SignAndSight.com

Features » Magazine Roundup


28/09/2010

Magazine Roundup

Sinn und Form | The Boston Review | Prospect | Polityka | The New Republic | Rue89 | Elet es Irodalom | MicroMega | The New Yorker | The New York Review of Books | Eurozine | The New York Times


Sinn und Form 01.10.2010 (Germany)

"Must we be modern?" asks the title of an essay from Alain Finkielkraut's book "Nous autres, modernes". Roland Barthes wrote in his diary on 13 August 1977: "Suddenly I am no longer worried about not being modern." This sentence, Finkielkraut says, was only possible because Barthes was in love with someone who was dying. "A heartache, not love sickness but terrible pain – yet one so deeply buried in the order of things that you almost want to make excuses for it - caught Barthes off his guard and broke his conformism. Why? Because this grief turned him into a survivor and it is impossible to be a survivor and entirely modern at the same time. Because in the simple fact that you have survived the person you love lies a denial of the concept of time which is one of the mainstays of the idea of modernity. For modern man, the past is a burden; the survivor feels only its absence. .... Modern man is glad to leave the past behind but the survivor is inconsolable when it comes to the past. Because for him, the past is not deadly, but mortal, not oppressive, but precarious." (Read the beginning of the essay in German here.)


The Boston Review 31.10.2010 (USA)

"Millions of marriages, from time immemorial, have made their peace with the discrepancy between what should have been and what actually was, but for the Tolstoys such a truce proved viscerally impossible," writes Vivian Gornick, still reeling slightly from reading the diaries of the couple. "Here they are in their 60s and 70s, still pacing the floor at four in the morning, railing at each other (or at themselves), falling into exhaustion, then rising in a few hours to go at it again. One can almost see their heads repeatedly clearing out, then almost instantly filling again with blood. There seemed never a way to release themselves from the shock of actuality except through operatic convulsions - and this they indulged in until the very last."

Prospect 01.10.2010

The focus of this month's magazine is the failure of multiculturalism. Most contributors have an immigration background. The writer Lindsay Johns thinks it pointless to accept second or third-rate writers into the Western literary canon in the name of affirmative action. "As both a writer of colour and an ardent (but not uncritical) devotee of the canon, I have little time for people who say that black people cannot relate to books written 2,000 years ago by a bunch of dead white guys, or that Maya Angelou is better than Shakespeare. This denies us our shared humanity across racial divides. Dead white men, the pillars of the western canon, remain supremely relevant to black people in the 21st century, because their concerns are universal."

Multiculturalism's insistence on clinging to supposedly authentic historical identities has not done the immigrants any good either, according to author Mike Phillips. They're so 19th century! "Ironically, over the last decade or so, as the label 'race' began to be discredited, the word 'culture' has been pressed into service as a surrogate for all the familiar old attitudes. Figures like the previous mayor of London, Ken Livingston, decided that multiculturalism would be the political strategy to solve all the problems of migrant and British identity. But multiculturalism offered different meanings to different people. Even the right-wing and racist parties, staunch opponents of what they might have described as 'race-mixing,' recognised the advantages of a multicultural arrangement in which each 'culture' could maintain its exclusivity behind various social and political barriers."

The French film director Gaspard Noe has had to hear plenty of criticism for "Enter the Void", but there are also critics who consider the film a masterpiece. From the point of view (POV) of a dying drug dealear, Noe's camera flies endlessly over Tokyo's nightclubs and sex hotels. In an interview Noe explains what makes this film different from his earlier ones: "People were worried that the audience would not understand that the POV of the camera was the POV of the ghost, of Oscar, though I thought it was evident. Because it’s so often said that when you die your spirit comes up from your body, and you float above the world you have left, I guess people understand this. When you see the camera flying above the living, you know that it’s a ghost. [...] the characters are not cool, they are not heroic or anti-heroic, they're just complex human beings with good and bad aspects. Oscar is the biggest loser you can imagine, and this disturbed a lot of people."


Polityka 24.09.2010 (Poland)

Reading Slawomir Mrozek's recently published diaries from 1962-1969, Justyna Sobolewska discovered (here in German) completely new sides to the Polish writer, which never emerged in his plays. More than anything else, the diaries are an ongoing dialogue with identity: Why am I always on the run? Where is home? What does it mean to be Polish? From 1962 Mrozek lived in Italy where he tried to shed his Polish identity: "The Polish are like sodden chickens, huddling close on a pole, while outside the coop, time and history are raging.' Mrożek desperately clings to the idea of escaping his Polishness, with the aid of his large, Jewish-looking nose. He wants to 'weaken the Pole in him through the possibility of Jewishness, without actually becoming a Jew.' He does not speak up on Polish issues, even in March '68, he had no intention of demonstrating his support for the suppression of the student protests. He didn't want to pretend – he writes – to be suffering. But after the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, he did publish a letter of protest to the Polish leaders. 'The Polish leaders have made sure that I have been publicly denounced as a traitor. But I couldn't care less about the Polish leaders."


The New Republic 27.09.2010 (USA)

Ruth Franklin did not enjoy Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom", but what bothered her most was his understanding of realism. "Is this all we want from art? Is realism just a transcription of reality? Marveling at the various encomia to Franzen's allegedly preternatural ability to show us what we actually look like, I was struck by the solipsism of the formulations — are we really our largest and most interesting subject? — and by the inherent narrowness of this vision of the aesthetic enterprise. In 'The Mirror and the Lamp', the great critic M. H. Abrams many years ago took issue with just such a shrunken ideal. He maintained that a fundamental aesthetic shift occurred at the start of the Romantic period, when writers and artists first began to envision art as not reflecting life so much as illuminating it with their own imaginations. The task of the novel, in such a view, is not to show us how we live but to help us figure out how to live - which happens to be precisely the form of enlightenment that so many of the characters in 'Freedom' are pleading for. This is where Franzen's novel founders. He is all mirror and no lamp."

Adam Kirsch only read a snippet of Franzen's "Freedom" but that was enough. It was the bit about Jenna's father, the Paul Wolfowitzish Jewish president of a neocon think tank who propagates the noble lie, in an allusion to Leo Strauss. "In fictionalizing this left-wing conventional wisdom about Strauss, the Jews, and the Iraq war, Franzen is spreading it to a much wider audience — complete with images of a wizened, cranially distorted Jewish puppetmaster, who cynically chuckles about how 'we' control the U.S. government from behind the scenes. That Franzen could uncritically reproduce this kind of imagery is a reminder of how ugly and obsessive the antiwar discourse sometimes became."

Matt Zoller was deeply impressed by the sequel to Oliver Stone's Wall Street film "Money Never Sleeps" - although it meant Stone had to abandon the drama of Wall Street for the family, to avoid falling into the trap of the first film: "The movie glorified what it set out to expose, and turned 'Greed is good' from an ironic lament into a rallying cry. Wall Street's alchemical transformation from cautionary tale into quotable blockbuster evokes a famous quote by Francois Truffaut that that also applied to 'Platoon': There's no such thing as an antiwar movie because war is among the most beautiful of cinematic spectacles, and when you put it onscreen, it's exciting."


Rue89 26.09.2010 (France)

Most cinema goers are so involved in the plot that they don't even notice all the little mistakes in films. Alexandre Pouchard describes a community of nerds who are obsessed by spotting crew members tiptoeing about in the background, microphones dangling in the picture, or continuity glitches like empty plates that are magically refilled. Jon Sandys website Movie Mistakes which started in 1996 is the market leader and has racked up some 89,000 mistakes in 6,500 films. Sandys claims that his obsession does not get in the way of his enjoyment of the film. That said: "When a character is eating or smoking, I can't resist the urge to watch the cigarette or food to see if anything untoward had happened between takes." And the founder of the French offshoot Erreurs des Films, Claude Geourjon, says: "It's become a habit. I now automatically look at the background. And if there is a mirror there I will stare at it subconsciously because I just know that sooner or later things will start happening in it."


Elet es Irodalom 24.09.2010 (Hungary)

Unlike most of their neighbours in Central Europe, the Hungarians don't like to leave home. They are extremely unlikely to move house – either temporarily or long-term, or even within Hungary. The economist Agnes Hars from the Hungarian Kopint-Tarki research institute, explains in an interview, that this mindset dates back to before the War and was then compounded by Kadar's goulash communism. "Both cemented the idea in the Hungarian mind that things are always better here than in other East European countries. The others can go wherever they like – but we'd rather stay put, because even if things are not great here, we're still better off than the others. [...] Another factor is the negative image of immigration in Hungary and it is possible that this influences how people think about getting a job or moving abroad. It's almost as though people assume that the best thing to do is stay where you were born."


MicroMega 22.09.2010 (Italy)

Italian cinema is back! At least as long as Mario Martone's "Noi credevamo" is still running. The film is set in the golden days of 19th Italian nationalism, known as the Risorgimento. Giona A. Nazzaro is over the moon and recommends watching it together with Marco Bellocchio's "Vincere" on the same subject: "Like 'Vincere', which despite all the attention it received from both international critics and the Italian public, was regarded as a challenging and difficult film, something you'd rather have over and done with, 'Noi credevamo' runs the risk of rejection. We cannot let this happen. 'Noi credevamo' is probably the best Italian film in decades. One of the few outbreaks of dignity and vitality which - to quote Domenico Starnone from the film almanac issue of MicroMega in June - could inspire a competition in democratic astuteness. This is something Italian cinema desperately needs. Because - Starnone again - we are at risk of living in a country where you feel 'outside' and 'new', when in fact you are really 'up to your neck in it'. And it is only through films like 'Pietro' by Daniele Gaglianone, 'Tony Scott' by Franco Maresco and indeed Noi credevamo' that we get out for a while. They rupture the status quo, and they do so with lucid rigour and passion. For an 'outside' that really is outside."


The New Yorker 04.10.2010 (USA)

Why did the revolutions in Moldavia and Iran fail? Because of Twitter. Although Twitter didn't really play a role, it was just used by exiled Iranians to keep Andrew Sullivan up to date. But even if they had had Twitter, it wouldn't have worked, because social networks are completely unsuited to revolution, writes Malcolm Gladwell. What you need for revolution are personal contacts, a hierarchy which regulates who does what and who will take on high levels of risk (sorry, you Iranians losers): "If Martin Luther King, Jr., had tried to do a wiki-boycott in Montgomery, he would have been steamrollered by the white power structure. And of what use would a digital communication tool be in a town where ninety-eight per cent of the black community could be reached every Sunday morning at church? The things that King needed in Birmingham - discipline and strategy - were things that online social media cannot provide."

Further articles: Paul Goldberger wonders whether it's possible to create anything of any architectural value in the den of iniquity that is Las Vegas. There is a review of David Fincher's film "The Social Network" about the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg ("a work of art" David Denby writes: "Accuracy is secondary.") And a short story "The Dungeon Master" by Sam Lipsyte.


The New York Review of Books 14.10.2010 (USA)

What else can be said about a TV series that has been praised to high heaven by academics and compared by its own makers with Greek tragedy, Homer, Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy and Melville. The writer Lorrie Moore bites the bullet and erects her own personal monument to "The Wire": "The most intriguing phrase David Simon has used regarding The Wire is to say that it is about 'the death of work.' By this he means not just the loss of jobs, though there certainly is that, but the loss of integrity within our systems of work, the 'juking of stats,' the speaking of truth to power having been replaced with speaking what is most self-serving and pleasing to the higher-ups. In a poker game with the mayor, one folds on a flush to allow the mayor to win. Police departments manipulate their stats for the politicians; schools do the same; newspapers fake stories with their eye on prizes and stockholders. Moreover, in the world of 'The Wire' almost everyone who tries to buck the system and do right is punished, often severely and grotesquely and heartbreakingly."

Further articles: Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick outlines the life-threatening situation for Christians in Iraq. There is a review of Robert Gottlieb's Sarah Bernhard biography, two books on Somalian pirates and two books on the French Foreign Legion. And sadly only in print: Adam Kirsch's review of the poems of Durs Grünbein.


Eurozine 24.09.2010 (Austria in English)

While Hannah Arendt was in Jerusalem in 1961 for the Eichmann trial, she befriended Leni Yahil, a Holocaust researcher who was born in Germany. They soon fell out over Eichmann, but not before they had exchanged a number of wonderful letters, which Mittelweg 36 was the first to publish, and can now be read online at Eurozine. Here is one from Arendt to Yahil dated 23 July, 1961: "Basel ([Karl] Jaspers) was especially wonderful! But then I did the really stupid thing of getting involved with Germany again. Students – discussions. And now there's nothing I want so much as to get out of here. Incidentally, despite my (initiation?): not a hint of antisemitism! But I'm practically certain that this so-called 'federal democracy' will come to grief. Without external influences, there will be a kind of military dictatorship. And I wouldn't trust this bad lot [Herrschaften] with atomic weapons, even in the framework of NATO, not even for 5 minutes. But all of this is, of course, strictly entre nous."


The New York Times 26.09.2010 (USA)

Author Elif Batuman tracks the Kafkaesque fortunes of the contents of Max Brod's suitcase following his death in Tel Aviv in 1968. For the past two years a trial has been underway in Israel to decide whether Eva Hoffe, the daughter of Brod's former secretary Esther, who was left the case on Brod's death, should be allowed to sell its remaining contents, believed to comprise Franz Kafka's drawings, travel diaries, letters and drafts, to the library in Marbach, Germany. The National Library of Israel believes it should get the papers, in accordance with Brod's will. Etgar Keret, a best-selling Israeli short-story writer told Batuman sees the funny side of things: "If Brod could see what was happening now, he would be 'horrified.' Kafka, on the other hand, might be O.K. with it: 'The next best thing to having your stuff burned, if you're ambivalent, is giving it to some guy who gives it to some lady who gives it to her daughters who keep it in an apartment full of cats, right?'"

Further articles: A.O. Scott celebrates the French cosmopolitanism of Olivier Assayas whose latest film "Carlos", about the Venezuelan-born terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, made its debut in Cannes to great critical acclaim. In the Book Review, Irish author Colm Toibin reviews David Grossman's novel "To the End of Land": "This is one of those few novels that feel as though they have made a difference to the world." Jennifer B. McDonald introduces a Diaghilev biography by Sjeng Scheijen (Scheijen's writing might be a bit dry but this is more than compensated for by the abundance of quotes from letters and diaries from Diaghilev's peers). Belinda Cooper reviews a history of human rights which, from the perspective of the author Samuel Moyn, only dates back to the 1970s.

Oh, and in today's NYT, Anthony Tommasini reviews Robert Lepage's production of Richard Wagner's "Ring" at the Met. There was reason to fear the worst: "Otto Schenk’s Romantic 'Ring' production, which was retired in 2009, had passionate defenders. In talking up the Lepage 'Ring,' Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager, tried to assure everyone that this was not going to be some high-concept, Eurotrash staging. Mr. Lepage uses the latest in staging technology to 'tell the story,' Mr. Gelb said repeatedly in interviews. Actually, in many ways, even with all the high-tech elements, Mr. Lepage's production is fairly traditional." Phew!
signandsight.com - let's talk european