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18/05/2010

Magazine Roundup

The Nation | Elet es Irodalom | Tehelka | The Atlantic | Newsweek | L'Express | Slate | Tygodnik Powszechny | Outlook India | MicroMega | Prospect | Nepszabadsag | The New Statesman | Przekroj | Magyar Narancs | The Guardian | Salon.eu.sk | The New York Times

The Nation 31.05.2010 (USA)

Jonathan Israel's monumental history of the Enlightenment in three volumes revolves around the celestial body of Baruch Spinoza. The first two weighty tomes have just been joined by the publication of the third, which provides more of an essayistic overview: "A Revolution of the Mind". Samuel Moyn describes the British historian's view of the Enlightenment which is as enthusiastic as it is radical: "Israel insists that only a small coterie of 'radical' figures really cared about the core values. Meanwhile, those typically considered the luminaries of the age - from John Locke through Voltaire, and from Jean-Jacques Rousseau through Immanuel Kant - sought only 'marginal reform' and cravenly sacrificed the core values to their misbegotten flattery of existing clerical and political authorities. For Israel, Spinoza's true heirs have enemies everywhere, including those whose lesser version of Enlightenment betrays the principles it purports to advance. Don't pretend that there wasn't a fundamental choice to be made about the very meaning of Enlightenment and modernity, Israel insists repeatedly. You could choose some halfway house that left the old order standing - notably the romance of American liberty (twinned with black slavery) or English liberties (which fell in with social and religious conservatism). Or you could embrace Enlightenment freedom in its unadulterated form, even if that entailed demolishing the corrupt old order and starting anew. Allegiance to the true gospel of Spinoza left no other viable choice, either intellectually or politically."

Further articles: Paula Findlen introduces Richard Holmes' "The Age of Wonder" (excerpt), a book about scientists and explorers of the 18th century and the inspiration they provided for the Romantic poets.

Elet es Irodalom 14.05.2010 (Hungary)

The writer György Konrad has observed that people in Hungary are either turning their backs on freedom completely or resigning themselves to the very real threat of its demise. He fears, however, that such fatalism could be the death of freedom. "The people have not understood that freedom is our most valuable treasure. There is a very real threat that the political swing to the right could lead to authoritarian rule. It's as if the democratic instinct of my fellow citizens had evaporated, as if it were acquiescing in its own defeat. They seem to be looking on with childish curiosity to see what the threatened 'clean up' brings and what other threats will come thundering out of the mouths of the brutes of the far-right. But what will happen is that the resigned observers will soon be pushed aside and robbed of their position in society. We should look back at the turning points in European history which led to authoritarian order – they were always preceded by the the idea of freedom fading."


Tehelka 03.04.2010 (India)

India is being overrun by a push towards the English language, Rish Majumder reports. There are more Anglophones in India now than in the USA and Britain together. Many intellectuals regard the development with suspicion, Majumder writes – but there is nothing they can do about it. "Dalit activist Chandrabhan Prasad enters the debate with a seemingly whimsical gesture. In 2006, he celebrated Lord Macaulay's birthday and unveiled the portrait of English as a 'Dalit Goddess' - a Statue of Liberty like figure holding up a pen, standing on a computer, and wearing a straw hat. While others are worrying about the loss of culture, Prasad is hoping English will help Dalits shed an oppressive culture. More importantly, he believes the language can lead to employment for Dalits, and so can campaigning to teach Dalits English. Soon, he anticipates a time when no job will be available without basic English."


The Atlantic 01.05.2010 (USA)

James Fallows, the famous Atlantic Monthly reporter claims to have discovered "How to Save the News". On a visit to Google he allowed himself be convinced that the company has only the best interests of the old media at heart. The article, which prints out at a rather 16 dry pages, points in one direction only: the Ipad – although it most probably won't be from Apple. Fallows quotes the creepy vision of Google boss Eric Schmidt: "It's obvious that in five or 10 years, most news will be consumed on an electronic device of some sort. Something that is mobile and personal, with a nice color screen. Imagine an Ipad or Kindle smart enough to show you stories that are incremental to a story it showed you yesterday, rather than just repetitive. And it knows who your friends are and what they're reading and think is hot. And it has display advertising with lots of nice color, and more personal and targeted, within the limits of creepiness. And it has a GPS and a radio network and knows what is going on around you. If you think about that, you get to an interesting answer very quickly, involving both subscriptions and ads."


Newsweek 17.05.2010 (USA)

Jacob Weisberg, chairman of the Slate Group, gives publisher the answer that Eric Schmidt should have given: The Ipad is not going to help publishers. First of all, it eliminates everything that makes the Internet attractive; linking, commentary function, the integration of social media ("Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker Media, brutally describes them as 'a step back to the era of CD-ROMs'") Secondly it will be censored ("Editors at one edgy fashion magazine reportedly refer to their iPad app in development as 'the Iran edition'.") And thirdly, it will not generate profit for publishers: "If you want to play in Apple's playground, the company decides what apps are acceptable, then takes a 30 percent cut. It collects the data about users and decides what it is willing to share with publishers (so far, none). It intends to sell the advertising, controlling the standards and taking what sounds to be a 40 percent cut. Such domination of the relationship with readers would be no less a disaster for publishers than it was for the music industry."

Further articles: Daniel Lyons explains why he will be joining the stream of techie hipsters on their way out of Facebook before any more of his personal data is sold to advertisers. "Even if you're very tech-savvy and do know what the company is up to, you still have no idea what you're paying for Facebook, because people don't really know what their personal data is worth." May 31 is the official Quit Facebook Day!

L'Express 14.05.2010 (France)

In an exhaustive interview the Spanish writer Jorge Semprun talks about his activities in the Resistance and against Franco, his bilingualism and his book "Une tombe au creux des nuages" which has just been published in his France, where he lives. The title of this collection of speeches, which he has held over the past twenty years in Germany, is a reference to Paul Celan's image of the "grave in the air" from his poem "Death Fugue". Semprun, who survived Buchenwald, says of the German language: "German is extremely difficult, occasionally hermetic but enormously beautiful. The German language of the great 19th century poets and the 20th century writers was perverted by the Nazis. The barking of Hitler German is terrible. It plunged the true German language into silence. I deeply admire Paul Celan, who was a victim of this system..., for deciding to give back the German language its beauty, its power, its ability to resist evil."


Slate 13.05.2010 (USA)

Michael Young, opinions editor of the Daily Star in Beirut wishes that Arab intellectuals would read Paul Berman's book on Tariq Ramadan, "The Flight of the Intellectuals", because his particular brand of hypocrisy is widespread. "In demanding clarification from Ramadan, Berman effectively demands that all Arabs and Muslims, particularly those purporting to be liberals, clarify where they stand on the major issues affecting the Middle East and Islam. It is not enough to hide behind Israeli brutality and denunciations of American imperialism. You cannot speak with a forked tongue on violence, anti-Semitism, brutality toward women, and much else, and still claim to embrace humanistic values. Paul Berman has not been offered a seat at the table of so-called specialists on the Middle East. For them, his fault is to take words at their value in a region where the truth is said to lie in the nuances. But his fault happens to be a liberal one; clarity alone can bring on genuine dialogue."

Tygodnik Powszechny 16.05.2010 (Poland)

What did the end of WWII bring Poland? How should we remember this day? And what are the perspectives for Polish-Russian relations? Such questions form the focus of this week's magazine. Wojciech Pieciak does not believe that the last 20 years of German-Polish reconciliation should serve as a mode for relations with Russia. "Even 65 years later, this process has yet to reach a conclusion. (...) Reconciliation cannot be taken as a given or ever really reach completion. As a process it starts from below and touches individual destinies and emotions. It is not a playground for spin doctors. Perhaps reconciliation is a cultural value that we must always strive towards but which we cannot expect to achieve its ideal form. Which is not to say that it is not worth trying."

Literary historian Michal Glowinski has written an autobiography "Kregi obcosci" (meaning something like circles of alienation), which the anonymous reviewer describes as "extremely honest and stylistically modest". In conversation with Glowinski, the question arises as to why he is one of the few writers in Poland to have come out about their homosexuality. "Believe me, it was a very dramatic decision to make. But if I didn't address it, I would not have been entitled to write an autobiography. A book like this must contain all aspects at the heart of a person's life (...) My homosexuality must be obvious to anyone who knows me. I have never pretended to be anyone else, but I never made a show of it, either. It is not a matter of choice, nature decides for you. Not that that makes life any easier."


Outlook India 24.05.2010 (India)

In the cover story, Pranay Sharma describes a new type of radical Islamist. They live in the west, have degrees from western universities, they are integrated and affluent. Sharma lists the example of the Pakistani-American finance analyst Faisal Shahzad, who placed the bomb on Times Square, or the American psychiatrist Nidal Makik Hasan who shot 13 people in Fort Hood last November. What role does Osama bin Laden play for these men? He provides them with a wide spectrum of justifications for their acts of terrorism, Sharma says, in which religion plays only a marginal role. Then there are the US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East conflict and now "Al Qaeda's agenda has expanded to include the cutting-edge issues of politics: environment and globalisation. In his last few public pronouncements, Osama has accused the West of polluting the world, of resorting to globalisation to exploit the underdeveloped world. Experts feel he did this to appeal to those sections which have converted to Islam, or are secular Muslims who can't hitch themselves to an exclusive Islamic agenda."


MicroMega 12.05.2010 (Italy)

Philosopher Paolo Flores d'Arcais continues his campaign against the Vatican. This time he answers a letter which the former spokesman for John Paul II, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, wrote in Repubblica, outlining the central role that religion plays in Italy today. "For Navarro, Italy is clearly the promised land in which he can experiment with the hierarchical Catholicism that he has chosen as his lobestar: 'A democracy must recognise the value of the truth of human religiosity. It should be recognised as a universal right which, for the common good, cannot be relinquished.' Very papal indeed. But arguments like these shut out the atheist, the sceptic and the non-believer is shut out and make them feel like second-class citizens. Atheism not only has no place in this universal right, it is implicitly regarded as a obstruction to the common good. And to make sure no one could misunderstand his message, Navarro added, 'that it is practically impossible to ignore the political and social value of religion, without also questioning the legitimacy of state jurisdiction.' Oh really?"


Prospect 01.05.2010 (UK)

Now that Britain has one video camera for every twelve people, Philip Hunt describes the latest developments in "intelligent" surveillance technology. While generating images of people from DNA samples is still the stuff of promises, big brother is certainly getting bigger: "New technology has made it possible to detect incidents as they occur or even before. Researchers at Reading University have developed CCTV monitoring software capable of identifying, say, an abandoned package, and following the person who left it while they are still within range of a camera. Using technology first developed 20 years ago for burglar alarms, these systems are programmed to distinguish between different types of movement, and identify those defined as unusual — like depositing an object which remains unmoved for a given period, or movements such as frequent bathroom visits on an aeroplane. The latter might have detected the Detroit bomber last December before he tried to explode his device."

And: Peter Popham is shocked by the sorry state of Pompeii and Herculaneum.


Nepszabadsag 15.05.2010 (Hungary)

Organisations, such as political parties, companies, clubs or churches, that have been in existance for decades are ossifying in their habits and reactions. They cling like mad to their tried and tested methods of solving things, rituals, their culture of tackling problems. In order to replace a failing culture with new energetic constructions, we need a complete overhaul at a personal and organisational level. And this is precisely what Hungary's socialists need to do now, according to the behaviorist Vilmos Csanyi: "The left is not a party, it's a movement, and it needs constant organisation and fresh air if it is not to fade into a pensioner's reverie. That the leaders of the party regarded the left-wing liberal intelligence as a 'resource' that existed to prop up the apparat – no matter what nonsense it came up with – with unconditional loyalty, is a sign of utter ineptitude. Every now and then, on festive occasions, it was given a say, but the apparat really had no interest in the opinions and warnings of these supporters. It never looked beyond the end of its nose and completely lost sight of the masses. This was a huge mistake."


The New Statesman 17.05.2010 (UK)

Penguin has just published ten translations of Central European Classics, among them essays by Czeslaw Milosz, Josef Skvorecky's novel "The Cowards" and Cioran's "A Short History of Decay". They should be read one and all, the writer Adam Thirwell declares, who was taken by Hasek and Cioran in particular: "Digression under the sign of defeat: this is the form I cherish - the novel as junk. It's an invention provoked, sure, by the crazed politics of central Europe, yet the individual style of Hasek or Cioran isn't formed by politics. They take the defeat that politics always makes of life and dissolve it in sprezzatura."


Przekroj 11.05.2010 (Poland)

The 65th anniversary of the end of WWII prompts Anna Labuszewska to examine the increasing criticism of Stalin in Russia. "It seems that the Kremlin has learnt that glorification and relativisation of its role in the outbreak of war brings more trouble than it's worth. For purely pragmatic reasons, the father of the nation has been toppled from his pedestal." Labuszewska views Russia's numerous conciliatory gestures aimed at Poland in a similar light: "We will reach out our hand in symbolic issues such as history, but in exchange we want concrete economic and security benefits." The Russian re-evaluation of history also has a social dimension, whereby the praise is shifted away from military leaders and on to the simple soldier. The official Kremlin youth organisation for example, has been handing out stickers saying: "Spasibo diedu za pobiedu" (Thanks for victory, Grandpa).

Between two documentary film festivals in Poland (Planete Doc Review in Warsaw and the Krakow Filmfestival), Malgorzata Sadowska expresses her concerns for the genre. "The most interesting films seem to be those that are sounding out the boundaries of the documentary, crossing over, experimenting, creating – not that this means telling lies. (...) Authenticity does not only come from realism. The new documentary film shows that it is not only by observing reality that one arrives at the truth, but also by dealing with reality. In many ways."


Magyar Narancs 06.05.2010 (Hungary)

For many years now the "March of Life" has taken place in Budapest to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. It runs parallel to the memorial ceremony in front of the "House of Terror" museum, which remembers victims of the fascist and communist regimes. To make the march "more appealing" to the attendees of the museum ceremony, the Holocaust march is focussing on the life of the nun Margit Schlachta, who saved the lives of Jews and later fell victim to communism. The historian Attila Novak rejects this form of political deference: "Both the left's stance against far-right anti-Semitic movements and the right-wing remembrance of conservative anti-communists in Hungarian history who saved Jewish lives are absolutely justified, but they should steer clear of direct internal political references. Political parties should take a step back and let the civic initiatives play a larger role in these ceremonies which are organised top down. Only then can the lessons of the Holocaust become tangible to society as a whole, and a key component in society's consciousness."


The Guardian 15.05.2010 (UK)

Hans Magnus Enzensberger's book "Hammerstein" (excerpt) has just been published in English. In a long interview with Philip Olterman he talks about Hammerstein, who was the last commander of the Reichswehr before the Nazi takeover: "Maybe the best you could say about Hammerstein is that he was a contrarian. The English title of the book, 'The Silences of Hammerstein', has a more negative ring to it than the German, which hints at some sort of unique, if not quite redeeming, quality: 'Hammerstein, oder der Eigensinn. 'Eigensinn is a word that doesn't translate very well into English,' Enzensberger explains while finishing off a third cup of coffee in his flat overlooking Munich's English Gardens. 'It's not selfishness. It's not obstinacy. It's not intransigence. You might say it's a sense of having your own value system. That's a quality that I find very interesting, because it's almost beyond a person's control. When I first came to England after the war, people used to speak of someone being a man of character: that might be a good translation. In spite of the pressures within his milieu, Hammerstein somehow didn't budge. He couldn't. It saved him from the opportunism of the other generals. Of course, they would have killed him off if he hadn't died in '43.'"

Further articles: Helen Simpson sketches out the life of her heroine Colette. Annie Proulx celebrates the sculptor David Nash.


Salon.eu.sk 09.05.2010 (Slovakia)

With mixed feelings the Russian writer Victor Erofeev watched the ostentatious military parades in Moscow to celebrate the Great Victory of the Fatherland against Nazi Germany 65 years ago: "But now I can hear the Germans shouting: what about all those German women who were raped?! And our people shouting back: and what about all our grandmothers who starved to death in Leningrad?! I could also add: my grandmother Anastasia Nikandrovna lived through the entire three years of the siege of Leningrad. I don't know what is more important about this celebration: the honouring of the veterans who, at the age of nearly ninety, like my parents, belong to the generation that saw mass executions and who have survived twice, in spite of Hitler and Stalin; or the glorification of Russia as a superpower, although it is doubtful whether it really is one. Stalin is not a reason to deny the global importance of Russia's victory. I appreciate the victory but I wish all military victories were a thing of the past."


The New York Times 18.05.2010 (USA)

In NYT Magazine, Andrew Rice introduces new journalistic projects such as The Faster Times, True/Slant, Demand Media and Business Insider. They have all learned the same lesson: "There is at least a little money to be made by catering to readers' interests in gossip over information. In March Henry Blodget of Business Insider, which publishes actual news as well as gossip, wrote in March: 'Perhaps it’s time to float a new theory: We’re already in the gutter. What we click on accurately reflects what we’re interested in, no matter how much we think and protest and hope to the contrary.' A few days afterward, Blodget engaged in an entertaining multiplatform spat over the issue with the Reuters columnist Felix Salmon, producing the calculation that, in order to earn back a 60,000 USD annual salary, an online journalist needs to generate a whopping 1.8 million page views a month."

Further articles: In the Book Review Emily Parker describes how Chinese censorship is creeping into the heads of western journalists and academics: "The idea that scholars 'collectively are compromising our academic ideals in order to gain access to China offends people intellectually, but we all do it,' a professor at a prestigious American university told me in a telephone interview."

And Anthony Julius praises Paul Berman as the Julien Benda of our times. Berman's "The Flight of the Intellectuals" points to three areas of hypocrisy: "The false identification of liberal values with an oppressive West, and of political Islamism with an oppressed third world; an unreflective, unqualified opposition to every exercise of American power; a certain blindness regarding, or even tenderness toward, contemporary expressions of anti-Semitism."
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