Features » Magazine Roundup


Magazine Roundup

Merkur | The New Statesman | Polityka | Prospect | Eurozine | London Review of Books | Das Magazin | The Economist | The Boston Globe | Elet es Irodalom | The Nation

Merkur 15.09.2010 (Germany)

This month's magazine is a double whammy on liberty and paternalism. The first part looks at world literature classics on freedom, the second examines the state of liberalism today.

The welfare state makes us antisocial, writes Klaus Hartung: family responsibilities fall away, sociopathic behaviour is rewarded and the formation of the elite, brutalised: "Class society has been replaced by antagonism between the educated and the uneducated. Particularly on the battlefield in front of the kindergarten, the school, and at the entrance to the university, it is the parents who most value education who behave most antisocially, although most regard themselves a socially-minded. They believe in integration and a multicultural society but they wouldn't want their children going to school with lots of foreign children. ... The absurd thing is that integration-oriented educational policies are in the hands of the educated classes, and yet it is with their own children that they are exacerbating a problem they should be solving."

Kurt Scheel reads Wilhelm von Humboldt's "The Limits of State Action", which he lists as one of the few German texts in world literature on liberty. "The datedness of Humboldt's thinking shines with particular brilliance from the following quote: "The state should neither cater for the well-being of its citizens, nor for their lives or health." Rainer Hank weighs up the advantages of the welfare state: "It is the tragedy of the welfare state that the measures it undertakes to correct the market not only confound market mechanisms, they also curb its production of prosperity, thus undermining the conditions it needs to survive."

The New Statesman 20.09.2010 (UK)

"A masterpiece of historical investigation!" John Gray celebrates Frank Dikötter's book on "Mao's Great Famine" in which 45 million people died from hunger, beatings or torture. "Writing throughout in a sober and restrained style that only highlights the horror of the events it records, Dikötter shows in rigorous detail how responsibility for the disaster must be traced back directly to Mao. It was Mao who bullied his fellow communists into the Great Leap Forward, ordering purges of over three million "rightist elements" accused of questioning his policies. As late as the summer of 1959, a change of direction could have limited the casualties of the famine to millions. But Mao pressed on, and tens of millions died. Uncovering the magnitude of this terrible crime, Dikötter has produced one of the few books that anyone who wants to understand the 20th century simply must read."

Polityka 17.09.2010 (Poland)

After an international conference of Germanists in Warsaw, Adam Krzeminski was relieved to be able to report (here in German) that national philologists no longer see it as their duty to propagate national identities. The bad news, he says, is that the humanities are in decline: "We no longer have such thing as literary public opinion. Traditional literary hierarchies are collapsing. The national literary canon is a thing of the past; the democratisation of higher education and the flattening of the curriculum are coinciding with the electronic revolution in the media. The Wikipedia generation which is enrolling to study humanities is ill-versed in classical textual analysis and ill-prepared to read books on literary theory that stretch for several hundreds of pages."

Prospect 19.08.2010 (UK)

Michael Coveney subjected himself the "immersive theatre" of the performance group You Me Bum Bum Train, where the audience-performer ratio is 1:200. He found (unlike others) that the whole thing smacked of triviality and "low-level fascism". This is what happened: "Recently I visited an abandoned electricity board building in Bethnal Green, east London, signing away my possessions and jacket on the door. My loafers were gaffer-taped to my socks; I was placed in a wheelchair; pushed through swing doors; and berated about the bad form of an American football team. Two seconds later, I was in a locker room, delivering a pep talk while 15 hunks glowered at me through facepaint and helmet guards. And that was just the start. Over the next 40 minutes, I entered a tunnel lying on my back for an MRI scan, emerging through a sushi restaurant and a lost luggage department and then (still on my back) into the undercarriage of a car, and next a garage where I had to explain why the car wasn't ready."

Eurozine 16.09.2010 (Austria in English)

In an article written originally for the French magazine Multitudes, the legal historian Mikhail Xifaras sums up the theories of Richard Stallman and his copyleft movement, which aims to undermine the notion of "intellectual property" in the world of software. Before delving into a discussion of whether we are on the verge of "informational communism", he describes the triumphant rise of the term "IP": "On a theoretical level this amounts to a revolution: ownership now means holding exclusively rather than controlling physically and creators' rights have become archetypal. Illusory though it may be, the success of the expression 'intellectual property' is of great practical importance. It is now generally agreed that it contributes considerably to the extension of these rights to new objects, that it helps to strengthen the prerogatives of their owners, brings about convergence in the ways that legal systems deal with various types of creation and provides ideological support for their legitimacy ('property' sounds a lot better than 'temporary monopoly')."

The Bulgarian cultural anthropologist Ivaylo Ditchev describes (in an article originally published in English for the Bulgarian journal Critique and Humanism) an implosion of political power brought about by the "permanent feedback syndrome". By this he means not only commentary threads and internet forums but the sort of permanent interaction practised on TV casting shows and the endless temperature-taking via public opinion polls: "The distance that used to be maintained between authority and the public – and that was a cornerstone of its power – can no longer be sustained. Permanent live communication between the governor and the governed does not leave any space for the accumulation of authority. The more we suspect politicians of being irresponsible, the less room we leave them to assume their responsibilities but expect them to respond instantly to social anxieties." To find out where all this started watch Adam Curtis' 4-part BBC documentary "The Century of the Self".

London Review of Books 23.09.2010 (UK)

With great interest, Elif Batuman read Marc McGurl's book "The Programme Era" on the age of the creative writing programme in the USA. While he was initially disappointed with the author's all too affirmative position on his subject, the book obviously helped shape Batuman's own theories about the culture of shame that extends far beyond the confines of the writing class: "To my mind, the real cause of shame here is the profession of writing, and it affects McGurl just as much as it does Raymond Carver and Joyce Carol Oates. Literary writing is inherently elitist and impractical. It doesn't directly cure disease, combat injustice, or make enough money, usually, to support philanthropic aims. Because writing is suspected to be narcissistic and wasteful, it must be 'disciplined' by the programme - as McGurl documents with a 1941 promotional photo of Paul Engle, then director of the Iowa workshop, seated at a desk with a typewriter and a large whip. (...) The workshop's most famous mantras - 'Murder your darlings,' 'Omit needless words,' 'Show, don't tell' - also betray a view of writing as self-indulgence, an excess to be painfully curbed in AA-type group sessions."

Further articles: James Davidson leafs through an encyclopaedia of Greek names, while musing on the bizarre consequences of the relaxed British approach to child naming, which is gradually being adopted by the traditionally more conservative Scandinavians and Germans: "Recently, the Danes have allowed Christopher and Swedish courts have allowed Google, Metallica and Q, though not Albin spelled Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssql-bb11116." In her diary, Jenny Disky applies her usual clear thinking to the obsession with "happiness". Peter Cambpell visits the Eedweard Muybridge exhibition at Tate Britain. Adam Shatz pulls apart an article in the Atlantic which claims that Israel is on the verge of attacking Iran. And a string of writers remember the recently deceased British literary critic Frank Kermode.

Das Magazin 20.09.2010 (Switzerland)

Vanessa Griogoriadis traces the meteoric rise of Lady Gaga, singling out her tongue-in-cheek attitude to gender as the first nail in Madonna's coffin: "Since the nineties, we have not seen even a hint of self-irony from Madonna, whereas Gaga is all fun and games. In her heart she is still a young art student full of love, charm, and a child's sense of wonder at the soap bubble world. Although not one of her friends whom I interviewed for this article could provide a scrap of evidence to suggest that she might be bisexual or even bicurious – her politics are all about limitless tolerance and she an outspoken supporter of every sexual constellation on the planet. Gaga says she's a girl who likes boys who look like girls, but she's also a girl who likes looking like a boy – or even a drag queen. She derives enormous pleasure from the stubborn rumour about her being a hermaphrodite that stems from a scene in a grainy video. This is not Madonna. Madonna would never pretend she had a penis."

The Economist 15.09.2010 (UK)

The Economist visits the artist Marina Abramovic in her house in upstate New York, where she is still feeling "blank" after her mammoth mid-March to end of May performance at the MoMA earlier this year. "The artist is physically and emotionally exhausted from 'The Artist is Present'. She sat still in a basic wooden chair for over 700 hours, giving, as she puts it, 'unconditional love to complete strangers' (watch an excerpt). After the first week, she started to experience severe pain. 'Your shoulders drop, your legs swell, your ribs sink down into your organs,' she explains. Strategic breathing helped. So did out-of-body experiences. 'When you have so much pain, you think you will lose consciousness. If you say to yourself, 'So what, lose consciousness,' the pain goes away." An exhibition of her videos and photographs opens in London's Lisson gallery on October 13.

The Boston Globe
19.09.2010 (USA)

In an article entitled "Lost Libraries", Craig Fehrmann tracks down the fate of dead writers' books. It all started with an online initiative by fans of the little-known experimental writer David Markson to reunite, after his decease, all 2500 books in his collection that had been sold off by a New York book shop. "What Markson's fans had stumbled on was the strange and disorienting world of authors' personal libraries. Most people might imagine that authors' libraries matter - that scholars and readers should care what books authors read, what they thought about them, what they scribbled in the margins. But far more libraries get dispersed than saved. In fact, David Markson can now take his place in a long and distinguished line of writers whose personal libraries were quickly, casually broken down. Herman Melville's books? One bookstore bought an assortment for 120 dollars, then scrapped the theological titles for paper. ... Ernest Hemingway's? To this day, all 9,000 titles remain trapped in his Cuban villa."

Further articles: Riddhi Shah describes a singularly successful literacy programme in a small town on the West coast of India, which is using music videos and karaoke to spread the written word.

Elet es Irodalom 17.09.2010 (Hungary)

No one in Hungary seems to know what to do with Hungarian cultural institutes abroad, writes Peter Krasztev, the former head of the Hungarian Cultural Institute in Bratislava. And this is unlikely to change under the new government: "Nobody seems to have bothered to ask what the point of these institutions should be. Visitors to the Goethe Insitut or the British Council in Bratislava all have something to do with German or English culture. The institutes from smaller nations such as Hungary, the Czech Republic or even Austria, all somehow smell of the state and there is a cloying bureaucracy in the air. People avoid them because they know they are only there for image building purposes. It's a very different picture when events are held in other locations. The only visitors to the institute itself are insiders; the general public steers well clear. We really need to think about whether these places should continue to exist in their current form. In global cities like Paris and Berlin, the answer is obviously, yes. There they genuinely bring in wider audiences. In Bratislava, though, it's a very different story. The Hungarians might convene there regularly but you would never catch a Slovak in the place."

The Nation 20.09.2010 (USA)

Wikileaks is not Julian Assange's baby, writes Peter Ludlow, but the result of a decade of political engagement by scores of hackers. Other hacktivist groups include the anti-Google Cult of the Dead Cow, anarchist 4Chan, or the Portuguese Urban Ka0s. "The political compass of these hacktivist groups has never pointed true right or true left—at least by our typical way of charting the political landscape. They have been consistently unified in their adherence to the basic hacker principles as outlined by Steven Levy and The Mentor in the 1980s: information should not be hoarded by powerful constituencies—it needs to be placed in the hands of the general public. This principle is followed even to the point of threatening to become a "foolish consistency"—as in the recent document dump from WikiLeaks, which drew the rebuke of five human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, because, they felt, civilian sources were not adequately protected."

Further articles: In the debate over sexism in US literary criticism, the author Katha Pollitt explains: "Great American Novelist is a frame that is coded male. When men write books about family life - John Updike, Jonathan Franzen - they are read as writing about America and the Human Condition. When women write books that are ambitious, political and engaged with the big world of ideas, they are seen as stories about the emotional lives of their characters." Noah Isenberg introduces German author Ingo Schulze to the American public. - let's talk european