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15/06/2010

Magazine Roundup

The Guardian | Przekroj | Lettre International | | The Economist | ResetDoc | Edge.org | The Times Literary Supplement | L'Espresso | The Nation | The Spectator | Esprit | The Atlantic


The Guardian 12.02.2010 (UK)

The days are over, novelist Geoff Dyer writes, when we have to wait for fiction to make imaginative sense of conflict. Reportage, particularly as written by American journalists who have benefited from the deep pockets of the magazines that initially sponsored them, has left the novel looking superfluous. His examples are drawn from a string of books dealing with the attacks on New York and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "What about character and story? The characters are there in the non-fiction accounts, fully realised in flesh and (often awash in) blood, in the way that we expect fictional characters to be. Lawrence Wright has spoken of how, in the process of researching the 9/11 attacks, he came to realise that certain people could serve as 'donkeys' who bore the weight of larger historical drives or circumstances. Part of the success of 'The Looming Tower' derives from the way that these donkeys are presented as complex and developing individuals, never simply as beasts of narrative burden. And while their destinies fatefully converge on the twin towers in a way that is almost novelistic, the book's suspense and momentum do not reduce the idea of narrative to page-turning compulsion."

While China rides a wave of self-congratulation after its 60th birthday, Julia Lovell prescribes a stiff dose of Lu Xun: "For his intensely crafted, sympathetic insights into the blackness of modern China; and as a biographical lesson in the Communist party's energetic, though unsuccessful efforts to neutralise the country's critical conscience." This modernist writer posthumously enjoyed cult status under Mao as a servant of the people, albeit with his spikiness ironed out, but is now gradually being removed from the school curriculum: "One of the excised works was a bitterly sad 1926 essay written to commemorate a female student killed by government forces in a peaceful demonstration – an inconvenient foreshadowing of the 1989 Tiananmen repression that the party is anxious to erase from public memory."

Historian Piers Brendon was deeply impressed by Michael Burleigh's: "Moral Combat: a History of WWII": "His book is a moral map, not a moral compass. Yet he writes with a marvellous trenchancy that sometimes becomes savage indignation."


Przekroj 19.05.2010 (Poland)

In an interview Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk says of the national excess of mourning following the plane crash in Smolensk and the upcoming presidential elections: "We should not lend too much credence to the way politicians present themselves today. Their existence shows how the power of kings can morph into the power of fools. Democracy is turning to fool rule before our very eyes, and this has nothing to do with governance and everything to do with entertainment."


Lettre International 14.06.2010 (Germany)

Sabine Riedel wanders through Rotterdam only to discover that the city has no centre, no heart, no sense of itself as a whole. Instead it consists of fragmented identities among locals and immigrants alike. "Families fall apart because the sons (and daughters) direct their fury against their downgraded fathers – mercilessly, as when a pack of young wolves turns on the arthritic alpha wolf and forces him into a pose of submission. What survival strategies can a bed-ridden father pass on to his son, who wants to succeed in a world outside that is hyperventilating with the pressure to modernise? Who is mentally forever in the fast lane out of sheer determination not to end up on the hard shoulder like his father? 'How can my father be a role model,' asks a young Palestinian [in Paul Scheffer's book "The Unsettled Land"] 'when he sits brittle-boned and exhausted on the sofa, relying on welfare support?'" (except in German)

Other European countries are not faring much better. Italy for example. "In the meantime we have understood that class identity is also an ethnic identity," writes Sergio Benvenuto, in a meditation on the success of Berlusconi and the Lega Nord. "Xenophobia is a mask that hides the phobia of poverty. People who fear poverty hate those who are poorer than themselves. Which is why millions of men and women, who feel shut out from the great globalised world because they speak no foreign languages, have no further education and have not amassed sufficient wealth, cling to their identities as Padanians, Catholics (even if they never go to church and or have had an abortion), as Veronans, Juventus fans etc. Recently I met a couple from Turin, who were working at Fiat in Rome, trade unionists. He complained to me at length that Rome was full of foreigners, yes, he was convinced that the waiters in one of the large restaurants near the Colosseum were deliberately talking only English instead of Italian. 'I don't feel at home in my own country' is how many people see things." (excerpt in German)

Further articles in this issue: There is a translation of a 1943 essay from Simone Weil's "On the Colonial Question" Jose Miguel Wisnik remembers Brazil's legendary football years (excerpt in German). Frank M. Raddatz talks to Friedrich Kittler about his epic project "Music and Mathematics" (excerpt in German). Abdelwahab Meddeb gives a fertile example of Creolisation, in an analysis of Gustave Courbet's painting ''L'origine du monde" (which was commissioned by a Turkish nobleman). His analysis is "based on the love of a non-Occidental, or rather an Oriental, a Muslim even, for the Occident" (excerpt in German). And Massimo Cacciari's essay on the spirit of Futurism (excerpt in German).


The Economist 14.06.2010 (UK)

The newspaper crisis in the USA (which is being felt elsewhere, albeit less dramatically) is not over but the situation seems to have stabilised, leaving the industry thinner but not starving, according to the Economist. Some parts of the world seem to have escaped the crisis altogether – although these successes might be all too symptomatic of developments in the problem zones: "In emerging markets one must look hard to find any sign of crisis at all. In Brazil advertising wobbled only briefly during the recession. The total circulation of Brazilian newspapers has expanded by 1m in the past ten years, to 8.2m. Brazil's growing middle class is hooked on a clutch of inexpensive new papers that are heavy on murders and bikinis. In 2003 just three of Brazil's top ten papers were tabloids. Today five of them are. That emphasis on giving readers what they want to read, as opposed to what lofty notions of civic responsibility suggest they ought to read, is part of a global trend. Newspapers are becoming more distinctive and customer-focused. Rather than trying to bring the world to as many readers as possible, they are carving out niches."


ResetDoc 10.06.2010 (Italy in English)

Middle East expert Marcella Emiliani explains why the Turkish government reacted as it did to the Israeli raid on the Gaza flotilla: "Bearing in mind the fact that his country is a member of NATO, Erdogan has acted as a Muslim. And as a Muslim he has relations with Iran. This is not a match played out in what we call the Middle East, but in a far larger Islamic Ummah." And what about the role of the Egyptians? "Mubarak's move in opening the Rafah border crossing proves where the real problem lies, still missing on the international community's agenda: the Gaza blockade. Mubarak is also the same person who is building underground steel walls to solve the problem of the tunnels under the border. As one can see, his political attitude is very ambivalent."

David Judson, editor in chief of the Hürriyet Daily News, talks about the "outbreak of anti-Semitism" in Turkey and the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations: "Turkish society is also very emotional. As an Italian you must remember what happened when Italy refused to hand over Ocalan directly to the Turkish authorities; demonstrations, protests and invitations to boycott Italian products. Today Turkish emotions are running high for the victims of the Israeli attack, but one must not forget that Turkish society changes quickly. Relations with Greece, for example, were extremely tense in the past. Today these two countries have very strong relations and Greece is becoming Turkey's main ally in the European Union."


Edge.org 14.06.2010 (USA)

Is the Internet frazzling our brains or not? The New York Times has joined the queue to find out, and has compiled a dossier on the subject. The Edge posts Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker's contribution, which sounds the all-clear: "These days scientists are never far from their e-mail, rarely touch paper and cannot lecture without PowerPoint. If electronic media were hazardous to intelligence, the quality of science would be plummeting. Yet discoveries are multiplying like fruit flies, and progress is dizzying."

There are no surprises in Internet sceptic Nicholas Carr reply: "Given that the average American now spends 8.5 hours a day peering at screens, it seems likely that we're narrowing the scope of our intellectual experiences. We're training ourselves, through repetition, to be facile skimmers and message-processors - important skills, no doubt - but, perpetually distracted, we're not learning the quieter, more attentive modes of thought: contemplation, reflection, introspection, deep reading."


The Times Literary Supplement 14.06.2010 (UK)

Bettina Bildhauer reads a new English translation of "Das Nibelungenlied" against a background of other historical interpretations. Every culture gets the version of a legend it deserves, she says. The Germans, for example: "The productive contradiction at the heart of the nationalist appropriation was that Germany identified both with Siegfried as an innocent victim of treachery and back-stabbing (this was a powerful narrative used to explain Germany's defeat in the First World War), and with his killers, the Nibelungs/Burgundians, who heroically refuse to give up one of their own. This Nibelungentreue (loyalty of the Nibelungs) was often demanded by the Nazis. Far from discouraging identification, the fact that the characters are actually from Burgundy, Iceland and the Netherlands, rather than identified as German, allowed Germans to associate themselves with different sides as it suited. By casting both Siegfried and the Nibelungs as victims rather than perpetrators – despite their violence – Germans managed to maintain a positive if somewhat schizophrenic self-image.

And Kirstie Blair combs through three new books on fashion and hairstyles in the Victorian age. In "Emily Dickinson and the labor of clothing", Daneen Wardrop examines the relevance of the poet's choice of garments (also in her poems); in "Dress Culture in late Victorian Women's Fiction", Christine Bayles Kortsch looks at the clothes but also their production in 19th Century literature. Galia Ofec examines the "Representations of Hair in Victorian Literature and Culture" – which takes in male writers and artists as well. Sheena Joughin follows writer Jackie Kay down the "Red Dust Road" on a disillusioned search for her birth parents.


L'Espresso 11.06.2010 (Italy)

Inspired by Angelo Panebiano's article by in Corriere della Sera, Umberto Eco asks whether science is full of dogmas and paradigms which block the path to truth. Paradigms do have their advantages, though, Eco says, with an eye to the Internet. "Everything we can think of is available there higgledy piggeldy, allowing each of us to compile his own personal encyclopaedia according to his own system of beliefs, convictions and values. ... In theory we could end up with 6 billion different encyclopaedias and human society could consist of six billion individuals who all talk a different language which only they themselves understand. This is just a flight of fancy, but it is for this reason that science operates with a common language, in the knowledge that a paradigm can only be overturned if a shared paradigm exists that can be overturned. To defend a paradigm risks bringing dogmatism into the game but this paradox forms the basis of all our knowledge."


The Nation 28.06.2010 (USA)

Ten years ago lawyer and academic Anthony Julius defended the historian Deborah Lipstadt in a libel case against David Irving. In his latest book, "Trials of the Diaspora", he describes how traditional anti-Semitism in Britain is being replaced by anti-Semitic anti-Zionism. Antony Lerman is not convinced. He does not think it's a good idea for Jews to write about anti-Semitism (which he explains in a bizarre metaphor involving birds and ornithologists). And he doesn't think that anti-Zionism crosses over into anti-Semitism so easily: "Criticism of Israel, support for a two-state solution, criticism of Zionist ideology—none of these positions are incompatible with support for the existence of Israel. If anti-Zionism is to have any meaning distinct from these positions, it must fundamentally mean opposition to the Jewish project of a Jewish state in Palestine. Whether this opposition involves 'liquidation' of the Jewish state or some other way of superseding that state as it now exists is a matter of complex and lengthy discussion. The crucial point is that even Julius's so-called liquidation anti-Zionism certainly does not, by definition, mean the expulsion, murder or denial of the human rights of Israeli Jews and is therefore not a priori anti-Semitic."


The Spectator 09.06.2010 (UK)

Brendan O'Neill would not be seen dead at Glastonbury: "Most people, when they hear the word Glastonbury, think of mud, drugs, drunkenness, moshing, free love, the lighting up of spliffs, and generally harmless experimentation in a field. Well, they’re right about the mud. Yet far from being a site of hippyish self-exploration, the Glastonbury music festival has become a tightly regimented gathering of middle-class masochists who don't mind being bossed around by nosey cops and kill-joy greens for three long days. Glastonbury now resembles a countercultural concentration camp, complete with CCTV cameras and 'watchtowers' (their word, not mine)."

Michael Attenborough, who is directing a stage production of Ingmar Bergman's "Through a Glass Darkly" at the Almeida in Islington, says of this theatre "We're maverick, unpredictable, catholic, eclectic. One moment it's Shakespeare, next a musical, then a new play or a foreign classic. There's only one demand on the Almeida. Take risks and be exciting."


Esprit 01.05.2010 (France)

Now that digitalisation has liquefied information, it is even more difficult to define what a book is, bibliographer and editor of the three-volume Dictionnaire encyclopedique du livre, Pascal Fouche, tells the left-wing Catholic magazine Esprit. But the pre-digital definition was not much simpler, in France at least, where it came, oddly, from the inland revenue: "A book is an item, printed on paper, which serves the dissemination of ideas. This fiscal definition was used to establish a reduced V.A.T. rate on books (5.5 percent in France). This is why an advertising brochure with less than 48 pages is not a book – and so on. But according to this definition, the printing process is constitutive to the book. As a result the digital data which is sold as 'Ebooks' does not benefit from the lower rate of V.A.T.."


The Atlantic 01.09.2010 (USA)

In an article that has attracted plenty of flack from readers, Hanna Rosin describes the end of men. More women go to college, get degrees and jobs than men, and their jobs are more crisis-resistant. And their qualities are increasingly valued by employers: "A 2008 study attempted to quantify the effect of this more-feminine management style. Researchers at Columbia Business School and the University of Maryland analyzed data on the top 1,500 U.S. companies from 1992 to 2006 to determine the relationship between firm performance and female participation in senior management. Firms that had women in top positions performed better, and this was especially true if the firm pursued what the researchers called an 'innovation intensive strategy,' in which, they argued, 'creativity and collaboration may be especially important' - an apt description of the future economy. It could be that women boost corporate performance, or it could be that better-performing firms have the luxury of recruiting and keeping high-potential women. But the association is clear: innovative, successful firms are the ones that promote women. The same Columbia-Maryland study ranked America's industries by the proportion of firms that employed female executives, and the bottom of the list reads like the ghosts of the economy past: shipbuilding, real estate, coal, steelworks, machinery."

Having made her way through a number of new books and films, Sandra Tsing Loh concludes that women, and particularly those of a certain age – are much more interested in real estate than men.
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