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24/11/2009

Magazine Roundup

The New Yorker | Elet es Irodalom | Prospect | Tygodnik Powszechny | The Walrus Magazine | La vie des idees | Polityka | L'Espresso | HVG | The Guardian

The New Yorker 30.11.2009 (USA)

Ariel Levy tells the story of the South African 800-meters runner Caster Semenya. After her victory at the world championships this year, her enormous power, deep voice and masculine appearance raised suspicions that she might be "intersexual", and she was asked by the I.A.A.F. athletics federation to take a gender test. But, as Levy shows, sex determination is not as simple as it sounds: "Unfortunately for I.A.A.F. officials, they are faced with a question that no one has ever been able to answer: what is the ultimate difference between a man and a woman? 'This is not a solvable problem,' Alice Dreger, a professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics, said. 'People always press me: 'Isn’t there one marker we can use?' No. We couldn't then and we can't now, and science is making it more difficult and not less, because it ends up showing us how much blending there is and how many nuances, and it becomes impossible to point to one thing, or even a set of things, and say that's what it means to be male.'"

James Wood reviews Paul Auster's new book "Invisible." David Denby watched Richard Linklater's latest film "Me and Orson Welles", and Werner Herzog's thriller "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" starring Nicholas Cage. There is a short story, "Midnight in Dostoevsky", by Don Delillo and poems from Sarah Arvio and Philip Schultz.


Elet es Irodalom 13.11.2009 (Hungary)

Janosz Szeky comments on the furore in Hungary that was provoked by Imre Kertesz's interview (more here) in die Welt, in which he talked about the anti-Semitism of the Hungarians, their "dishonesty" and their tendency to "live in denial". Why, Szeky asks "why one cannot just read this interview as the views and opinions of one individual - I am entirely agreed with him on certain issues (I; I don't care what other people think about the issue), and other things he said riled me (me; I don't care etc....) You could read this interview as you would any other political statement by a world-famous writer. As if one were free to agree with his statements or not, as the case may be. I want to live in a country, where this interview would be read in such a way. But this is not such a country."

The economist Tamas Bauer writes that, in people's judgement of the Kertesz interview, only one thing counted: "It is right that Kertesz should extend his judgement to the entire country, and not just to certain political powers? Does nothing else exist in Hungary except for Fidesz's far-right? Okay, there is no self-confident opposition to Fidesz's nationalism. [...] In Hungarian politics and in the public sphere, that clear boundary that exists further westwards between democratic and extremist opinion has completely blurred. Kertesz is therefore correct to say that the far-right has the say in Hungary today. And there is still no way of knowing whether we will have a political power capable of toppling them in the coming years or even decades."


Prospect 01.12.2009 (UK)

Andrew Brown looks at bestseller author Stieg Larsson in the tradition of Swedish crime writing that dates back to Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Many staunchly left-wing elements elements remain a constant, but there has been a fundamental shift in mood: "In the 40 years between the two series, you can see an enormous loss of hope and self-confidence, and the evisceration of the social democratic dream. Sjöwall and Wahlöö wrote about teamwork, not just because they borrowed from Ed McBain: it was important ideologically that the collective should triumph. Their detectives were anchored, happily or otherwise, in families. Larsson's heroes are purely individual, with no social bonds other than those they choose themselves. Children do not impinge on their lives: parents, where they occur, are monsters."

Our ravenous hunger for new-media is destroying our attention spans, reports John Naish, and goes on to list the consequences for the advertising market. But other areas are feeling the impact, too: "Meanwhile the board game maker Hasbro has begun marketing accelerated versions of its bestselling games, Monopoly and Scrabble, with the slogan 'take a 20-minute game break.' The new Scrabble Express only has two words on the board at any one time, while the 'Q' tile has been replaced with 'Qu.' Monopoly Express is missing the hotels, chance cards, and even cash (which is replaced by a cash-machine card). Who has time to count notes? Phil Jackson, head of Hasbro's games unit, says market research showed that players were bored by Monopoly’s protracted endgame, as players slog it out to avoid bankruptcy.'"


Tygodnik Powszechny 23.11.2009 (Poland)

With a sigh of resignation, Poland watched on as Sweden and Finland gave their seal of approval to the Baltic Sea pipeline. There are voices of dissent however, who think Poland should take a stand. Anna Mackiewicz comments drily: "The emotions that accompany this decision bear no relation to the actual diversification of Polish energy sources – 70 percent of our gas and 90 percent of our oil comes from our Eastern neighbours. And worse still: the rickety gas pipe system makes it impossible for us to properly or rapidly undertake diversification. Despite having spent so many years draughting plans and thoughts about independence from Russia, the current situation shows that we never came up with a strategy for stable power supply. The only sensible solution now, Mackiewicz says, is the pan-European "Nabucco" project.


The Walrus Magazine 01.12.2009 (Canada)

John Keillor is proud as punch about the rise of the young Montreal conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who is head of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and gives guest performances with the world's best orchestras. In conversation with Keillor, he argues the case for interpretative risk-taking, and Keillor gives a delightful description of how Nezet-Seguin motivates the orchestra in Ravel's G major, calling 'Sexy!' and 'More amour': "The fast third movement, he explains to the orchestra, is a 'motif being passed around [among orchestral sections]. It becomes like a bunch of flying toys come to life. They must be easy to hear, crisp. Don't be nice — children are not nice to their toys. Get psycho!' At thirty-four, he recognizes that a respectful interpretation sometimes requires a little violence."

Listen to him with the London Philharmonic Orchestra playing Ravels "La valse":




La vie des idees 20.11.2009 (France)

In an comprehensive article, Pauline Peretz introduces the young Jewish lobby group, J Street, which is giving established Jewish-American lobbyists a run for their money. The liberal organisation, which enjoys the support of people like Jimmy Carter and Israeli writer Amos Oz, is pushing for the immediate end to settlement expansion and talks for a two-state solution. And unlike the conservative lobby group Aipac, it makes no bones about exercising sharp criticism of Israeli policy. "For its rivals, who have been established in Washington for several decades, it is a radical organisation, which is threatening the unity of the community and discrediting the positions of the Israeli government - and it is necessary to fight its influence. For liberal Jews on the other hand, J Street represents a chance to finally make themselves heard in Washington. And J Street is a valuable ally of the Obama administration, because it is able to make its critical position on Israel acceptable even to a public which tends to reject new policies. And the media, for its part, is fascinated by the impact of this meteorite in the Jewish world."


Polityka 19.11.2009 (Poland)

The historian Jerzy W. Borejsza calls upon to Poland (here in German) to take off the rose tinted spectacles when looking at its own history. During the partition, for example, the country did not only consist solely of heroic freedom and independence fighters: for every Kosciuszko there was a Radziwill, who was quite willing to become Russian or German. "Polish text books highlight the story of resistance against a superior foreign power, the development of national institutions, as well as the role of the church and the Catholic religion in the preservation of the Polish identity; they point out that the Polish language was always taught in schools and that national culture continued to develop. There is almost no mention of assimilation, accommodation, collaboration, de-nationalisation, in other words, phenomena that happened every day in the 19th century. The history of the Poles in the armies of the partitioning powers was not, first and foremost, about the hundreds of officers under the command of Romuald Traugutt, who abandoned the Czar's armies for the partisans of the January uprising. Thousands of Poles or Russians of Polish descent – soldiers, officers and generals – were faithful servants of the Russian, Prussian or German cause."


L'Espresso 19.11.2009 (Italy)

The press in Turkey is anything but free, currently ranking 122 of 175 in the Reporters Without Borders' press freedom index. And it looks set to drop further, writes Soli Ozel, in a tirade against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. The prime minister seems to have won the war against Aydin Dogan's media group, even before the multi-billion tax fines were due for payment. "The prime minister has succeeded in dissolving the monopoly of the Dogan Group, by pulling strings and enabling his business allies to buy up its newspapers and TV channels. As a result the Turkish media has diversified, at least as far as ownership goes. But the new buyers are uncritical supporters of the ruling party. The newspapers and TV channels are the most important – if not the only - platforms where criticism and opposition can form against the government. To gag the media like this is an act of pure suppression and intimidation, not only of the publishers but of the entire economy."

HVG 18.11.2009 (Hungary)

On 11 October the Roma civil rights organisation marched, together with 300 or so sympathisers, the 100 km from Jaszladany to Budapest, to deliver a petition to President Laszlo Solyom "against apartheid". Gergely Fahidi asked Ernö Kallai, the minister responsible for minority issues, why so few people had joined the march, compared with the civil rights movement in the U.S. fifty years ago, where lots of "whites" marched alongside their fellow African-American citizens. "Things are smouldering deep down, but anyone who has the slightest chance of escaping this situation is more likely to be trying to assimilate. It is not easy to live in this country as a Roma intellectual [...] And here, too, the situation will not reach breaking point until there is a critical mass of Roma intellectuals who are being forced into the background because of their ethnicity, but who are strong enough to defend themselves. There are some role models from the USA - such as the idea of fighting school segregation in court, but this is still unusual if completely justified. The march from Jaszladany, however, showed that it's still too early to apply the American model effectively."


The Guardian 21.11.2009 (UK)

Zadie Smith has written an exquisitely and subtly contradictory essay about ... the essay. It is actually a defence of the novel, written in response to David Shields' essay, "Reality Hunger: A Manifesto" which is enjoying huge popularity among students (but also Coetzee and Jonathan Lethem). Shields criticises the artificiality of the novel, asking "if the world exists, why recreate it?" Smith cannot agree, and reads his conclusion as the product of writer's block, or arrogance – in pursuit of a dull perfection which, in a novel, is out of reach : "There is a certain kind of writer – quite often male but by no means exclusively so – who has a fundamental hunger for purity, and for perfection, and this type will always hold the essay form in high esteem. Because essays hold out the possibility of something like perfection. Novels, by contrast, are idiosyncratic, uneven, embarrassing, and quite frequently nausea-inducing – especially if you happen to have written one yourself. Within the confines of an essay or – even better! – an aphorism, you can be the writer you dream of being. No word out of place, no tell-tale weak spots (dialogue, the convincing representation of other people, plot), no absences, no lack. I think it's the limits of the essay, and of the real, that truly attract fiction writers. Shields' Essayband erscheint im Februar. Read an extract as pdf.
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