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28/02/2006

Magazine Roundup

Literaturen | Prospect | Elet es Irodalom | Merkur | Le Nouvel Observateur | L'Espresso | Newsweek | Babelia | The New Statesman | Gazeta Wyborcza | The New York Times


Literaturen, 01.03.2006 (Germany)


Literaturen devotes this issue to the rediscovery of Ancient Greece as a source of literary and historical inspiration. Rene Aguigah goes to Berlin's Treptow district to visit Friedrich Kittler, Professor of Aesthetics, to be introduced to the love of antiquity: "It's not just that God vanished, as Hölderin and Heidegger write, but the feeling, thinking, music-making inspired by man-woman relationships have also disappeared. (...) I'm a little afraid that Hölderin and Nietzsche and Heidegger, priest and sacristan children all, were prevented by the Christianity that they never overcame in their heart of hearts, from realising what's at stake: genuine piousness. 'Religion' doesn't really suit the Greeks who honour the gods and goddesses to the point that they pair with mortals. '...And the Gods Made Love' – that's how I always understood the Hendrix line."


Prospect, 01.03.2006 (U.K.)

Aatish Taseer spent a few months around the Abu Nour University in Damascus, where it's mainly foreign students that are studying Islam. In various conversations with non-Arabic students, Taseer tries to understand what has drawn them to Islam. After talking to the Norwegian Even, who explains "in the West, we're all about rights but we have forgotten about limits." Taseer meets the leader Nadir, for whom Syria's moral history begins with Islam, a claim typical of Islam's all-encompassing nature. "If you had it, you needed nothing else. 'If I find one thing,' Nadir said, 'one thing that the Koran doesn't cover, I will renounce the faith.' But Nadir could never find that one thing because Islam served as the source of everything. Unlike Even, I was beginning to feel that this, not the hedonism of the West, was the real problem of limits."

Further articles: Journalist Kamran Nazeer and the editor of the Muslim lifestyle magazine Emel, Sarah Joseph, cannot agree how Muslims should deal with the cartoon debate. And an animated James Wood explains that realism in literature is not an epoque, not a genre and definitely not ridiculous, as vain post-modern theoreticians claim, but rather a basic narrative impulse.


Elet es Irodalom, 24.02.2006 (Hungary)

The young writer Krisztian Grecso talks about his novel "Gott zum Gruße," soon to appear in German, which deals with the collective memory of a village. "It's the story of Viktor Klein, who, in 1948, after returning from a concentration camp, was suspected of being involved in the ritual murder of a girl. Only the police who came from the capital can save him from the incited mob. As a child, I often heard stories about it. Most villagers still believe that Jewish traders were murderers, the exception is a minority. It's disconcerting that the village remembers precisely this case. In the mid 1990s, the kids in the village school were asked to draw whatever they wished and one drawing featured a Jew in the blood of the virgin. The collective memory is based on individual memories. It's quite significant that the kid knows this little story but couldn't tell a single story of his own grandmother."


Merkur, 01.03.2006 (Germany)

Literature professor Jan Philipp Reemtsma calls the entire discussion about the freedom of the will superfluous – whether such a thing exists or not is of secondary importance. "A society that doesn't presume a free will is unimaginable. We can't do without this idea of a free will as a presumption that governs our behavior. Does it make sense to spend a lot of time considering whether this presumption has a practical function? I don't know if anyone would go so far as to claim that it doesn't have a practical function. They would have to depict a society that is unthinkable and make it somehow attractive. Until they've done that, we might as well leave it."


Le Nouvel Observateur, 23.02.2006 (France)


A year and a half after his death, an essay by Jacques Derrida has appeared which reviewer Didier Eribon calls "fulminating". In "L'Animal que donc je suis" (Galilee), one discovers Derrida's fascination with the animal world – and what it tells us about morality and justice. "The book begins with a Satresque reflection on the view of the other: when foreign eyes look at me, am I not forced to ask myself who I am? Even if the foreign eyes belong to an animal. A cat. This is truly the opening scene from which Derrida develops his reflection. It's when he goes to the bathroom to take a shower that he notices that his cat is watching him. The 'buck naked' philosopher can't help himself: a feeling of shame, humiliation takes hold of him. So he asks himself: What does it mean to live with an animal? What does it mean for us? What does it mean for them?"


L'Espresso, 02.03.2006 (Italy)


Umberto Eco feels that the election campaign so far – on both the left and the right – could have been based on a screenplay by Groucho Marx. "It seems that those in each camp are mainly concerned with talking down their own group and emphasizing their divisions. That goes not only for the Union, which seems to have turned this into a sport, but also the Casa delle Liberta, for whom freedom means lacerating one another." A further characteristic of this campaign is the prognosis war. "In principle, anyone making prognoses should keep quiet because he knows something that his opponent does not. But these days, prognoses serve the function of self-fulfilling prophecies; they should mobilize the undecided, on the assumption that we're dealing with hordes of underdeveloped people who want only to be on the winning side, or on the side of those who talk the loudest."


Newsweek, 27.02.2006 (USA)

In fifteen years, India will surpass Great Britain as an economic power. And already today the country gives the hottest parties at economic meetings. The country is on the up and up, writes Fareed Zakaria on "Asia's other powerhouse. (...) Anyone who has actually been to India will probably be puzzled. 'India?' he or she will say. 'With its dilapidated airports, crumbling roads, vast slums and impoverished villages? We're talking about that India?' Yes, that, too, is India. The country might have several Silicon Valleys, but it also has three Nigerias within it, more than 300 million people living on less than a dollar a day. India is home to 40 percent of the world's poor and has the world's second largest HIV population. But that is the familiar India, the India of poverty and disease. The India of the future contains all this but also something new. You can feel the change even in the midst of the slums."


Babelia, 25.02.2006 (Spain)


Author Carlos Fuentes puts the responsibility for finding a way out of the crisis between the West and the Islamic world firmly on both sides, and reminds readers – as a Mexican – of the lengthy but in his view by no means unsuccessful integration of Latinos, blacks and Jews in the USA and Europe: "With the help of their faith, but also with that of the ballot, the religious Islamic majorities have come to power or are near to doing so. The task the West is faced with is neither to demonise them nor to attack them, but to remember their own long road to tolerance, and to patiently accompany the process of identity-finding of communities who for many years were colonised, humiliated and disadvantaged. The Islamic minorities living in the West, on the other hand, must respect the laws of the countries that have taken them in."
See our feature "In praise of the novel" by Carlos Fuentes.


The New Statesman, 27.02.2006 (USA)

The Chinese artist Song Dong builds cities from biscuits. Until now he has tended to concentrate on the Imperial era. But his newest project is more contemporary, writes William Sidelsky. "Although the ancient quarter is well under way, the modern sections are still very much works-in-progress. A few solitary blocks rise up like Jenga towers from the table, the surface of which has been entirely covered in upside-down Ryvitas. A tad disappointingly, the project is being sponsored by McVitie's, with the result that the biscuit selection is not hugely classy. I spot Digestives, HobNobs and Rich Tea, as well as several varieties of wafer, which seem especially handy for building skyscrapers. Dong, in fact, appears unimpressed with his materials. 'Chinese biscuits are more colourful,' he says. 'Better for making prettier buildings.'" Song Dong's artworks (example) are in general eaten rather quickly by visitors.


Gazeta Wyborcza, 25.02.2006 (Poland)

Polish-American journalist Andrzej Lubowski analyses the political consequences of the rising price of oil. This development has influenced the development of Russian history like no other, greater than that of Ronald Reagan, "Solidarnosc" and Gorbachev. "But it was only with Putin that things turned decisively for the better. His Russia lives from high prices of oil and gas. The control over the natural gas resources has replaced nuclear arms and tank divisions as an instrument of blackmail." The only problem: "High energy prices prevent reforms. Khatami tried to get something moving in Iran, when oil was cheaper. His successors have no need to implement reforms." And the same trend is being seen today in Moscow, Lubuowski writes.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Nikita Khrushchev's speech on Stalin's crimes, historian and journalist Piotr Oseka looks back on the reactions in Poland – from the heart attack and death of the communist party leader Boleslaw Bierut to the lack of orientation of many grass-roots party members to the short-lived political and social "thaw" under Gomulka. "We are appalled, wrote the party functionaries. We must re-read the works of Lenin and Stalin and discover for ourselves the contradictions between theory and praxis. Only then can we form our opinion." The beginning of the end of communism.

And: The presidential elections in Belarus were already decided before the campaign started – the authoritarian President Lukashenko will win once more. But a debate with opposition candidates last Wednesday became a small sensation, at which Lukashenko was not only addressed with the informal "du" form, but was also asked unpleasant questions, writes Belarusian journalist Sviatlana Kurs. "At least something will have come of these elections!"


The New York Times, 27.02.2006 (USA)

The critic as undertaker, a perfect fit! Writing in the NYRB, author and undertaker Thomas Lynch calls "Death's Door" by Sandra M. Gilbert "the most comprehensive multidisciplinary contemplation of mortality we are likely to get in this generation." The book, which deals both with mourning rites and death in literature, profits above all from the author's erudition: "Gilbert's book instructs and inspires, ennobles and emboldens. Undertakers and anthropologists, the reverend clergy and good doctors, hospice workers and the recently bereaved, poets and common readers of uncommon books are hereby encouraged to have a look."

In the New York Times Magazine, Chip Brown tells the story of Rahmatullah Hashemi, who worked as an interpretor and spokesman for the Taliban, and then went to Yale as a freshman: "He had been raised in a faith, buoyed at every turn by the certainty of a higher order, a purposeful universe, and now here in this shrine of critical thinking he was learning to doubt, not to believe."
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