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21/09/2009

Magazine Roundup

Polityka | Merkur | The New York Review of Books | Al Ahram Weekly | The Walrus Magazine | La vie des idees | Elet es Irodalom | Tygodnik Powszechny | Nepszabadsag | The New York Times


Polityka 18.09.2009 (Poland)

Alina Kowalczyk explains in an interview why the Romantic poet Juliusz Slowacki (1808-1849) was never loved by his fellow Poles to anything like the extent of his contemporary Adam Mickiewicz, and that it might be a good time to re-read his poems. One reason why the Poles seem to be turning their backs on Romanticism may have to do with Mickiewicz's brand of patriotism. "We are probably only turning our backs on the stereotype that equates the Romantic tradition with a patriotism bent on independence. This certainly secured the survival and rebirth of our fatherland, but it needs updating. The Romantic tradition is not going to die if we turn our attentions to other qualities, such as those that are prevalent in Slovacki's work: the temerity of thought, innovative artistic design, the fantastic poetic imagination, ironic criticism, an impatient striving for truth, for tearing down masks, baring faces, just as the protagonist of "Fantazy" does when he reveals the face of Prince Respect. Slovacki's view of the world and of history as a mesh of unexpected events and grotesque chaos, was way ahead of its time. (Read a selection of his poems in English here.)

Merkur 15.09.2009 (Germany)

The double issue of Merkur magazine is dedicated to heroism.

Jörg Lau is annoyed that people are expected, on the one hand, to show civil courage and yet are actively discouraged from "playing the hero". He lists a number of individuals who ignored such contradictory expectations. The Polish crane operator Anna Walentynowicz, for example, the civil rights activist John Lewis or the Egyptian student Karim Nabil Suleyman, who as Karim Amer writes a blog to demand more rule of law. "Suleyman was taken to court for "fanning social unrest and defaming Islam' as well as 'endangering public safety' and 'insulting the president'. The lawyer in the court in Alexandria asked Suleyman what he meant when he said that "Hosni Mubarak is the Khalif, God's deputy in the land of Egypt, oppressor of the people and a symbol of tyranny.' The accused answered: 'That is my conviction. I meant it sarcastically. I believe he is a tyrant.' On Janary 22, 2007 he was sentenced to four years imprisonment: three for 'contempt of religion' and a year for 'defamation of the president'. His father informed the media that he would have found the death penalty appropriate."

Norbert Bolz examines what he calls the "antiheroic affect": "The modern, civilised and democratic world will not stop at the destruction of the heroic. It wants to debunk it, destroy it, make it into a laughing stock. The destruction of the hero ends in the post-graduate seminar room with the death of the subject."

Ute Frevert notes that in our post-heroic era, the most we can expect is a celebration of 'everyday heroes'. Further articles deal with soldiers and mercenaries, fallen business idols, film heroes and popular culture.


The New York Review of Books 08.10.2009 (USA)

Malise Ruthven shines a light on the affair surrounding the Lockerbie bomber Ali al-Megrahi, who was released from prison after three doctors - all of whom were being paid by Libya - gave him a life-expectancy of three months. Prime Minister Gordon Brown may have denied that business interests played any role in his release but, as Ruthven notes: "At stake, for the British, were contracts for oil and gas exploration worth up to 15 billion pounds for British Petroleum (BP), announced in May 2007, as well as plans to open a London office of the Libyan Investment Authority, a sovereign fund with 83 billion pounds to invest. Libya refused to ratify the contracts until Straw abandoned his insistence on excluding Megrahi from the prisoner transfer agreement. Shortly after Brown's statement, Straw admitted—in apparent contradiction to his prime minister—that oil had been 'a very big part' of his negotiations."

Andrew O'Hagan can hardly believe that the British, who find everything "nice", could have produced a character like Samuel Johnson. "He lacked culpable delicacy to the exact same degree that he lacked good manners, an easy disposition, a sunny outlook, a helpful quality, an open spirit, a selfless gene, a handsome gait, or a general willingness to put his best foot forward in greeting others."


Further articles: Garry Wills is disconcerted by the speed at which Barack Obama's administration has come to resemble George Bush's. A White House official told Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, "It's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers". Ahmed Rashid describes with his usual thoroughness the downward spiral of the situation in Afghanistn - thanks to the Taliban, poppy cultivation and corrupt elections.


Al Ahram Weekly 10.09.2009 (Egypt)

With an eye on Yemen, Sudan, Palestine and even Egypt, Khalil El-Anani asks why Arab states are not more successful. He lists three contributing factors: "The first is the declining credibility of the Arab nation state due to political incompetence, economic corruption, social injustice, the failure to achieve domestic cohesion and to embrace religious and sectarian minorities, and the inability to meet the growing demands and aspirations of certain segments of society, notably young people. The second is the growing tendency on the part of the Arab state towards exclusiveness and an ever tighter monopoly on power, expressed daily in the form of police repression and tighter social surveillance and the natural reaction to which is social and sectarian discontent and rebelliousness.(...) The third factor is outside forces eager to exploit internal tensions to strengthen their influence in Arab society and whose success in such designs is contingent upon the existence of the foregoing conditions."

Hamid Dabashi, professor at Columbia University in New York delivers a devastating condemnation of the violence of the Iranian regime against the demonstrators. It ends with a warning that the Green Movement should not be encouraged by exiled Iranians (he does not name names) to resort to violence in return: "Outside the purview of the Islamic Republic and the violent expatriate 'opposition' it has generated against itself, the Green Movement needs to stay clear of both and turn to our extended literary humanism to sustain its moral rectitude. For all the terror that the Islamic Republic has perpetrated upon Islam and Muslims, the heart of Islam beats happily and resoundingly, sound and safe, where it has always been, in the best of our poetry, in our literature, in the solitude of our dis/belief..."

Giuseppe Acconcia writes about an Oud concert that took place during Ramadam. Samir Farid looks back at the Venice Film Festival.


The Walrus Magazine 01.10.2009 (Canada)

The English service of Al Jazeera is to the Arab world what Martin Luther's 95 Theses were for Europe, writes Deborah Campbell. "The birth of Al Jazeera marked the first time in modern history that a plurality of viewpoints was included in the Arab public discourse — and there was something to outrage just about everyone. With a mandate to broadcast 'the opinion and the other opinion' through a mix of news and audience-participation talk shows, the channel gave Israeli and American commentators a voice, along with religious skeptics, Islamic fundamentalists, women's advocates, and political dissidents. The result was accusations from all quarters — that it was an instrument of the Mossad, the CIA, or, of course, al Qaeda." Campbell describes an average afternoon in the channel's headquarters in Qatar: "Wadah Khanfar, the forty-year-old director general of the network (which encompasses the Arabic and English channels, plus a documentary channel, and a handful of subscription-only sports channels — the network's primary money-makers, given an ongoing Arab advertising boycott) has been contending with two new sources of outrage. Today it is Egypt, which is claiming that the 'state of Al Jazeera' is plotting to overthrow its government; and Sudan, where an adviser to the president wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes has stated that Al Jazeera is too 'stupid' to understand the concept of national interest. For Khanfar, an imposing figure in a navy blue pinstriped suit and red tie who wields stock phrases like 'speaking truth to power' and clearly relishes the role of the muckraker, it's just another ordinary day."


La vie des idees 21.09.2009 (France)

Despite his hoary 92 years, Eric Hobsbawm is still interested in revolution, as he tells the Internet magazine La vie des idees. The thrust of his argument: The problems are international but political parameters are still national. This means that revolt needs international agents. "The rise of the NGOs is essential, because they can act internationally." The first example of revolt on an transnational level was 1968, in which modern communication played a role for the first time. "In recent decades this technology has been used to launch worldwide campaigns, notably the struggle against globalisation which, in itself, is dependent on globalisation. How successful these struggles will be we cannot tell."

There is also a review of a cultural history of modern privacy: "Histoire de chambres" by Michelle Perrot (Seuil)

Elet es Irodalom 11.09.2009 (Hungary)

It is shocking how little Hungarians know about their own history, writes sociologist Maria Vasarhelyi, and she examines whether, a good six decades after the end of the war and five years after EU entry, Hungary has validated its "entry ticket into the moral and political community of the Europeans (Tony Judt). Two thirds of the population are still convinced that Hungary was "forced" into the war and to kill Jews by Nazi Germany. "The memories of the history of the entire 20th century are cloaked in denial and the desire for absolution. The same goes for the glorification of the Kadar system and the rejection of the post-Communist era. It is impossible to give a rational explanation of the profound ideological chaos which defines the relationship of the adult population to the recent past. In the minds of the majority, the idealisation and the gilded memories of the Kadar system occupies as much space as the unmitigated hatred of the Communists and a hunger for reckoning [...] Weighed down by lies and distortion, these memories have shut off the public's thinking in a bizarre time capsule. A coherent and balanced account of the past is as absent as a vision for the future. The people become prisoners of the past. Since we have neither a realistic image of our past nor our future, the prospect of rational consideration of the problems of the past is becoming increasingly unlikely."


Tygodnik Powszechny 20.09.2009 (Poland)

Soon after the Soviet army invaded Poland on 17 September 1939, the writer and painter Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewcz, or "Witkacy" as he was known, committed suicide. "For him September 1939 was the fulfilment of his darkest prophecies - from the inevitable end of European civilisation and the start of a new world which had no place for him," writes the "Witkacologist" Janusz Dengler. Paradoxically it is only today that we are prepared to look at his work again, Dengler tells his interviewer. Witkiewicz's vision of a uniformed society seems to be taking shape in our consumer society. "If Witkacy were to find out that people today spend their entire Sundays window shopping in shopping centres, he would tear his hair out and shoot himself in the head."

Other articles: There is a separate review of Janusz Dengler's newly published biography of Witkacy. Anita Piotrowska was so impressed by Paolo Sorrentino's film about Giulio Andreotti that she asks: "Even if we have never had a politician like Andreotti, why can't we at least have a film like this?" A number of articles deal with the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland and the end of the Polish presence in Ukraine and Belarus. Kinga Halacinska and Tomasz Potkaj remind us that the Polish have still not come to terms with the history of the Kresy (the Eastern territories that were lost after WWII) in spite of all the nostalgia tourism and contact with the area. Michal Kuzminski reports on a virtual Kresy museum which was started by Polish expats.

Nepszabadsag 19.09.2009 Hungary

The seemingly inextricable link between democracy and capitalism, has been broken, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek wrote in the London Review of Books earlier this summer, and he heralded in the "post-democratic" era. Political scientist Csaba Gombar can't hear another stream of words that starts with the word "post". "Wasn't 'post-industrial', 'post-modern' and 'post-American' enough? Of course when change is in the air, when we feel that something is coming to an end, we often struggle to find the right words. (...) Democracy as it is practised today perhaps no longer has the support of the masses. But since antiquity, democracy has been an ancient wish of humanity – even it it was suppressed for a long time - which can always take on new forms."


The New York Times 20.09.2009 (USA)

Next month sees the first ever publication of Carl Jung's "Red Book" in German and English. In 1913, at the age of 38, Jung suffered a sort of nervous breakdown. He was haunted by visions, heard voices, he "lost himself in the soup of his own psyche", as Sara Corbett puts it, after reading the book for the New York Times Magazine. And then he wrote down everything he had experienced, on an off for a period of 16 years: "What he wrote did not belong to his previous canon of dispassionate, academic essays on psychiatry. Nor was it a straightforward diary. It did not mention his wife, or his children, or his colleagues, nor for that matter did it use any psychiatric language at all. Instead, the book was a kind of phantasmagoric morality play, driven by Jung’s own wish not just to chart a course out of the mangrove swamp of his inner world but also to take some of its riches with him. (...) The book tells the story of Jung trying to face down his own demons as they emerged from the shadows. The results are humiliating, sometimes unsavory. In it, Jung travels the land of the dead, falls in love with a woman he later realizes is his sister, gets squeezed by a giant serpent and, in one terrifying moment, eats the liver of a little child. ('I swallow with desperate efforts — it is impossible — once again and once again — I almost faint — it is done.') At one point, even the devil criticizes Jung as hateful."

And Chip Brown portrays the "coolest opera soprano" of the moment: Danielle de Niese.
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