Features » Magazine Roundup


Magazine Roundup

The Walrus Magazine | Telerama | London Review of Books | Osteuropa | The Nation | Elet es Irodalom | The New Statesman | Al Ahram Weekly | | Magyar Narancs | The Times Literary Supplement | The New York Times

The Walrus Magazine 01.09.2010 (Canada)

Richard Podlak introduces three South African authors whose subject is contemporary Johannesburg: Phaswane Mpe (who died in 2004) and his novel "Welcome to Our Hillbrow", Kevin Bloom with "Ways of Staying", and Ivan Vladislavic and his essay collection "Portrait with Keys". All three write from the perspective of the flaneur, like Herman Charles Bosman and Lionel Abrahams before them: "Flaneurs all (and this despite Abrahams being wheelchair bound), they have engaged in what philosopher Michel de Certeau called 'the long poem of walking,' the art of perambulatory map-making initially described by Charles Baudelaire. Yet Bosman — convicted murderer, womanizer, drinker extraordinaire — was not, in Baudelaire's polite phrase, 'a gentleman stroller of the streets.' His gumshoe reportage in the '30s and '40s amounts to an extended elegy for a mining town hell bent on extinguishing the first fifty years of its history. Bosman battled this collective impulse; he understood, even before apartheid's ascendancy in 1948, that to forget was itself an act of evil."

Further articles: The Canadian John Schram, who went through university in Ghana in the 60s and later returned to Africa in the diplomatic corps, describes Ghana's successful transition from dictatorship to democracy, a process in which a number of his friends were involved. Andre Alexis mourns the decline of literary criticism in Canada: "Reviews have turned into a species of autobiography, with the book under review being a pretext for personal revelation. If I had to blame one Canadian writer for this state of affairs, I'd blame novelist and critic John Metcalf" and the British critic James Wood who, Alexis adds, is showing signs of improvement.

Telerama 17.06.2010 (France)

Emmanuel Tellier talks to the economist and media theorist Olivier Bomsel who is trying to find definitions for what is happening in our brave new media world: "I don't like the word revolution but rupture seems pretty fitting. The Internet is a rupture; nothing now is as it seemed. I am trying to define the digital. After talking to the Assyriologist Jean-Jaques Glassner, I arrived at the thesis that the digital is a script, a new language. And this has all kinds of implications. Suddenly you arrive at the extravagant idea that a script does not have to be dependent on the word, but that 1s and 0s could constitute a universal language. ... For the first time in 3000 years, we are inventing a new standard of global communication. This is not insignificant!"

London Review of Books 24.06.2010 (UK)

David Runciman reads Christopher Hitchens' autobiography "Hitch-22" much of which he finds irksome. But it does provide him with an opportunity to analyse the Hitchens phenomenon. First Runciman presents Hitchens as an almost perfect example of what Carl Schmitt calls a "political romantic" (someone who makes political gestures without actually thinking politically). Then, for a while, he seems genuinely impressed. A passing phase: "It certainly sounds like it has all been a lot of fun. His has been an enviable life: not just all the drink and the sex and the travel and the comradeship and the minor fame (surely the preferable kind), but also the endless round of excitements and controversies, the feuding and falling-out and grudge-bearing and score-settling, the chat-show put-downs, the dinner party walk-outs, the stand-up rows. Christopher Hitchens has clearly had a great time being Christopher Hitchens. But – and I don't want to sound too po-faced about this – should anyone's life be quite so much fun, especially when it is meant to be a kind of political life?"

Further articles: Bernard Porter decribes Sasha Polakow-Suransky's "The Unspoken Alliance" as a "balanced book" which looks into Israel's close ties with apartheid South Africa. Whether these really resulted in Israel promising to give South Africa nuclear weapons – as the author of the book claims, is impossible to prove conclusively, Porter says. Terry Eagleton reviews Craig Raine's novel "Heartbreak". Jeremy Harding digested a book on eating in the Renaissance literature from Rabelais to Shakespeare, and Michael Wood watched Werner Herzog's "Bad Lieutenant" which has just opened in UK cinemas.

Osteuropa 18.06.2010 (Germany)

In an interview, the translator and director Laszlo Kornitzer talks about Hungary's far right and the sluggish political culture which was its breeding ground. "Some writers are putting up a fight, not least those who are the declared enemies of the right. But there are other talented people, artists, scientists, craftsmen, theatre people who are not building a front against the right, and I find this deeply baffling. The extent of their denial strikes me as un-European somehow, and strangely distant from democratic structures... Then there are the large numbers of writers, journalists and nihilists who have been pulling together with the right from the start, weaving away at the deadly void. The right-wing media and internet forums are a heavy influence on public opinion. Their sworn enemies include gypsies, Jews, liberals and intellectuals, and they are largely responsible for the hatred felt by the average Hungarian on the street for Esterhazy, Nadas, Konrad, Lajos Parti Nagy, Laszlo F. Földenyi and countless others."

The Nation 21.06.2010 (USA)

Sanctions against Israeli universities are completely contraproductive declares Bernard Avishai. Israel is not South Africa and sanctions would be about as affective blockading Gaza to sink Hamas. "They may say they are modestly trying to pressure Israeli elites into ending the occupation. But take the Berkeley initiative to scale and add in the boycott of Israeli universities, recently proposed in England's academic union. How would cutting off the most progressive forces in Israel from global corporations and international scholarly events accomplish this? Even generalized trade sanctions, like keeping Israel out of the OECD (which, in fact, it recently joined), would have mainly impaired Israel's estimated 25 billion USD in high-tech exports, not extractive, postcolonial industries, as in South Africa. Polls show that about 40 percent of Israeli Jews have abidingly secular and globalist (if not liberal) attitudes. Who gains from economic decline and the inevitable consequence of most educated Israelis fleeing to, well, the Bay Area? Wouldn't the rightists, also about 40 percent, be most satisfied to see Israel become a little Jewish Pakistan?"

Elet es Irodalom 18.06.2010 (Hungary)

Just over a week ago two politicians in the ruling faction of the government in Budapest sparked a heated debate by put forward a draft bill to amend the media law. The bill would not only change the practice of nominating the broadcasting commission in favour of regime conformism, extending the term in office to nine years, it would also oblige newspapers to prove "reporting relevance". This infringes on the autonomy of newspaper editors and throws open the doors to the censors, according to media expert Peter Bajomi-Lazar. The new law would "curtail criticism of those in power as well as the principle that the founders of a newspaper (or news portal) have the right to determine the direction of their paper. This could signal the end of an epoch in which contradictory but free expression of opinion was more or less reliably guaranteed. [...] And let's not forget that restricting freedom of the press by political means is a double-edged sword, and it can easily be turned on those currently in power when they find themselves in opposition."

The New Statesman 18.06.2010 (UK)

Leo Robson pens a paean to Vasili Grossman's novel "Everything Flows", which has just been translated into English. The book traces an arc from the Russian revolution to Stalin's death and attempts to fathom the iron logic behind the Terror. "Grossman wanted to make sense of Stalin's Russia, and this included making sense of those who collaborated with the state - who worked to have their friends and neighbours charged with 'parasitism', 'cosmopolitanism', 'Jewish bourgeois nationalism', 'servility to the west'. Grossman stages a mock-trial, with a 'PROSECUTOR' putting the questions to 'INFORMERS'. 'Let us think,' he advises, 'before we pronounce judgment.' After explaining - without explaining away - the circumstances that led a man to inform, he exclaims: 'Nevertheless - what a bastard!' But once his moral fury subsides a little, he concludes that an atmosphere of bestiality is liable to make beasts of men. Russian history is the culprit, though this is not to excuse Russian individuals."

In a brief interview Grossman's daughter Yekaterina Korotkova-Grossman talks about the book, whose chapter on the "Hunger Terror" she believes is the most powerful thing her father ever wrote. "But this was not an act of genocide committed by the Russians against the Ukrainians; it was a blow struck against the entire Soviet peasantry. Fertile areas of the Don and the Kuban suffered every bit as badly as Ukraine." And in an interview about the financial crisis, David Cameron and who's to blame, epistomologist and "Black Swan" man Nassim Nicholas Taleb almost explodes with self-confidence: "I blame Ben Bernanke the most. He studied the Great Depression, so he should know better. Alan Greenspan is unskilled; you don't take the unskilled seriously."

Al Ahram Weekly 17.06.2010 (Egypt)

France's prospective ban on the niqab is "a moral scandal as well as an insult to the Western tradition," writes Khalil El-Anani. Having said this, he does find the attitude of many European Muslims counterproductive: "Some members of the Islamic community, especially those of Asian origins, deal with Western societies as if they were still back in Peshawar or Islamabad. (...) The schizophrenia of European Muslims is triggered by a mistaken loyalty to Salafi, or fundamentalist trends. As many know, Salafi movements oppose integration and are loath to constructive coexistence. The Salafis both fuel the current Islamophobia and thrive on it."

Further articles: Nader Habib introduces the Arab linguist Gamal Hammad, who has discovered narrative structures in Arabic texts that were otherwise known only for their poetry. And Ati Metwaly watched an excellent performance of Donizetti's "Elixir of Love". 18.06.2010 (USA)

In a link-sprinkled article, Glen Greenwald describes the peculiar relationship between Adrian Lamo, the man who turned in the alleged whistle-blower Bradley Manning, and Kevin Poulsen, who wrote about it in Wired. Manning is being detained after "boasting" to Lamo in an Internet chat about leaking the now-famous Apache helicopter video to Wikileaks. Manning's detention, says Greenwald, fits perfectly with the government's strategy to discredit Wikileaks. This wouldn't be necessary with the newspapers, who are much more cooperative: "What makes WikiLeaks particularly threatening to the most powerful factions is that they cannot control it. Even when whistle-blowers in the past have leaked serious corruption and criminal conduct to perfectly good journalists at the nation's largest corporate media outlets, government officials could control how the information was disclosed. When the NYT learned in 2004 that the Bush administration was illegally eavesdropping on Americans without warrants, George Bush summoned the paper's Publisher and Executive Editor to the Oval Office, demanded that the story not be published, and the paper complied by sitting on it for a full year until after Bush was safely re-elected. When The Washington Post's Dana Priest learned that the CIA was maintaining a network of secret prisons - black sites - she honored the request of 'senior U.S. officials' not to identify the countries where those prisons were located so as to not disrupt the U.S.'s ability to continue to use those countries for such projects."
For more information on Manning's detention read Jesse Walker in Reason and Xeni Jardin in BoingBoing here and here.)

Magyar Narancs 10.06.2010 (Hungary)

Since passing a law declaring June 4 a national Trianon memorial day, with a preamble that invokes "God as the lord of history", Hungary has been debating whether this wording constitutes indoctrination. Krisztian B. Simon talked to the philosopher Maria Ludassy and the religious philosopher Balazs Mezei to ask them whether God had any place in legal texts or in the constitutional law of a secular state. Maria Ludassy is doubtful: "Since Jefferson, religious domination (or the lack thereof) can neither have a positive nor negative impact on civil rights. If a 'non-believer' has to pretend to accept the belief in a god who has been degraded to a constitutional prop, then he is being intimidated, humiliated and as Benjamin Constant put it so beautifully in his essay on freedom of religion, coerced into hypocrisy. If we participate in the procession on 20 August [Hungary's national holiday] with the same feelings that we brought to the parades on 1 May – in other words out of fear of the boss and of losing our jobs if we did not attend – then we are only doing belief a disservice."

Balazs Mezei sees things differently. In his opinion the mention of God secures state neutrality. "The entrance of western man ushers in a new epoch in the history of the world. Everything that makes us what we are, from the camera to the computer to our self-awareness of ourselves as westerners, is the result of this tradition. The mention of God is nothing other than the acknowledgement of this tradition. This is not a return to a foregone era, but the recognition that everything which makes us what we are today – our atheistic endeavours included – is the result of this tradition. If we want to perpetuate our history, our tradition, our constitutional and legal history, we should do so by looking at this tradition in its entirety and building on it. [...] If we want to live in a neutral state which leaves it up to the individual citizen to decide whether or not he wants to believe in God, or determine his sexual identity, then acknowledgement of this tradition is indispensable."

The Times Literary Supplement 18.06.2010 (UK)

Jeremy Adler gives a detailed introduction to Rudiger Safranski's "Goethe and Schiller" and Gustav Seibt's "Goethe and Napoleon" which have just been translated into English. Adler is fascinated by the picture that emerges of Goethe's social skills. "Whether dealing with writers, scholars, scientists or men of affairs, Goethe knew how to achieve the maximum mutual benefit. That he was so often able to form a productive rapport with the leading figures of his day, notably with Schiller, his only competitor as a writer, and even with the Emperor Napoleon, says much about Goethe's culture – a self-culture or Bildung which he promulgated in his writing. Intriguingly, both Schiller and Napoleon sought Goethe out, flattered him, and won him over by literary-critical discourse. Anyone who today doubts the value of criticism could do worse than examine these instances."

The New York Times 14.06.2010 (USA)

Deep Blue might have beaten Garry Kasparov but the human chess master was quick to identify the computer's limits. Watson is the name of IBM's new question-answering supercomputer which the company hopes "will transform the computer from a back-office calculating machine into something that can improve the intelligence of people making decisions" – in medicine, on the stock market etc. In a long article, Clive Thompson tries to find out how close IBM is to achieving this goal. A major hurdle in testing the computer's ability to navigate through the idiosyncrasies and "intended meaning" in the way people formulate questions, was to pit it against the top contestants on the quiz show "Jeopardy!" It was not perfect memory and lightning speed that gave the computer the edge over its human opponents, so much as lack of emotion. But you couldn't accuse it of being predictable: "Watson often seemed most human not when it was performing flawlessly but when it wasn't. Many of the human opponents found the computer most endearing when it was clearly misfiring — misinterpreting the clue, making weird mistakes, rather as we do when we're put on the spot. During one game, the category was, coincidentally, 'I.B.M.' The questions seemed like no-brainers for the computer (...) But for some reason, Watson performed poorly. It came up with answers that were wrong or in which it had little confidence. The audience, composed mostly of I.B.M. employees who had come to watch the action, seemed mesmerized by the spectacle." - let's talk european