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18/10/2005

Magazine Roundup

The New York Review of Books | L'Espresso | London Review of Books | Le Nouvel Observateur | Le Monde diplomatique | Elet es Irodalom | Plus - Minus | The Spectator | Nepszabadsag | Le Point


The New York Review of Books, 03.11.2005 (USA)


British author and historian Timothy Garton Ash reports on his trip through Iran. "At a rooftop restaurant in the wondrous city of Esfahan, I witnessed the continuity of Persian culture, with a singer chanting verses by the fourteenth-century poet Hafez while local diners peered up at the blue, cream, and turquoise dome of the Sheikh Lotfallah mosque, illuminated against the night sky (you don't often hear verses from Chaucer sung in an English pub). ... I also got a taste of life behind the high garden walls of the houses of the middle and upper class, where the hijab immediately comes off and opinions are scathingly contemptuous of the aging revolutionary Islamic zeal of the country's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Within minutes of my arrival at one such house, bikini-clad women were teasingly inviting me to come naked into the swimming pool, while the men offered me a drink from a bottle marked 'Ethanol 98% proof.'"


L'Espresso, 20.10.2005 (Italy)

Fabrizio Gatti, who in the last issue reported on his experience as an undercover immigrant in the Italian reception camp at Lampedusa (news item here), now recounts what became of the real refugees he got to know there. Gatti writes that the official requirement to leave Italy on October 5 was followed by none of those released on the mainland. "Ibrahim found work after a week. A phone call to his cousin was all that was required to find him again and to reconstruct the end of his trip. Nobody asked him what he had studied. Having a history degree doesn't help an illegal immigrant in Italy one bit. What his new employer was interested in was his arms and his hands, whether they were robust enough for a bricklayer." One who works for three euros an hour, no less.


London Review of Books, 20.10.2005 (UK)


Anatol Lieven has to agree with Andrew Bacevich's theory of the new American militarism ("The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War"). The euphoric reactions of Americans to the military initiative in Iraq "reflect a belief – genuine or assumed – in what the Germans used to call Soldatentum: the pre-eminent value of the military virtues of courage, discipline and sacrifice, and explicitly or implicitly the superiority of these virtues to those of a hedonistic, contemptible and untrustworthy civilian society and political class. (...) The most important contradiction, however, is between the near worship of the military in much of American culture and the equally widespread unwillingness of most Americans – elites and masses alike – to serve in the armed forces."


Le Nouvel Observateur, 17.10.2005 (France)

The debate section of this week's issue is devoted to linguistics. Jean-Marie Hombert, linguist and director of an interdisciplinary project at the CNRS, takes a look at some of the themes and results of the collection that he edited, "Aux origines des langues et du langage" (Fayard). The questions researched include: When did the first person speak? Is there a mother language? Using the "explosion of vocabulary" in children's acquisition of language, scientists are trying to determine if this might be an analogy for the development of language, comparable to the ability of primates to use varying alarm cries, depending on the degree of danger: be it an eagle, leopard or snake. "Let's imagine that this vocabulary increases bit by bit, and gives way to an even finer categorization of danger: which is what Homo Sapiens accomplished. Vocabulary and syntax – the two things that primates don't know."

The linguist, philosopher of language and founder of the "Petit Robert" Alain Rey admits that his four volume "Dictionnaire culturel en langue francaise" (Le Robert), which "gets to the roots of terms" was actually conceived as an "anti-dictionary" and an "anti-encycopaedia". "My project aims to present readers with words as visions of the world, which have developed in various cultures through the means of language."


Le Monde diplomatique, 17.10.2005 (France / Germany)

The recent election of conservative candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iranian president has shown that the Iranian opposition is far weaker than assumed, writes Martin Ebbing. "By contrast, many small initiatives, above all in the area of culture, as well as the daily, superficially unpolitical resistance activities, have a far larger significance than often thought. Long ago the police had to accept the satellite dishes which are not infrequently seen on houses whose front doors are adorned with black or green flags, indicating the homes of especially devout Muslims. Tehran is now seeing a boom of new galleries where above all women artists show their works. In the cinema and on television series, long-taboo subjects like divorce, polygamy, unemployment and drug abuse are openly discussed."


Elet es Irodalom, 17.10.2005 (Hungary)

It is no longer acceptable that only historians may consult state security files, writes historian Laszlo Varga, criticising the Hungarian constitutional court's decision that the bill put forward by the socialists for a freer access to the state security documents is unconstitutional: "Each citizen of the republic has a right to know his own story, and that means both his life story and the history of the collective, the nation. ... It is not without interest that today of all days I happened to run across comrade K., who spied on me on behalf of the Communist Party. I (instinctively) shook his hand, because it wasn't him but his (anonymous) employer who wrote the footnote to his report calling me 'petty bourgeois', which caused me to lose my job. But if comrade K. could spy on me then, why can't I mention his name now?"


Plus - Minus, 15.10.2005 (Poland)


Philosopher Wojciech Sadurski expresses his thanks that Lech Walesa has once more brought up the idea of a United States of Europe. "You need guts, above all because in our political context the idea is considered a vision of horror. For Euro-sceptics the debate on the constitution served to put in question the whole idea of integration. For them the EU should be reigned back to a common economic territory – nothing more. But that would negate the basic idea behind Europe, and Solidarity, as Walesa rightly pointed out." Sadurski also quotes an American journalist: "We have to acknowledge that the world is seeing the rise of a second superpower, whose influence will continue to grow. Often we fail to see the historical dimension of the European integration process."

Tomasz Jagodzinsk is delighted at the Nobel Prize for Harold Pinter, and states: finally we have a less controversial, less political decision, even if Pinter has become increasingly vocal on his pacifist beliefs. "Nevertheless he continually assures us that his anti-American comments have always been directed at the US government. Some time ago Pinter recalled how he expected trouble when he entered the United States from Nicaragua in the 1980s. He was all ready to fire back: 'What do you care?' as an answer to any questions. But the customs officer said: 'You're Harold Pinter? Welcome to the United States!'"


The Spectator, 15.10.2005 (UK)


They look like Blair, sound like Blair, and think Blair is "BRILLIANT". Brendan O'Neill points a derisive finger at the new squeaky-clean generation of Brit-poppers. "From Coldplay to Keane, James Blunt to Franz Ferdinand (the band, that is, not the assassinated Austrian archduke), the independent music scene is dominated by the most insufferable, middle-class, non-smoking, anti-drugs, safe-sex-observing bunch of Blairite bores and arse-kissers you could ever have the misfortune to clap eyes on."


Nepszabadsag, 15.10.2005 (Hungary)

György Szerbhorvath, a Hungarian author living in Vojvodina (today in Serbia), analyses the literature scene in the former Yugoslavia: "After World War II, the 'literature of the ruins' played a central role in the German intellectual renewal. In Japan the yakeoto seida, or burned generation, told the experience of war with a new, rough voice. Nothing similar is taking place in this corner of the Balkans. One reason for that apparently lies in the fact that discourse has become deadlocked on who are the victims and who are the perpetrators. The Croatians see themselves as the victims who won out in the end. The Bosnians see themselves as victims tout court. The Serbians are silent – both about their defeat and about their responsibility. The younger generation of authors has turned its back on the conspiracy theories of older writers in favour of Yugo-stalgia."


Le Point, 14.10.2005 (France)


Le Point interviews Peruvian author Maria Vargas Llosa on the occasion of the appearance of the "Dictionnaire amoureux de l'Amerique latine" (Plon), which Llosa published. The author discusses Israel's retreat from the Gaza Strip, leftist intellectuals and once more vents his frustration at French anti-Americanism and the "no" to the European constitution. The French attitude to the Iraq War seems "much less clean" to Llosa than its representatives make it out to be. "Let's be honest, don't you think this type of anti-Americanism, coupled with savage anti-liberalism, is the only level on which a consensus can be reached in contemporary French society? Even in Latin America people are less anti-American than they used to be!" The "no" to the referendum gives Llosa cause for concern. "Historically, France has set an example to the rest of the world. But how long will it go on getting upset at globalisation, liberalism and the laws of gravity? With all my heart I wish them a Tony Blair who once more revives the universalism of the French nation – the wellspring of its grandeur – in the face of nationalism."
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