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16/11/2010

Magazine Roundup

The Nation | Tehelka | Rue89 | London Review of Books | Elet es Irodalom | The Walrus | La vie des idees | Prospect | Guernica | The Guardian | L'Espresso | The Atlantic


The Nation 10.11.2010 (USA)

Benjamin Nathans reads Gal Beckerman's book "When They Come For Us We'll Be Gone" on the history of the Jews in the Soviet Union. A highly complex and contradictory undertaking, as Nathan emphasises: "In the aggregate, Soviet Jews were spectacularly successful, outperforming all of the USSR's many ethnic groups, including Russians, whether the benchmark was higher education, residence in desirable urban centers like Moscow and Leningrad, entrance into prestigious occupations or prominence in high-status pursuits from filmmaking to physics. Yet behind hundreds of thousands of Jewish success stories loomed a collective loss of language and culture, a complex outcome of both self-Russification and suppression of the Jewish inheritance by the Soviet regime. By the middle of the twentieth century, moreover, what had been the world's first anti-anti-Semitic state, the country most responsible for crushing the Nazis, was engaged in its own state-sponsored persecution of those it branded 'cosmopolitans' and 'Zionists.'"

Further articles: John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney bemoan "the radical transformation of our politics by a money-and-media election complex that is now more definitional than any candidate or party". A major (but also limited) retrospective of the feminist artist Nancy Spero at the Centre Pompidou in Paris inspires Barry Schwabsky to evaluate the importance of her work for American post war art.

Rue89 14.11.2010 (France)

For the past decade, Belgian artist David Vandermeulen has been working on a series of comics about the German-Jewish chemist and chemical weapons inventor Fritz Haber. Catherine de Coppet introduces the freshly published third volume "Un vautour, c'est deja presque un aigle", ("a vulture is almost an eagle" named after a Nazi saying). "Vandermeulen, who originally gained recognition for his absurdist comics like 'Agrum comix', has been preocuppied with the character of Fritz Haber for a good ten years. The series, which is based on his reading of over a hundred scientific and historical books all listed on the author's blog and the website about the comic, sticks to reality as closely as possible. It is the story of German Jews born at the end of the 19th century, who were swept up in the conflicting forces of their times German nationalism, the beginning of Zionism, growing anti-Semitism. All the subtleties of this story are conveyed in the dialogue, which is based on the the real-life writings of the characters involved, from Walther Rathenau, a politician and scientist of Jewish heritage, to Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel.


Tehelka 20.11.2010 (India)

As European pension systems gradually wither away, Shahina KK looks at what old age penury means in India, when the young cannot afford to care for their parents. The Tamil word for mercy killing is "Thalaikoothal". It can take the form of a lovingly prepared oil bath or a more brutal mouthful of mud and it lies in the "indefinable space between crime and desperate acts of poverty": "Kasi, a daily wager, moved out of his son's house after his wife died. He's not sure if he's 65 or 70, but his shock of white hair, equally white handlebar moustache, and soil-black wrinkled skin are testament to his long and arduous life. Kasi had decided to leave when he watched his children grow tired of tending to their father's every need. 'I'm very fond of them, and can't imagine they will try to kill me,' he says. 'But anyway, I didn't want to push them to any extreme step.' Whether he too would have been invited for that chilling oil bath some years down, Kasi doesn't know. And he didn't stick around to find out." There is no mention, however, of where he or others in the same predicament went.

At the tender age of 33, Altaf Tyrewala, author of "No God in Sight" explains how e-books restored, temporarily at least, his love of reading.


London Review of Books 18.11.2010 (UK)

A new "Madame Bovary" translation by American writer Lydia Davis sets Julian Barnes' mind racing. What do we, should we want from a new translation? ""For a start, you would probably want it not to read like 'a translation'. You want it to read as if it had originally been written in English even if, necessarily, by an author deeply knowledgable about France. You would want it not to clank and whirr as it dutifully renders every single nuance, turning the text into the exposition of a novel rather than a novel itself. You would want it to provoke in you most of the same reactions as it would provoke in a French reader (though you would also want some sense of distance, and the pleasure of exploring a different world). But what sort of French reader? One from the late 1850s, or the early 2010s? Would you want the novel to have its original effect, or an effect coloured by the later history of French fiction, including the consequences of this very novel's existence?"

Further articles: David Bromwich sketches a less than flattering portrait of Barack Obama: "His love of fame to occupy the central place but also to perform the shining deed is greater than anyone had estimated. Yet his political instincts turn out to be weak." Peter Campbell reads the book version of Neil McGregor's "The History of the World in 100 Objects" a series of essays (originally aired on radio) about objects from the British Museum. Andrew O'Hagan scratches his head over the retrospective labelling of 'decades'.


Elet es Irodalom 12.11.2010 (Hungary)

The journalist Laszlo Seres is relieved that the dream of multicultural Europe is finally over. Europe, he says, can now concentrate properly on the threat posed by Islam (forced marriages, honour killings, ghettoisation etc): "The west has so little confidence in itself, so little faith in its own values, that it does not dare to make immigrants from other cultures follow its own norms. [...] The concept of individual rights was uniquely brought forth and cultivated by western culture. You cannot accept this fundamental concept of freedom and hold at the same time that every other archaic, collectivist culture is equally valid because it is simply not as valid. This is why the multicultural 'value system' is always relativizing its own values and is ultimately nihilistic."

That Geert Wilders' anti-EU, anti-Islam PVV party emerged from the elections as the third strongest power in the Dutch parliament represents, for sociologist Paul Scheffer, a milestone in Dutch politics and a dilemma for Europe as a whole. Tibor Berczes asks Scheffer what steps should be taken against movements such as Wilders' whose aim is to undo the European Union: "Europe has to be an ideal of freedom and a secure community at the same time. It also needs to find solutions to problems of cross-border crime and illegal immigration for example. Europe should not see itself as an entity which dissolves national states, but as one that gives national states the opportunity to act effectively in times of globalisation. People need to understand that the protection of national singularities and openness or rather freedom and security do not cancel one another out but provide the conditions for the other to exist."


The Walrus 01.12.2010 (Canada)

In a reportage, Dave Cameron retraces his father's death from a cancerous brain tumour. After receiving his first course of radiation and chemo his father returns home for some rest. "'I've figured it out,' he says.... His beard is splayed flat on one side, his scalp peeling in nickel-sized flakes. 'You wouldn't believe how bad I feel,' he says. 'It's a rough ride in and out of the wormhole. You're familiar with the wormhole?' He's tried describing it to me before - the tunnel between this universe and another, less familiar. He returned from one of these deep-sleep journeys mumbling about the pleasant visit he'd just had with the recently deceased wife of an old friend. But mostly he doesn't know where he's been or, more disconcertingly, where he is in time when he wakes. (...) I stack some pillows behind him and help him to sit up. I ask what he's figured out. 'Time is not a place. It has no form. Events have form. 'So what's time?' There's a rope of paste on his lips that splits when he talks. 'Time is the space in a bucket.'"


La vie des idees 12.11.2010 (France)

Olivier Alexandre reviews a sociological study by Laurent Jullier and Jean-Marc Leveratto on "Cinephiles et Cinephilies" (Armand Colin). Based on a history of the effects and reception of the moving image which the authors divide into four periods, they develop a fine-tuned analysis of our increasingly private viewing habits: the love of the cinema, they argue, can no longer be explained by expertise or knowledge of the cinema and is not linked to how often people go to the cinema: "In the cinema universe 2.0 the classical categories (films d'auteurs/commercial films, cinema/TV, Paris/province, form/content, the masculine space of the cinema vs. the feminine space of the living room etc.) have given way to participatory and relativistic heterogeneity. 'Star Wars', Golden Turkeys, video clips, Youtube mashups or the last independent film that won at the Korean film festival in Pusan all of this is consumed indiscriminately by viewers who jump from one film to the next with the sole aim of deriving pleasure from their peregrinations."


Prospect 20.10.2010 (UK)

In a "Letter from Iran" Christopher de Bellaigue describes the spectacular success of the Murdoch owned satellite channel Farsi 1 which is broadcast from Dubai. The green revolution has run out of steam and the Iranian middle class is glued instead to the steamy goings on, (while strictly observing Iranian codes of modesty), of the trashy soap opera "Body of Desire". "The Farsi 1 phenomenon is a symptom of the disappointment felt by the westernised middle classes who are Mousavi's main supporters. His supporters are divided and its minimum objective - Ahmadinejad's removal from office - is glaringly unattained. Part of this is down to the government's strong-arm tactics, but mundane pressures are also a factor. Recently, a Tehran taxi driver told me that taking part in the unrest had caused him to fall behind with payments on his flat. He is now working overtime to compensate. The upshot is that those middle-class Iranians who, after several years' absence, suddenly and dramatically reengaged with politics - going out to do battle with the Basij militia, trawling the anti-government websites, weeping at the death of each protestor - have switched off once again. Amir Mohebbian, a conservative analyst who is launching a new political movement, gleefully told me: 'Last year it was all Mousavi. This year it's all Salvador.'" Watch an excerpt on Youtube.


Guernica 01.11.2010 (USA)

Guernica features Lila Azam Zanganeh's previously unpublished interview with John Updike from 2006, two years before his death. They discuss Nabokov, other literary influences and stealing: "Yeah, you're always looking for something.There's an image in one of the first Nabokov's I read, was the pencil sharpener, which said 'Ticonderoga, Ticonderoga.' Ticonderoga being the brand of a pencil. But to listen to what a pencil sharpener is saying was a kind of image you would love to have created yourself. I don't think I would steal that, it's so special. But I have stolen images, I think, in the course of my work, when I thought nobody would notice. Sure. At first, I think trying to form an approach to writing you look for a model. And I named four or five that meant a lot to me at a formative point in my life. But after you're formed, then basically you kind of read for things so admirable that you wish you had done them and you're not above maybe stealing them, if you can find a good place to hide them."

The Guardian 13.11.2010 (UK)

Richard Wolin's history of French Maoism, "French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution, and the Legacy of the 1960s" inspires Julian Jackson to an enthusiastic retelling: "Andre Glucksmann, now one of the anti-totalitarian 'new philosophers' of whom the most famous is Bernard-Henri Levy, believed in his Maoist phase that France was a fascist country; Sartre called for popular tribunals to counteract bourgeois justice. Not to be outdone, Foucault advocated a 'people's justice' without courts on the lines of the September massacres of 1792. Curiously the Maoists had missed out on 1968 itself. Blinded by dogmatism, they assumed that an event led by students could not be serious. It must be a plot hatched by de Gaulle and the French state as a pretext to crush the proletariat. This complete contradiction between the reality on the streets and what theory said must be happening caused one Maoist leader, Robert Linhart, to have a nervous breakdown."

Kerry Brown learns from Richard McGregor how China's Communist Party can keep hold of the reins without having to fear even the weakest organised opposition at home: "It has done this, McGregor shows, by controlling three crucial areas: information, the military (the People's Liberation Army still reports to the party, not to the government), and a vast, countrywide network of party-related organisations and positions that shadow the government."


L'Espresso 14.11.2010 (Italy)

How has it come to this, Umberto Eco cries, that Italians (not to mention non-Italians) can no longer differentiate between Palmiro Togliatti and Alcide De Gasperi. And the press is completely blind to history he moans: "In a newspaper I saw two photos, one of a truck full of [WWII] partisans and the other of a troupe wearing rough woollen clothing who are performing the Roman salute and who are described as 'squadristi' [blackshirts]. But 'squadristi' were only around in the 20s and they certainly didn't wear this sort of woollen clothing. What the photo shows is a fascist militia from the 30s or the early 40s. [...] I cannot imagine that all newspaper editorial teams are filled with historical philistines. But even if they are, the newspapers are not to blame; it's the fault of history or an amnesiac present ."


The Atlantic 01.12.2010 (USA)

"Freeman Dyson is one of those force-of-nature intellects whose brilliance can be fully grasped by only a tiny subset of humanity," writes Kenneth Brower by way of an introduction to the great physicist, mathematician and renowned climate sceptic: "Dyson did not deny that the world was getting warmer. What he doubted was the models of the climatologists, and the grave consequences they predicted, and the supposition that global warming is bad. 'I went to Greenland myself, where the warming is most extreme,' he said. 'And it's quite spectacular, of course, what you see in Greenland. But what is also true is, the people there love it. The people there hope it continues. It makes their lives a lot more pleasant.'"

The cover story asks whether coal can be clean. Benjamin Schwartz presents his books of the year, which is topped by Deborah Eisenberg's "Collected Stories".
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