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06/10/2009

Magazine Roundup

openDemocracy | Literaturen | The New York Review of Books | Gazeta Wyborcza | L'Espresso | Jutarnji List | London Review of Books | ADN cultura | The Guardian | Polityka | Vanity Fair | Le Nouvel Observateur | Lettre International | Elet es Irodalom | Newsweek | Le point | Outlook India | The New Statesman | The New York Times

openDemocracy 02.10.2009 (UK)

The "Antisovyetskaya shashlik cafe", which sits across the street from the vast Sovyetskaya Hotel, recently yielded to pressure from the authorities to remove the "anti" from its name. The move followed a protest from WWII veterans, much to the distress of ex-dissident Alexander Podrabine, who spoke out against such "histrionic snivellings" in his blog and has been living in hiding since, following a slew of death threats. Open Democracy translates his blog entry: "You were so incensed by the "anti-Soviet" name, because, in truth, you were the ones who ran those camps and jails, you were commissars in anti-retreat units and executioners at shooting grounds. It was you, Soviet veterans, who defended the Soviet regime, and so it treated you kindly. Now you are scared of the truth, and cling to your Soviet past, (...) But I am from the anti-Soviet past of our country, and this is what I have to say. In the Soviet Union, there were other veterans besides you, who you did not want to know or hear about - the veterans who fought the Soviet regime. Your regime. They, like some of you, also fought against Nazism, and then they fought against communists in the forests of Lithuania and Western Ukraine, in the mountains of Chechnya and the deserts of Central Asia. They instigated camp uprisings in Kengir in 1954, or attended the 1962 rally in Novocherkassk that was fired upon. Almost all of them are dead and almost no one honours their memory. Squares and streets are not named after them. The few of them who are still alive, do not receive benefits or pensions from the state. They live in poverty and obscurity, not you, the preservers and respecters of the Soviet regime, but them - the true heroes of our country."


Literaturen 05.10.2009 (Germany)

This edition marks a relaunch of Literaturen as a bi-monthly instead of monthly magazine but there is no mention of the fact that half the staff have been given the chop.

The writers Christoph Hein and Ingo Schulze discuss 1989. Schulze explains why he doesn't like the label "Wenderomane" (novels about the fall of the Wall). "A book about 1989 is just as much about the world before and after, and the shift of dependencies. This is why I have always refused to describe 'Simple Stories' as a Wenderoman. 'New Lives' much more so, but I'd still rather steer clear of the term all together. It's an over-simplification that's is hard to shake, because people say, oh god, he's written another book about the fall of the Wall! The term sits on top of the book like a giant toad – not that I have anything against toads – but you end up not looking at what is underneath it."

Other articles: Frauke Meyer-Gosau paid a visit to the French author Emmanuelle Pagano in her home town of Aubenas. Ronald Düker portrays the leading Amazon critic Thorsten Wiedau. Jochen Schmidt entertains thoughts about his wonderfully "un-complex" brain. Aram Lintzel recommends the poet Monika Rinck's website of found expressions begriffsstudio. The – online - reviews cover Richard Powers' new novel "Generosity" and Julia Voss' non-fiction book "Darwins Jim Knopf".
The New York Review of Books (USA) 22.10.2009

"This is fiction unlike any other," writes Norman Rush about James Ellroy's "Underworld USA" trilogy, whose third volume, "Blood's a Rover" (author's reading) has just been published. You couldn't say the same about the contents of the plot - J. Edgar Hoover, Howard Hughes, the Mafia and the unions are all involved in the Kennedy murder, all the beautiful women are on the left and there are no Maoists around - but Ellroy tranforms it into high parody, inducting the reader into a paranoid fantasy state. Rush is delirious: "James Ellroy's brand of extreme writing is fun to read. At its best, it could be addictive. The stories are told in a uniform, crazed, modern American vernacular, and with such breakneck speed, hairpin plot turns, compression, and telescoping of events that the reader needs to stop and rest from time to time. The standard noir subject matter of killings, beatings, and acts of revenge is all here, but the incidents are so closely packed and described with such loving attention to the injuries suffered that it's hard not to feel that some limit of what the reader can bear is being toyed with".

Further articles: Lawrence Weschler visits David Hockney, who only indulges his "iPhone passion" with his thumbs. Joshua Hammer portrays the indestructible dictator Robert Mugabe. Richard Dorment reports on lawsuits about the authenticity of a number of Andy Warhol's works. Silly as this might seem – there's a helluva lot of cash involved.

Gazeta Wyborcza 04.10.2009 (Poland)

"This is not a discussion about Roman Polanski, about whether he's a national treasure or not. It is a discussion about who we are. What are morals are," writes the anthropologist Wojciech Burszta. "Why does everyone seem to think they have to have an opinion about this? It's because of you, the media, who are demanding this of us. But I think that's no bad thing. The key part of the discussion is taking place at home, in private conversations, within the family. As a society we have to answer a few fundamental questions: What is a child? What is an artist? How far can we go in defending a compatriot? Which arguments should we use to do so? We are putting ourselves under the knife. It might sound peculiar but it's good that we now have this opportunity. I hope some of the results will endure."


L'Espresso 02.10.2009 (Italy)

The word "culturame" is being bandied about a lot in Italy these days. And it is being used as a blanket term of disparagement for left-wing intellectuals, writes Umberto Eco, shaking his head. "The henchmen from the lower echelons of government are men who are interested in nothing but power (or money). They have simply not read enough to realise that there are such things as right-wing intellectuals. They just see liberals and only then when they are protesting about something. And so it's only natural that in these one-room brains, that intellectuals become synonymous with opposition."


Jutarnji List 29.09.09 (Croatia)

The Croatian daily newspaper, Jutarnji List, published an open letter to Cardinal Bozanic from the former head of the Jewish community in Zagreb, Slavko Goldstein. The letter contained praise for the cardinal's recent memorial visit to the Jasenovac concentration camp, which operated under the collaborationist Ustashe government of independent Croatia during WWII: Goldstein stated that this gesture "is perhaps the best way to counterbalance the indifference of the church towards the victims of Jasenovac that has lasted for too many decades." However, Goldstein objected to references in the cardinal's sermon to the equality of "victimhood" due to those soldiers of the pro-fascist forces killed at the end of the war (namely at Bleiburg) insisting on the fundamental difference between state-backed genocide and war crimes of revenge: "With that I would like to say that among the victims of Bleiburg and 'the way of the cross' [round up and march of pro-fascist forces across Yugoslavia by Tito's partisans at the end of WW II] there were not many innocent people." His comments highlight the continuing polemic in Croatian society between the political left and right and the ideological battle to write the definitive version of Croatia's recent history. It comes at a time when President Mesic has been involved in heavy public criticism of the role of the church in Croatian politics, which has in turn provoked angry reaction from some quarters of the local clergy.
London Review of Books 08.10.2009 (UK)

The great critic James Woods picks apart A.S. Byatt's new novel "The Children's Book' with his usual devastating subtlety and when he's done, little remains of the book. It is a sweeping family history that functions as a panorama of the years 1895 to 1919 and it is suffocated, Woods says, by Byatt's exhausting tendency to over explain everything. "An extraordinary, and wearisome, amount of attention is given to pots and glazes, to designs painted or printed on pots, on theatre sets, on dresses, on buildings, books and so on. The central mode of description is the ekphrasis; almost every page supports some static description of an already extant representation. Always static but always fervent: the novel quivers in aspic." Or: "Characters are similarly described – the life is glazed out of them." Or: "Whenever a detail could be selected at the expense of another one, Byatt will always prefer to buy both, and include the receipts."

Further articles: The painter Bridget Riley reflects on her art praxis. John Lanchester writes about gender-tests in sport – and the problems involved. Michael Wood watched Neill Blomkamp's South African sci-fi film "District 9".

Sadly there is no online access to Frank Kermode's article about J.M Coetzee.


ADN cultura 04.10.2009 (Argentina)

The writer Juan Villoro succumbs to a daydream: "What would happen if the printed book had just been invented in a high-tech world in which people had never done their reading from anything but computer screens. The unquestionable advantages of the computer would not be threatened by this new product but the people, who so love to compare apples with pears, would be quite bowled over by this ultra-modern invention: after years spent chained to the screen they would suddenly have something they could open like a window or a door – a machine you can physically enter! For the first time knowledge would be combined with a sense of touch and gravity – this new invention allows you to experience the most incredible sensations, reading becomes a physical experience. And after experiencing knowledge only as a bundle of connections, as a system of interacting networks, suddenly here is individuality: every book is an independent personality, which cannot be taken apart or added to at will. And how relaxing these new reading appliances are, their operating systems never needs updating – the only thing that changes over the course of time is the message that they contain, which is always open to new interpretations."

The Guardian 03.10.2009 (UK)

The baroque philosopher Kircher (1602-80) is enjoying a comeback. Not surprisingly, writes the fantasy writer Philip Pullmann, in his review of Joscelyn Godwin's book "Athanasius Kircher's Theatre of the World": "Kircher was an impresario of the extraordinary. He might have been the last man to know everything, and he lived at a time when everything there was to know included how the human vocal organs worked, the fact that giants probably didn't exist but dragons probably did, how to make a magic lantern, what the Potala palace in Lhasa looked like, and the habits and appearance of the celebrated juvenile Tartar demon and murderer, Phut. Kircher lived on the cusp between the magical world of the Middle Ages and the rational and scientific world of modernity – as perhaps we do again today, except that we're going in the other direction."

LOL? A comic about Bertrand Russell's "Principia Mathematica"? It's a must, according to Alex Bellos. "The 'Principia Mathematica' which Russell wrote together with Alfred North Whitehead, is probably the most impenetrable book ever written by a winner of the Nobel prize for literature. In it, the authors famously take 362 pages to prove 1 + 1 = 2, using a method so arcane that Cambridge University Press could not find anyone to evaluate the manuscript and Russell and Whitehead were made to pay for the printing themselves. For this reason, the Principia is not an obvious subject for a mainstream popular science book. Yet the intellectual and emotional journey that Russell took while writing it has been turned into a graphic novel by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou that is both a thrilling adventure and a serious history of the philosophy of mathematics."

Further articles: If you want to know anything about "the country formerly known as Great Britain", you should read Ian Jack's collected essays, which shine, writes author Giles Foden, with concreteness, materiality and the "intense thought that has gone into analysing the real reasons and consequences of social change." Sarah Crown visits the writer Simon Mawer, whose novel "The Glass Room", Crown says, has good chances of winning the Booker Prize.


Polityka 02.10.2009 (Poland)

Pawel Potoroczyn director of the Adam-Mickiewicz institute (IAM) explains to Piotr Sarzynski (here in German) why culture is not just edifying but actually useful: "An American businessman once put it like this: If I buy, build or privatise something in Poland, I might only fly out myself to cut the ribbon at the opening, but my management will live there for three to five years. They need a theatre, an opera, a philharmonic orchestra, ballet, jazz music, a golf course, decent restaurants and a good English school for their kids. Technology is everywhere, labour and living costs are levelling out across Europe. The competition in the fight for capital is shifting from the hard to the soft, and a country's image is becoming a key factor in that competition. We don't have a particular face in the world. Why not make culture our face?"


Vanity Fair (USA), 01.11.2009

Rupert Murdoch's biographer Michael Wolff writes about Murdoch's "war against the Internet". "In one of my favorite Murdoch stories, his wife, Wendi, who had befriended the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, told me about how the 'boys' had visited the Murdochs at their ranch in Carmel, California. When I marveled at this relative social mismatch and asked what they might have talked about, Wendi assured me that they had all gotten along very well.
'You know, Rupert,' Wendi said, 'he's always asking questions.'
'But what,' I prodded, 'did he exactly ask?'
'He asked,' she said, hesitating only a beat before cracking herself up, 'Why don't you read newspapers?'"

The Financial Products department of the U.S insurance giant AIG found itself in the eye of the financial hurricane, and is now on a drip from the US government. Researching his article for Vanity Fair Michael Lewis discovered just how much one individual can influence these things. He portrays the boss of AIG FP, Joe Cassano as a "cartoon despot", who scared the last modicum of sense out of his employees: "A.I.G. F.P. could attract extremely bright people, whose success depended on precision of both calculation and judgment. It was now run, roughly, by a man who didn't fully understand all the calculations and whose judgment was clouded by his insecurity. The few people willing to question that judgment wound up quitting the firm. Left behind were people who more or less accommodated Cassano. 'If someone is a complete asshole,' one of them puts it to me, 'you seek his approval in a way you don't if he's a nice guy.'"

Le Nouvel Observateur 01.10.2009 (France)

The philosopher Pascal Bruckner, who recently published an essay on "Le Paradoxe amoureux", looks at whether it's possible to combine the desire for symbiosis and the need for individual autonomy in love. When asked whether men and women have gained anything since sexual liberation, Bruckner describes it as "the opening of the prison gates". "On the other hand we have lost the security that came from the separation of the sexes. When I hear that women are complaining that the real men have disappeared, or that men are complaining that they have been taken for a ride, I tell myself that both are mourning the old division of the roles, which were perhaps unfair but at least offered clarity: Tell me who you are so that I know who I am. (...) The gradual disintegration of the patriarchal system has led to a crisis of masculinity and well as a painful learning process for women in their new freedom. Being a man or a woman no longer simply happens, if the gender split has lost its enigma."


Lettre International 01.10.2009 (Germany)

The new Lettre International is a double edition to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. The philosopher Harry Lehmann posits somewhat adventurously (excerpt) that it was the GDR's design that was its undoing. Even the most basic market research was considered counter-revolutionary. "Even when studies were carried out into social background, education and income to find out about the people's taste which was drifting asunder, such politically explosive material would usually get locked away in the poison cabinet. Design departments which oriented themselves towards such consumer analyses instantly became counter-revolutionary cells. Products developed using such secret knowledge would not only have made social differences visible, these would have been reflected in the world of commodities – and strenghtened in society."

Next to all the articles about Berlin, the writer Carsten Probst travels to Georgia and finds no evidence that the situation in the region has relaxed now that the war is over. "I left the hotel with the queasy feeling that I had just witnessed a propaganda event, whose grotesqueness was topped only by my feeling of deep shock that, even after a decade and a half, the Georgian government was still refusing to build proper housing for the Georgians who had fled Abkhazia. They were letting them rot in these makeshift arrangements [in the hotel] as a symbolic demonstration of their territorial claims to Abkhasia, instead of offering these people a new life by accepting international aid."

Further articles: Frank Berberich's interview with the ex-finance minister Thilo Sarrazin (excerpt) has already caused quite a scandal – in Die Welt, in the Tagesspiegel, in the Berliner Zeitung – because of Sarrazin's derogatory remarks about Berlin's Arab and Turkish community. Psychogeographer Iain Sinclair walks from Alexanderplatz to the Telegraphenberg in Potsdam (excerpt) and arrives at the conclusion that Berlin in the new Hackney. Ex-Merve publisher writes down fragments of memories of his time in Berlin. The wonderful Svetlana Alexievitch (website) writes a staccato piece about the end of communism. Gurman Sadulajew talks about life as a Chechen rebel and much, much more


Elet es Irodalom 25.09.2009 (Hungary)

The relationship between democracy and capitalism has been destroyed according to an article by the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Sizek in the London Review of Books over the summer. A "postdemocratic" era is headed our way – despite the fact that democracy and capitalism seemed inseparable for so long. In Zizek's argument, this "crisis of democracy" does not mean that normal citizens will doubt their own power, but that they will no longer trust the political elites. The ethnologist Peter Niedermüller believes this to be a fitting description of the situation in Hungary – even though 20 years ago, everything looked so promising – now the majority of Hungarians want a new, a different path out of communism. "In this respect, you could say that Hungarian democracy is in crisis. This is why we really have to think long and hard about how to get out of this crisis, this cul-de-sac, which we have manoeuvred ourselves into over the past two decades."


Newsweek 05.10.2009 (USA)

The future of journalism is "hyperlocal", writes Johnnie L. Roberts and lists three reasons why: AOL has just bought Patch.com, a hyperlocal website based in eleven U.S. Cities; the new AOL boss is Tim Armstrong, the former advertising sales boss at Google; and thirdly, the local advertising market in the USA is worth a hundreds of billions of dollars. A city like Millburn just outside New York is currently brimming with local bloggers who are covering every last car crash: "There's still wariness among locals unaccustomed to being covered so closely by bloggers. One Friday at 3:30 p.m., Millburn.Patch editor Connic is interviewing town administrator Gordon. He dutifully answers questions about the agenda at the next Township Committee meeting. As the interview concludes, Gordon reflects on his new life in the hyperlocal media spotlight. 'They drive me crazy,' he says. 'You have a lot of people blogging who may not know the facts—what is rumor becomes fact, [and] I have to worry about running the town, not rumors.' At times Gordon longs for the days when the weekly newspaper, The Item, was Millburn's sole watchdog. 'It was slower, and [its] reporters mostly stayed in their office,' he says."


Le point 01.10.2009 (France)

In his Bloc notes, Bernard-Henri Levy asks whether it's possible to beat the Taliban in Afghanistan. Levy was there recently and strongly rejects the cliche that this is a Franco-American war in which the Afghans are just extras. "Occupying power, oh really? Neocolonialism, as those useful idiots from the movement for Islamic progress would have us believe? Armies, like peoples, have a subconscious. I don't deny that the temptation could exist. But what I observed there, at this moment, is this: a military force which is quite literally enabling the people to vote and which is strengthening the democratic process. (...) Of course I didn't see everything. But what I did see was this: an ugly war, like all wars; but a just war; one that is being fought far more competently that people are saying and one which the Afghan democrats, together with their allies, stand a chance of winning."


Outlook India 12.10.2009 (India)

The East is overtaking the West? No question about it. When was the last time you heard a story like this in the West? A poor, uneducated girl from a family of weavers in the middle of nowhere – Kannada - is abandoned by her husband, spurned by her family, pregnant with her second child, joins an amateur theatre company and, after years of hard work on tour, is celebrated across the whole of India. This is the story of Umashree who, in 2007, won the national film prize for her role as the movie-crazed Muslim woman in Girish Kasaravalli's film "Gulabi Talkies". Sugata Srinivasaraju portrays the actress all too briefly: "In a rare tribute, Kasaravalli, who never recasts his lead players, has cast Umashree again for his next film. 'Her strength lies in not overly sentimentalising something. Her range is stupendous,' he says. 'As Gulabi, she neither became melodramatic nor subjected herself to great restraint. In her cheer you can perceive her loneliness.'"

Further articles: Anuradha Raman describes the furore surrounding Joe Wright's film about the, ehem, relationship between Edwina Mountbatten (Cate Blanchett) and Nehru (Irrfan Khan). The scandal, it should be said, has nothing to do with the fact that Hugh Grant is playing Edwina's husband, Lord Mountbatten.


The New Statesman 05.10.2009 (UK)

Edward Skidelsky finds Michael Sandel's lectures on moral reasoning "enormously refreshing". Sandel rejects both strands of modern liberalism which prioritise the right over the good. Skidelsky is not entirely convinced: "The reason modern liberals are so keen to put to one side questions concerning the good is that they think them unanswerable. They are, on the whole, moral sceptics – they hold that there is no such thing as moral truth, or at least none easily accessible to us. To tether questions of the right to questions about the good appears to them a recipe for civil war. If Sandel's alternative is to convince us, he must show us that there is such a thing as moral truth, and that it is accessible to us."

Further articles: Tim Adams writes about Anselm Kiefer, who has a show opening in London's White Cube gallery on October 16. Antonia Quirke listened to a BBC programme about the conductor Carlos Kleiber.


The New York Times 04.10.2009 (USA)

Lewis Hyde, author of "The Gift", turns his thoughts to the Google Book Settlement and fails to find any solution that would be acceptable to America's founding fathers. "Jefferson especially believed that no generation had a right to bind those that followed. 'The earth belongs ... to the living,' he wrote to Madison in 1789; 'the dead have neither powers nor right over it.' That being the case, 'perpetual monopolies' in arts 'ought expressly to be forbidden,' Jefferson's own suggestion being that copyright run no more than 19 years." And yet the settlement "portends Google's unlimited dominion over electronic books." (Hyde has compiled his collected thoughts about copyright in pdf form.)

The reviews cover Kazuo Ishiguro's new collection of short stories (which do little for Christopher Hitchens) and Karen Armstrong's book "The Case for God".
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