourn for John Updike.

The reviews cover Stanley Plumly's "masterful" book on John Keats' last months in Rome, "Posthumous Keats", Susan E. Gunter's biography of Henry James' sister Alice, "Alice in Jamesland", and Sunny Schwartz's bitter look at American prisons, "Dreams from the Monster Factory."


Elet es Irodalom 25.05.2009 (Hungary)

Literary academic Laszlo Szilasi reviews the new Hungarian cultural quarterly, Pluralica (here soon), and is astounded to learn from the first edition, which bears the title "Contemporarily Estonian", that Estonian culture is at least as rich as its Hungarian counterpart. Szilasi praises the magazine for shining a light on seemingly marginal cultures and issues, but asks if this is really what Hungary needs now: "Hungarian culture has always looked to Paris, New York, London, Rome and, horribile dictu, to Vienna and Berlin most of all, because we are, they say, so backwards compared with these central cultures. And only once we have taken on board the successes of the centre should we turn to the periphery. Pluralica, however, (the first edition makes this clear) is taking an entirely new approach. Instead of desperately trying to play the catch-up game, it has accepted that Hungary is also a periphery culture. So instead of prolonging the frustration of constantly comparing ourselves with the centre, they suggest we should patiently tap into our similarities and differences, whether we like them or not, with the other, poorer cultures on the periphery, who seldom take the initiative."


London Review of Books 28.05.2009 (UK)

While reviewing Andrew Lih's book, "The Wikipedia Revolution", David Runciman also traces the history of the online encyclopaedia and the reasons for its success. A small one is obviously contained within the book itself, whose afterword was written collaboratively as a wiki: "It is good of Lih to include it, since it is somewhat better written than the rest of the book, having a tighter style and a sharper focus. The single-authored chapters are full of interest but rather indulgent, containing too much incidental detail about people Lih wants to please. The afterword has none of that – it just gets to the point, and doesn't worry about offending anybody. It helps that this is a book, so space is limited, and this particular wiki can't indulge in the commonest vice of entries on Wikipedia, which is not knowing when to stop."

Further articles: The writer Anne Enright claims to know all the world's hotels and is stunned by their lack of individuality. John Lancaster takes an epic romp through the absurdities and ironies of the financial market using the example of the much-underestimated Royal Bank of Scotland. Daniel Soar outlines the history of the @ sign. Peter Campbell visited "Sickert in Venice" at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.


Tygodnik Powszechny 24.05.2009 (Poland)

Any one who has read Dorota Maslowksa's "Snow White and Russian Red" will know that it is impossible to film. Xawery Zulawski, son of the filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski, has given it a go anyway. The film "Wojna polsko-ruska" opened last week in Polish cinemas and the director explains: "When I start thinking about making a film I first get hold of the costumes and decorations, spend a long time thinking about the characters and then I make up a story. In the case of The Strong One [a character in the novel] Dorota Maslowska has already done the work for me, and in the most wonderful way. I have simply adapted her book for the cinema."

There is an excellent 24-page supplement on the Warsaw Book Fair. The reviews cover: Georges Didi-Huberman's book "Images malgre tout" which, like the books by Jonathan Littell and Giorgio Agamben that have also been translated into Polish recently, makes an original contribution to the issue of whether anything original can still be written about the Holocaust, writes Tomasz Szerszen. "Painting is an expression of yearning for a lost paradise" is the essence of the conversations between literary historian Zbigniew Podgorzec and the painter Jerzy Nowosielski which have just appeared in book form. Jacek Maj approves: "Few other books today talk so openly and frankly about religion." The critics were also deeply impressed by Vassily Grossman's "Life and Fate": "One of the greatest novels of the century. Philosophically comparable with the works of Arendt and Popper, artistically, he combines Tolstoy's epic method with Dostoevsky existential imagination and Chekhov's heroic economy."


El Espectador 23.05.2009 (Columbia)

Novelist Hector Abad ponders the relationship between reading and life. "Someone once said there are three times of people: people who live life; people who write about it, and people who prefer to read about it. Flaubert seems to me to be the perfect example of the second group and Borges, the perfect example of the third group. For my part, I can only say that I like to live what I read in books. If the protagonist of a novel pours himself a gin I will follow his example unhesitatingly. If he is jealous I will make a scene with my wife after reading. Recently I read about an ageing writer with prostate cancer – in the same week I had myself tested for antibodies and booked the first possible appointment with my urologist."


The Nation 08.06.2009 (USA)

In an epic article Jana Prikryl turns again to the Kundera Affair, which broke last October after the publication of an article in Respekt magazine. The article concerned a (subsequently proved to be authentic) police document dating from 1950, which was allegedly filed when Kundera informed on a courier for the American secret service, Miroslav Dvoracek, who was lodging with a friend of Kundera's. Dvoracek was consequently sentenced to 14 years hard labour in a uranium mine. At the end of her meandering journey between standpoints, the author finally makes a clear statement. For all his dislike of the media, it is "undeniable that Kundera owes the truth, as best as he remembers it, to Miroslav Dvoracek and Iva Militka." It is also obvious that Prikryl is unaware who Martin Simecka is, the then editor-in-chief of Respekt magazine. She consistently writes his name incorrectly and fails to mention that the article in Respekt, which she sharply criticises, was also translated by the magazine into English.

Further articles: Elisabeth Sifton, the senior vice president of Holtzbrinck-Haus Farrar, Straus & Giroux publishers describes the woes of the book business in the days of Amazon and Google. There are also reviews of a number of books including Jose Manuel Prieto's novel "Rex" whose main settting is a "spectacularly tasteless villa in Marbella."


L'Express 22.05.2009 (France)

In an interview fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana shamelessly plug Scarlett Johansson, the star model for their new makeup line, and hold forth about the dressing power of lipstick. Domenico Dolce explains: "Ultimately a lipstick dresses a woman like a gown. It is essential for affirming her personality. (...) What I remember about the lipstick of my mother Sara, is its intense, flamboyant colour. My mother often wore black with small leopard skin details, but her face was always illuminated by the red light of her lips. And that's what I love about make up: it dresses you with next to nothing."


L'Espresso 21.05.2009 (Italy)

Casa Pound, the house of Pound, is the name of a far right Italian movement with intellectual pretensions. These fascists of the third millennium, as they regard themselves, have their HQ in Rome, from where they send out missionaries into the rest of Italy. A photo reportage "OltreNero" has just been published about the group (selection of photos here), whose name is a reference to Ezra. Gianluca Di Feo writes: "Everything is fascism to them. Some live it according to nostalgic values. 'Mussolini is still a reference for us, an example. We are living proof of the importance of this historical and political period. We show that fascism is still alive today.' Others try to describe it in more contemporary and conformist terms. 'The language has to change, we have moved from the Celtic cross to the tortoise symbol of the Casa Pound, but it is still essential that we rejuvenate neo-fascism. The language is the manifesto, and action is everything. Marinetti taught us that.' They feel like victors, convinced that they have no rivals further out to the right. 'Casa Pound is the church of all heretics, because we want fascism to be perceived as a huge cultural movement."

Le Nouvel Observateur 20.05.2009 (France)

In an interview the literary Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison discusses Barack Obama, his symbolic power for a new American and his first hundred days in office. She admits: "I'm almost starting to miss Bush, because you never knew what he was going to say next! [laughs] He was the king of neologism and unsuitable remarks. He had what you might call a pretty distant relationship to the English language. But it's easier to laugh about it in retrospect. Obama, on the other hand can do both: talk normally and express himself like a lawyer. At first even the media was wary of being seduced by him and found his language far too enticing. I, who am old enough to remember Roosevelt, find it comforting to know that he is capable of complex thinking. He is not only a good listener, he actually understands what is being said."


The New Republic 03.06.2009 (USA)

Michael Lewis was left breathless by Alice Schroeder's monumental Warren Buffet biography. He only wishes it had gone on longer than its already 1,000 pages. The compelling thing is Buffet's honesty, Lewis writes. At last someone has listened and written down all the things that obviously caused Buffet so much pain. "Even worse: she's a woman! Buffett has a long and happy history of admitting attractive, intelligent women into his life, which Schroeder describes without mentioning how neatly she fits into the pattern. These women have invariably felt the need to shelter and to protect their man, and to subordinate their own needs to his--until now. Buffett should have known better: you should never completely trust a writer. Especially if she is any good."


The New York Times (USA), 24.05.2009

Eric Pfanner reports on an unlikely union of liberal and conservative groups in the USA which has emerged to fight the restrictive British defamation laws that are increasingly curbing freedom of speech for American writers online. "London has gained a reputation as the libel capital of the world — Saudi businessmen have sued there to complain about American reports that they engaged in terrorist financing; Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs have sued in Britain over allegations of unsavory business activities; Hollywood celebrities have gone to London to seek redress over reports of wayward kisses." The British laws, writes Pfanner, make it easy. "Defendants have to prove that their published allegations were true, unlike in the United States, where plaintiffs must demonstrate that an author or publisher disseminated false information - and in cases brought by prominent figures, that this was done with serious doubts as to the truth of the reporting."

The reviews cover Simon Schama's "The American Future: A History" (for which David Brook's has little but ridicule), Amos Oz's novella "Ryhming Life and Death ", which has now been translated into English, Anne Michael's new novel "The Winter Vault", a natural history of Manhattan "Manhatta" and the essay "One State, Two States" by Israeli historian Benny Morris, who finds little hope in either solution.

For the Sunday Magazine, Sara Corbett sends a reportage from Montgomery County, where - as in many towns in Georgia and Mississippi - High School proms are segregated. Often due to pressure from white parents and against the wishes of the pupils.
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