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02/11/2010

Magazine Roundup

Tehelka | Outlook India | The Paris Review | La vie des idees | The Nation | NZZ Folio | ResetDoc | Eurozine | The Guardian | Elet es Irodalom | London Review of Books


Tehelka 06.11.2010 (India)

Arundhati Roy has again triggered heated debate in India with her statements about Kashmir: "Kashmir was never an integral part of India," she said at a conference. Sharing the stage with separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, she appealed for Kashmiri independence, causing the Indian media to scream "sedition". Shoma Chaudhury defends Roy in the Tehelka cover story: "The fact is 21st century India is not one country: it is two continents. If you are moneyed, middle-class or English-speaking, your continent is a great place to live in. There is a lot of opportunity: great jobs, great bars, many houses to buy, many holidays to afford. Elections are held with exhilarating freedom and democracy has never felt more robust. If you are underclass, tribal or Muslim, your continent is much darker. Roy had crossed over to the dark side. (...) This is not a love middle-class Indians understand. This is not a continent they have ever visited. At the heart of the constant and angry face-off between Roy and the India that had once toasted her, therefore, there is a fundamental disagreement: what is the nature of the Indian State?"

In an interview, Chaudhury confronts Arundhati Roy with the consequences of her call for a "free Kashmir". Syed Ali Shah Geelani with whom Roy jointly demanded independence, wants Sharia introduced. Roy answers: "If he was the head of a state I lived in and he forced those views on me, I would do everything in my power to resist those ideas."


Outlook India 08.11.2010 (India)

Roy wrote at length about Kashmir back in September in Outlook India. The magazine now documents her response to those who want her charged with sedition: "In the papers some have accused me of giving 'hate-speeches', of wanting India to break up. On the contrary, what I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their finger-nails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians."

Psychologist Ashis Nandy, one of the pioneers of Postcolonial studies, reacts to the outpouring of rage against Roy and points his finger to the ultra-nationalism of the new middle-class, who are incapable of outrage about the torture and oppression in Kashmir and are not remotely interested in democratic ideals. It is, he says, "A thoughtless, non-self-critical ultra-nationalism, intolerant of anyone opposed to the mainstream public opinion, is shared neither by the poor nor the more settled middle class. Ordinary Indians, accustomed as they are to living with mind-boggling diversity, social and cultural, have no problem with political diversity. Neither does the settled middle class."


The Paris Review 01.11.2010 (USA)

In a long and wonderful interview in the Paris Review, Michel Houellebecq talks to Susannah Hunnewell about his literary role models, the disaster of liberalised values and the scandalous sex in his novels. "I'm not sure that there are such an unusual number of sex scenes in my novel. I don't think that's what was shocking. What shocked people was that I depicted sexual failure. I wrote about sexuality in a nonglorifying way. Most of all I described a basic reality: a person filled with sexual desire who can't satisfy it. That's what people don’t like to hear about. Sex is supposed to be positive. Showing frustrated sexual desire is obscene. But it's also the truth. The real question is, Who is allowed to have sex? I don’t understand, for example, how teachers survive with all these alarming young girls. When women become sexual tourists, that is even more hidden, shameful, and taboo than when men do it. Just as, when a woman professor puts her hand on a student's thigh, it's even worse, even more unspeakable."


La vie des idees 25.10.2010 (France)

Jean-Christian Vinel writes a thorough but critical review of Michael Berube's book "The Left at War". The cultural scientist in him calls for more Gramsci and less Chomsky, because the latter led the Left into a dead end after 9/11. "According to Berube, the peace movement under Bush was literally crippled by the extremity of what he calls the 'Manichean' as opposed to the 'democratic' Left: 'At the time when the US needed vigorous and widespread popular dissent from the depredations of the Bush-Cheney regime, the Manichean left stepped forward with a form of critique that holds that the US is responsible for the emergence of Al-Qaeda, that the war in Afghanistan is one of the most grotesque acts in modern history, and that anyone who disagrees with these judgments is either an apologist or an imbecile.'" Vinel has no time for this division of the Left but believes: "Without a doubt Berube is right in saying that between 2001 and 2002 the left-wing intellectuals missed an opportunity to use the war against the Taliban to their advantage and strengthen American rights: women's rights, gay rights, abortion, freedom of expression, all the ideas which the American Right disgraced. Because at that moment preachers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were declaring September 11 to be God's answer to the excesses of liberal America."

The Nation 15.11.2010 (USA)

David Wallace-Wells, editor of the Paris Review, finds Lewis Hydes' "Common as Air" polemic against the absurd extension of "intellectual property" overly romantic. He has no idea why Hyde is held in such esteem by so many artists. "The desire to preserve what remains apparently pure about the making of art in contemporary life drives much of the argumentation of 'Common as Air', which emerges over the course of its several hundred pages as a treatise on the uncertain fate of expressive work in a culture that celebrates creativity as a corporate value, treats 'artisanal' as a euphemism for 'expensive' and encourages every bird in the corporate troposphere to consider himself an artist. What Hyde offers in suggestive counterpoint is a double meditation on the work of art in an age of digital reproduction and the art of work in an era of consumer narcissism. Just as the printing boom of Restoration England generated a crisis of authorship amid debates over copyright, the consumer boom of the Internet era has produced a crisis of artistic status amid debates over intellectual property. A sense of threat to art's elevated status is central to the strange yearning for free culture among those who should otherwise hope to make their living from their creative work, and to the unfortunate marriage between those writers and artists who claim to revere culture and those consumers, entrepreneurs and Internet absolutists who would like to liquidate it."(Here an Interview mit Hyde and an excerpt from his book als pdf, here a further excerpt on his publisher's website.)

Further articles: John Palattella discusses three books in one article: Franzen's "Freedom", Jeremy Harding's "Mother Country. Memoir of an Adopted Boy" and Robert Darnton's "Poetry and the Police" a book about 14 individuals who were tried for writing and disseminating offensive poetry about King Louis XV: "For Darnton, poetry was an information network long before networks were news," Palattella explains. Natasha Wimmer, the US Bolano translator, introduces a number of Mexican noir writers, in particular Martin Solares, who has just published his first novel "The Black Minutes".


NZZ Folio 01.11.2010 (Switzerland)

NZZ Folio inspects the human brain. Mathias Plüss takes us through the basics of intelligence research. Brains makes people successful, musical and healthy, but not happy, we learn. Brains do not bear only gifts: "Myopia is the least of it, even if the cliche holds true that extremely talented student are four times more likely to wear glasses than their more average peers. Less harmless is that intelligent people are likely to be bad with money. A high IQ might bring a higher income but does not guaratee a bigger fortune. Big brains are less likely to save and more likely to go bankrupt and rack up more credit card debt."

From a survey carried out among neuroscientists, Ulrich Bahnsen discovered that brain doping still has some way to go before it delivers the desired effects. Drugs like Modasomil, Donepezil and Ritalin need some fine-tuning, cognitive scientist Ralph Schumacher of the ETH Zurich tells him: "After taking neuro-enhancers most people feel powerful. But tests carried out with students on Ritalin have produces disastrous results: "They become extremely impulsive and erratic and start solving tasks before they have collected all the relevant information.' In the end their performance is worse than those in the placebo group. 'Ritalin,' the ETH researcher concludes, 'does not boost performance in healthy individuals, it just makes them overestimate their abilities.'"

Further articles: Gary Wolf interviews the Polish IT programmer Piotr Wozniak who is on a quest to find the ideal moment to repeat something one has learned: "The right moment is just before you forget it." Reto Schneider learned that we have to lie to computers so as not to hurt their feelings. And Luca Turin explains (here in English) why the impression you have of people before you meet them is often more lasting that genuine first impressions.


ResetDoc 26.10.2010 (Italy in English)

ResetDoc is proud to announce that the UNESCO World Philosophy Day has been relocated from Tehran to Paris. In recent months, the magazine's editors have been involved in an initiative to lean on UNESCO, with an open letter, a protest website and numerous articles. Like this one by Ramin Jahanbegloo, on the civic duties of philosophy: "This is the reason why, the function of the civic philosopher, as a person whose mind watches the inhumanities and injustices of the world, (and most of the time in the name of philosophy), should be maintained, even if the concept has lost today its political strength. The philosopher cannot be replaced by the tenure-track academic even if the temper of the time suggests it. Philosophers have still a lot to contribute to the democratization of democracy. They will certainly be useful to human societies, as long as humans continue to believe that philosophy is not a futile word."


Eurozine 27.10.2010 (Austria in English)

Hungarian historian and one-time dissident, Bela Nove provides an insightful overview into the samizdat scene in communist Hungary. In the article (which was originally published in English in the Lithuanian version of Kulturos) Nove warns against underestimating the influence of samizdat literature: nowadays – in China it is gaining new popularity among students he says – and in the past, particularly in the run up to Perestroika. "The loudest of all these scandals was the replacement of the young and radical editorial staff of Mozgo Vilag (Moving Word) in 1983. It was an open secret that this highly popular periodical had been taken over by a new generation of writers and editors and was engaged in a permanent conflict with Party apparatchiks and the censorship bureaucracy. The editors, who felt in fitting Marxist fashion they 'had nothing to lose but their chains', finally decided to refuse all informal instructions from above and openly turned to the public for support. (...) In order to save the periodical and its editors, a large and semi-spontaneous solidarity campaign was launched. Protest letters were sent, public debates were held and demonstrations organised at Budapest universities. All in vain: the editorial staff finally had to leave. But it did provide a promising precedent: public protest could gain massive support and this was a sign that state censorship would not last too long."

The Guardian 01.11.2010 (UK)

Michel Faber vents his frustration about the "nerdy parochialness" of the British literatary scene which is only interested in English-language literature, before going on to sing the praises of Jenny Erpenbeck's newly translated novel "Visitation". "This autumn, an extravagantly hyped American novel examining in exhaustive detail how the middle classes there currently feel about themselves will be bought by a great many Britons who'll strive to understand every local nuance. But Erpenbeck? East Germany? Who cares? How I wish that 'Visitation' could change all that. How I hope that some room may be found to celebrate this author's uncanny gifts."

Further articles: Günter Grass talks in a lengthy interview about his books, his youthful enthusiasm for Hitler and the never-ending task of "working through the past": "It is ironic, he says, that the 'Germans, who lost the war, had the chance – were forced – to think about the past. The winners didn't. Perhaps in time, your country, England, will think about its colonial crimes . . . No country has the right to point only at the Germans. Everybody has to empty their own latrine.'" David Hearst is full of praise for Orlando Figes' history of the Crimean War. And there is an excerpt from Patrick Wright's book "Passport to Peking" on the visit of a British delegation in "New China" 1954.

And: Arundhati Roy is only drawing attention to herself, according to Leo Mirani in a commentary on the recent outrage about Roy, who declared that "Kashmir was never an integral part of India. This is an historical fact."


Elet es Irodalom 29.10.2010 (Hungary)

Last Tuesday the Hungarian constitutional court overturned a law by the ruling Fidesz party on the taxation of severance pay. Shortly afterwards the Fidesz party leader Janos Lazar announced that the constitutional court would no longer be responsible for taxation and financial issues. With its two-thirds majority the government under Viktor Orban has the power overrule the constitutional court and has already drafted a new law. For Zoltan Kovacs, editor-in-chief of Elet es Irodalom, however, a line has been crossed: "If a government fails to respect the inviolability of private property and in the same week curtails the powers of the constitutional court only because it reached a decision that did not suit the government, then this court, which with increasingly inexplicable fervour has been so determined to understand and accept the government, should wake up and start smelling the coffee. [...] If the powers of the constitutional court are really being curtailed, what is the point of having one at all? I don't want to preach but one might expect the court to stand up in a case like this. At least that would be better than staying seated and pretending it's business as usual."


London Review of Books 04.11.2010 (UK)

Stefan Collini was flabbergasted by the unswerving belief in the market that underpins the recommendations by the Browne Commission for restructuring the British university system - the key criteria being innovation and contribution to economic well-being. Competition is everything; culture nothing: "Essentially, Browne is contending that we should no longer think of higher education as the provision of a public good, articulated through educational judgment and largely financed by public funds (in recent years supplemented by a relatively small fee element). Instead, we should think of it as a lightly regulated market in which consumer demand, in the form of student choice, is sovereign in determining what is offered by service providers (i.e. universities). The single most radical recommendation in the report, by quite a long way, is the almost complete withdrawal of the present annual block grant that government makes to universities to underwrite their teaching, currently around 3.9 billion GBP. This is more than simply a 'cut', even a draconian one: it signals a redefinition of higher education and the retreat of the state from financial responsibility for it."

Further articles: After undergoing a major operation, Hilary Mantel describes her experiences in hospital, such as the "iambic pentameter of the saline stand, the alexandrine of the blood drain, the epidural's sweet sonnet form."

And Tim Parks reviews Philip Roth's latest novel "Nemesis", Michael Hofmann has read the translation of Thomas Berhard's novel "Old Masters". Jenny Diski suspiciously picks through Prince Charles' lovingly titled tract on saving the world: "Harmony" (publishers' site). Michael Woods' was in two minds about David Fincher's Facebook film "The Social Network".
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