Features » Magazine Roundup


Magazine Roundup

The New Yorker | Polityka | The Observer | La regle du jeu | openDemocracy | MicroMega | La vie des idees | London Review of Books

The New Yorker 19.07.2010 (USA)

Millions upon millions of dollars rest on the authenticity of paintings in the Leonardo and Pollock league. Can science act as a guarantor? David Grann meets the restorer Peter Paul Biro who uses forensic methods of fingerprint and DNA testing to determine the authenticity of works of art. Leonardo's "La Bella Principessa" got his seal of approval in 2009 on the basis a finger print analysis, but there are plenty of art scholars and museum curators who refuse to believe him. Carmen Bambach of the Met Museum, is one of them. She told Gramm: "It doesn't look like a Leonardo". In the course of his painstaking research, much of which reads like a crime novel, Grann also encountered some very dodgy practices and plenty of doubts about Biro's expertise. One critic even called him a con artist. After all, finger prints can be faked too and there are very few people who can evaluate them. But the desire to "scientificize" connoisseurship is about the desire to democratize it. "Connoisseurship is rife with flaws. It is susceptible to error, arrogance, even corruption. And yet there is something about that 'strange breed of cat,' who could truly see with greater depth - who, after decades of training and study and immersion in an artist's work, could experience a picture in a way that most of us can't. Connoisseurship is not merely the ability to discern whether an art work is authentic or fake; it is also the ability to recognize whether a work is a masterpiece. Perhaps the most uncomfortable truth about art is that such knowledge can never be truly democratic."

Further articles: Anthony Lane watched Lisa Cholodenko's comedy "The Kids Are All Right" at the cinema and Serge Bromberg's "The Story of Henri-Georges Cluzot's Inferno" on a DVD player. There is also a short story "An Honest Exit" by Dinaw Mengestu and poems by John Ashbery and Stanley Plumly.

Polityka 02.07.2010 (Poland)

Two days before the presidential elections in Poland, sociologist Pawel Spiewak took stock (here in German) of the Kaczynski era to assess what remains of the Fourth Republic. Not a great deal, he concludes. Which is regretable because it was good to move on from the Third Republic (the transitional period after the fall of communism), which was an unholy alliance between the old left-wing establishment and new-left money: "The government went the same way as its lustration law. At first this was passed by a decisive majority (including the PO) in parliament, but then it was improved upon endlessly by the civil servants and politicians of our Mr. President, until it was only fit for the dustbin. It was not only bad, it was reprehensible. The Right had talked itself hoarse over lustration and now, it was destroying it all by itself. And so it was with the PiS leadership, they could not stop destroying themselves, but they refuse to admit it to this day. They talked about a new beginning in Polish politics, a Fourth Republic, but thay could not free themselves from intrigue, in-fighting and a primitive version of political realism."

The Observer 04.07.2010 (UK)

Andrew Hussey talks to Claire Denis about her films – and about "White Material" in which Isabelle Huppert plays a coffee plantation owner somewhere in Africa in a country that is on the brink of revolution. She names three people who have played an important role in her life: Marguerite Duras, George Bataille and Frantz Fanon: "Denis read Fanon when she was about 14 and found his ideas devastating. What she found most humbling in his work was his analysis of the degrading effect of the shame and humiliation, which infect coloniser and colonised alike. 'I understood that humiliation was the important feeling that people had in this relationship,' she says, 'and this is on both sides, black and white.'"

La regle du jeu 01.07.2010 (France)

Stefano Montefiori describes a meeting with the writer and journalist Roberto Saviano, which took place under tight security in a small restaurant. The death threat that has been hanging over his head since writing "Gomorra", his book on the mafia, has taken its toll on his fans. Saviano describes the effect: "Sometimes I am struck by the bizarre atmosphere that surrounds me, a sort of mourning in advance. In the eyes of the others I sense an anticipated emotion, as if my words might have a certain value now, but this is nothing compared with their value tomorrow, once I have been assassinated – at long last."

openDemocracy 01.07.2010 (UK)

Olga Sherwood thumps the tub for her hero, the Russian rock musician Yury Shevchuk. At a charity event for children with cancer in Petersburg, where artists and intellectuals had to pose with Vladimir Putin, he put all Kremlin etiquette aside and began to ask questions: "With complete self-possession, Shevchuk began to ask about the things no longer asked in Russia. He challenged Putin on freedom of speech, freedom of information and the press; he asked about Russia's civil society, and equality before the law. Why does the job of a miner have to mean almost certain death? Why has the police been turned into a punitive body? Why do peaceful protests have to be broken up with such abandon? Do the government's current plans involve serious and honest democratization of the country?" The transcript of this meeting was sent around the internet in a flash, writes Sherwood. "I had tears in my eyes reading it. Aside from the organiser Chulpan Khamatova, Chevchuk was the only person with any dignity in the room."

MicroMega 29.06.2010 (Italy)

The opposition in Italy is mobilising support against the "gagging law", a bill which the Belusconi regime has drafted to try to restrict wire tapping and slap fines on publishing transcripts of conversations with pre-trial suspects (here is a video of an appearance by Roberto Saviano at a rally on the Piazza Navona in Rome on July 1). Giovanni Perazzoli is in favour of the protest, but thinks it should go a step further to take on the entire Silvio system: "While democracy and free elections are regarded as indispensable to the legitimate exercise of power, the term has been emptied of meaning. Without its liberal contents – the rule of law, the separation of powers, the defence of freedom of opinion and the press, these free (or less free) elections are no more than a smoke-screen for the regime. Interestingly, Gianni Riotta wrote the same thing in the Corriere della sera in 1998, in a review of theories of Robert Kaplan and Fareed Zakaria. In a more recent book, 'The Future of Freedom. Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad', (2003), Fareed Zakaria explains how a new political monster is spreading across the planet, the illiberal democracy; a system which is wonderfully legitimized by elections and all the right institutions, but in reality has surrendered the liberal principles of freedom of opinion and equality before the law, in order to define a new form of power."

La vie des idees 02.07.2010 (France)

In his book "Les metamorphoses du gras", a cultural history of obesity, Georges Vigarello looks at images of the body and of beauty since the middle ages, when gluttony was vilified, to the present, which is obsessed with size. Body fat has always attracted criticism, according to his research, and it is part of the logic of social division. In certain professions, butchery for example, obesity is tolerated more than in others, and it stands almost symbolically for the product on sale. The reviewer Thibaut de Saint Pol writes: "The author also notes that excess weight is judged much more harshly in women, and is much more likely to be tolerated in men where volume more commonly translates into social status. Female beauty, for which corpulence is a key attribute, subsequently appears as 'decorative beauty', conceived in terms of welcoming and 'interior' space. In the male version, which is directed 'outwards', it is commonly recognised as strength."

London Review of Books 08.07.2010 (UK)

David Kaiser tells the story of the search for contact with extraterrestrial life. And he believes is is a grave mistake that the U.S. Government pulled the plug on its funding for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) activities. Not because we might receive contact from aliens any day now, but because alien expertise could help us communicate with our future selves: "SETI might indeed make its greatest contribution in the nuclear arena. Some of the most hazardous by-products of the nuclear age, including isotopes of plutonium, have half-lives of hundreds of thousands of years. One challenge is to find places on Earth that are likely to remain geologically stable over such a time-scale, where such waste can be buried. A second challenge is to design symbols to warn our descendants, 300,000 years from now, not to go digging in these areas."

Jenny Turner reports from the "Battle of Ideas", a platform for ideas for a better future. "Between talks, I wandered round the stalls in the Ideas Marketplace ... There was the Manifesto Club ('For Freedom in Everyday Life'): 'We organise picnics in public places,' the very nice girl told me, 'and we smoke and drink at them.' There was WorldWrite ('Ferraris for All'): 'We're against the notion of pity,' a boy explained, while trying to flog me a DVD called Flush It!, about how the West foists poor-quality toilets on 'our global peers'.

Further articles: Madeleine Reeves describes the background to the violence in Kyrgyzstan. Peter Godfrey-Smith explains how Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini apply a framework of logic and philosophy of language to pinpoint "What Darwin Got Wrong" – and fail – because of their narrow understanding of Darwinism. Peter Campbell visits the "Magnificent Maps" on show at the British Museum. - let's talk european