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08/11/2005

Magazine Roundup

Der Spiegel | Elet es Irodalom | The New Yorker | L'Espresso | Polityka | Gazeta Wyborcza | The Times Literary Supplement | Le Nouvel Observateur | Al Ahram Weekly | The New York Times Book Review


Der Spiegel, 07.11.2005 (Germany)

Hans Magnus Enzensberger (more here and here) analyses the "radical losers" manifested in the National Socialists of yesteryear and the Islamists of today. The force of the Islamsists today feeds on the full-scale, century-long decline of Islamic culture. "In the last four hundred years, the Arabs have not come up with a single discovery worthy of mention. ... Everything on which daily life in Maghreb and in the Middle East depends, every fridge, every telephone, every plug socket, every screwdriver, not to mention the products of high technology, is a silent insult to any Arab with half a brain." Enzenberger goes on to explain the psychological impact of permanent and self-inflicted inferiority, citing the Germans as an example: "It is not far-fetched to suppose that Hitler and his cronies were less interested in victory than in the radicalisation and immortalisation of their own loser status. Although the suppressed anger was offloaded in an unprecedented war of annihilation against everybody else ... it was certainly not their intention to spare the Germans. Their real aim was not victory but extermination, destruction, collective suicide and the horrifying end."

This week the magazine's cover (above) playfully exploits the fact that Germany's two major parties are now chaired by East Germans: Angela Merkel of the CDU and Matthias Platzeck of the SDP.


Elet es Irodalom, 04.11.2005 (Hungary)


The literary sensation this fall in Hungary is without doubt Peter Nadas' novel "Parallel Stories". Critics are hailing it as the novel of the century – on a par with such works as Robert Musil's "Man Without Qualities" and Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace". Nadas explains in an interview why the novel has several narrators who "slide" from the first to the third person, and who tell "parallel stories" about Hungary in the 20th century. "I used to hope that love could save individuals under a dictatorship, and that love stories could at least relate the longing for freedom. Then I had to see that individuals cannot be saved, but only enter the banality we know from Gyula Illyes' wonderful poem 'A sentence about tyranny': Tyranny even got into the nuptial bed, it took part in copulation. When tyranny pervades even lovemaking and the most intimate situations, then society intrudes deep into the individual realm. In that case the make-up of the collective consciousness not only works like cultural cement, but also as a crushing, destructive force. The question is whether there is such a thing as an individual at all when such collective forces rampage within a single person. Where is the person in me if the herd animal is so strong?"

ES magazine is not at all surprised that Eastern Europe is under-represented in the list of the world's top 100 public intellectuals published in Foreign Policy and Prospect at the end of September (more here). In the previous edition, Janos Szeky commented that the list's compilers "admit to being mainly familiar with the English-speaking world. Great Britain has closer ties to its former colonies than to the major cultural nations of the European continent. That's why Kenya is happily represented twice – as often as Germany." Now in this edition Szeky explains the choice of Noam Chomsky as the most important of the 100 most important intellectuals with reference to the fascination he exerts as "radical opposition figure" on the "old-liberal, pro-government and pro-establishment readership of both magazines."


The New Yorker, 14.11.2005
(USA)

In an extensive report, Jane Mayer examines the death of the suspected terrorist Manadel al-Jamadi who was killed during interrogation in Abu Ghraib, and asks whether the CIA can "legally kill a prisoner? (...) After September 11th, the Justice Department fashioned secret legal guidelines that appear to indemnify C.I.A. officials who perform aggressive, even violent interrogations outside the United States. Techniques such as waterboarding—the near-drowning of a suspect—have been implicitly authorized by an Administration that feels that such methods may be necessary to win the war on terrorism." All efforts to gain more detailed information on these policies, and specifically to find out who exactly is responsible for the death of al-Jamadi were blocked by the government. "Even more troubling is the possibility that, under the Bush Administration's secret interrogation guidelines, the killing of Jamadi might not have broken any laws."


L'Espresso, 10.11.2005 (Italy)

Umberto Eco sings the praises of the late French artist Arman (more) whose "accumulation" works were a celebration of diversity. "He shows us that within sameness (a collection of forks, pairs of glasses, music instruments) there is the possibility for a modulation of multiplication. In the clownish game of his orderings (which nevertheless follow a strict set of rules), in which every object differs from its companion by a tilt, a lopsidedness, a minimal twist, Arman transforms the monotony of the identical into a symphony of heterogeneity."


Polityka, 07.11.2005 (Poland)

Poland is a divided country write Mariusz Janicki und Wieslaw Wladyka. The voting behaviour at the elections is a remarkable reflection of Poland's borders of 1919 to 1939 and even the division in 1795 to 1918: The former Prussian regions in the north and the west vote consistently for the liberal pro-European powers, while the traditional, peasant base is the south and the east voted for the national conservative option. "Centuries have passed, wars have rolled through the land, the population has been thoroughly intermixed, the levelling act of socialism has taken care of the rest – and yet there is still an invisible border dividing the Poland of Tusk and the Poland of Kaczynski."


Gazeta Wyborcza, 05.11.2005 (Poland)

Piotr Buras explains to the Poles why the electoral victory of the national conservative PiS caused such strong reactions in Germany: "The German Lebensgefühl (attitude to life) is largely influenced by left-liberal currents. This explains why the conservatism of the PiS, which is strongly against homosexuals, excites such outrage. Anti-liberal, Euro-sceptical, anti-German statements are not at all well-received in Germany. Another factor has to do with the two very different definitions of conservatism in the two countries – on the one hand bourgeois German conservatism, on the other hand the rural-Catholic conservatism of the Kaczynskis."


The Times Literary Supplement, 04.11.2005 (UK)

Jean-Paul Sartre's 100th birthday was celebrated with much ballyhoo in France. Neither street names nor television programmes, on the other hand, were dedicated to Arthur Koestler (more). And on top of that, bemoans Walter Laqueur, Koestler has no luck with his biographers. Neither Michel Laval's "L'Homme sans concessions" nor Christian Buckard's "Ein extremes Leben" do him justice, writes Laqueur. Because Koestler may have been a difficult person, but in the final analysis he is much more likeable than the Sartre/Beauvoir pair – and politically of course somewhat more astute: "Yet despite all the drunken brawls and the ugly aggression, he was not mendacious in his relations with sexual partners, holding in contempt those he professed to love, as Sartre and Beauvoir did. Nor did Koestler specialize in attracting disturbed young girls. He was a disturbed man, and neither anti-depressants nor psychoanalysis greatly helped him. But there was no more evil in him than in most other human beings. He was capable of love, often romantic love, which is perhaps more than can be said about Sartre and Beauvoir."


Le Nouvel Observateur, 03.11.2005 (France)

Historian Pascal Blanchard investigates "La fracture coloniale" in his book of the same name that is now creating waves in France. In it, Blanchard complains of a massive repression of French colonial history, of which today only an insignificant part remains in the public consciousness. Perhaps this is a reason for the youth riots? In an interview, Blanchard admits: "This question concerns seven generations and 700 million individuals. If a country makes no material available and sets up no centres providing information on such a question, what should history teachers do when confronted where 70 percent of the students are descendants of former colonies? What should they say? Such pupils have the feeling they are seen as 'enemies of the Republic' or as having no place in the country's long history." This week's Figaro litteraire also reviews Blanchard's book and other new publications on the topic.


Al Ahram Weekly, 02.11.2005 (Egypt)


Egypt's religious authorities at Al Azhar University are preventing the Egyptian edition of a book originally published by Oxford University Press: Natana J. DeLong-Bas' study "Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad". The reason: "Information not in accordance with the principles of Islam". Wahhabi Islam, founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, is a very strict form of Sunni Islam, mainly practised by Saudi Arabian Islamists. Surprisingly, the publishers and Western academics hope the ban on the book will be lifted when the censors see that in it, al-Wahhab is portrayed in a very positive light. Only Gaber Asfour, professor for Arabic literature at Cairo University and secretary-general of the Ministry of Culture's Supreme Council of Culture, protests against all forms of censorship. Regardless of whether the decision was taken for political reasons or not, in his view "one must re-assert the general rule that no authority has the right to curtail freedom of opinion, an infringement of human rights that runs counter to the principles of tolerance enshrined in the charter of the United Nations, of which Egypt is a member."


The New York Times Book Review, 06.11.2005 (USA)


In the New York Times Magazine, D. T. Max investigates the relatively new discipline of literary Darwinism. Its adherents attempt to find fundamental patterns of human behaviour in books. For them Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" is a veritable treasure chest, roughly what fruit flies are for geneticists. "The women in the book mostly compete to marry high-status men, consistent with the Darwinian idea that females try to find mates whose status will assure the success of their offspring. At the same time, the men are typically competing to marry the most attractive women, consistent with the Darwinian idea that males look for youth and beauty in females as signs of reproductive fitness. Darcy and Elizabeth's flips and flops illustrate the effort mammals put into distinguishing between short-term appeal (a pert step, a handsome coxcomb) and long-term appropriateness (stability, commitment, wealth, underlying good health)."
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