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30/06/2009

Magazine Roundup

Books | The New York Review of Books | Literaturen | The New Republic | Dawn | Polityka | The Nation | Lettre International | The Guardian | El Pais Semanal | Prospect | Tygodnik Powszechny | The Economist | Die Weltwoche | Standpoint | The Spectator | Frontline | Le point | The New York Times

Books 25.06.2009 (France)

The French magazine Books prints an excerpt of a new book by Spanish philosopher Joaquin Rodriguez Lopez, "Edicion 2.0. Socrates en el hiperespacio". Lopez compares Socrates' concern about the loss of the oral tradition of sharing knowledge through the introduction of writing, with the new forms of knowledge dissemination through the Internet. And he looks at the frequently asked question: Does the Internet make you stupid? "Indeed the key points of any self-respecting article today are identical to those made by Socrates: memory, the transferral of knowledge and the nature of knowledge. Just as Socrates was opposed to the written word, we are against cyberspaces and its mass application. (...) But, like Socrates, we lack the critical distance to really get to grips with a development which is taking place under our eyes. The great philosopher couldn't or wouldn't recognise the advantages of the written over the spoken word, much less foresee the major cognitive changes that followed the invention of the Greek alphabet. We, too, are only going on suspicions and speculations. (...) But it is very likely that our brains are in the process of undergoing a change that is at least as significant as the one that happened in antiquity; our poor old analogue brains might just be changing into digital ones."


The New York Review of Books 16.07.2009 (USA)

Yale historian Timothy Snyder calls for a complete review of the way we see the Holocaust, because the symbolic power of Auschwitz has closed our eyes to the fact that until 1943, when most of the Western European Jews were deported to concentration camps, a third of Europe's Jews were already dead. "The second most important part of the Holocaust is the mass murder by bullets in eastern Poland and the Soviet Union. It began with SS Einsatzgruppen shootings of Jewish men in June 1941, expanded to the murder of Jewish women and children in July, and extended to the extermination of entire Jewish communities that August and September. By the end of 1941, the Germans (along with local auxiliaries and Romanian troops) had killed a million Jews in the Soviet Union and the Baltics. That is the equivalent of the total number of Jews killed at Auschwitz during the entire war. By the end of 1942, the Germans (again, with a great deal of local assistance) had shot another 700,000 Jews, and the Soviet Jewish populations under their control had ceased to exist."

Other articles in this summer issue include: short stories from J.M. Coetzee, "Summertime", and Claire Messud, "Land Divers". Michael Chabon retreats to the "Wilderness of Childhood" on the U.S East Coast. The reviews cover Leslie Gelb's analysis of Barack Obama's foreign policy "Power Rules", and Martin Wolf's "Fixing Global Finance", a book that was written in 2007 but is obviously far from obsolete, and the Renaissance exhibition in Boston, "Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese" which is travelling to Paris in September.


Literaturen 01.07.2009 (Germany)

Frauke Meyer-Gosau reviews Aleksandar Hemon's critically acclaimed book "Lazarus". She caught up with the author in Chicago, where he chose to talk about the low rather than high points of his career: "Aleksandar Hemon prefers to talk about a 'Lazarus' reading in California to which exactly six people turned up: three friends, a Holocaust researcher from the university and two old ladies who had meant to go a cookbook presentation but were too polite to leave. 'In Germany you get introduced by a prominent critic, and all you have to do is read and answer their questions they personally vouch for the quality of the book and the people buy it. In America, on the other hand, you have to do all of this alone: you have to be nice and funny and really work the crowd to get them interested in you and buy your book. The two ladies who were there for the cookery book did end up buying 'Lazarus'.' So the evening was a success? Hemon grins and sticks his fork into a piece of pancake.


The New Republic 15.07.2009 (USA)

Hooman Majd, the author of a book on Ahmedinejad, discusses Moussavi's election campaign, (not that he is an admirer of Moussavi's past) and the wake-up call that he and millions of his compatriots experienced after the elections. "It took a day or so, but that's when it struck me and all the other dismayed Iranians: Of course, they were never going let anyone but Ahmadinejad win. That's why his campaign was anemic, that's why he didn't seem to care that his challengers were gaining on him. This had never happened before. Iranian elections have always been generally fair. Thirty years have passed since the revolution, exactly 30 years, and Iranians aren't mad that Ahmadinejad won reelection. They're mad that the one thing - the one and only element of democracy - they had left, their vote, is now meaningless."

Abbas Milani (more here) traces the politico-religious roots of the democracy movement. Eli Lake outlines "what our spies don't know".


Dawn 26.06.2009 (Pakistan)

Michael Jackson had a huge influence on Pakistani youth culture, where he spawned a number of clones, as Huma Yusuf describes. "Of course, Pakistanis are forgiven for internalising Michael Jackson because they were always getting a double dose of him. The original MJ cast his spell, mesmerising us through music videos and magical beats. But we really made him our own after Bollywood appropriated the best that Jackson had to offer and made it as desi as chai, samosa and arranged marriage. (...) In my opinion, Jackson confirmed his status as the biggest super star ever when Amitabh Bachchan donned a silver glove, tried to moonwalk and warned the ladies, 'dance dikhaon ga aisa, Michael Jackson ke jaisa'. In 1989, Sridevi took MJ's 'Bad' and made it badder with 'Main Hoon Bad Girl'. Meanwhile, 'Thriller' was never going to be the same after Tamil cinema turned to red leather and put a goli through the heart of what made Jacko the greatest of them all."


Polityka 29.06.2009 (Poland)

Ten years after the death of stage director Jerzy Grotowski, the theatre studies academic and Grotowski researcher Leszek Kolankiewicz explains in an interview (here in German) why it is nearly impossible access Grotowksi's work. His heir, Thomas Richards has put tight restrictions on access, in accordance with Grotowski's wishes: "This desire for control, this need to dominate things was part of his character. It was all tied up with his Gnostic leanings. In his heart Grotowski believed that history was a succession of incarnations of evil and that we would only be able to carve out some sort of freedom for ourselves if we succeeded in mastering our own history, at least our personal history. And Grotowski was also a mixture of Gnostic and artist someone who succumbed easily to ego inflation. Towards the end of his life he not only forbade all recordings of his public performances, he also controlled the publication and translation of his texts, and even the publication and translations of books written by his colleagues."


The Nation 13.07.2009 (USA)

Musicologist David Schiff reviews the fourth volume of Henry-Louis de la Granges' (more here) gigantic biography of Gustav Mahler (over 1700 pages for the last four years of the composer's life), but he barely refers to the biography. The first paragraph of his article, however, does sum up the contemporary view of Mahler pretty well: "Saturated with lachrymose melodies, dirgelike rhythms and the ghastly, fatal oompahs of sad waltzes, the songs and symphonies of Gustav Mahler prophetically mourn the victims of twentieth-century catastrophes the composer died too soon to witness, or perhaps even imagine. At least that's how his work sounds today, converging in our ears with music about various horrors written by composers he inspired: Alban Berg, Dmitri Shostakovich, Benjamin Britten, Leonard Bernstein."

Other articles in a highly interesting issue: The writer Katha Pollitt was rather taken aback that in his Cairo speech, Barack Obama almost exclusively talked about a woman's right to wear the veil rather than her right to discard it. Iranian journalist Babak Sarfaraz (pseudonym) turns his thoughts again to Khamenei's speech on 19 June. The critic Benjamin Lytal introduces Hans Fallada in great depth.

Lettre International 01.07.2009 (Germany)

Lettre focusses on the avant-garde. In his critique of avant-garde modernism Eduardo Subirats describes how it destroyed art's autonomy in order to integrate it in "the absolute truth of industrial production and the capitalist spectacle.": "This is why the Futurists defended the industrial war; this is why Djiga Vertov put himself at the service of Soviet propaganda; this is why Le Corbusier steered architectural form to meet the needs of industrial production and expansion in the Third World... The avant-garde dialectic culminated in an instrumental concept of form, so-called functionalism, which was elevated to a total ordering principle. This fulfilled the romantic ideal of the total artwork and inverted its meaning at the same time. From this point on, the point was not the integration of the arts to realise the artistic expression of an epoch, but the integration of a new, universal, anti-aesthetic semantics. The final political consequence of the avant-garde dialectic was totalitarian." (Original Spanish version here).

Tzvetan Todorov examines the relationship of the avant-garde to dictatorships (excerpt in German) and also describes how Mayakovsky and Marinetti were brought together by their fundamentalism and determination to create from nothing. "The pair would meet again on June 20, 1925 and eat together. Their translator was unnerved: what could a Bolshevik and a Fascist possibly have in common? The meeting however took place in an atmosphere of utmost congeniality."


The Guardian

James Buchan recommends Ahmad Kasravi's "History of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution" from 1921, which shows how long and hard the Iranians have been fighting their clerics for democracy. Since 1905, namely, when a popular movement tried to topple the monarchy: "In this long book, which runs to 905 pages in the best Persian edition, Kasravi recounts how the spontaneous alliance of clergy, bazar, craftsmen and intellectuals forged in 1905-6 disintegrated when the Shia clergy became aware of some of the wider consequences of Enlightenment ideas. They were shocked to learn that liberty included liberty not to pray or wash, and equality might even be extended to Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians. In short, the new parliament, instead of merely interpreting and enforcing the divine law known as sharia, would actually give law to the Muslims."

John Harris mourns for Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus and other great music critics. Not that this has anything do do with the Internet's unprofessional bloggers. "This change, I think, is one expression of the great cultural calming that began with the end of the cold war, when even the more interesting aspects of popular culture began to lose their insurrectionary charge. The days when music could completely embody the sociopolitical currents of its time - when, in essence, rock was popular culture - have gone, perhaps for ever. The breed of neurotic loudmouth that gave us not just Lennon, Bowie, Rotten et al, but the most notable writers at Creem and the NME, seems to be pretty much extinct."

Further articles: Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie sticks her neck out for Google, which has showed her, among other things, what Nagasaki looked like before the atom bomb destroyed it, how US troops fought in Afghanistan and how to dismantle an AK-47. And Hari Kunzru meanders somewhat demoralised through the exhibition "Radical Nature" in London's Barbican museum.



El Pais Semanal 28.06.2009 (Spain)

Javier Cercas has also had some thoughts about the death of the newspapers: "The newspapers are in crisis, they say, like the whole country, and they will disappear forever, or at least in the form we are familiar with, they will become luxury articles in the future this is what the journalists are telling us. No idea all I know is that I cannot imagine going into the street one day and not being able to buy a newspaper. I am trying to force myself to imagine this and all I see is a siddenly ancient version of myself, and if it's not the end of the world as a whole, it certainly is the end of the world for all of us whose minds were shaped into adulthood by newspapers and who, as writers, owe more to them than to Homer, Dante or Shakespeare."


Prospect 01.07.2009 (UK)

Edward Marriott talks to former England cricket captain Mike Brearley, who is now Britain's leading psychoanalyst. Brearley draws a number of parallels between the two professions, both of which are out of tune with a world that demands quick results: "'After you've been fielding for two days, and you haven't scored any runs, dropped a couple of catches, and people are shouting at you and it's very hot, it can feel very gruelling.' With psychoanalysis, too, sometimes you 'have to stick at it.' The treatment aims to bring forward 'all the aspects of personality of the patient.' And some of these personae may be hard for the analyst to deal with: 'If someone is persistently hostile, negative, depressed and withdrawn, one can be the recipient of a good deal of denigration and scorn'; although here, again, captaining tempestuous sportsmen like Ian Botham must have helped. A tolerance of boredom is also important."

Further articles: There is an interview with the general director of the BBC Mark Thompson, about how the organisation will cope with the threat of the Internet. Kamran Nazeer describes young US authors as hobbled by ease and self-congratulation, and reserves his praise for Tod Wodicka. Author Monica Ali talks about her extensive research in London Hotels for her new novel "In the Kitchen". Mark Cousins looks back on a Cannes year saturated in revenge stories. Tom Chatfield introduces the Chinese search engine giant Baidu.


Tygodnik Powszechny 28.06.2009 (Poland)

When abroad, people often ask me about Polish nationalism, writes publicist Ryszard Holzer. And their question implies racism, xenophobia etc. In Poland, too, the word has negative connotations. But, Holzer admits: "I am a nationalist. Because the role my nation and my state plays in the world over the next 50, 60 or 70 years is of enormous concern to me in other words, long after my death. And this is what I mean by nationalism: so deep is the identification with your own nation and state that you transfer a part of your personal ambitions and dreams onto the community."

Joachim Trenkner travelled to the German-Polish border where he found a quiet revolution underway. Far away from the political discussions in Berlin or Warsaw there is a growing sense of shared values and a new language is being used to talk about the history which divides people in the region "On either side of the border the people are aware of the dark chapters in their history," he says, quoting the journalist and activist Robert Ryss. "Shameful or controversial issues are best unearthed personally, because otherwise someone from outside will do it, and they might have ulterior motives. Talking about dark chapters of our history does not weaken our identity or our patriotism" says the editor-in-chief of a local paper, "it actually has a strengthening effect."


The Economist 26.06.2009 (Economist)

The new Acropolis museum in Athens delivers a powerful argument for the return of the Elgin marbles. But not strong enough for the Economist, which suggests instead that Greece should accept recent international efforts to step up lending and exchange programmes. "The choice is between the free circulation of treasures and a stand-off in which each museum grimly clings to what it claims to own. Instead of grandstanding, the Greek culture minister should call the British Museum's bluff and ask for a loan. The nervous British would then have to test the waters by, say, sending to Athens a single piece of the Parthenon frieze. If that piece were to be seized, then so be it. But if on the due date, the Greeks surprised everybody and returned the sculpture, then the lending programme would surely be expanded. By taking small steps, the Greeks may yet encourage the British to make the big leap."

The reviews cover a number of new books on the finance crisis and Werner Herzog's memoirs of making "Fitzcaraldo". There is an obituary of Ralf Dahrendorf. The cover story probes "The Mystery of Mrs Merkel". There is also an analysis of this German phenomenon, entitled "Merkel is the Message".


Die Weltwoche 25.06.2009 (Switzerland)

It is a crime to sedate hyperactive kids with Ritalin, pedagogy professor George Feuser declares. "Last Friday some parents came to my office and asked, 'What shall we do, the teacher said that if our child does not take Ritalin it will be expelled from the school.' That's how far we've come. There are neuroscientists who say that children's brains are in development and long-term treatment could result in dopamine deficits and a mass increase of Parkinson's disease. Between 1990 and 1997 the production of Ritalin increased from 2.8 to 13.5 tonnes a year. This is big business for the pharma industry. Think of the returns it brings. Between one and three kids in every primary school class are being given Ritalin. And who is profiting? Yet we have almost no reliable information about the drug. In my opinion the mass prescription of Ritalin should be banned. It is a crime against humanity."


Standpoint 30.06.2009 (UK)

Standpoint prints a transcript of the lecture Orhan Pamuk gave at the University of Rouen in which he acknowledges his debt to Flaubert: "I read Flaubert's letters in the 1970s as if reading the hagiography of a Sufi sheikh. This variety of traditional worship predicated on memorising the words and imitating the life of the venerated recluse-author, precisely because he was a Westerner, was infused with an aura of modernism rather than being subject to critical thought, analytical reasoning, or the stamp of blind devotion. An unintended result of this combination of traditional devotion and modernist literary ethics was that writers were evaluated through their lives rather than their works."


The Spectator 26.06.2009 (UK)

British painter David Hockney has just left California, where he lived for many years, to return to his native Yorkshire. Martin Gayford went to visit him in Bridlington where he learned all about Hockey's new iPhone drawings. "'Who would ever have thought,' asked David Hockney, 'that drawing would return via the telephone?' It is a typical Hockney point, wry, unexpected, connecting high-tech with low - and in this case undeniably true. Lately he has taken to drawing on his iPhone, with results that are luminous, and wonderfully free in draughtsmanship. 'I must admit,' he says, 'that the iPhone technique took me quite a while to develop - I do them mostly with my thumb. But then I realised that it had marvellous advantages. It makes you bold, and I thought that was very good.'" The best light in Bridlington is "between 5.15, when the sun has been up a little bit and you get its shadows, until about 8.30. Most people sleep through it.' Hockney's iPhone works are done, for the most part, very early in the morning. 'I wake when it starts getting light, and I do little drawings of the dawn, while I'm still in bed'."



Frontline 20.06.2009 (India)

What started as a small Dalit effort to eradicate the obnoxious practice of manual scavenging (manual dry toilet cleaning) in 1986, reports Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta, has metamorphosed into an all-India movement known as the Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA). It achieved a significant milestone in May this year when the Supreme Court decided to hold District Collectors accountable for any existence of manual scavenging, which was banned in 1993 (more information here). "In the absence of a strong labour movement in the country, SKA is gradually proving to be a great motivator for Dalits to unite and raise their voice against the historical oppression that they have faced in the name of their jobs, which society calls 'work'. Says Bezwada Wilson, national convener of the SKA: 'We don't perceive manual scavenging as work. It is a question of dignity. None of the civilisations I know has allotted such tasks as cleaning other people's excreta to a particular community, as is prevalent in India. Our effort is to fight not just manual scavenging but also the casteist mindset of Indian society.'" The major challenge the movement now faces is the proper rehabilitation of scavengers.


Le point 25.06.2009 (France)

Chanting the mantra "whatever happens", Bernard-Henri Levy plays out the consequences of the protests in Tehran. "Whatever happens in Tehran, nothing will continue as before. Whatever happens, from now on the people know that they are the people and no power in the world can stand against the people. Whatever happens, in the heat of the peaceful demonstrations a body politic has formed and even if it seems be be whispering and stagnating, even if the murderers think they have triumphed, a new actor has taken to the stage and history will have to include it from now on. (...) Whatever happens, the emperor is wearing no clothes. Whatever happens, the regime of the ayatollahs will be forced to compromise at some stage, or disappear. (...) The earth is trembling in Tehran, and everything says this is only the beginning. "


The New York Times 28.06.2009 (USA)

In a monumental reportage which the US media admirably still seems able to afford, Jonathan Mahler meets General Motors workers in the crumbling city of Detroit. Most of them are black and their livelihoods, like the motor company itself, could go under at any time. "Autoworkers still make up much of what is left of Detroit's black middle class, but their numbers are shrinking fast. Last year, 20,000 black autoworkers nationwide were either laid off or took buyouts from the Big Three. A disproportionate number of those workers were from Detroit and its environs. When those who remain lose their jobs, have their homes foreclosed - Detroit has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation - and have to move elsewhere in search of work, when they accept an early-retirement package and no longer have any reason to stick around, that will truly spell the end of the city."
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