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22/02/2010

Magazine Roundup

Eurozine |  Prospect | Gazeta Wyborcza | The New Yorker | Le Monde | London Review of Books |   Le point | Elet es Irodalom | L'EspressoLe Nouvel Observateur | The New Republic | Outlook India  | Polityka | The New York Times


Eurozine 19.02.2010 (Austria in English)

The author Kinga Kali gives an astonishing account of the fate of an Albanian girl who, having no brothers, became a "virgjinesha" and was sent by her mother from communist Albania into Bosnian exile. "According to the laws of my people a girl child can't inherit, she has no right to possessions, if there is no male child in the family, sooner or later the estate gets divided up among the other families of the clan – the land, the animals, the women. ...  Still, there is a way out, the clan can elect a girl to be its future head, a girl who, from that moment on, must live as a man, she must wear men's clothes, have her hair cut short like a man, and must adopt a bearing very different from her humble girl companions; also, she must never come to know love, either first hand or otherwise, neither as a man nor as a woman." The story was first published in the Hungarian Lettre International (Magyar Lettre Internationale). Kinga Kali is introduced in Eurozine as a "Transylvanian Hungarian-Armenian writer-anthropologist".


Prospect 27.01.2010 (UK)

Ben Lewis believes he has discovered the next art superstar: the 49-year-old Argentinian painter Guillermo Kuitca (images at Google). He gives a number of reasons why Kuitca's works are likely to be seen as a blueprint for the course that painting will take in the future. "It is not just that Kuitca boldly presents architectural plans as abstract art; nor that there is a fusion of large-scale drawing and painting; neither is it only because, like Andreas Gursky's photographs, Kuitca's paintings have a very contemporary sense of the scale of organised human activity. The key is that he brings together two opposing traditions, returning painting to something it used to do very well—symbolism and allegory—but with the motifs and lessons of conceptual art. What I mean by this, is that, like a good conceptual artist, he takes pre-existing scientific forms of visual representation—mostly diagrammatic—but he deals with them like a good old-fashioned painter, not just with his alluring palette and brushwork, but with the iconic messages the subjects communicate."


Gazeta Wyborcza 21.02.2010 (Poland)

Mateusz Halawa was involved in a research project into young people's use of modern communication technology, the results of which are about to be published in Polish newspapers. "People always say that the Internet has an alienating influence which is contributing to the dissolution of social ties. But the opposite is the case: the multiplication of opportunities to contact others is resulting in "hypersocialisation". The danger is not of loneliness but of being saturated by contacts. The smallest gestures are materialised, there is a constant flow of invitations to join new 'friends lists'. The longer we spent working with young people, the clearer it became that it was nonsensical to differentiate between what happens 'online' and 'offline'. Friendships are created in a human-technological space, where events coexist with their digital representations, and closeness and intimacy are generated by feelings as well as media." On the issue of cultural consumption, the study found that: "the digital world is about division, and yet this division leads to a multiplication of culture. The ease with which data can be copied and sent into circulation means that the problem is excess rather than lack, as it was before. In this culture of excess, the challenge is to develop competencies in searching and filtering. The knowledge of where content is, how it can be found and used, how it can be contextualised and passed on, has become the key criterion for participation in web culture."


The New Yorker 01.03.2010 (USA)

Psychiactric literature has become so confusing that even the dissidents disagree, according to Louis Menand, who has just read two new publications by opponents of the current psychotherapeutic regime. The article begins with a description of the onset of a mental breakdown, starting at the moment where you lose your job and end up consulting a doctor, who gives you a pill to put you out of your misery. "Do you take it? However you go about making this decision, do not read the psychiatric literature. Everything in it, from the science (do the meds really work?) to the metaphysics (is depression really a disease?), will confuse you. There is little agreement about what causes depression and no consensus about what cures it. ... There is suspicion that the pharmaceutical industry is cooking the studies that prove that antidepressant drugs are safe and effective, and that the industry's direct-to-consumer advertising is encouraging people to demand pills to cure conditions that are not diseases (like shyness) or to get through ordinary life problems (like being laid off)."

Further articles: Larissa MacFarquhar profiles the economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman. Anthony Lane went to the cinema to see Martin Scorsese's thriller "Shutter Island" and Jaques Audiard's crime drama "A Prophet" There is also a short story "Appetite" by Said Sayrafiezadeh and poems by Charles Simic and Gerald Stern.


Le Monde 19.02.2010 (France)

The French left has got its knickers in a twist over Ilhem Moussaid. She is campaigning for the far-left New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) in the regional elections, she wears the hijab (image) and also defends abortion. In an article titled "If religion is the 'opium of the people' it is also 'the sigh of the oppressed'", the writer Tariq Ali comments that the current furore points to something 'rotten' in French political culture: "The outrage over Ilhem Moussaid is misplaced. It should be directed against those responsible for the million and more deaths in Iraq, against the unending occupation of the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt, against the murder of innocents in Afghanistan, against the brutal exploitation of Haiti etc. It makes you ask about the provenance of all this misdirected fury."


And philosopher Michel Onfray can no longer understand the world either - but from the other perspective: "Today people wear schizophrenia like a badge, flaunting it even. The global symbol for men's exploitation of women through ideological-Muslim rule is now supposed to be the emblem of women's liberation and secularism? Since when has an ostentatiously religious symbol been a sign of secularism?"


London Review of Books 25.02.2010 (UK)

Another article from the cabinet of curiosities: Richard Hamblyn reviews a book by Richard Shelton about salmon in which, amidst a multitude of wholly wonderful facts, we learn that: "Native American, Norse and Celtic myth-makers wove the figure of the wise or noble salmon into a number of early myths and legends, such as the sixth-century Welsh quest narrative of Culhwch and Olwen collected in 'The Mabinogion', in which a sea-scarred, Severn-born salmon is revered as the oldest and wisest creature on earth; or the Ossianic legend of the Salmon of Wisdom, the skin of which was accidentally eaten by Fionn mac Cumhaill, who from it gained oracular access to all the knowledge of the world. Salmon – the name, it's thought, derives from the Latin salire, 'to leap' – has always been a fish apart, marked by its unusual capacity to migrate between the distinct worlds of salt and fresh water."

Further articles: Will Self expresses his surprise at the success of the British Radio 4 chat programme "In Our Time" which is all thanks to the inimical, elitist and "über-dilettante" Melvyn Bragg. Keith Gesses reads a book on  political trial in Russia of Michail Khordokovsky and fellow oligarchs. Jenny Diski shakes her head over Antonia Fraser's disappointingly lightweight memoirs of her life with Harold Pinter. Peter Campbell visits an exhibition of photographs by William Eggleston in the Victoria Miro gallery in London. Michael Wood savours an Ozu retrospective in the British Film Institute in London.


Le point 19.02.2010 (France)

In his Bloc notes, Bernard-Henri Levy explains why he is fully in favour of banning the burqa in France - because it is not an item of clothing but a "symbol of submission, slavery, obliteration and the defeat of women." Above all, he rejects the argument that women subjugate themselves of their own volition: "It could be true. But voluntary enslavement was never an argument. The happy slave was never able to erase the fundamental, essential, ontological disgrace of slavery... Slavery abolitionists throughout history have warned against the added infamy of holding victims responsible for their own misery."


Elet es Irodalom 19.02.2010 (Hungary)

Holocaust survivors in the US recently filed a class action suit in the Federal Court of Chicago against the Hungarian rail company MAV, for sequestering the possessions left behind at train stations when Jews were deported during the Holocaust. The case is now being debated in Hungary by historians, laymen and Jewish organisations alike: the latter distancing themselves from the claimants to some extent, out of fear that the already virulent Antisemitism in Hungary could increase if the ramshackle and debt-ridden state-owned rail company (and by extension the Hungarian tax payer) were called upon to pay compensation. The reaction of Hungarian lawyer and columnist Andras Hanak is ambiguous. The lawyers, he says, should have first made it clear to their clients that the case would be counterproductive in the process of reconciliation. And secondly, they should have pointed out that "the accused is not the same company which 65 years ago committed the terrible deeds, and the state behind the accused is not the same Hungarian state which abandoned its Jewish citizens to their fate. […] At the same time, I am also aware that the survivors and their families who live outside Hungary have received significantly less compensation from the Hungarian state than from its neighbours. The Paris Peace Treaty stipulated that appropriate compensation should be made for stolen possessions but for a number of reasons, this has failed to happen. Under these conditions I would be wary of condemning the claimants on moral grounds - although, if it had been up to me, I would never have agreed to take on this case in the first place."


L'Espresso 19.02.2010 (Italy)

Umberto Eco is concerned about society. He recently Googled the word "porno" and got more search results than for Jesus and religion together. Sex is becoming our principle motivation and goal, Eco fears. It was different in the days of Julius Caesar, the Sun King, Vittorio Emmanuel II and the Kennedys. "All these great men seemed to regard women as a warrior's retreat: first though Baktira had to be conquered, Verdingetorix humiliated, triumphs celebrated from the Alps to the pyramids, and Italy united. Sex was the cherry on the top, a Martini Straight Up after a long day. But the highest aspiration of people in power today seems to be an evening with a starlet. To hell with grand schemes and lifetime achievement."


Le Nouvel Observateur 18.02.2010 (France)

Haiti needs to reinvent itself, writes the Haitian author Rene Depestre, and lists the various options. "1. A connection with the Dominican Republic is out of the question as the bad blood between the two neighbours has still not washed away. 2. The same goes for forging a connection with the former Anglophone colonies of the Caribbean. 3. Equally impossible is integration into France's overseas territories. 4. And what about becoming an unincorporated territory of the US like Puerto Rico? Both American parties would reject this idea - Haiti has to retain its 1804 status of 'national independence'." Depestre does hold out some hope, though, that Obama and international organisations might be able to help Haiti reinvent itself.

The paper also publishes a conversation with the geographer and bestselling author Jared Diamond, who analyses the possibilities for intelligent and sustainable reconstruction in Haiti.


The New Republic 22.02.2010 (USA)

Middle East expert Fouad Ajami, who teaches at the John Hopkins University, was deeply impressed by Boualem Sansal's "fearless" novel "The German Mujahid", which abandons the prescribed path of "amnesty and amnesia" to tackle the horrors of the Algerian civil war. The book describes the brutality meted out by the Islamists and the military on each other and the rest of the population, but that is not all: "As though Algerian reality did not provide Sansal with enough material, there falls upon this great work also the shadow of the Holocaust. Based on a true story, we are told by Sansal and his publishers, the larger inspiration for his novel comes from the work of Primo Levi. Somehow the Shoah had found its way into the remote Algerian countryside. Sansal's narrative tells the story of two brothers born in a small village to a German father and an Algerian mother, and raised in France by an old friend of the father from the days of the war of liberation. Hans Schiller, the German father, had been in the Hitler Youth and served in the SS. Before this material, Sansal does not flinch. Arabs have had the hardest time dealing with the Holocaust - there has been denial, and an insistence that the numbers, the six million, were a premeditated fabrication, and protest that the dark history was no affair of theirs, and an odd 'resentment' that the Jews have this history of victimhood - but Sansal sails directly into the storm."


Outlook India 01.03.2010 (India)

Shruti Ravindran reports on a revolution in the Indian music tradition: online music lessons. "These music lessons over the internet might sound like blasphemy—rather than music—to the ears of orthodox Carnatic musicians, who believe strongly in the ancient 'gurukulam' system, which has students living with and serving their teachers while they learn. But a new generation of internet-savvy musicians are reversing this attitude, privileging generosity and transcontinental reach over hoarded exclusivity, much to the gratitude of Indian students, especially those from the diasporas scattered across Europe, the US, Singapore, and the Middle East. Explains Raman Kalyan, better known as 'Flute' Raman: 'For the old masters who taught me in the '70s, recording was taboo, they saw it as the looting of their treasures. But for me, the internet is a billboard, a way to reach a worldwide audience.'"


Polityka 22.02.2010 (Poland)

It was possible to live in the People's Republic of Poland without "becoming a pig" - this at least is the opinion of many young theatre directors in Poland today, where there has been a sharp rise in the number of productions that address the country's past. As Aneta Kyzio reports, though, (here in German), these often smack of nostalgia: "In the minds of many an artist, the People's Republic has already become a sort of costume epoch. Just as in days of the People's Republic, historical props were used to avoid having to directly address topical issues, artists today are talking about today's reality with the aid of chipboard wall units, stay-pressed shirts, nylon flares, Pepita suits, Relaks boots, 'Teksays' (People's Republic jeans), sideburns and facial hair. These references to communist times create a distance, a sort of metaphor, and at the same time they disguise things that haven't changed: the mentality, the national weaknesses and the career-ladder mechanisms that were created years ago but are still effective today. And they also entertain the audience with all that nostalgic tat."


The New York Times  21.02.2010 (USA)

The writer William T. Vollmann was deeply absorbed by Ted Conover's great essay "The Routes of Man", which traces Peruvian mountain ranges, frozen rivers in Kashmir or the labyrinthine streets of Lagos. Conover's travelogues, Vollman says, can be fascinating but "his meditations about roads frequently achieve an even higher order — thoughtful, temperate and generous all at once. In the Peru and Ladakh chapters, for example, he considers the baleful potency of roads in killing indigenous languages and cultures, then reminds us that many, perhaps most, local people want those roads. A Swedish linguist tells him that 'as an educated person with a broad experience of the world, you had a duty to help others . . . learn from the mistakes all around you, mistakes that your culture was inflicting upon theirs.' He sympathizes with her, as do I. And he also remarks: 'But tragically or not, we were not their parents.'"
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