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08/06/2010

Magazine Roundup

The New Yorker | El Pais Semanal | Prospect | Res Publica Nowa | The New York Review of Books | Le Monde | London Review of Books | Magyar Narancs | openDemocracy | The Times Literary Supplement


The New Yorker 14.06.2010 (USA)

iTunes is over, Sasha Frere-Jones claims, and tells us to expect big changes in the music business very soon. The future belong to personalised online streaming: "The broadcast and on-demand models are governed by different rules, but they share one important feature: neither depends on downloading files or finding storage space on a personal computer. Lurking behind these models are two enormous companies that will likely change the landscape of online audio in a matter of months: Google and Apple. Google will soon offer a streaming music service for its Android phone that, like all of these services, uses the increasingly vital concept of the cloud - your music is all on a server, which you can access from any computer or smart phone, with little trouble and no wires. Apple, whose iTunes store is the biggest music retailer in America, bought the online streaming service Lala last year and then promptly shut it down. This suggests that there may soon be an iTunes.com, a Web-based streaming system that will leave behind the model of buying discrete tracks. In music's new model, fees are charged not necessarily so that you can physically possess a file but so that you can have that song whenever you want it."

Further articles: a "Summer Fiction" special features short stories from 20 authors under 40 – among them Rivka Galchen, Gary Sheyntgart and Salvatore Scibona.


El Pais Semanal 06.06.2010 (Spain)

"I'm not a science-fiction writer, I'm a physicist," explains Michio Kaku, a US researcher and science writer born 63 years ago in Silicon Valley. He then proceeds to tell Luis Miguel Ariza what the future holds: "The internet will be everywhere, even in our contact lenses. Everything you see will be the internet – you will go online in the bat of an eyelid. Teachers will have to come up with exams in which rote learning plays no role. The greatest losers will be the old-fashioned intermediators – a stock broker will no longer earn money simply by performing operations on the stock exchange. Everyone will be able to do this and at very little cost . And they will be able to read the latest news on their watches. The winners will be those with experience, expertise and talent."


Prospect 24.05.2010 (UK)

Contemporary art, declares Ben Lewis, is going through the death throes of the modern project. He draws parallels with another end-phase period, Rococo, breaking down his analysis according to four criteria: formulae, sentiment, narcissism and cynicism. "The styles of minimalism and conceptualism, for instance, originally served the purpose of expanding the definition of the art object: they sought to overcome sculptural and pictorial conventions and to explore visual perception.(...) Now, these styles are applied to sentimental ends. Like rococo's pastoral scenes, Hirst's monochrome butterfly paintings purvey a pretty and frivolous aesthetic. (...) Tracey Emin's casts of children's mittens and coats, exhibited in public locations at the 2008 Folkestone Triennial, Takashi Murakami's cute Japanese cartoon characters, and Jeff Koons's enormous balloon dogs operate in the same dewy-eyed register as Bouguereau's images of children nursed by their mothers and surrounded by cherubs. Once again, these works of art are not necessarily 'bad' - neither are the paintings of Bouguereau and Boucher - but they are kitsch.


Res Publica Nowa 01.08.2010 (Poland)

The focus of this week's magazine is the state of book culture in Poland which, according a recent survey, is looking pretty bleak. The writer Lukasz Golebiewski, an expert on the Polish book market, broods over the digital challenge: "I prefer not to think too much about what will happen because it scares me," he admits. "After all, we have no idea whether the new technology is friend or foe, whether it can be tamed to benefit culture and knowledge. It would be great if, instead of being scared of technology, we could put it to good cultural and educational use. It might not turn out this way but that is no reason to fear the developments which will dominate our culture one way or the other. We should try, instead, to find our feet in the new reality, instead of entrenching ourselves in analogue culture. I want to look optimistically into the future but I can't say I'm confident."

Henryk Wozniakowski of "Znak" publishers belongs to an older generation. His values lie elsewhere: "It's not about the nation expressing its gratitude towards big publishing companies, it's about meeting someone on the train who is so engrossed in one of 'our' books that they are completely cut off from the outside world. It's about meeting someone whose eyes light up when they talk about their literary discoveries, or the voice of a critic who has truly understood the book and is able to communicate this to others. It all comes down to the reaction of the individual reader. Of course I'm aware that publishers need thousands of such readers."

When asked about the book he is waiting for, literary critic Przemyslaw Czaplinski answers: "I am waiting for the book that I don't know I'm waiting for. It will suddenly appear, unbidden and out of the blue, too soon or too late, almost certainly at the wrong time, and it will convince me that every book I have ever read was mere preparation for this one. And when I read it I will throw all this experience overboard in order to understand what I don't understand."


The New York Review of Books 24.06.2010 (USA)

Timothy Snyder has read the latest book by his fellow historian Christopher R. Browning's "Remembering Survival", which reconstructs the history of the slave labour camp Wierzbnik. It describes how the Nazis unscrupulously but very successfully played off the Poles off against the Jews. Snyder recounts a number of the tragic stories in the book and summarises: "Throughout 1941, Poles were debating the political and civic status that Jews should have in Poland after the war. The exile government took the view that postwar Poland would be a democracy without racial discrimination. Within the government, however, nationalists questioned this position. Polish wartime debates about the 'Jewish question' ceased only when Adolf Hitler's answer became clear. The condition of Polish Jews became a pressing question for the exile government and the Home Army when the Germans began to gas Jews in the final weeks of 1941. In early 1942, Polish leaders believed that news of the shocking German campaign would prompt action from Great Britain and the United States. The Home Army thought that the revelation of the existence of gassing facilities would force the Germans to stop. (...) In vain: the Germans were not shamed by the publicity, and the Western allies took no meaningful action.

The reviews cover: Martin Amis' novel "The Pregnant Widow", whose "funny essayistic voice" delighted Edmund White; Andre Agassi's autobiography "Open", and a string of new books and somewhat older exhibitions on the Bauhaus.

Sadly, only the opening paragraphs of Charles Rosen's ode to Chopin are available online: "The orthodox view of Chopin as a miniaturist is now pretty much obsolete, exploded, discredited. Many of the large works - ballades, scherzi, sonatas, great polonaises, fantasies, barcarolle - are longer than an average movement of Beethoven."


Le Monde 05.06.2010 (France)

The columnist Guy Sorman sings the praises of three Chinese dissidents: Wei Jingsheng, who has been living in exile for years, Hu Jia and Liu Xiaobo, who were imprisoned for their work with AIDS sufferers and Charta 08 respectively. "These three individuals embody Chinese society's yearning for political and moral dignity, which is as old as Chinese civilisation. The fate of Wei Jingsheng reminds us that in 1911, a certain Sun Yat returned to China from exile in Britain, declared a republic and had himself elected as its president long before the European monarchy embarked on that path. And Liu Xiaobo is imbued in both the Chinese and the European Enlightenment tradition, which the Chinese have known about for 200 years. Hu Jia, a committed Buddhist, reminds us that charity and virtue have always been an integral part of Chinese civilisation."


London Review of Books 10.06.2010 (UK)

Stephen Burt has worked his way through a pile of books on the internet, the creation and use of social network sites and related topics. He was particularly interested in Craig Watkins' research, which showed that even heavy internet use does not radically alter the social behaviour of 'young people' – despite the rise of 'disintermediation': "No wonder disintermediation has generated such moral panic: the changes that have made it so much harder for Disney or NewsCorp to control what you see and hear are the same changes that make it very much harder for you to limit what your kids see and hear. A Tasmanian teenager can now discover – and, through social networks, find other people who are discovering – the poetry of Lorine Niedecker, the music of the Fat Tulips and the manifestos of climate change activists; she can also find encouragement, on the frightening 'pro-ana' (anorexia) sites, if she wants to starve herself to death. She can thereby redefine herself, if she likes, as a poetry reader, as a climate activist, as anorexic. Yet she is more likely (as Watkins suggests) to define herself just as she would have without the internet – by social class, by pre-existing tastes, by her schoolfriends."

Further articles: historian Keith Thomas writes - in an article peppered with quotes and names, about the history of note-taking. Andrew O'Hagen was deeply disappointed by the latest HBO series, produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, about the US war in "The Pacific".


Magyar Narancs 27.05.2010 (Hungary)

The newly elected parliament in Budapest is passing laws at a furious pace – first on dual citizenship, then on a memorial day for the Treaty of Trianon. The Hungarian philosopher Miklos Tamas Gaspar, who hails from Cluj (the former Hungarian city of Kolozsvar which today belongs to Romania), finds it regrettable that in the debate that followed, no mention has been made of the "peace dictate" of Trianon: "The most painful aspect of the Treaty of Trianon is not so much its injustice, but the much deeper, historical and cultural consequences that are far more difficult to articulate. More than anything, this involves the loss of the 'European standing' which the Hungarians enjoyed as a most significant section of the population of a world power – and the cultural context, of which almost nothing remains, the education, the self-confidence of the old Hungarianess. Then there was the loss of Protestant Transylvania which had helped to counterbalance Catholicism and created a bipolar relationship of tension and balance which was regarded as characteristically 'Hungarian'. But the brash declarations of the new parliament do not reflect even a hint of these very real and almost certainly incurable problems."


OpenDemocracy 07.06.2010 (UK)

The Nazis are known to have looked to the Turkish genocide of the Armenians in preparing the mass murder of the Jews. But the Turks were also following an example: the Russian deportation of the Circassians after the Caucasus wars around 1860. Between 500,000 thousand and a million Circassians were deported to Turkey and half of them lost their lives. Now the Russians want to host the Winter Olympics in the former Circassian capital, Sochi. Exiled Circassians are hoping that Georgia, in the wake of its 2008 war with Russia, will officially recognise the Circassian Genocide, writes Sufian Zhemukhov: "It would put Russia in a difficult position: holding its Olympics in a land of a genocide newly recognized by a UN member state. It could become a thorn in Russia's side in the same way that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide has been a source of great irritation to Turkey." Open Democracy recently reviewed a book about the Circassian catastrophe, Olive Bullogh's "Let Our Fame Be Great" (more here, here, here, and here in the Circassian World).

Further articles: Oleg Alexandrovich Yuriev writes about the hundredth anniversary of Tolstoy's death and the terrible torture of writers' anniversary celebrations under communism.


The Times Literary Supplement 07.06.2010 (UK)

For Simon Goldhill, Zachary Mason's "The lost Books of the Odyssey" is probably the most brilliant reworking of the Homerian original since James Joyce. "Odysseus returns to Ithaca and finds the now elderly Penelope married. Desperate for 'a real Ithaca elsewhere', 'giddy, Odysseus turns and flees the tormenting shadows'. That Penelope might not have been the perfect and still beautiful wife after twenty years is an idea that goes back to the ancient world’s own more sardonic traditions, and the alienated Odysseus creating an Ithaca through his constant search, rather than by arriving, is the celebrated territory of Cavafy. It is almost a cliche by now to wonder about Penelope's needs, Odysseus' real desires, and the potential for failure in the return of husband to wife. Mason knows this well enough."

Further articles: Gillian Tindall was gripped by Jeffrey H. Jackson's fast paced history of the Paris flood of 1910, although he often found it lacking in historical context. On a tour through the history of the sonnet, Katherine Duncan-Jones opens Stephen Burt and David Mikic's "The art of the sonnet" and discovers a number of historically pertinent if artistically somewhat underwhelming sonnets.
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