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01/11/2005

Magazine Roundup

Merkur | L'Espresso | Plus - Minus | The Times Literary Supplement | The Economist | Le Figaro | Al Ahram Weekly | Elet es Irodalom | Le Nouvel Observateur | DU | The New York Times


Merkur, 01.11.2005


The German word "Opfer" has two meanings: victim and sacrifice. Law professor and best-selling author Bernhard Schlink (The Reader) writes that the first meaning of the word has gained in significance over the second. This is particularly true in Germany, writes Schlink, not only because "the alleged 'sacrifices' made by Germans during the Third Reich have been discredited, or because acknowledging the fate of the Jews as 'victims' has become so pressing. The shift in accent from the one meaning of "Opfer" to the other could only be so successful because in postwar Germany no sacrifice worth the name has ever been demanded, or made."


L'Espresso, 03.11.2005 (Italy)


The Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk travels through his homeland in golden October and reflects: "In the area around Domaradz, the shadows were longer than the things themselves. I think that once a year, this country, my cheerless, bleary, beautiful, dreary, hopeless and unbearably banal, fine, farcical, mousy gray, morose and rainy country achieves a kind of grace that drives away all that's bad."


Plus - Minus, 29.10.2005 (Poland)

In the weekend edition of the Polish Rzeczpospolita, Klaus Bachmann and Tomasz P. Terlikowski engage in a debate over the future of the family. Bachmann sees the classic model as a thing of the past: "In the discussion about same sex marriages and adoption rights, what people are defending is not the well-being of the children but rather archaic moral notions they feel should be respected at all costs, notions that are rooted in the concept of the blood-based family. Today, this traditional image is in large part a fiction sanctioned by the law." Terlikowski counters: "The current crisis does not mean and must not mean that the definitions of family and marriage change. The real problem is our culture which only honors the principal of achieving happiness and thus undermines elementary values such as duty and responsibility."


The Times Literary Supplement, 28.10.2005 (U.K.)

Richard Davenport-Hines is utterly devasted at the usurpation of Britain by the lower classes and destruction of its once aristocratic essence. If there are any doubts on this count, they can be allayed by reading the "urgent, important, almost essential book", "Our Culture" by British mega-snob Theodore Dalrymple (who has nearly been driven into French exile by British rednecks). Davenport-Hines can only agree with Dalrymple's moral objection: "The civic virtues, good manners, ingrained personal habits of self-control and moderation, and the national mistrust of excess have all been jettisoned or destroyed. Violence, hysteria, meanness and vulgarity are surely now among the leading traits of the prevailing English temper."


The Economist, 28.10.2005 (U.K.)

The Economist sees things differently: the British class system is alive and well, there's still an upper class but it's changed. In the past, nobility and stately homes were important, while today Britain's elite is "made up of a super-class that married inherited wealth with brains. In the absence of any reliable way to identify people as upper-class, though, one indicator has persisted: where they went to school."


Le Figaro, 28.10.2005 (France)

On the occasion of the recent publication of Emmanuelle Loyer's book "Paris a New York" (excerpt) about French intellectuals in American exile during the time of the occupation, Figaro talks to Claude Levi-Strauss about his years of exile in New York. For Levi-Strauss, this was a productive time: "In the New School for Social Research and the Ecole libre des hautes etudes, people who would otherwise never have met learned how to work together. Were it not for exile, I would never have met someone like Jacques Maritain. Not far from the village and Union Square, we had memorable meetings and discussions."


Al Ahram Weekly, 27.10.2005 (Egypt)

Gamal Nkrumah portrays Souad Saleh, one of the most important female Islamic teachers. It's a contradictory depiction, at least by Western standards: Saleh was the first female dean of the Al-Azhar University who fought for women's rights and "spoke with the authority of the priestess that she is." But she is "no feminist and abhors notions of Western feminism that pretend that women have the same duties and responsibilities as men." She also favours "swimwear that does not cling to the body."

Harold Pinter and Egypt – that never really worked, writes Nehad Selaiha, despite a flourishing theatre scene in the 1960s. Why? Back then, Selaiha recalls, Pinter's plays were considered by many to be a "further example of the socially irresponsible, self-indulgent, reactionary writing of the decadent 'art for art's sake' school". When Pinter's plays were being staged more frequently in the late 1980s, the Egyptians realised that they had erred. "These problems are not limited to cultural differences (and some of Pinter's plays would be pretty shocking to ordinary, middle-class Egyptian theatre-goers), or to differences in temperament and humour; they extend to the verbal fabric of the plays and matters of dramaturgy."


Elet es Irodalom, 28.10.2005 (Hungary)

Magnum photographer Patrick Zachmann, who did a series of portraits on Hungary for the exhibition "Euro-Visions" in Paris' Centre Pompidou, tells in an interview how with this trip he came to realise how terribly monotonous Hungarian history is: "Hungary's history is a long run of foreign invasions. The country was attacked and trodden underfoot by different peoples in different epochs. Only now did I see how many important regions Hungary lost with the Treaty of Trianon. I was astounded. ... When people talk about it, it seems like an unhealed wound, a permanent pain. ... On the other hand, the Hungarians have also failed to come to terms with their own history during World War II. I'm thinking above all of their collaboration with the Nazis. They avoid looking their history in the face. Acknowledgement of their own guilt, like you see in Germany, is missing in Hungary. That also makes for a depressed mood."


Le Nouvel Observateur, 27.10.2005 (France)


Several months after it appeared in the bookshops, Aude Lancelin and Vincent Monnier take stock of the battle lines around Michel Houellebecq's latest novel "The Possibility of an Island" (see Magazine Roundup of August 23). The opposing camps include everything from sugar-sweet Raelianers to embittered competitors: "There are unconditional fans like Fernando Arrabal or Dominique Noguez, both of whom wrote essays celebrating the novel. Or member of the Academie Francaise Marc Fumaroli (here in formal attire), a new ally of Houellebecq's. Then there are the roughly thirty young scholars who met in Edinburgh at the end of October to engage in learned debates on 'Houellebecq, Prince of Anti-Utopians' or the 'Dream Smashers – Houellebecq, Maupassant, Schopenhauer'. Of course there is also the feminist lobby, whose numbers extend into the jury of the Prix Goncourt, and who are not at all thrilled by Houellebecq's description of 'cellulite fifty-year-olds with an eternal unfulfilled desire for wild lovemaking'. Even the book's sales figures are disputed. While the publishers maintain the book sold 210,000 copies in the first four days, Denis Demonpion, author of an 'unauthorised' biography, says it only sold 85,323 copies in four weeks."

In an interview, Günter Grass regrets the departure of Gerhard Schröder and the disappearing tradition of the "engaged intellectual". "The younger generation of intellectuals stays away from politics. Despite my age, and although I still enjoy it, I would like it if others took up the torch. I've been able to mobilise a good ten or so young writers, from Michael Kumpfmüller to Eva Menasse to Juli Zeh, who react especially sensitively to social problems. And my 'epigones' have proved themselves worthy, they've fulfilled their task with courage and pragmatism." See our features "Writers! Break free of your routine!" by Eva Menasse, and Tanja Dückers' answer "Standing in file", for more.

The article "Tony Blair's Challenge" also makes for a good read, marvelling in the lay tradition that Blair wants to include Islamic representatives in his fight against terror.


DU, 01.11.2005 (Switzerland)

This delightful edition is dedicated to Istanbul, the "hip city on the Golden Horn". A latte macchiato now costs about as much there as it does in Zurich. But publisher Egon Ammann tells anecdotes taking the reader back to the 1960s. "I wanted to buy cigarettes at a kiosk on a square in front of the train station. It was surrounded by men with strange devices made of leather and heavy cloth hanging over one shoulder. As I took the coins from my pocket, unfortunately one dropped to the ground and started rolling off. I put my foot on it to stop it. At that moment one of the men took hold of me and threatened me with a clenched fist. I didn't understand what was happening until someone who had been watching the whole thing said in broken German that I shouldn't step on coins because they shows the Turkish crescent moon, the symbol of the state. That's how I barely escaped a good thrashing."


The New York Times, 30.10.2005 (USA)

This issue focuses on literature dealing with the Iraq War. Fareed Zakaria recommends George Packer's "The Assassins' Gate" (first chapter) as a "gripping" chronicle of the lead-up, development and consequences of the invasion. Zakaria admires the sober reserve with which Packer describes Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's arrogance, which led to fatal errors. "Rumsfeld's spokesman, Larry Di Rita, went to Kuwait in April 2003 and told the American officials waiting there that the State Department had messed up Bosnia and Kosovo and that the Bush administration intended to hand over power to Iraqis and leave within three months."

In the New York Times Magazine Somini Sengupta reports from Nepal, where the last dyed-in-the-wool communists on earth are fighting for the revolution. "Built of small fighters with flip-flops for combat boots, suffused with rage against a long legacy of oppression based on caste and ethnicity, the Maoists' guerrilla war began nearly a decade ago in these villages of Rolpa District, in the midwestern foothills of the Himalayas. Since then, it has spread a peculiar mixture of terror and desire across the countryside, cost more than 12,000 lives and come to be arguably the most resilient and ruinous Communist insurgency in the world today."
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