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20/12/2005

Magazine Roundup

Lettre International | Kommune | Le Nouvel Observateur | Nepszabadsag | Die Weltwoche | Babelia | The Guardian | Gazeta Wyborcza | The Economist | Heti Vilaggazdasag | The New York Times Book Review


Lettre International, 19.12.2005 (Germany)


Hungarian writer Peter Nadas paid a visit to the concentration camp in the little French town of Le Vernet in the Ariege region on the edge of the Pyrenees. It was from here that between 1943 and 1944 six trains of prisoners were sent to Dachau, Mauthausen and Ravensbrück. "At first I couldn't find the place because there was nothing there. Then, two days later, I discovered the water tower behind a group of trees. Today bales of hay are stored under its steel girders. Some distance away a man was ploughing the field in a tractor. The field was once part of the camp and before that it was part of a goat farm. I wondered whether the farmer must have dug up foreign objects in the earth with his plough or harrow. The farmer's wife was just turning into the street on her motor scooter as I approached in the hellish tailwind of the trucks as they raced by. She was on her way to fetch some lunch when I spoke to her, and that's exactly what she said, I'm just fetching lunch, as if we'd known each other for ever. She propped one foot on the ground for balance and without turning the engine off, explained very helpfully where everything had been, and where I could find what. She elegantly avoided saying if it was any concern of hers. No mention of any feelings, the field is a field and that's that. With her raised motorbike helmet and her tanned features, she faced history personally and yet completely impersonally at the same time."


Kommune, 01.12.2005 (Germany)

Karol Sauerland takes a very profound look back on Polish politics of recent years, and gives his prognosis for how things will go under Warsaw's current leadership duo, the brothers Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski of the Law and Justice party (PiS): "The Kaczynskis want a strong state. And if they are successful they will no doubt have many privileges to accord. But a fair number of sociologists think that protest actions could start up relatively soon, because the majority of PiS voters come from lower social strata. They are not interested in reform, but in quick relief from the state. However this help will be long in coming. Where should the Kaczynskis get the money? The call to settle accounts with corrupt bureaucrats and leaders of state as well as semi-state-owned facilities will soon die down, because that won't make the normal citizens any richer. And in addition, it shouldn't be forgotten that corruption is everywhere. The fight against corruption will eventually also hit the man on the street, and that is the last thing he wanted."


Le Nouvel Observateur, 19.12.2005 (France)

Under the title "Desperately seeking a Republic", French intellectuals Regis Debray (more) and Marcel Gauchet (review) talk about the belief in politics, multiculturalism and the crisis of the French nation. As opposed to Debray, who propagates the idea of a "civil religion", Gauchet, author of "Desenchantement du monde", does not believe there can be such a thing. "I don't know where I should look for it. Because in my view, the possibility of a civil religion disappeared with the wellspring where it should gain its strength. First it lost its major impetus: the conflict with existing religions – for the French Republic that means the Catholic Church. The Republic confronted the Church's authority with the idea of freedom, and in so doing it also sapped some of the Church's sacral energy. In France, the republican idea had the function of a powerful civil religion. But that is no longer the case." On the topic of multiculturalism, Debray states, "Whether you like it or not, different identities are a fact. The abstract universalism of people without qualities and faces, which is blind to individual identities and for example denies the colonial question, was never a viable position."


Nepszabadsag, 19.12.2005 (Hungary)

Hungary has no tradition of women authors. And now that some women have started writing, the question arises: but is it literature? Can we discuss it in these terms? "The literary scene is a closed circle of the initiated. Increasing numbers of female authors are now taking the plunge and publishing their works, but they have to continually justify themselves. The friendly men who read and understand our books get nonplussed when they have to talk about women's perspectives, even though all we want to do is add to the overall understanding of people," says the young author Kriszta Bodis in an interview. Bodis is co-editor of the first anthology of writings on female sexuality by Hungarian women authors. "Sex is a form of communication, an act involving two people. It presupposes equality, and happens with the consent of both parties. Until today, only Hungarian men have written about it."


Die Weltwoche, 15.12.2005 (Switzerland)

"To put it bluntly, God sits in the temporal lobes." Religious visions can be stimulated by magnetic fields, writes Felix Hasler, who has found an original Christmas present. "The top-of-the-line model by Shakti Spiritual Technology costs 220 dollars, runs under Windows and uses your PC's sound card to create a magnetic field for spiritual temple massage. According to the company's website, it should produce 'out of body experiences, lucid dreaming, remote viewing, and happiness', as well as meditation enhancement. Isn't it conceivable that this new technology could form the basis of a modern, 21st century religion? The ultimate we-feeling in the globally connected church community through collective temple zapping?"


Babelia, 17.12.2005 (Spain)

Babelia, the weekend supplement of El Pais, features a sarcastic contribution by Luis Goytisolo on the utility of novels. The Spanish novelist diagnoses a trend in which books are becoming increasingly important, while actually reading them is becoming increasingly unnecessary: "By now we know how much potential is bundled up in a literary masterpiece. You just have to know how to tap it. The key is to transform the book into a social event, which then results in a considerable 'offspring'. The best example is the current Don Quixote year. The economic potential of the tourism and gastronomic commercialisation of the novel far exceed that of new editions of the book. In other countries people are taking things even further, with "Bloomsday" celebrations or tours of Paris on the trail of the Da Vinci Code, and a broad range of fashion, design and cosmetics articles."


The Guardian, 17.12.2005 (UK)


If Hamlet and Don Quixote stand for Europe, then who stands for America? asks the literary critic Harold Bloom. Disgruntled at the path the country has been taking under George W. Bush, he answers: Captain Ahab. "Ahab carries himself and all his crew (except Ishmael) to triumphant catastrophe, while Moby Dick swims away, being as indestructible as the Book of Job's Leviathan. The obsessed captain's motive ostensibly is revenge, since earlier he was maimed by the white whale, but his truer desire is to strike through the universe's mask, in order to prove that while the visible world might seem to have been formed in love, the invisible spheres were made in fright. God's rhetorical question to Job: "Can'st thou draw out Leviathan with a hook?" is answered by Ahab's: "I'd strike the sun if it insulted me!" The driving force of the Bushian-Blairians is greed, but the undersong of their Iraq adventure is something closer to Iago's pyromania. Our leader, and yours, are firebugs."


Gazeta Wyborcza, 17.12.2005 (Poland)


Kinga Dunin, a literary critic and Poland's leading feminist, describes how the situation of homosexuals had changed in Poland. For her, the recent emergence of gay-lesbian literature like Michal Witkowski's novel "Lubiewo" (more) are a step forward. "In a way, 'coming out' hasn't happened yet here, and gays and lesbians are still hidden in the closets, but now those closets are bigger, better-equipped and more liberal. You can meet people with diverse preferences there and have a good time together. Passers-by look through the window and are still a little perturbed, but at least nowadays they rarely throw stones at you."


The Economist, 16.12.2005 (UK)

The Economist has met Marin Alsop, the new musical director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and learned why being a woman conductor is like running the gauntlet: "'You need clean lines and no filigree,' she says. An aggressive man is just that, but an aggressive woman can be pasted with nastier labels. Conversely, she says while turning her palms upward, some gestures make a male conductor look sensitive, and a woman look weak."


Heti Vilaggazdasag, 15.12.2005 (Hungary)


The famous Rudas, one of the many Turkish baths built during the period of Osmanic occupation in the 16th and 17th centuries, has reopened in Budapest after extensive renovations. Dora Sindelyes compares hygiene and body care of the Muslim and Christian inhabitants at that time: "As health and beauty are very important for Allah, the first step was to sweat it out in a hot steam bath. Then the entire body was dried and rubbed by servants, and after that the skin was tautened with hot and cold baths. Finally the men were shaved and the women depilated. The cleansing of the body is a prerequisite for the cleansing of the soul." The Hungarians of the day were considerably dirtier: "Only the visible dirt was to be removed", because "the Christian tradition propagated first and foremost the aesthetic of the soul, but not that of the body."


The New York Times Book Review, 17.12.2005 (USA)

A new generation of exiled Tibetans is no longer content to protest peaceably against the Chinese occupiers, writes the author Pankaj Mishra in the New York Times Magazine's title story. "Many young Tibetans speak with admiration of the Khampa warriors of eastern Tibet, who fought against the invading Chinese Army in 1950 and, in 1959, initiated the bloody revolt against Chinese rule, effectively forcing the Dalai Lama to choose between a subservient status in Tibet and exile in India. An account of the Khampas, published by the acclaimed Tibetan novelist Jamyang Norbu in 1987, inspired many Tibetans of Tsundue's generation to consider more militant solutions to their problem. As Norbu, who now lives in the United States, told a filmmaker producing a documentary for PBS in 1997, 'Some people don't want to be enlightened, at least not immediately.'"
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