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20/10/2009

Magazine Roundup

Sinn und Form | London Review of Books | L'Espresso | Tygodnik Powszechny | The Economist | Le Nouvel Observateur | The New York Review of Books | Le point | The New Statesman | Nepszabadsag | Eurozine | The Guardian | Elet es Irodalom | The New York Times


Sinn und Form 07.10.2009 (Germany)

The Slavicist and translator Fritz Mierau remembers how he travelled to Crimea in the summer of 1965, to seek out a place for which he had neither directions nor any idea of what to look for. He found it in a bay, on the Black Sea. Here an excerpt: "The Russian history of ideas tells of a place called Koktebel and the man who made it famous, 'by finding it" and "inventing it" in Goethe's sense of the word, the poet and painter Maximilian Voloshin. (...) After years in St. Petersburg, Moscow and Paris he settled here well before the outbreak of the First World War, on the old caravan road from Asia to Europe, building his own caravanserai, even helping with the carpentry himself: For Voloshin, he and Koktebel were destined for one another. His life blended in with the effects of the elements there. Osip Mandelstam tells how a carpenter showed him Voloshin's grave, which lay high in the mountains of Karadag, above the left bank of the Bay of Ihpigenia. When they carried Voloshin's mortal remains up, in accordance with the author's will, the people were all aback by the impressive all-round view, which opened onto sea, mountains and steppes. Maximilian Alexandrowitsch was the first person to recognise the beauty of his spot."

There are also excerpts from an essay by John Carey on John Donne,and from a conversation between Ralph Shock and Christoph Hein. In the print edition only: articles from Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Michail Ryklin, Giwi Margwelaschwili, Emine Sevgi Özdemir and others


London Review of Books 22.10.2009 (UK)

Rachel Bowlby reads "Checkout: A life on the Tills" which Anna Sam has written from personal experience. "Sam worked behind the till for eight years at a large supermarket in Rennes. Her book is written as if it were a survival manual for the novice checkout worker. No frills – no plot or romance. (What not to say when you are asked at the interview why you want the job? 'Because my mother was a checkout girl'; 'Because I've always dreamed of working in a supermarket.') Just the small incidents and frustrations of any likely day, told in a series of tiny themed chapters. Once hired, there is a mentor to guide you through the first few shifts, but after a month you will be used to the beeping, used to the exhaustion. You will be like a machine; or, more lovingly put, it will be 'as if you and your till were one' – 'Mes caisses, mes amours.'"

Further articles: With a fine toothed comb, David Runciman picks through Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's "The Spirit Level", whose central argument is that inequality in rich countries is so detrimental to the lives of those at the bottom end that they are far worse off than people in overwhelmingly poorer countries. Jenny Diski immerses herself in a cultural history of American menstruation, "The Modern Period". David Bromwich charts Obama's path of compromise. Nicolas Pelham inspects the tunnels of Gaza. William Fever visits Frank Auerbach's exhibition of "Recent Pictures" at Marlborough Fine Art.


L'Espresso 15.10.2009 (Italy)

Every now and then Umberto Eco likes to immerse himself in exotic antiquarian catalogues. Recently he stumbled across the "Curious and Bizarre Books" of the French Libraires Associe and was keen to share the most choice tidbits with his readers: "In the selection of works which were certainly written in earnest, I found a treatise on the wail of pigeon, by Cardinal Bellarmine (the one from Galileo) about the location of the earthly paradise of Huet (which he placed near Basra, in startling contrast to the tradition that has it in the Far East, but which would explain Bush's invasion of Iraq), and Pierre Sindico's book on the Immobility of the Earth (1878). I also discovered that Ricciotto Canudo, whom I knew only in the role of serious film critic (and as the inventor of the term 'the seventh art'), was also a war hero, who was interested in the musical metaphysics of culture. There is also a wonderful second section about early historical languages – from the language of Adam (Druid according to John Cleland 1776), Basque as the language of Cam – according to Pedro Nada in 1885, and of course artificial languages like Bollack's Lange Bleue from 1900, Jallais's 'Sillabayre' from 1923, some instructions for building a reading machine as well as the Codex Napleonicus in verse by an anonymous writer in 1811."


Tygodnik Powszechny 18.10.2009 (Poland)

Poland is celebrating the "Year of Independent Culture" - until July next year. "When we talk about 1989 today, or more generally about the 70s and 80s, we tend to overlook culture. But underground culture in the People's Republic of Poland was an unusual phenomenon in the Eastern Bloc and played an important role in extending the areas of freedom, thus paving the way for 1989," says historian Lukasz Kaminski.

"Sobocinski hears the image. Yes he hears it before he sees it. Before his spectacular rise to Poland's leading cameraman, he was one of the country's most famous jazz musicians." Lukasz Maciejewski celebrates the 80th birthday of Witold Sobocinski, who made a name for himself working with Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi and Roman Polanski. And there is also an autobiographical essay from Herta Müller.


The Economist 16.10.2009 (UK)

New research has shown that the greatest barrier to development in the Arab states is the poor educational system, the Economist reports. This applies as much to Saudi Arabia as it does to Egypt. "A quarter of the kingdom's university students devote the main part of their degree course to Islamic studies, more than in engineering, medicine and science put together. And despite changes to Saudi curriculums, religious study remains obligatory every year from primary school through to university. ... Arab countries now spend as much or more on education, as a share of GDP, than the world average. They have made great strides in eradicating illiteracy, boosting university enrolment and reducing gaps in education between the sexes. But the gap in the quality of education between Arabs and other people at a similar level of development is still frightening."


Le Nouvel Observateur 16.10.2009 (France)

In an interview with the Nouvel Obs, playwright Yasmina Reza has nothing but scorn for those who want to see a long jail sentence for Roman Polanski, with whom she is planning a joint film project. "May I remind you that he is only accused of seducing a minor. No one is above the law, but not every one is a judge, lawyer or witness either. People neither know the complex and contradictory files of the case, nor do they know the protagonists of the affair. What sort of egotism makes people feel they have to right to condemn others publicly? What makes me angry is all this loud-mouthing that has no legitimacy whatsoever."


The New York Review of Books 05.11.2009 (USA)

Timothy Garton Ash has waded through a pile of books on 1989 – all of them make for interesting reading and contribute something new to the subject. Yet something's missing: "It is no criticism of any of these authors to say that I come away dreaming of another book: the global, synthetic history of 1989 that remains to be written." Ash knows exactly who should do it: "The time has come for a brilliant young historian - at home in many languages; capable of empathizing both with powerholders and with so-called ordinary people; a writer of distinction; tenured, but with few teaching obligations; well-funded for extensive research on several continents; Stakhanovite in work habits; monastic in private life - to start writing this necessary, almost impossible masterpiece: a kind of Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk of modern history. With luck, he or she should have it ready for the thirtieth anniversary, in 2019."

Stephen Greenblatt was most impressed by Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize winning novel, "Wolf Hall" , about one of the most unappealing figures in world history: Thomas Cromwell, the chief minister to Henry VIII. Greenblatt compares him with Stalin's sinister henchman, Lavarenti Beria: "Cromwell was a master of Machiavellian realpolitik. He had a particular gift for luring people to their doom by promising them the King's pardon, as he did Robert Aske and the other leaders of the Catholic Pilgrimage of Grace. One would think that the first few broken promises would have been enough to scuttle that particular trick forever, but it proved irresistible again and again, so much were people conditioned to accept the solemn word of a prince."

Further articles: James Bamford does his best, to cut his way through the yottabytes of data, which the National Security Agency has collected thus far. Jerome E. Groopman gives his diagnosis of what modern medicine is lacking.


Le point 15.10.2009 (France)

In his Bloc notes Bernard-Henri Levy explains his reasons for defending Polanski. To lock up a man who is not a paedophile and who has already served time for his deed, to hunt him down like a terrorist and turn him in like some "old Nazi" might correspond to the lettering of the law, but it has nothing to do with justice. Levy then addresses the "Messieurs les justiciers": "Either Polanski was a monster – then he should never have been awarded an Oscar or Cesar; he should have been turned in to the authorities every time he went on holiday with his family in Switzerland. But you never objected to his treading the red carpets of the world's film festivals. So you must sense, like I do, the immense hypocrisy of this prosecuting attorney, who hungry for recognition and glory wakes up one fine morning to deliver Polanski, like a trophy, to the vindictiveness of the voters - and must pray, like his victim, for everyone to leave him in peace, at last.


The New Statesman 19.10.2009 (UK)

After a decade of violence in Nepal, Isabel Hilton lists a catalogue of problems faced by this country, which is in the hands of an "unwieldy coalition" of 22 out of Nepal's 24 political parties. "Democracy is not an easy proposition in Nepal. Many of the country’s political parties – even the relatively disciplined Maoists – are racked with internal divisions, and defections are common. These tensions are acted out daily in the constituent assembly, which has set itself a deadline of next May to complete the blueprint for Nepal’s political future. To do that, it must choose between a presidential or a prime ministerial system and determine what degree of autonomy Nepal's 100-plus ethnic groups can hope for.General de Gaulle once remarked that it was impossible to govern a country that has 246 different kinds of cheese. Nepal, with 126 languages, presents an even greater challenge."

Living in London, the author Will Self sees – and treads on – chicken bones everywhere. After pondering the miserable fate of this ubiquitous finger-food foul, he decides to venture into a KFC: "I manfully ordered two pieces with fries and a small bucket of Sprite. I had been given two breasts – at least, I think they were chicken breasts; they might as well have been the buttocks of superannuated Indonesian child labourers."


Nepszabadsag 17.10.2009 (Hungary)

This October, the Hungarian constitution, which was originally intended only to be temporary – will be 20 years old. High time, according to historian and director of the Budapest Hapsburg Institute, Andras Gerö, to start thinking about bringin it up to date. He is also concerned about the role of the president, which is rapidly losing authority because it is voted by parliament and therefore can no longer be said to embody the nation as a whole. Gerö's solution to this authority gap is to reinstate the monarchy. "I believe the monarchy would be able to create the sort of authority within a political community which, alongside its democratic function and political criticism of the executive, would also fulfil the criterion that the constitution associates with the president, namely the political but not party-political embodiment of national unity. Of course this is only possible when the monarch reigns without governing, and his role is symbolic. The advantage of a monarch over a president is that he is subject to the hereditary succession, which means that his legitimacy is independent of party-political considerations. And he would probably not cost the state more than a president."


Eurozine 19.10.2009 (Austria)

Holocaust and Gulag research has created a distorted image of the victims, according to US historian Timothy Snyder. In Auschwitz, which has become the symbol of the Holocaust, mainly western European Jews were murdered. But the majority of victims in the German camps – approximately one third of– were Polish and Soviet Jews, who were killed in Treblinka, Belzen and Sobibor in occupied Poland. These victims play only a marginal role in Holocaust remembrance, Snyder says. Just like other eastern European victims. "If any European country seems out of place in today's Europe, stranded in another historical moment, it is Belarus under the dictatorship of Aleksandr Lukashenko. Yet while Lukashenko prefers to ignore the Soviet killing fields in his country, wishing to build a highway over the death pits at Kuropaty, in some respects Lukashenko remembers European history better than his critics. By starving Soviet prisoners of war, shooting and gassing Jews, and shooting civilians in anti-partisan actions, German forces made Belarus the deadliest place in the world between 1941 and 1944."

"In order to build real universality into the European project, cross-border provocation is a crucial element," journalist Arne Ruth declares, in his comparison of the way Switzerland and Sweden remember their role in WWII. The Swiss come off a lot better in his assessment than the Swedish, it should be said. He illustrates his central thesis with a story from his time as editor-in-chief at Sweden's major daily Dagens Nyheter. The paper published an investigative piece which "attracted very little public attention: the forced sterilization of some 60,000 Swedes – most of them poverty-stricken women – between the 1930s and the mid-1970s. There existed an academic dissertation dealing with the theme that had conveniently gone unnoticed. After we first ran the story – researched and written by Polish-born journalist Maciej Zaremba – it took a week for it to become general news in Sweden. Other media stayed silent during the first few days. In the meantime, Sweden was invaded by journalists from all over the world, including celebrated American television anchors. A later report by the Swedish foreign office stated that the international coverage of this story constituted two thirds of everything written about Sweden that year. The Swedish minister in charge of the issue was confronted with the question of compensating the victims on a CNN news programme. Swedish media, including my paper, had until then neglected this particular question; now the minister had to apologize facing an international audience."

Katharina Raabe, editor for eastern European literature at Suhrkamp Verlag, has written a sweeping survey (available in English) of the key authors from eastern central Europe who emerged "as the fog lifted" in 1989, and describes the role of German publishers in bringing them to western readers. She cites Yuri Andrukhovych to make an important point: "Anyone who says 'East' means Moscow; anyone who speaks of 'central Europe' is thinking of Vienna. It is the historic fate of central Europe, he says, ‘to be sandwiched between Russians and Germans'. There is a central European fear: fear of the Germans and fear of the Russians. A central European death: in the camps, in prison – a collective, violent death. And finally, a central European journey: flight. The inevitability of writing about death in all its different manifestations is what continues to give the literature of this region its force."


The Guardian 17.10.2009 (UK)

Booker Prize winner Hillary Mantel pens a punchy defence of the historical novel against critics who have called it "escapist" by nature. "It's as if the past is some feathered sanctuary, a nest muffled from contention and the noise of debate, its events suffused by a pink, romantic glow. But this is not how, in practice, modern novelists see their subject matter. If anything, the opposite is true. A relation of past events brings you up against events and mentalities that, should you choose to describe them, would bring you to the borders of what your readers could bear. The danger you have to negotiate is not the dimpled coyness of the past – it is its obscenity."

Further articles: Nicholas Wroe talks to the poet and publisher of the literary magazine Arete, Craig Raine.


Elet es Irodalom 09.10.2009 (Hungary)

For the past 13 years, the lawyer and sociologist Bela Reversz has been studying the documents of the Hungarian secret police. Bela Kurcz asks him whether Hungary's largest opposition party, Fidesz, will be able to make good on its promise to open all files following an election victory next year – after all, 27 percent of the files are still kept under wraps by the secret service. Revesz answers: "In the debate about Germany's past, Jürgen Habermas emphasised the need for public access to the past, which makes addressing the collective past a matter for the community as a whole.... The key question is then to what extent the community is equipped to address its own past and whether it wants to do so. ... But in my opinion, the most important thing is to free this problematic issue, firstly from clutches of the hysteria of politics, where politicians and the media are led by the interests of the moment, and on the other hand from the cage of the partisan interests of the experts."


The New York Times 18.10.2009 (USA)

Daniel J. Goldhagen, author of "Hitler's Willing Executioners" has written a history of genocidal killing (excerpt) which, contrary to Hannah Arendt, he says should be seen as a method of rational politics which has its orginis in nationalism, as James Traub writes. According to Goldhagen, genocide is more likely to be prevented without the UN than with it. "He heaps scorn on the United Nations, whose founding principles of respect for sovereignty and of noninterference in internal affairs have served, as he rightly observes, as a shield for leaders in Sudan and elsewhere who are bent on slaughtering their own people. He would dissolve the United Nations and establish in its place an organization of democracies dedicated to staging interventions. He does not pause to contemplate how very few takers such an organization would have."

Also in the Sunday Book Review: August Kleinzahler reviews Robing D.G Kelley’s long and obviously fascinating biography of Thelonius Monk (excerpt).
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