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06/04/2010

Magazine Roundup

The Nation | Nepszabadsag | Babelia | Commentary | Elet es Irodalom | London Review of Books | Telerama | Tygodnik Powszechny | The New Statesman | Magyar Narancs | The New York Times


The Nation 19.04.2010 (USA)

This essay is a genuine eye-opener: It turns out that Hannah Arendt's book "Eichmann in Jerusalem" was based on the findings of Raul Hilberg's "The Destruction of the European Jews", a book which was virtually unknown at the time and did not receive recognition for a good twenty years afterwards. Nathaniel Popper injects life into this history of Holocaust research which left Hilberg deeply embittered. We learn that Arendt had read Hilberg's research and advised Princeton University Press not to publish it – and Hilberg knew this. Although when Arendt's reportage was published in book form, she did underscore (although only in parenthesis) the epic importance of Hilberg's study. Karl Popper paints the full picture for the first time: "Just as Arendt did not give Hilberg the full credit he was due, Hilberg did not properly acknowledge her insights. In writing about Eichmann, she had proposed a bold new way of describing how ordinary Germans had been drawn into the machinery of destruction - a discussion that Hilberg had avoided. On a more immediate level, Arendt, despite having taken liberties with some of Hilberg's facts, had nevertheless acted as a popular interpreter of his research - providing visibility for a book that could easily have fallen down an academic mine shaft. In the process, this kick-started the rise of the study of the Holocaust."


Nepszabadsag 03.04.2010 (Hungary)

Hungary is about to elect a new government and the far-right looks set to triumph. "Hungary has been spared economic bankruptcy. But can we still avert political bankruptcy? asks philosopher Agnes Heller with an eye on the "Jobbik" phenomenon, the far-right party that has become enormously popular particularly with the younger generation (around 15 percent). She calls for the Hungarian population to show civil courage. "We must have the confidence to tell the neighbour that he probably doesn't even understand the nonsense he is spurting, and we must shout back when we hear people voicing racist slogans on the tram. We, the silent majority, cannot let ourselves be cowed, we must stand up and show that we have had enough of all these people who are a threat to democracy."


Babelia 27.03.2010 (Spain)

In an interview, Hector Abad talks – or rather writes – about being interviewed: "I cannot think when I'm talking. That's why I have a notebook with me, I'll write down my answer each time. I always have the impression when reading interviews afterwards, that I never actually said the words that have been placed in my mouth. But there's no way of proving this." After a writing pause the interview continues. (Abad hands his notebook to the interviewer): "When I'm talking I am far too easily distracted, as much by the face and gaze of my interlocutor as anything else. I have to have so many things under control at the same time: my voice, everything that's happening around me. ... When writing, though, the world disappears immediately and all that's left are the three fingers that hold the pen which moves across page, or a computer screen. I have always thought - and people who know me know this – that I possess two personalities: a written one and one which talks. When I'm talking I am also too conciliatory and too quick to agree with the other person. But this is how I was raised, contradiction was considered impolite. We Latin Americans are incredibly polite and we always wrap our thoughts in good manners. And as a child I was always surrounded by women who were much better at talking than I was. It's always like that with women: they talk faster, more wittily and more things spring to their minds."


Commentary 05.04.2010 (USA)

Anne Bayefsky of the Hudson Institute is unimpressed by the Obama administration's record on human rights so far, manifested in its refusal to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council. She then traces the decline of this institution which, she says, is dominated by the Organization of the Islamic Conference and which, for years, has focussed almost exclusively on Israel: "The other 187 states on the planet got a free pass from the Council, notwithstanding the pressing reality of Nigeria's butchered Christians, Saudi Arabia's gender apartheid, Egypt's systematic torture, China's iron fist, Sudan's genocide, and Russia's slain human-rights defenders. In fact, over the entire four-year history of the Council, more than half of all resolutions and decisions condemning any state have been directed at Israel alone."


Elet es Irodalom 02.04.2010 (Hungary)

Despite the surprisingly strong competition programme at the Hungarian film festival in February, the documentary film is still the step child of the film industry, according to Lorant Stöhr: "Yet documentary films could have an important role to play in Hungarian culture. The radical reactions, the oversimplified arguments, the primitive search for scape goats, the dissemination of historical illusions - all this demonstrates that Hungarian society neither knows itself nor its neighbours and that, in its expression of incendiary opinions, it is being steered by the oversimplified and entertainment-oriented rhetoric of the media. What could be a more important role for documentary film than to raise the lid on society's processes and historical events, injecting life into them in a search for different interpretations? Hungarian society's lack of self-knowledge is partly the result of the documentary film being banished to the periphery."


London Review of Books 08.04.2010 (UK)

The Irish writer Colm Toibin writes about the Renaissance painter Lorenzo Lotto, whom he obviously admires greatly. He concentrates on a painting called "Giovanni Agositino della Torre and his son, Niccolo" which can be seen here. Toibin's exhaustive and precise reading of the painting speculatively places the image in line with the impending Reformation – but is filled also with wonderful observations and theories. "I am refusing to read the fly which has landed on the father's scarf as a symbol of anything. It is a fly and it is delicately painted. It is there, resting from flight. It is a joke – as lizards, squirrels and cats appear as amusing things to divert the eye in other Lotto paintings. It offers another sort of life to the painting, as does the ink spattered around the inkwell and the way the books are piled and the way the papers on the desk are placed. The painting may need all this because of the inertia of the main figure. The fly disrupts the sense that this is not a portrait of someone alive in real time, that the father, instead of being captured alive by the paint, has been moved by it into another realm."


Telerama 04.04.2010 (France)

Telerama conducted an extensive interview with the filmmaker Claire Denis and it is packed with stills and clips from her films. Among other things, she discusses "Beau Travail", a politically uncorrect celebration of male beauty in the French Foreign Legion. "When you watch the slow marches of the legionnaires then you see the legion before you see the soldiers. This affiliation separates them and unites them at the same time. Even though the Legion refused me permission to film on a number of occasions, saying that they wanted nothing to do with the 'fags' in my film, I saw a number of Legionnairs leaving the screening in tears. I still cry sometimes when I see Denis Lavant's dance at the end of the film. I can quite understand that a man who belongs to the Legion and is then thrown out might want to kill himself. Once you have lived like this you don't want to live any other way."


Tygodnik Powszechny 04.04.2010 (Poland)

The debate about the Kapuscinski biography in Poland remained on a very provincial level, according to Maciej Wisniewski. We should take a leaf from the Latin American book where the reporter was received very differently: "The way works are read says much about the readers and the times in which they live. You will be hard pushed to argue that "The Emperor" is not a description of communist rule, but the constant repetition of this point is a good indicator of the intellectual climate in Poland, which is dominated by an incessant reckoning with communism. This manifests itself not only in the obsession with sniffing out all connections to the old system (including those of Kapus himself) but also in the elimination of all political projects that do not agree with neoliberal common sense. Perhaps this answers the question as to why Kapuscinski, whose opinions on these matters were so at odds with the mood in the rest of the country, was so eager to travel abroad and indeed start up his workshops in Latin America. Perhaps he was able to express himself there 'without footnotes', without having to explain that the fight for a better world has nothing to do with real socialism. I get the impression that the Mexicans are far ahead of us is this matter."

Sarmatism has long been blamed for the decline of Poland in the 18th century. To coincide with a new exhibition in Krakow, the architectural historian Marta A. Urbanska calls for a fresh look at Polish aristocratic culture. "After our experiences with the Partition and various nationalisms and totalitarianisms of the 20th century, it is hard for us to imagine what the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was like. Also because we never saw the Commonwealth in political or ethnic terms. (...) Sarmatism was a language, which linked East and West and this was its greatest quality. In those days, we were able to absorb very different or even contradictory cultural elements – from Paris to Afghanistan – and they melded into a unique whole. This is why Sarmatism is so much more than a provincial Polish version of Counter-Reformation Baroque."


The New Statesman 01.04.2010 (UK)

The British writer and Vatican expert John Cornwall turns to Pope Benedict's past to explain his disappointing reaction to the paedophile priest scandal. He concludes that the Pope is not taking responsibility but passing the buck: "Benedict's chosen initiatives to combat the paedophile priest scourge focus on supernatural rather than human remedies. He has decreed that the Eucharistic wafer (which Catholics believe to be the 'body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ') should be exposed for adoration in hundreds of churches across Ireland. He has vowed to send teams of clergy to the country to investigate its seminaries, monasteries, parishes and dioceses. These spiritual shock-troops will preach the gospel afresh to the shamed Hibernian clerics and nuns. They will lead prayers, preach homilies and hear confessions. In the same letter, the Pope blames clerical misinterpretations of the reforms of Vatican II. In other words, Catholic liberals are ultimately responsible for seducing the Irish clergy away from priestly piety."

And Terry Eagleton dwells on the nature of evil which went out of fashion with Freud: "On the whole, postmodern cultures, despite their fascination with ghouls and vampires, have had little to say of evil. Perhaps this is ­because the postmodern man or woman - cool, provisional, laid-back and decentred - lacks the depth that true destructiveness requires. For postmodernism, there is nothing really to be redeemed. For high modernists such as Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, or the early T S Eliot, there is indeed something to be redeemed, but it has become impossible to say quite what. The desolate, devastated landscapes of Beckett have the look of a world crying out for salvation. But salvation presupposes sinfulness, and Beckett's wasted, eviscerated human figures are too sunk in apathy and inertia even to be mildly immoral. They cannot muster the strength to hang themselves, let alone set fire to a village of innocent civilians."


Magyar Narancs 25.03.2010 (Hungary)

On March 17, the writer György Dalos received the Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding for his book "The Curtain Rises – The End of the Dictatorships in Eastern Europe". Agnes Szabo asks him why an overview of the fall of communism has not been published before. Dalos fears that the fall of communism has "already been forgotten [...] Even those who participated activley became disillusioned swiftly when things did not pan out has they imagined: They wanted an end to the Soviet Union, an end to dependence, they wanted democratic institutions – but the question of whether they wanted socialism or capitalism was never raised at the time. The press and the world were talking about a 'third way'. Now twenty years have passed and we no longer think in ideologies but in categories of "better and "worse". While '89 brought advancement for many people, other groups, and not necessarily the former elites, experienced a decline. This brought disappointment and social tensions, which developed into political tensions. On top of this, the old system combined with the very real restrictions on freedom to create a subjective dependence on the state. The population assumed that the state bore responsibility for everything. One side effect of this lack of freedom was a lack of responsibility. We were not real citizens, we were not independent individuals within a democratic system who were capable of taking their fate into their own hands and taking responsibility for their actions."


The New York Times 04.04.2010 (USA)

Jon Mooallem has spent several years visiting scientists who research same-sex sexual activities in animals (recorded in over 450 species) and has also traced the huge impact their findings have on human ideas about sexuality. "What animals do - what's perceived to be 'natural' - seems to carry a strange moral potency: it's out there, irrefutably, as either a validation or a denunciation of our own behavior.... During the Victorian era, observations of same-sex behavior in swans and insects were held up as evidence against the morality of homosexuality in humans, since at the dawn of industrialism and Darwinism, people were invested in seeing themselves as more civilized than the 'lower animals.' Robert Mugabe and the Nazis have employed the same reasoning, as did the 1970s anti-gay crusader Anita Bryant, who, biologist Bruce Bagemihl notes, claimed in an interview that 'even barnyard animals don't do what homosexuals do' and was unmoved when the interviewer pointed out what actually happens in barnyards. On the other hand, an Australian drag queen known as Dr. Gertrude Glossip has used Bagemihl's book to create a celebratory, interpretive gay animal tour of the Adelaide zoo, marketed to gay and lesbian tourists. The book has also been cited in a 2003 Supreme Court case that overturned a Texas state ban on sodomy and, similarly, in a legislative debate on the floor of the British Parliament." The article is accompanied by a splendid photo series of "gay" animals by Jeff Koons – including the pair of bunnies that adorn the cover.
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