SignAndSight.com

Features » Magazine Roundup


01/12/2009

Magazine Roundup

Eurozine | The Nation | Le Monde | Elet es Irodalom | Babelia | Polityka | Le Nouvel Observateur | The Economist | L'Espresso | La vie des idees | Merkur | The New Statesman | 

Nepszabadsag | Outlook India | The New York Review of Books


Eurozine 30.11.2009 (Austria)

Is globalisation levelling out cultural differences? Or should we draw the line and reject everything that comes from the West? Nonsense, says the Slovenian poet and cultural critic Ales Debeljak (here in English): "Instead of subscribing to the ideology that views the world through the 'hard' lens of conflict between 'the West and the Rest', let us try a theory that looks at the world through the 'soft' lens of 'westernistic' civilization. An analogy between Hellenistic and westernistic civilization is helpful. [...] The Hellenistic civilization of Alexander the Great emanated from classical Greek heritage, but territorially it stretched across the entire world then known to man, reaching to Egypt and India, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. ... A special fusion of Middle Eastern and Indo-Iranian cultural traditions on the one hand, and ancient Greek tradition on the other, gave rise to forms of collective life in which classical Greek ideas represented only the backbone rather than the entire social body. Alexander the Great systematically expanded both the borders of his multi-national empire and the minds of his multi-cultural subjects. He encouraged 'mixed marriages' between Greek colonists and locals with the same fervour that he supported merging of Greek and local ideas and technologies."

Other articles: Is Spinoza still relevant today? The Slovakian magazine Kritika & Kontext brings together Gabor Boros, Herman De Dijn, Moira Gatens, Syliane Malinowski-Charles, Warren Montag, Teodor Münz and Steven B. Smith to discuss the issue.


The Nation 14.12.2009 (USA)

Natasha Wimmer portrays the Salvadorian author Horacio Castellanos Moya, a friend of Roberto Bolano's, who has his own way of dealing with the cruel reality of Latin America: "The civil war, which ended in 1992, shaped Castellanos Moya's life and his fiction, but it never seems to have conquered his imagination. Though most of his novels (there are now nine) revolve in some way around the war and its aftereffects, Castellanos Moya never assimilates or romanticizes the culture of violence, never loses his hyper-awareness of its strangeness. As a writer, he is at once highly sensitive to brutality and unsentimental about it. In the brilliantly funny and unsettling 'Senselessness', which in 2008 became his first novel to be translated into English, the narrator is a writer who has taken a job copy-editing an eleven-hundred-page human rights report on the massacre of Indians during the civil war in an unnamed Central American country, and who finds himself struck by the strange beauty of the language in which the victims describe the violence of their aggressors. The phrases he copies down migrate into his banal accounts of office politics and failed seductions, until gradually the horrors that the Indians describe leak into his consciousness and turn what was a mild case of the jitters into raging paranoia."

Further articles: Taxi drivers in New York, Madrid and Rome all cried in delight when Jose Manuel Prieto answered "Cuba" when they asked him what country he was from. Perturbed by this reaction, Prieto answers the drivers with an essay: "Travels by Taxi: Reflections on Cuba." Both publishers and parliament should stop blaming the Internet for the decline of newspapers (it's the papers' own fault) and finally start thinking about appropriate funding mechanisms for revitalising journalism, write John Nichols & Robert W. McChesney. The reviews cover Christopher Caldwell's book "Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West" (excerpt) and an English edition of Rilke's poems.


Le Monde 28.11.2009 (France)

In the Internet age, there is nothing left to surprise the art enthusiast, writes Umberto Eco. The consequences are alarming. "Our taste is influenced by the fact that it is almost impossible to feel surprise (or incomprehension) in the face of the unknown. In the world of tomorrow, the unknown will exist beyond the stars, if at all. Will this lack of surprise (or disgust) lead to a greater intercultural understanding or a loss of identity? If it is impossible to avoid this challenge, is it not better to intensify the exchange and allow intermingling. In botany, cross-fertilisation of the species encourages culture. Why not in the art world too?"


Elet es Irodalom 20.11.2009 (Hungary)

As the debate over Imre Kertesz's interview in Die Welt spirals out of control, the writer Laszlo Darvasi points to a failure to get to the crux of the matter. "Of course a Nobel laureate must expect his words to engender countless interpretations, commentaries and footnotes. But is that a normal reaction? Is it normal for such words to provoke an emotional reaction in the 'entire community'? Is it normal that the words of a Nobel laureate will affect the entire writing community, even society as a whole, teachers, porters, fishermen and parking attendants, just because a Nobel laureate is a 'representative figure' and the country and we in it seem more important through the eyes of a Nobel laureate? Really? [...] Everything that Kertesz stands for is about not complying with representative expectations. And he is not complying with them now. Does it not make a lot more sense to view Kertesz, in spite of his words, as a free writer who is responsible only for himself, and to allow him a writer's existence based on normal circumstances, which is the right of any artist? Not to see him as an immovable fixed point, but as a living, problematic figure?"




Babelia 28.11.2009 (Spain)

In the run-up to the bicentennial independence celebrations of a number of Latin American nations, Babelia invites a slew of prominent Latin American voices to comment. The writer Horacio Castellanos Moya (who is portrayed in this weeks The Nation) cites the ominous words of a Mexican shoe cleaner: "Every hundred years all hell breaks loose in this county: 1810 brought independence, 1910 brought revolution, and 2010 will be the same. No one can stop it. It's written in the stars." Could he be right? Moya asks anxiously: "Are we not on the verge of another cycle of infernal violence - it's already well underway in Mexico - of thinly veiled despotism (as in Honduras, Venzuela, Nicaragua) and wars between neighbouring countries (doesn't what's happening between Caracas and Bogota or rather Lima and Santiago seem all too familiar)? What is there to celebrate? Apart from a few artistic achievements, we are suffering from a hangover after two hundred years of disappointment, while our governments continue to hold up misleading images of wealth and development just like the Spanish conquistadors with their glass beads and fake jewels."


Polityka 27.11.2009 (Poland)

The Polish are a neurotic lot, writes Joanna Podgorska (here in German), with a generally positive view of themselves and a deep mistrust of everyone else. "In a study carried out in 2007 by Piotr Radkiewicz and Krystyna Skarzynska, almost 70 percent of Polish people said they were satisfied with their lives, and 90 percent said it was important to be vigilant against deception; 84 percent were convinced that society is full of people ready to attack others for no reason, out of pure malice. Over 60 percent agreed that, as the years go by, fewer people deserve respect, and that there are increasing numbers of people with no moral backbone, who represent a threat to others. According to this survey, we feel comfortable living in hell. Where does this schizophrenia come from?"

In the print edition, Mariusz Czubaj tries to explain the new fashion for Northern European writers: "The Scandinavian crime novel asks questions about cultural identity, state models and our obligations towards immigrants, as well as the increase of violence in everyday life. The genre has become a forum for debate about society and an important, if fabulous, voice in the discussion of today's world."

And Janusz Wroblewski raves about Wojciech Smarzowskis film "Dom zly" (evil house), a thriller is set in communist Poland at the end of the 1970s.: "From a drunkenly surrealistic-naturalistic situation depicted brilliantly by the actors, emerges a crystal clear image of the paranoia of the People's Republic. It is the perfect antidote to the nostalgia for socialist times." Antonio Armanos und Massimo Bregas document their travels along the traces of the Iron Curatain, in words and images.


Le Nouvel Observateur 26.11.2009 (France)

Historian of ideas Michel Winock outlines his misgivings about the French debate on "national identity" that was the brain child of Nicolas Sarkozy and which is being carefully watched over by integration minister Eric Besson: "A deeply suspect debate. Is the idea to define 'identity', so that it can serve as a role model for new immigrants to France, or it is meant to protect against them? National identity cannot be decreed. If the state pokes its nose in here, surely it will only be to be to draw normative conclusions, in order to define a sort of quintessence of Frenchness, that will be used to distinguish between good and bad French people?"


The Economist 30.11.2009 (UK)

The art market boom is over for now, but you could hardly call it a crash. This, at least, is the conclusion of a sweeping study, which The Economist presents in detail: "The World Wealth Report, published by Capgemini and Merrill Lynch, charts the spending habits of the rich the world over. It includes art as one of a range of luxury items they like to buy. According to the report, in 2007 there were over 10m people with investible assets of 1m dollars or more. Last year that number dropped to 8.6m and many rich people scaled back their 'investments of passion'—yachts, jets, cars, jewellery and so on. But the proportion of all luxury spending that went on art increased as investors looked for assets that would hold their value in the longer term."


L'Espresso 26.11.2009 (Italy)

Umberto Eco is no Bible basher but, he asks, if you can't tell your Moses from your Matthew, how will you cope in a museum? "Three-quarters of western art is completely indecipherable to someone with no idea of what happened in the Old and New Testaments and in the history of the saints. Who's that woman with the eyeballs on a plate? Is she from Night of the Living Dead? And that knight tearing his coat in half, is he on some anti-Armani mission? In plenty of cultural situations, school kids learn everything about the death of Hector, but nothing about the death of St. Sebastian; everything, perhaps, about the marriage of Cadmus and Harmonia and nothing about the marriage at Cana? In his some countries, there is a strong tradition of reading the scriptures and the children know all about the golden calf but nothing about the wolf of Francis of Assisi." Lucky we've go the Internet then, eh?


La vie des idees 23.11.2009 (France)

Jean-Marc Dreyfus reviews a book by the historian Renee Poznanski, which obviously takes a very nuanced look (over 800 pages) at the greatest taboo in French history: "Propagandes et persecutions - La Resistance et le 'probleme juif', 1940-1944". The reaction of the resistance, it emerges, to the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis, was not dissimilar to that of the public in all allied countries – conciliatory, disinterested, opportunistic. This also went for the resistance media: "With a few exceptions, the underground press was most discreet about the fate of the Jews, although Vichy's "premier statut" required the French authorities to issue Arian certificates for all civil service employees. The communist press did feature Jews in its list of victims, and the Jewish resistance press denounced Jewish persecution at an early stage, but anti-capitalistic rhetoric was often directed at Jewish bankers, and even the most radical anti-Semitic measures never got more than a brief mention." According to Dreyfus, it was not until the Holocaust in 1942, that the issue gained wider recognition, although it was never perceived as a central issue – and it continued to be played down even long after the war."


Merkur 01.12.2009 (Germany)

The USA might not be as European as Sweden, but it can offer the UK, Italy and France a run for their money, writes the historian Peter Baldwin, and dispels a number of cliches about social spending, criminality, religion and education. "Simone de Beauvoir was convinced that since the Americans do not think, they do not need to read. Thinking is difficult to quantify, and reading, even less so. And the Americans, it emerges, do read. The percentage of illiterate Americans corresponds to the European average. There are more newspapers per capita in America than anywhere in Europe, with the exception of the Scandinavian countries, Switzerland and Luxembourg. The long tradition of well financed public libraries in the United States has left the average American with more with books than their counterparts in Germany, England, France, the Netherlands, Austria and all Mediterranean countries. They also use the libraries more than most Europeans."


The New Statesman 30.11.2009 (UK)


America's best reporter Seymour Hersh talks in an interview about the pitfalls of investigative journalism, such as the dangers of quoting unnamed sources or what he describes, later on in the article, as a "higher-level former senior intelligence official": "I hate that. Therefore, the way in my own mind that I cope with that anomaly, that disgrace, if you will, is that I say I welcome people suing me. I've been in a lot of litigation. I welcome that on the grounds that it is an appropriate measure. I think I've been in seven. We were in court once and the critical issue was that the judge was going to make me reveal my sources. I was going to have to say that we conceded the point and be found guilty of libel. The judge was a Reagan appointee in Chicago a couple of decades ago, and the Reagan appointee ruled that I didn't have to name sources. I went on camera and we went to the judge, and we gave an account of six people and gave a description of them, and the judge accepted that they were real -- that I was serious and I had sources. But if he hadn't, I think I would have had to concede the case."




Nepszabadsag 28.11.2009 (Hungary)

People no longer trust their governments, the average citizen and his aristocratic leader are growing ever further apart, and the power of democracy in Europe is waning. One reason for this, according to journalist Robert Friss, lies in the outmoded European model of the nation state, and the increasing contempt of the citizens for its representatives. "If the European community doesn't want to be increasingly sidelined, it must do away with the divisive romanticism of the nation state. The first step is to strengthen European awareness and wave goodbye to the omnipotence of the domineering nation state. Consideration must be given to the formation of a delicate balance between the freedoms and the guaranteed quality of life, not of the national but of the European citizen; and decisions must be made on jurisdiction at collective, member-state and regional levels. There is no role model here: Europe has to create its very own, new and efficient political structure, which allows and also controls the free flow of capital.

Outlook India 07.12.2009 (India)

Namrata Joshi describes the huge Arab interest in the Indian terror films - Kabir Khan's "New York", Jai Tank's "Madholal Keep Walking" and Dr Biju's "Raman, Travelogue of Invasion" - which were screened at the film festival in Cairo. Although this also unleashed a storm of pirate copies, Director Kabir Khan is unperturbed. "Despite grossing US 1.5 million dollars at the box office, 'New York' is estimated to have lost close to a million dollars to piracy in the Middle East. But its success could open up newer markets for Indian films. 'We have managed to make inroads into territories where our films don't get released theatrically,' says Kabir. Yashraj has been approached by Arab distributors for theatrical and television rights of New York in Egypt and Morocco. Karan Johar's forthcoming film, 'My Name is Khan', which is being distributed worldwide by Fox, will also get released in Cairo next year. Perhaps then, SRK, Aamir and Salman will inch their way towards becoming the Power Khans."

Other articles: Yashodhara Dalmia recommends "Suite Vollard" an exhibition of a hundred of Picasso's copper engravings at the Instituto Cervanted in Delhi.




The New York Review of Books 17.12.2009 (USA)
Robert Darnton, historian and head of the Harvard University Library, dissects the arguments surrounding Google Book settlement, and sketches out two solutions to the conflict. The most radical would be for Congress to change Google's digital database into a public digital library. "If state intervention is deemed to go too far against the American grain, a minimal solution could be devised for the private sector. Congress would have to intervene with legislation to protect the digitization of orphan works from lawsuits, but it would not need to appropriate funds. Instead, funding could come from a coalition of foundations. The digitizing, open-access distribution, and preservation of orphan works could be done by a nonprofit organization such as the Internet Archive, a nonprofit group that was built as a digital library of texts, images, and archived Web pages. In order to avoid conflict with interests in the current commercial market, the database would include only books in the public domain and orphan works. Its time span would increase as copyrights expired, and it could include an opt-in provision for rightsholders of books that are in copyright but out of print."

Further articles: The British Islam expert Malise Ruthen gives a lengthy and in-depth critique of Christopher Caldwell's "Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West". And the Francis Bacon retrospective at Tate Britain, prompts John Richardson to sketch a colourful biography of the painter, whom he knew personally. Ian Buruma reads diaries from occupied France. Tony Judt asks just how dead social democracy really is. The author Catherine Shine reviews Gail Collins' book "When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present".
signandsight.com - let's talk european