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15/09/2009

Magazine Roundup

The Atlantic | Tygodnik Powszechny | Rue89 | The Guardian | L'Espresso | Przekroj | La vie des idees | Elet es Irodalom | The New York Times

The Atlantic 01.10.2009 (USA)

The foreign correspondent Robert D. Kaplan declares his love for the English service of Al Jazeera. "The fact that Doha, Qatar's capital, is not the headquarters of a great power liberates Al Jazeera to focus equally on the four corners of the Earth rather than on just the flash points of any imperial or post-imperial interest. Outlets such as CNN and the BBC don't cover foreign news so much as they cover the foreign extensions of Washington's or London's collective obsessions. And Al Jazeera, rather than spotlighting people who are loaded with credentials but often have little to say, has the knack of getting people on air who have interesting things to say, like the brilliant, no-name Russian analyst I heard explaining why both Russia and China need the current North Korean regime because it provides a buffer state against free and democratic South Korea."

The collapse of journalism in the USA has made way for a new species of reporter, writes Mark Bowden. He illustrates his point by telling the story of two video clips showing snippets of speeches that Judge Sonia Sotomayor had given to some students prior to her Supreme Court nomination (one is here and the other seems to have disappeared from the web.) The videos were dug up by a conservative blogger who was collecting the dirty on everyone on Obama's list, and then broadcast by all the major TV networks – with no questioning of context or naming of sources (the blog verumserum.com). Bowden calls this new approach "post-journalistic": " It sees democracy, by definition, as perpetual political battle. The blogger's role is to help his side. Distortions and inaccuracies, lapses of judgment, the absence of context, all of these things matter only a little, because they are committed by both sides, and tend to come out a wash. Nobody is actually right about anything, no matter how certain they pretend to be. The truth is something that emerges from the cauldron of debate. No, not the truth: victory, because winning is way more important than being right. Power is the highest achievement. There is nothing new about this. But we never used to mistake it for journalism." Bowden, it should be said, is far less harsh in his criticism of the TV journalists.


Tygodnik Powszechny 13.09.2009 (Poland)

In "The Promised Land", which was written in 1898, Wladyslaw Reymont used the example of the textile capital Lodz to describe the workings of "predatory capitalism". Andrzej Wajda made the film adaptation in 1974, and now Jan Klata is staging it for the theatre – in its undiluted form, as he promises his interviewer: "You have to understand what happened when the genie was let out of the bottle in the 18th century. How he became ever more immaterial, ever more separate from the factory that Reymont was describing, until he was nothing but a promise, a pure vision. All these factories are closed today and have been turned into something else. What we are dealing with is the flight from production to service, from service to consumerism. In this light, 'the promised land' of the title sounds more and more ominous – the promise of new lands, new attractions; new reality becomes more illusionary all the time: a check without cover, like a junk bond." (The production opens in Berlin in spring 2010).

Michal Olszewski was bored stiff by the commemorative ceremony for the outbreak of WWII: it's always the same old ritual. Historical narrative is being banalised. As the last eye-witnesses die off, a spectrum of historical spectacles is coming to dominate the public portrayal of the war. "It's no longer veterans visiting schools, or commemorative halls, or forgotten museums on the heroism of the Polish army that shape our historical consciousness. As the years pass, the taboos dwindle, and there are less events which we would rather close our eyes to, less words we don't want to speak. The war became a playing field for interpretations, and sometimes stupid, sometimes ruthless games. What was once regarded as blasphemy has become a short-lived joke, a topic of discussion or an engine for patriotic sentiments. The boundaries surrounding the historical narrative of the war are slowly blurring."


Rue89 12.09.2009 (France)

The French are also deeply divided about the merits of the Internet. The philosopher Alain Finkielkraut (more astute in other matters) has described it as the "information dustbin", and public TV and radio journalists have slated internet journalism for its lack of research – as if the French media was not famous for keeping silent on unpalatable matters. Pierre Hakski makes this point: "I believe my honourable colleagues prefer to languish in ignorance than admit that they were far more fond of the epoch of back-scratching silent agreements. If the Internet has made a mess of things, it's of a closed world which was held in disdain by the French, and for good reason. This is a good thing: for the press, for journalists, for information."


The Guardian 12.09.2009 (UK)

John Banville has just read another novel by Roberto Bolano that has been translated into English: "Amulet" which, at 200 pages, is a short story by Bolano's standards. It is about the police massacre of the students from Mexico City University in 1968. Banville was singularly impressed: "Bolano's tone is unique. To say that his books have a dreamlike quality is to give scant sense of the way their author shuttles weirdly between oneiric wildness and shrewd, concrete observations of the gritty realities of contemporary life in Latin America. One friendly critic has described his method as a blend of shiny white noise and epiphanic paragraphs, which is both witty and perceptive. Bolano seems as disgusted as Beckett by the literary baggage he is forced to carry, and is constantly on the point of throwing up his hands, lighting another cigarette, and walking away."

Further articles: A year after the financial meltdown, Peter Clarke has read a mountain of books on the subject – all of which disappointed him and all of which have been written in the spirit of Rahm Emmanuel's motto, "Never let a good crisis go to waste" (Clarke recommends Keynes). Philip Oltermann enjoyed the German football reporter Raphael Honigstein's book "Englischer Fussball", which debunks a number of myths about the game itself and then "combs through the muscle memory of football for clues to the nation's attitude towards sex (repressed), emotions (bunged up), class (ever-present), wealth (hypocritical) and religion (all pervading)." Michel Faber discovers in Nick Cave's new novel "The Death of Bunny Munro", not only plenty of evidence of Cave's literary talent, but also that hope that the "that the next generation may be more benign, more sensible and less damaged than the last". Christopher Tayler has a long conversation with the author William Boyd, who has just published his tenth book, "Ordinary Thunderstorms", a thriller.


L'Espresso 11.09.2009 (Italy)

British writer John Berger explains in an interview what he loves about riding a motorbike: it reminds him of drawing. "I like it more every day. My love of motorbikes seems increasingly bound up with my love of drawing. In both cases it's about drawing a line on a background which offers resistance. And as the hands follow the eye, so the motorbike. If you get distracted and start looking at a wall, you will drive straight into it. Drawing demands enormous concentration and riding a motorbike demands that you concentrate on eight things at once."


Przekroj 10.09.2009 (Poland)

The rock singer Pawel Kukiz has written songs about the growing influence of the clergy in Poland, the machinations of the post-communists and Erika Steinbach (the head of the Federation of German Expellees). Now he has written a song about the Soviet occupation of Poland in September 1939 and the massacre of Katyn. In an interview he explains why: "The song is very personal, it is neither historical nor patriotic, it is dedicated to my father who was murdered by the Soviets in Lviv. (...) This war lives on in me; I believe that its victims are not restricted to the generations of my grandparents and parents, they are also from my own. My parents carry the war with them, not as martyrology, but in their pscyhe. When I think about why my father so seldom smiles, why he's somehow so cold... It gets passed down."

Further articles: Quentin Tarantino's film "Inglourious Basterds" is now opening in Polish cinemas. In a profile of the director, Maciej Jarkowiec makes one thing very clear: "... you should see this film, but don't expect an iota of historical or any other truth. There is no reality. There is only cinema. It's the same with Quentin Tarantino."


La vie des idees 11.09.2009 (France)

September 11 was one of the most photographed events in the world, so why is it that no more that a handful of images, or rather motifs, remain that are repeated ad infinitum? The photography historian Clement Cheroux examines this paradox in his book "Diplopie - L'image photographique a l'ere des medias globalises : essai sur le 11 septembre 2001", which is reviewed by Gerome Truc. He explains that people wanted an historical point of comparison and found it in an iconographic image which linked September 11 with its "historical doppelganger", Pearl Habor. "The images of September 11 repeat themselves but they also repeat something else. This feeling of deja-vu is key to the success of the photograph 'Ground Zero Spirit' by Thomas Franklin, which shows three firemen raising the American flag on the smoking rubble of Ground Zero. It is an unmistakable echo of one of the most famous icons of American history: 'Flags of our Fathers' by Joe Rosenthal, in which six marines raise the same flag on top of mound Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima, at the beginning of the war which prompted the attack on Port Harbor."

Elet es Irodalom 04.09.2009 (Hungary)

On the 70th anniversary of the Hitler-Stalin pact, the Russian state TV station Rossia broadcast a "documentary" in which Russian historians blame the Polish for the outbreak of WWII, saying that Poland rejected the "helping hand" of the Soviet Union, abandoning it with its plans of forming an anti-fascist coalition, and effectively "forcing" it to take this "ingenious diplomatic step" (the pact). The historian Miklos Mitrovits examines this new position in the context of a Russia that is back in the superpower club and wants to resurrect its imperial consciousness. "From Poland's point of view it is essential that Polish-Russian relations are based on full historical truth and the ability to admit mistakes of the past. The other side couldn't see things more differently. Russian politicians and 'history makers' today are acquitting the former Soviet leaders of almost all blame for their role in the war. They are right when they say the events can and should be interpreted in a wider context – but this cannot mean that we tiptoe out of historical responsibility by emphasising the crimes of others. [...] What we are witnessing is imperial muscle flexing and a history that is the maidservant of politics."

The Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who now wants to charge for news on the Internet pages of his News Corporation, is now being accused of wanting to block the free flow of information. This time, writes Janos Szeky, his critics may be wrong: "When the press is controlled by the state and the media is in the hands of large numbers of amateurs, there is no way of preventing open or covert political influence. You can curse Murdoch for his predatory strategy but there is one instance where he should be thanked for at least maintaining a degree of freedom of speech, even under authoritarian conditions. [The case involving Imedi TV in Georgia.] The plan to charge for news could well backfire for News Corp. But is is not written in stone that public media is a guarantor for quality - just as the amateurs who hang around online uploading their text or multimedia finds are no guarantor of truth. A properly functioning market is always the most reliable source for truth and freedom.

New York Times 13.09.2009 (USA)

In his latest book "Why Are Jews Liberal", the neocon thinker Norman Podhoretz is baffled by the fact that, since 1928, on average 75 percent of American Jews vote "against their own interests". It's against their interests, says Podhoretz (more here). Leon Wieseltier can't understand him. He can imagine what Jewish interests might be with respect to Israel, but not in relation to taxes, arms, abortion, environment. "Podhoretz's book was conceived as the solution to the puzzle that Milton Himmelfarb wittily formulated many years ago: 'Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.' I have never understood the reputation of this joke. Why should Jews vote like Episcopalians? We are not Episcopalians. The implication of the joke is that political affiliation should be determined by social position, by levels of affluence. In living rich but voting poor, the Jews of America have failed to demonstrate class solidarity."

Louisa Gilder celebrates Graham Farmelo's biography of the genius physicist Paul Dirac "The Strangest Man": "Here we meet a man with an almost miraculous apprehension of the structure of the physical world, coupled with gentle incomprehension of that less logical, messier world, the world of other people.

The reviews cover E.L. Doctorow's new novel "Homer and Langley" about two wealthy reclusive pack rats, the Collyer brothers of Manhattan, who were found dead in a labyrinth of trash in 1947, and Adam Bradley's anthology, "The Book of Rhymes" which treats rap as poetry "whose popularity relies on it's not being recognized as such".
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