Features » Magazine Roundup


Magazine Roundup | Polityka | Krytyka Polityczna | n+1 | openDemocracy | Elet es Irodalom | L'Espresso | The Nation | Le Monde | London Review of Books | MicroMega | The Boston Globe | Blätter f. dt. u. int. Politik | El Pais Semanal | The New Yorker 17.04.2010 (Slovakia in English)

The writer Viktor Erofeyev talks about Katyn and the complicated relationship between Poland and Russia. Although the Germans have also given the Poles a hard time: "Polish emigration to Germany has demonstrated that the Poles are fond of German civilization and they are happy to lose themselves in it. Of course this has helped wounds to heal. Yet Russia has remained a hostile country that had conquered Poland not because it was better or stronger but because it was able to achieve victory by sacrificing a vast number of its own people, like some woozy woman who does not mind crushing one of her countless brood in her sleep. So it's hardly surprising that with the same lazy indifference it would squash its potential opponents in the same way as people who lash out with a towel to swat a bumblebee that has flown into the room before it even tried to sting anyone. It's flown in, so it's obvious it might sting someone. That's what Katyn is all about. ... Every Pole knows of Katyn while the Russians had only the vaguest idea of what it was. While for the former it was an event on an apocalyptic scale, for the latter it was just an ordinary wartime tragedy at most. And that is why Russia's repentance could never be good enough for the Poles while the Polish demands have been too much for the Russian authorities."

In the run-up to the elections in Hungary, the cultural theorist Laszlo F. Földenyi spoke in an interview with the German daily Die Welt, about the Kadar legacy and the new anti-Semitism. Now Salon have translated the interview into English: "We have picked up our history at the same point where we left it in 1945. And anti-Semitism, which is apparently still a political force in Hungary, seems to be part of this. I have lost count of the number of anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred and incendiary articles that have appeared over the past few months. Unlike other countries Hungary has never really come to terms with its involvement in the Holocaust. In the last two years of the War 600,000 Jews were deported from Hungary or were killed on Hungarian soil. It was a civil war against the defenceless which became a taboo later, in the communist era. We still haven't come to terms with this issue; it's lodged deep inside the Hungarians. Anti-Semitism is like an abscess that is now bursting..."

Polityka 16.04.2010 (Poland)

Jacek Zakowski, journalist and co-founder of the Gazeta Wyborcza found (here in German) Lech Kaczynski most congenial as a person and one who never really fitted the Pis mold: "His magnanimity, his reserve, the ideas he represented singled him out from the party base. But they could not protect him from it. Firstly, the party did not permit cooperation with a number of very competent individuals whose views the president found acceptable. Secondly, the cult born of the Pilsudski tradition, in which political 'severity' passed for reason of state, encouraged the sort of people from the political base, who often lacked empathy and competence, to develop all number of radical tendencies. Particularly in matters that were not Kacynski's strong points - economic issues and international affairs, for example."

Krytyka Polityczna 19.04.2010 (Poland)

The tragedy in Smolensk continues to dominate the media in Poland. But a few voices of dissent are emerging out of the collective mourning in the high-brow left-wing magazine Krytyka Polityczna. "I get the impression that we are witnessing an absurd display of herd instinct and not mourning at all," writes the film director Malgorzata Szumowska. "Mourning in Poland, in my experience, is all about taming death. It has nothing to do with hysteria or exaltation. The mourning which I see on TV and on Polish streets, however, has nothing to do with taming death. It is collective hysteria, a shared activity, which the Polish seem to need as their lungs need air. We are probably the only nation in Europe capable of such a thing, in the name of our own exaltation, in the name of experiencing something bigger than ourselves, in the name of patriotism."

Further articles: The writer and feminist activist Manuela Gretkowska also attempts a psychological reading of the situation. "The Poles do not feel like citizens, they play no part in governance; the national mourning is an exceptional moment which makes them feel important and unified." There are also excerpts from the opinions of Olga Tokarczuk in the New York Times and Slawomir Sierakowski in Freitag (here in Polish, here in German).

n+1 17.04.2010 (USA)

Nikil Saval pens an impassioned defence of Brian Ferneyhough and Charles Bernstein's "bizarre" new opera "Shadowtime" about Walter Benjamin. It obviously manages to bypass countless cliches from what Saval refers to disparagingly as the "Benjamin industry", simply with its will to avant-garde, complexity and absurdity. "The opera seemed to suggest a fallen work of art, broken into non-linear fragments of deliberately incomprehensible narrative; music which resisted experience almost successfully; poetry that hovered somewhere between Benjamin's own language and absolute gibberish. It would have been comparatively easy to tell (and to watch) the life of Benjamin, up to and including his suicide at the Spanish border. But Bernstein and Ferneyhough, with this prospect in view, magisterially refused." (Audio clip on Youtube)

openDemocracy 15.04.2010 (UK)

"Living with Viktor Orban is going to be a bumpy ride", predicts Anton Pelinka with an eye on the the alarming success (16,7 percent) of the far-right Jobbik party. Orban might not be a right-wing extremist himself, "but he and his government face a huge challenge. A major reason for the left's steep fall is the world economic crisis which has affected Hungary more severely than almost every other post-communist country in east-central Europe. Since global conditions shape the contours of this crisis, Hungary's new prime minister will find it impossible to produce any significant economic upswing in the near future. Unemployment will stay high, and Fidesz will have to implement what its socialist predecessors already did - a policy of austerity. Many Fidesz voters will be disappointed. This brings Jobbik into the picture."

Elet es Irodalom 16.04.2010 (Hungary)

Laszlo Krasznahorkai interviewed the composer Peter Eötvös about his new opera "The Devil's Tragedy" (Youtube) which premiered at Munich's Nationaltheater in February. With a libretto by Albert Ostermaier, it is a reflection on Imre Madach's (1823-1864) creation drama, "The Tragedy of Man", although it centres around Lucifer rather than Adam. Krasznahorkai praises the wise decision of Eötvös and Ostermaier to avoide the dualistic route of good and evil. "That would have been too schematic, too zoroastrian, and such primitive duality would wash with people's more complex perceptions today. On the one hand, he does not think that the creation drama can be presented as if on a model building table – after all we no longer believe that man is at the centre of creation; on the other hand, people today no longer have the naivity that enabled their medieval counterparts to personify the creation drama. We can no longer think of evil as a person because we are much more familiar with the idea as a mathematical or physical constant. Lucifer is not a devil who does evil, he is the failure, fiasco and graveyard of intelligent questioning and critical observation."

L'Espresso 16.04.2010 (Italy)

What's the point in differentiating between high and mass culture any more, asks Umberto Eco, when Beethoven sonatas are ring tones, and Italy's first international pop star, Alberto Rabagliati and his unforgettable "'Non dimenticar le mie parole' are regarded as high-brow. He cites who, in the 1960s, coined the concept of the "midcult", the cultural third way: "High culture Macdonald said, was represented by Joyce, Proust and Picasso, whereas 'masscult' was dominated by Hollywood junk, the front pages of the Saturday Evening Post and rock music (Macdonald was the sort of intellectual who did not own a TV set - the more open-minded of his ilk might have had one in the kitchen). The midcult consisted of entertainment products which borrowed from the avant-garde but were essentially kitsch. Midcult products of the past included Alma-Tadema and Edmond Rostand ("Cyrano de Bergerac"); from his contemporaries, Macdonald black-listed Somerset Maugham, the late Hemingway and Thornton Wilder."

The Nation 03.05.2010 (USA)

Jana Prikryl is fascinated by the photographs (mostly of bathing beauties) by the outsider artist Miroslav Tichy, currently on show at the New York ICP. In communist Czechoslovakia he served time in prison before being transferred to a psychiatric institute but it was as a homeless person that he started taking photographs: "His photographs are not just frozen in time; it seems truer to say that they were frozen once but are now sluggishly thawing. Tichy took them haphazardly, out of focus, with cameras he'd made from scratch using shoeboxes and cardboard rolls and plexiglass (polished with toothpaste and ashes). The prints are over- or underexposed, crookedly cropped, scratched, torn, penciled over, left to rot or be nibbled by rodents, often as if by accident; indeed, the pictures are saturated with accidental effects until the idea of artistic intent itself becomes blurry. John Berger once wrote that 'photographs bear witness to a human choice being exercised in a given situation.' Tichy's work bears witness to a skepticism about 'human choice' so profound that its abdications seem to come full circle: they force us to think about who or what was responsible for these undeniably evocative pictures, and even to ask (if only rhetorically) whether their flaws were calculated to seed each image with a certain nostalgia value."

Le Monde 17.04.2010 (France)

Online reader commentaries are the contemporary equivalent of yesterday's "pissoir literature" fulminates the philosopher Michel Onfray, up in arms at the malicious and anonymous commentaries about Florence Aubenas' book that appeared on his iphone. "So much burbing of dwarves" the tirade continues, who feel the need to attack a book, simply because it is a bestseller, without even bothering to read it. A book, by the way, that he says is "pure as diamond" and comparable with Stendhal, Zola and Celine: "The sycophant gives free reign to his affects : envy, jealousy, malice, hatred, resentment, bitterness, bad-blood etc. The failed cook slates the cooking of a successful colleague.... Wannabe writers hold lectures about books that they know only from the TV appearances of actual writers... The anonymous commentary on the Internet is a virtual guillotine. Masturbation for the impotent,who only rejoice when blood is spilled. Tomorrow is another day, so they might as well just loll about in front of the television that they supposedly so despise, to find the next sacrificial victim for their own mediocrity, emptiness and intellectual poverty."

London Review of Books 22.04.2010 (UK)

Author Benjamin Kunkel takes the publication of a weighty tome, "Valences of the Dialectic" with essays by Fredric Jameson, as an opportunity to pay his respects to the Marxist thinker as writer and theorist. "Fredric Jameson's pre-eminence, over the last generation, among critics writing in English would be hard to dispute. Part of the tribute has been exacted by his majestic style, one distinctive feature of which is the way that the convoy of long sentences freighted and balanced with subordinate clauses will dock here and there to unload a pithy slogan. 'Always historicise!' is one of these. ... Over the last quarter-century, Jameson has been at once the timeliest and most untimely of American critics and writers. Not only did he develop interests in film, science fiction, or the work of Walter Benjamin, say, earlier than most of his colleagues in the humanities, he was also a pioneer of that enlargement of literary criticism (Jameson received a PhD in French literature from Yale in 1959) into all-purpose theory which made the discussion of all these things in the same breath established academic practice."

Further articles: John Gray has read a number of new books about the return of the Conservatives in Britain. Jonathan Raban is vexed about what he regards as a highly unoriginal Conservative pamphlet by Phillip Blond that goes by the provocative title of "Red Tory". In a interesting but for those unversed in economic theory rather complex article, economist Joseph Stiglitz reviews Robert Skidelsky's book "Keynes: The Return of the Master". For her diary column, Jenny Disky zooms in on the creepies and crawlies on her person.

MicroMega 08.04.2010 (Italy)

"Bel Paese" is the name Italians give their homeland. But the country's diminishing attractions, at least in economic terms, have been plaguing numerous observers for quite some time. In the daily Il Fatto Quotidiano, Italy's youngest paper which was founded in 2009, Pierfranco Pellizzetti complains in a excerpt that the Italians are now only competitive on three fronts and even this cannot continue for long. "What is the state of Italian business? As far as technical innovation goes, it couldn't get any worse. For one thing, public research is less than brilliant and - much worse still – no one is even pretending that this might be connected with the general development of the country. Communication between science and business has ground to a halt, which is the opposite of what is happening in the US or competitive European countries. As a result, we have not brought a new Italian-developed product onto the market in decades. Similarly catastrophic is the situation in the organisational sector. Let's look at the three sectors where we actually shine: tourism, food and logistics. Even there we are continually losing ground."

The Boston Globe 18.04.2010 (USA)

Inventions are all well and good, writes Drake Bennett in the Boston Globe, but imitations, he learned from Oded Shenkar's "Copycats: How Smart Companies Use Imitation to Gain a Strategic Edge", play an equally important role: "And while we may dismiss imitation as the easy road - especially when compared to the path-breaking of the innovator - there is an art to copying well. Researchers modeling the dynamics of social systems have found that how one copies, and when, can be crucial, making the difference between overtaking one's competitors and being written off as a pale, imitating also-ran. 'This is not just something that should happen, it's something you have to know how to do,' says Shenkar. 'What's true for innovation is true for imitation: You've got to get it right.'"

Blätter f. dt. u. int. Politik 01.04.2010 (Germany)

The ruling of the German Constitutional Court against data retention and the European Parliament's refusal to share bank data with the USA (SWIFT Agreement) provide some hope that data protection might play a greater role in the future. But we are still a long way off a European civil rights movement, says Ralf Bendrath: "The debate over the SWIFT Agreement showed however, how swiftly the media and political echo over the civil rights protest of the MEPs can fade. The reason for this is clear: the European public sphere suffers from the fact that at the level of mass media, it is made up of separate national public spheres – and national governments which react only to these. (...) This also shows that data protection activists should not head for Brussels but for Madrid, Paris, Prague, Warsaw, Athens, Rome and Copenhagen." (Eurozine has translated the full article into English)

Blogs and text messaging can help democratise Africa. And the Africans are making good use of their new-found access to information, as Geraldine de Bastion reports (here at Eurozine in English). "The blog aggregator 'Afrigator' offers an insight into the African blogging community: in July 2009, it counted over 10,500 African blogs, 62 percent (approx 6,400) of which were in South Africa, by far the leading blogging nation, followed by 1,094 in Nigeria, 555 in Kenya and 325 in Egypt. Seven per cent – approx 780 – of the blogs listed cannot be categorised by country: they concern themselves mainly with Africa-wide issues and are categorised as cross-regional."

El Pais Semanal 18.04.2010 (Spain)

"Venezuela and El Salvador are competing to be Latin America's most violent country. And Caracas is by far the most violent city in the region," Gerardo Zavarce cites the head of the "Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia", Roberto Briceno Leon. The murder rate has doubled in the last ten years and claimed 127 victims for every 100,000 inhabitants in 2008. One reason for this spike is the mass spread of guns: Between 1999 and 2006, 86 percent of murders committed in Caracas were gun-related and Venezuela's 27 million-strong population of possesses, legally or illegally, around 12 million guns." Predictably, Hugo Chavez sees the matter rather differently: "Criminals and many criminal gangs are trained, financed and supported by the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie and our international enemies, el imperio yanqui and their lackeys."

The New Yorker 26.04.2010 (USA)

Google the arch enemy of the book industry might just turn out to be its best ally, writes Ken Auletta in an instructive background article on e-books and the future of the publishing industry. Unlike Apple and Amazon, Google, he says, will not be trying to dominate the market, as long as the Google Book Settlement is approved by U.S Courts: "By the middle of the year, Google will open an online e-books storecalled Google Editions, Dan Clancy, the engineer who directs Google Books, and who will also be in charge of Google Editions, said. Clancy said that the store's e-books, unlike those from Amazon or Apple, will be accessible to users on any device. Google Editions will let publishers set the price of their books, he said, and will accept the agency model. Having already digitized twelve million books, including out-of-print titles, Google will have a far greater selection than Amazon or Apple." - let's talk european