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10/11/2009

Magazine Roundup

openDemocracy | Neue Zürcher Zeitung | Tygodnik Powszechny | Newsweek | Eurozine | The Spectator | Outlook India | Wired | Odra | Al Ahram Weekly | Vanity Fair | Elet es Irodalom | The Times Literary Supplement | L'Espresso | The New Republic | Standpoint | Nepszabadsag | Edge | The Guardian | The New York Times


openDemocracy 09.11.2009 (UK)

Neal Ascherson describes beautifully how long it took the West to catch on to what was happening in Eastern Europe. "Even then, none of us understood that the whole imperium from the Bug to the Rhine was no more than an old wasps' nest hanging from a roof - dried-out, abandoned by the stinging hordes, ready to fly to dust at a blow. But the people did get it. They had lost something - not exactly their fear, but their patience. Suddenly it seemed unbearable to go on accepting these systems, these portly little idiots in their blue suits, for another year, and then for another day, another hour. That special sort of impatience is the power-surge of revolution. ... It was a real revolution. But with one missing feature. That is the feeling in a people that 'We have done it once, and if the new lot let us down, we can do it again!' It was that proud, menacing confidence which made the French revolution special. But it's not around in 21st-century Europe. After 1989, the people handed over liberty to the experts. Will they ever want it back?"

Fred Halliday points out that 1989 not only brought more freedom to the world, but also more nationalism and civil war, kleptocracy and anarchy. Open Democracy has also collected together a choir of European voices: Ivan Krastev, for example, diagnoses the political power of 1989 in both West and East, with exhaustion. Adam Szostkiewicz admits freely that "it was not velvet after 1989 - but a tough ride."


Neue Zürcher Zeitung 07.11.2009 (Switzerland)

In the midst of all the excitement over the fall of the Wall, we should not forget, writes Joachim Güntner in the NZZ feuilleton, that the West really had very few bones about it being there. "The SED strategy of consolidation through partition seemed to be working out well and the Western powers were relieved to see Berlin the conflict zone in a tight corset. This helped keep the Cold War cold. The USA, France and England were not overly perturbed by the situation. And the West Germans? They soon cooled their concerns for the people behind the Wall too."


Tygodnik Powszechny 08.11.2009 (Poland)

Wojciech Pieciak knows exactly what he was doing on November 9, 1989. He was at a friend's house in East Berlin, where he was woken with the news that the border had opened, but thinking this too good to be true, promptly went back to sleep. Now he looks back on those days and the conversations he had with GDR opposition activists and comments: "Only a few weeks earlier, in September and October, they believed that they had broken through the social isolation. That finally, like in Poland nine years before, workers, students and intellectuals were standing together, and that the opposition finally had some support. After all, even in smaller towns, countless thousands of people were demonstrating. But this power was illusory: they did change things, only to become useless again moments later."

Other articles on the subject include the notes from a discussion between experts about Polish-East German relations during the communist era. The historian Lukasz Kaminski remembers, for example, that as early as the 1970s, the Polish opposition regarded German reunification as the prerequisite for a new Europe. "It's worth looking at the background. Why was the Polish opposition calling for German unity as early as the 1970s and 80s, when memories of the war were so much more alive than they are today?" His fellow historian, Andrzej Paczkowski, replies: "I believe that one of the first Poles to write about German unity as a prerequisite for European unity was Juliusz Meiroszewski, in the Parisian exile magazine Kultura in 1954. In a commentary on West Germany's Nato entry, he wrote that there would be no free Poland without a unified Germany. The other conclusion you could draw is that there can be no free Poland without an independent Ukraine. But that's another issue."

There is also a report on the Joseph Conrad festival and the accompanying literary festival in Krakow as well as a blog by Grzegorz Nurek on the event. In the literary supplement, Krzysztof Siwczyk writes about Thomas Bernhard's early work "Gargoyles", which has just been translated into Polish. "It sees a development of his prose style using repeated sentences, maniacal recourse to key words, and an almost pathological escalation of adjectives that demonstrate his contempt for humanity. Bad, worse, worst – that is Bernard's man." There is also mention of the upcoming "Sputnik" festival of Russian cinema, which will run for two weeks in 26 Polish cities.


Newsweek 16.11.2009 (USA)

Was 1989 really so central to global history? Historian Niall Ferguson has his doubts, and not only because he left Berlin just before November 9th. "By comparison, the events of 10 years earlier - in 1979 - surely have a better claim to being truly historic. Just think what was happening in the world 30 years ago. The Soviets began their policy of self-destruction by invading Afghanistan. The British started the revival of free-market economics in the West by electing Margaret Thatcher. Deng Xiaoping set China on a new economic course by visiting the United States and seeing for himself what the free market can achieve. And, of course, the Iranians ushered in the new era of clashing civilizations by overthrowing the shah and proclaiming an Islamic Republic. Thirty years later, each of these four events has had far more profound consequences for the United States and the world than the events of 1989."


Eurozine 06.11.2009 (Austria)

The Hungarian historian Laszlo Bohri remembers the reluctant and fearful reaction of Europe and the US to the events of 1989. The politicians in Austria, for example, (not that they disgraced themselves any more than their counterparts in Bonn, Paris or London. "Austrians recommended slow and predictable democratisation. The general secretary of the Austrian Foreign Ministry, Thomas Klestil, queried Hungary's foreign minister, Gyula Horn, about the limits of transformation and whether these limits would lead to tension with the Soviet Union. Austrians feared the ramifications of change. Their foreign minister, Alois Mock, was concerned that the Hungarian decision in February to remove the border fences would mean an increase in the number of East European refugees arriving in Austria. Growing financial burdens could lead Austria to alter its refugee policy. By mid-summer, Austrian socialists were expressing anxiety that the HSWP might collapse and anarchy would set in, seeing this as a danger just as real as the reversal of reforms. Their message, as reported by the Hungarian embassy in Vienna, was that 'Hungary should not cause a headache for Europe again.'"


The Spectator 07.11.2009 (UK)

The Spectator celebrates the fall of the Wall as a personal triumph. It is celebrating with a description of how the Labour Party pandered to the Soviets in the 1970s (the fact that Thatcher imported Soviet coal to crush the miners's strike in the 80s will be dealt with next week, no doubt), but also with the memoirs of a student in Berlin who covered the event for the Spectator: Timothy Garton Ash. "The most delightful of all was the velvet revolution in Prague. From the bowels of the subterranean Magic Lantern theatre, the playwright-dissident Vaclav Havel directed and starred in his greatest play: 300,000 people formed the cast, assembling day after day on Wenceslas Square, one of the largest and finest stages on earth. Cry your eyes out, Cecil B. de Mille."


Outlook India 15.11.2009 (India)

This week's issue is dedicated to the dire situation in Arunachal, an Indian state on the border with Tibet. During the Indo-Chinese war of 1962, the Chinese tried in vain to conquer the region. Today the inhabitants of Arunachal look around at their region which has been forgotten by Delhi and is plagued by corruption and poor roads, and wonder whether they would have been better off with China after all, with or without democracy, as Saikat Datta reports. The Arunachali Ritesh "recalls the day he went across the McMahon Line, which divides India from China, for the first time in his life - and saw what China was all about. Actually, Ritesh didn't really see mainstream China but the region euphemistically called the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Ritesh could cross the McMahon Line because of a tradition that the Indian and Chinese military follow diligently every year. On August 15, a Chinese delegation crosses over to Tawang at Bum La; on October 2, to commemorate the Chinese National Day, an Indian delegation crosses over into TAR. On these two days, both sides jointly hoist the respective flags of their countries. Amidst bonhomie, each delegation shows off its country's achievements to the other. It was on one such trip that Ritesh witnessed China's progress. 'The roads were beautiful,' he reminisces, 'the villages swank and the infrastructure fantastic. Then I recalled the road I'd taken from Tezpur over two days to get there and I began to wonder where Arunachal would have been had it continued under China post-1962.'"

Further articles: The Chinese journalist Wang Yaodong complains bitterly about what he sees as the tendentious reporting on China in the Indian media. Pranay Sharma admits that the Indians are deeply unsettled by China's growth rate. And Lola Nayar is keeping an eye on trade between India and China.


Wired 01.11.2009 (USA)

Daniel Roth looks into the future and sees the Henry Ford of the information age: a company called Demand Media, which produces 4,000 articles and videos every day. The company philosophy is that neither the traditional media, nor the bloggers, nor the social networks are able to provide answers to the questions that people are really asking. At Demand Media, "pieces are not dreamed up by trained editors nor commissioned based on submitted questions. Instead they are assigned by an algorithm, which mines nearly a terabyte of search data, Internet traffic patterns, and keyword rates to determine what users want to know and how much advertisers will pay to appear next to the answers." The articles and videos are made by freelancers who are paid an average of 15 dollars per article and 20 per video. The Demand Studio website features a list of required articles. On one single day Demand can commission up to 62,000 articles.


Odra 01.10.2009 (Poland)

The most interesting articles in this Polish periodical are sadly not available online. These include the conversation with the literary critic Piotr Sliwinski, about the twenty years after the collapse of communism. "It's impossible to talk about a unified literary epoch; it's much more a case of out with the old and in with the new. The old was dominated by the quest for authenticity, a focus on existential questions, the rejection of the idea of grand national literature. The new has other aims: rediscovering the self though artificiality, playing with identity, seeing writing and being a writer as a form of performance." The new generation of writers neither havve to struggle with communism nor greet liberty, they have never touched a typewriter and they have no need to be embarrassed about owning mobile phones. This does not necessarily make the literature any better or worse, but beneath all the "recycling, pastiche, cover", is a truth which only the best writers will be able to reveal, according to Sliwinski.

Alan Weiss remembers Stanislav Vincenz, a writer who was highly influential during his lifetime, but who is now a near-forgotten Homer of the Hutsuls in today's Ukraine. "Reading his books are a throw-back to travelling third-class on a Ukrainian train from Ivano-Frankivsk to the Cernohora mountains. A train you will certainly want to leave after an hour, but which you soon start to miss. You will long for the languously passing landscapes, the hard wooden benches and the people hawking their wares. Just like Vincenz's writing - inconspicuous and sometimes uncomfortable, but guaranteed to make you want to return."


Al Ahram Weekly 05.11.2009 (Egypt)

Why has the Arab world failed to take on board the lessons of the U.N.'s devastating Arab Human Development Report asks Ramzy Baroud. Although there have been some isolated improvements, in education for examply: "But of course education is a mindset, a culture even. What is the point of pursuing a PhD in a society where b determines who does what? It's more rational, from a self-seeker's point of view, to spend time knowing - and passing one's business cards to - the "right people" than spending years of one's life pursuing a university degree."

Further articles: Having watched two TV mini-series during Ramadam, Charlotte El-Shabrawy learned what concerns are currently central to Egyptian society today: men's pride, women's liberation, divorce, drugs, Aids, domestic violence, dementia etc. Sounds familiar. And Ati Metwaly reviews "Romeo and Juliet" the ballet.


Vanity Fair 01.12.2009 (USA)

Mark Bowden tells the story of the arrest of a paedophile. Except that he probably wasn't interested in children at all. The man was having an online chat with a female police officer and her two imaginary children. Bowden publishes a section of the conversation so that the readers can judge for themselves. Bowden also picks apart the numbers which supposedly prove that child pornography has spread like an epidemic thanks to the Internet: "Like other popular delusions, fear of the Internet child-molester contains a trace of logic. It is reasonable to ask if the explosion of Internet pornography, including child pornography, might lead more troubled souls down a path to criminal depravity. But the Internet has been with us since the mid-1990s. If it were going to cause a sudden increase in molestation, wouldn’t we have seen it by now? In fact, the trend lines go the opposite way. For instance, sexual assaults on teens fell dramatically - by 52 percent - between 1993 and 2005, according to the Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey."


Elet es Irodalom 30.10.2009 (Hungary)

The media studies academic Peter György visits an exhibition curated by Gerald Matt, "1989 – End of History or Beginning of the Future?" in Vienna, which was obviously pretty provocative: "As Matt sees it, a museum is not there to adhere to a faithful presentation of events, but to use the issue as a point of departure from which to show the children of 1989 where the world in which they are living, began, and to give them the opportunity to come to terms with their nostalgia and their wounded sense of justice. The Hungarian visitors of the 1989 exhibition ... will be confronted with a series of politically provocative images, that will force them beyond cliched response and into unsparing introspection. The images wield such power that resistance is pointless. Twenty years after 1989, the universalism, in whose spirit and hope we once lived, is disappearing from view. Self-examination has become more important than ever. "


The Times Literary Supplement 04.11.2009 (UK)

In his day Hugo von Hofmannsthal was compared with Goethe and Mozart, according to Paul Reitter, Associate Professor for German at the Ohio State Univesity. But he also had his critics, in particular the writer Karl Kraus, who never missed an opportunity to swing a punch: "An avid collector of porcelain who contributed poems to Stefan George's rarefied Blätter für die Kunst, Hofmannsthal attracted the charge of aestheticist decadence. Kraus mocked him as a gatherer of precious 'gems', who 'flees life' while worshipping 'the things that prettify it'. The criticism stuck, but it was hardly fair. From the start, in fact, Hofmannsthal expressed doubts about the very tendencies that Kraus associated him with. Indeed, he once spoke of how being 'modern' meant displaying 'new neuroses and old furniture'. And while escape from the world is an important theme in his works from the 1890s, it is dramatized as a problem, rather than as an ideal."


L'Espresso 06.11.2009 (Italy)

Just for the record: Silvio Berlusconi of course denies any involvement in the affair. Canale 5, one of the channel's in Berlusconi's portfolio, broadcast a report about the Milan judge Raimondo Mesiano, which had obviously been filmed without his consent, as Umberto Eco reports. Mesiano is shown waiting outside a barber's shop "nervously" dragging on a cigarette, and sitting on a park bench with particular focus on his turquoise socks. Mesiano fined Belusconi's Fininvest 750 million Euros. As a ten-year-old boy, Umberto Eco unwittingly penned an anonymous letter for an elderly woman, using such harmless sentences as "your spouse is very popular in the city" or "the family is very wealthy". So Eco is attuned to the finer points of denunciation: "Of course specific allegations are made, more or less anonymously, which point to a particular crime (he's a paedophile, tax embezzler, he's sleeping with your husband or wife, has connections with Osama) and these are the most common. But they are also, how should I put it, the most innocent because it only takes one tiny fact to reveal their fraudulence and render them harmless. The most dangerous are the ones that make no claims and leave everything up to the recipient. They are intangible but dangerous."


The New Republic 09.11.2009 (USA)

Sarah William Goldhagen dragged her goodhearted family across Switzerland on a pilgrimage of Peter Zumthor's out-of-the-way buildings, whose uncanny beauty she describes in quasi-religious tones. Here she is in the Thermal Baths in Vals: "This taut, polyphonic symphony of stone, shadow, water, and light equals architecture's greatest places - take your pick: the Pantheon in Rome, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the Alhambra in Granada, Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, Louis Kahn's Parliament Building in Dhaka. Zumthor's Thermal Baths, like these other buildings, alter your understanding of what architecture can be while at the same time changing you. (...) Woman or man, at the Thermal Baths, you do not simply take the waters. You engage in a profound ritual of cleansing and purification practised by multitudes, in divergent cultures, over thousands of years, a ritual imbued with hosts of symbolic associations, contemplative transformations, and spiritual dimensions. Here moments and spaces lodge into your being, lasting memories of those scarce moments of beauty made by man."


Standpoint 1.11.2009. (UK)

The Catholic writer Piers Paul Read and the conservative politician David Heathcoat-Amory have known each other since childhood. But one grew up to be a EU fan and the other, a sceptic. For anyone from Central or Eastern Europe, their conversation will seem to hail from another planet. When Heathcoat-Amory's objects that the EU wants to build a supranational state, Read replies: "Yes, that is what we want. The nation states led to endless wars, competition and slaughter. The nation state was a terrible idea, whereas Charles V's concept of Christendom, of a European Holy Roman Empire, was a wonderful idea. And the EU is to some extent a re-embodiment of Charles V's concept of how Europe should be governed. For example, I don't think Spain and Austria have ever fought a war. Have they, the two Habsburg powers? I mean, if the Habsburgs had ruled the whole of Europe, we wouldn't have had those religious wars. Protestantism would have been nipped in the bud by the Inquisition."


Nepszabadsag 07.11.2009 (Hungary)

The so-called "gambling affair" divided the polish media into pro-government and opposition overnight. Now that the fronts have hardened, the Polish political commentator Bogdan Goralczyk is worried that a "cold civil war" will break out, like the one that has been raging in Hungary for years. "On the day of reckoning, everyone will be on the losing side. If emotions don't cool off soon, and party interests aren't put aside, the greatest loser could be Poland itself. [...] Luckily the conflict has not spread beyond the political and media elite into the larger population, so at least that the economic situation has a chance of remaining stable. But despite the winter, Poland has plenty of hot months ahead – and this has nothing to do with global warming."


Edge 27.10.2009 (USA)
On the edge.org Frank Shirrmacher, co-publisher of the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung expresses his concern about the future of our brains the in age of internet-overload. "It's a kind of catharsis, this Twittering, and so on. But now, of course, this kind of information conflicts with many other kinds of information. And, in a way, one could argue — I know that was the case with Iran — that maybe the future will be that the Twitter information about an uproar in Iran competes with the Twitter information of Ashton Kutcher, or Paris Hilton, and so on. The question is to understand which is important. What is important, what is not important is something very linear, it's something which needs time, at least the structure of time. Now, you have simultaneity, you have everything happening in real time.

 

Jaron Lanier, Nick Bilton, Nick Carr, Douglas Rushkoff, Jesse Dylan, Virginia Heffernan, Gerd Gigerenzer, John Perry Barlow, Steven Pinker and John Bargh put their heads together. Pinker, a Harvard psychologist, recommends that we admit what a load of nonsense gets talked at even the most educated dinner tables, and engage in some rigorous rethinking about the Internet: "I mention this because so many discussions of the effects of new information technologies take the status quo as self-evidently good and bemoan how intellectual standards are being corroded (the 'google-makes-us-stoopid' mindset). They fall into the tradition of other technologically driven moral panics of the past two centuries, like the fears that the telephone, the telegraph, the typewriter, the postcard, radio, and so on, would spell the end of civilized society."
The Guardian 07.11.2009 (UK)

Her children's books about the Moomins (those amiable large-nosed creatures who survived existentialist Scandinavian winters time after time) brought Finnish author Tove Jansson so much recognition, that her writing for adults was often overlooked. Ali Smith delights in a first-time translation of Jansson at her best: "A novel about truth, deception, self-deception and the honest uses of fiction, 'The True Deceiver' is almost deadpan in its clarity and seeming simplicity, and is at heart one of her most mysterious and subtle works. First published in 1982, it was her third novel specifically for adults. Her biographer, Boel Westin, records that she had great difficulty with it. 'Its unsparing view of life,' Westin comments, 'is, in fact, one of the characteristics of her adult books.' Jansson herself commented on how 'stubbornly, labororiously' she had worked on it. There's no doubting the oppressiveness of the conditions under which her characters have to live and work. 'The winds had risen. It pressed snow against the windows with a powerful whispering that had followed the people of the village for a long, long time. Between squalls there was silence.'"

Stefan Collini reads the second volume of T.S. Eliot's letters: An 800-page "slab of mostly unrevealing, practicality-driven letters [which] depicts in harrowing detail a man almost drowning in the busyness he needed to stop himself from being driven mad." And Philip Henshes is prompted by a new Alan Bennet play to re-examine the brief creative relationship between Benjamin Britten and W.H. Auden, and what went wrong.


The New York Times 08.11.2009 (USA)

In a fascinating essay, Emily Parker outlines the effects of digital communication on the Japanese language. "Now the Japanese language is being transformed by blogs, e-mail and keitai shosetsu, or cellphone novels. Americans may fret over the ways digital communications encourage sloppy grammar and spelling, but in Japan these changes are much more wrenching. A vertically written language seems to be becoming increasingly horizontal. Novels are being written and read on little screens. People have gotten so used to typing on computers that they can no longer write characters by hand. And English words continue to infiltrate the language."

The reviews cover Stephen King's new novel "Under the Dome" (audio sample), a Samuel Johnson biography, and John Irving's latest novel "Last Night in Twisted River" (excerpt). The magazine focusses on health reform and the question of how to document modern dance.
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