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23/03/2010

Magazine Roundup

The New York Review of Books | Lettre International | L'Espresso | The Guardian | Le Figaro | Tygodnik Powszechny | Outlook India | Le Nouvel Observateur | The Nation


The New York Review of Books 08.04.2010 (USA)

A new biography of John Cheever (1912-1982) prompted Edmund White to reread his short stories: "Cheever's fiction is often exuberant, sometimes heady, even when the plot would seem better served by dreariness. Whereas aestheticians from Aristotle on have insisted that figurative language should redouble and underline the thrust of the anecdote, it turns out that exactly the opposite is what often appeals to us in great works of art, a strange and even mystical discrepancy between the natural drift of the story and the contradictory impulses of the metaphors and similes and descriptions. It was the Russian thinker Lev Vygotsky in his 1925 book 'The Psychology of Art' who first pointed out that the reason Ivan Bunin's story 'Gentle Breath' has a paradoxical impact of lightness and airiness despite its sad plot is that all the details are moving in the opposite direction from the anecdote. Cheever no doubt never heard of Vygotsky but his stories demonstrate persuasively the truth of the Russian's observations about the importance of such tension at the heart of a story."

More articles from this week's literature-laden issue: Margaret Atwood, whose first novel was about an ant, enthuses about the first work of fiction by the famous myrmecologist E.O. Wilson; Deborah Eisenberg was shattered by Dezsö Kosztolanyi's "quiet, perfect" novel "Skylark"; Jennifer Schuessler laughs like a man at Sam Lipsyte's "The Ask"; Joyce Carol Oates delves into Jerome Charyn's "Secret Life of Emily Dickinson".

Willibald Sauerländer strolls through an exhibition of 18th century French sculptures, of which over half are by Jean-Antoine Houdon. Between the busts of Enlightenment thinkers, he stumbles across a statue of the Goddess Diana: "Completely nude, she holds a bow and arrow in her lowered hands and turns her head to look at something as she hurries on her way. The naked huntress Diana had long been a popular subject in France - one recalls the portrait of Henri II's mistress Diane de Poitiers in the Chateau d'Anet - and Houdon adheres to Winckelmann's description of the antique Diana. The accuracy of his rendering of this flawless body extends even to the precise modeling of the vulva. The guardians of morality were outraged, but they were missing the witty point of this singular statue: Diana, whose charms are portrayed in such detail here, is the chaste goddess. With the purity of this work, Houdon wrested the sublime beauty of the female body.


Lettre International 23.03.2010 (Germany)

The Iranian author Shiva Arastuie tells a story which starts like this: "Someone said to your mother: 'She's an opium cadaver'. It was you, but you couldn't remember when. A man was scrubbing the floor of the hall. There were three women there. And two others. The evil woman was insulting you. Using the most offensive expressions you can use for a woman. She pointed her finger at you. At the most intimate part of your body. Which was so important and so dear to you. The foulest possible words to describe a woman. After the most beautiful words and the most passionate looks had been directed at your body, it was time for the ugliest woman in the world to sit on your bed and drag your feminine beauty into the dirt. The man was still scrubbing the floorboards in the hall. The woman had covered her face with the chador, pulled tight. Your body was covered by nothing but a sheet. You were ashamed in front of the man scrubbing. Only you felt that."

Further articles (all excerpts in German): Frank Berberich talks to the Iranian writer Amir Hassan Cheheltan about the situation in Iran (excerpt); Jane Mayer writers about the killings by American military drones (excerpt); Heribert Gold remembers his time in Haiti (excerpt); Sema Kaygusuz talks about her life in Istanbul (excerpt); Michel Peraldi describes Istanbul's molecular capitalism (excerpt). And, in a graveyard in the Carpathians, Andrzej Stasiuk talks to the WWI dead (excerpt).


L'Espresso 19.03.2010 (Italy)

The historian Ernesto Galli della Loggia recently voiced damning criticism of Silvio Berlusconi's party Popolo della Liberta. The PdL politicians Sandro Bondi, Ignazio La Russa and Denis Verdini then hit back with a diatribe about useless intellectuals with no idea about real life, Umberto Eco reports, picking up the scent of historical continuity in this degrading treatment of intellectuals. "For the opponents of Dreyfus, an intellectual was someone who lived on books and abstractions, who was divorced from reality (and should therefore hold his tongue). The negative connotations in the polemics of those times have remarkable parallels with the open letter from Bondi, La Russa and Verdini. I do not believe that the three signatories, who are obviously intellectuals themselves (they use the word "self-referential") are familiar with the debates that billowed a hundred years ago. It's just that they carry the memory of those beloved tirades in their genes, and these dictate that anyone who doesn't agree with them is intellectual scum."


The Guardian 20.03.2010 (UK)

In his "Manifesto for a New Politics" Tony Judt makes an appeal for a return to social democracy, with recourse, of all things, to the arguments of the grandfather of conservatism and the leading opponent of the French Revolution: "Any society, Edmund Burke wrote in 'Reflections on the Revolution in France', which destroys the fabric of its state must soon be 'disconnected into the dust and powder of individuality'. By eviscerating public services and reducing them to a network of farmed-out private providers, we have begun to dismantle the fabric of the state. As for the dust and powder of individuality: it resembles nothing so much as Hobbes's war of all against all, in which life for many people has once again become solitary, poor and more than a little nasty."

Further articles: Jonathan Safran Foer remembers the huge success, ten years ago, of his novel "Everything is Illuminated". Annie Proulx reviews Tim Gautreaux's book "Waiting for the Evening News: Stories of the Deep South" (excerpt).


Le Figaro 22.03.2010 (France)

The lawyer Emmanuel Pierrat has written a book about the heirs of artistic estates and how they deal with them ("Familles je vous hais!"), in which he describes a number of problem cases from James Joyce to Picasso and Saint Exupery. The main problem with many of the "false widows, unworthy sons and greedy gigolos" is that when their famous relatives die, they immediately turn into "censors and grabbing parvenus". In an interview he explains: "Even the most brilliant minds do not think that after their death their progeny will divide and fight each other, that they will squeeze out the lemon, make the most painstaking choices about what can and can't be published, and polish the oeuvre to create an image of perfection. To keep interest in the deceased author alive, many of the heirs, in their race against time, publish previously unpublished work. It is a veritable industry these days."


Tygodnik Powszechny 21.03.2010 (Poland)

In the shadows of the dispute over the Kapuscinski biography, another quarrel has erupted in Poland over the portrayal of the life of an historical figure: The film "Rozyczka" tells the story of a famous writer, whose young lover works for the communist secret service. The family of the famous historian Pawel Jasienica saw one too many parallels between their Jasienica and the film's protagonist, prompting them to sue the filmmakers. But the film does not pass any judgements, Anita Piotrowska argues in her article, it simply emphasises the tragedy of the hero's life. "It has no scores to settle, it is essentially an innocent film that takes the form of a tragic love story. Which is why the grim determination of audiences to deny the directors any right to free inspiration and free association seems all the more peculiar."

The film's leading actor Andrzej Seweryn attempts to draw attention to the universal relevance of the film's story: "The film shows what happens when a private life is co-opted by ideology and history. The People's Republic was a world in which deceitful informer reports and honest declarations of love went hand in hand, and in which a wrong name could close a lot of doors. It was easy to lose yourself in this world, and your mind."

The magazine also publishes a special supplement for the 70th anniversary of the massacre at Katyn. The historian Andrzej Nowak remembers how, in 1993, President Boris Yelzin opened access to the documents and asked the Polish for forgiveness which they were not really prepared to grant. He also remembers the voices of the "other Russia" and the important role of the Orthodox Church: "The Church made it possible to focus again on a moral appraisal of the Soviet system, something that had been deliberately neglected by the Russian government for the past fifteen years. A clear view of the (Soviet) system, I believe, could possibly pave the way for a Polish-Russian reconciliation in the not too distant future. I do not know if the government will be involved but that is not so important. The most important thing is that the Russians themselves face this truth, that they undertake a moral reckoning, of the sort that made 19th century Russian literature great, and which has been conspicously absent since 1993."


Outlook India 29.03.2010 (India)

It is impossible to summarise Arundhati Roy's 40-page reportage. She broke all the rules to become the first journalist to meet the Maoist rebels, or the Maoist Gonds, who are at war with the Indian state in the heart of India. Roy regards them less as outmoded bandits than as indigenous people who are protecting their land from corporate exploitation. Roy describes in depth how she fought her way through the forests with the rebels, and Comrade Venu's version of the story. About the state military operation Salwa Judum (the Purification Hunt) for example: "The first village the Salwa Judum burnt (on June 18, 2005) was Ambeli. Between June and December 2005, it burned, killed, raped and looted its way through hundreds of villages of south Dantewada. The centre of its operations were the districts of Bijapur and Bhairamgarh, near Bailadila, where Essar Steel's new plant was proposed. Not coincidentally, these were also Maoist strongholds, where the Janatana Sarkars [elected Maoist village administration] had done a great deal of work, especially in building water-harvesting structures. The Janatana Sarkars became the special target of the Salwa Judum's attacks. Hundreds of people were killed in the most brutal ways. About 60,000 people moved into camps, some voluntarily, others out of terror. Of these, about 3,000 were appointed SPOs on a salary of Rs 1,500. For these paltry crumbs, young people, like Nilesh's brother, have sentenced themselves to a life-sentence in a barbed wire enclosure."


Le Nouvel Observateur 18.03.2010 (France)

Both Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Jorge Semprun have just published new books in France: Enzensberger's literary biography about the Nazi General Kurt von Hammerstein and Semprun's "Une tombe au creux des nuages", an essay about Europe and Germany. In Nouvel Obs, the two writers discuss their image of Germany. Semprun: "For the first time since the 17th century, Germany has a positive role in Europe and it is mostly thanks to the European project and French-German reconciliation. This might seem banal for the young, but for people of my age, it is quite extraordinary. For the first time, Germany is a huge democratic power, not just economically and socially, but culturally as well. But is only to be expected that you are less of a Germanophile than I am!" Enzensberger replies: "Germany is not a liberal society, historically speaking. It is extremely hierarchical and has a tendency towards intellectual extremism. In Germany every last theory is radicalised. The philosophers for example, from Kant to Hegel, push thinking to its extremes. This is brilliant in a way but also fatal. Healthy common sense was never a strong point of the German mind."


The Nation 18.03.2010 (USA)

In a fact-filled article D.D. Guttenplan and Maria Margaronis return to the case of Gita Sahgal, who was thrown out of Amnesty International after accusing the organisation of working together with the former Guantanamo inmate Moazzam Begg. The authors weigh up the case extensively from both angles – on the one hand they do not regard Begg as a fundamentalist, although they do list a number of dubious links that he maintains. And they quote Amnesty's senior director for international law and policy, Widney Brown: "Amnesty, Brown explained, often works with people or groups it disagrees with: 'The Catholic Church...[is] not good on women's rights. They are horrible on gay rights. And frankly, if you look at what they say about HIV and condoms, they have blood on their hands. Does that mean that we do not continue to work with the Catholic Church against the death penalty?"

Further articles: Paul Duguid reads Daniel J. Solove's book "Understanding Privacy" (excerpt) and learns a thing or two about Western Europe's worst surveillance state: Great Britain.

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