Features » Magazine Roundup


Elet es Irodalom | Vanity Fair | The Economist | Der Spiegel | Il Foglio | L'Express | Gazeta Wyborcza | Blätter | Reportajes | Polityka | Le point | Babelia | Prospect

Elet es Irodalom, 25.08.2006 (Hungary)

Rudolf Ungvary is critical of Günter Grass, who blinded out the every day persecution of Jews in the 1940s and refuses to condemn contemporary dictators today. "Before 1945, it was clear to all contemporaries of Grass – and not just the members of the SS – that there were Nuremberg Laws, that many Jews were disappearing. They heard clearly how Hitler hollered out his speeches. They knew that only representatives of one political camp were allowed to express their opinions. Was that not enough to wish for a defeat of fascism (independently of whether one had volunteered to be member of the party or a military organisation)?... Grass condemned America but had nothing to say to the threats of the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Prior to 1945, he could know that something terrible was happening to the German Jews. And even now, he must be aware of what the Iranian president is demanding, namely that Israel be erased from the map of the world."

Vanity Fair, 28.08.2006 (USA)

The New York Times is coming under pressure. According to Michael Wolff, panic is spreading on 43rd Street. The newspaper is so financially stricken – share prices have dropped by half since 2002 and apart from Morgan Stanley no investor will back the management – that it is one of the few opponents the weakened Bush government can still challenge. Wolff's expectations for the paper's online version are low: ""The Internet, once thought of as the ideal vehicle for reaching a targeted audience, is turning into a high-volume business, super-mass-media, dependent on cheap advertising... At best, The Times might become a specialized Internet player, having to drastically cut its current, $300 million news budget. What it might providentially become, however, is, a low-end, high-volume information producer, warehousing vast amounts of advertiser-targeted data, harnessing the amateurs and hobbyists and fetishists willing to produce for a pittance any amount of schlock to feed the page-view numbers—and already supplying 30 million of The Times's 40 million unique users."

The Economist, 25.08.2006 (UK)

The noose is tightening around the newspapers' throats, writes the magazine in its lead story. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean we're facing a future without newspapers where governments, corporate enterprises and people are no longer held responsible, and in which journalism has retreated to the world of stay-at-home bloggers. The truth is rather as follows: "An elite group of serious newspapers available everywhere online, independent journalism backed by charities, thousands of fired-up bloggers and well-informed citizen journalists: there is every sign that Arthur Miller's national conversation will be louder than ever." The difficulties the newspapers will encounter on their way to this future are pointed to in the magazine's in its special report.

The Economist also puts its finger in the "Grass wound", looking in astonishment at how different Grass portrayal of his war experiences is in his autobiography "Peeling the onion" from that of his experiences after the war. "What is interesting, however, is the unconvincing nature of his wartime recollections. That section of the book is colourless and stereotyped. Many of the scenes could have been lifted—and the suspicion remains that they were—from Mr Grass's frequent visits to the cinema.... Mr Grass may have satisfied his three hungers, but he has left a corner of doubt: why should his recollection of those few combatant months appear so weak?"

Der Spiegel, 28.08.2006 (Germany)

In an interview, writer Salman Rushdie calls for an active defiance of terrorism. "Lenin once described terrorism as bourgeois adventurism. I think there, for once, he got things right: That's exactly it. One must not negate the basic tenet of all morality -- that individuals are themselves responsible for their actions. And the triggers seem to be individual too. Upbringing certainly plays a major role there, imparting a misconceived sense of mission which pushes people towards 'actions.' Added to that there is a herd mentality once you have become integrated in a group and everyone continues to drive everyone else on and on into a forced situation. There's the type of person who believes his action will make mankind listen to him and turn him into a historic figure. Then there's the type who simply feels attracted to violence. And yes, I think glamour plays a role too."

Alexander Smoltczyk tells a modern tragedy "from the dark corners of international politics" – the story of Equatorial Guinea which developed from a malaria-plagued rogue state to a good friend of the USA within ten years. "President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo is a haggard person. He's an excellent tennis player and is described by people who know him and want to stay in the country as modest and sufficing. Human Rights Organisations put him on a level with Idi Amin and Pol Pot. There are a few ways to be struck from the American list of rogue states. Regime change, round table, getting rid of weapons and torture chambers are all possibilities, but the easiest way to earn respect is to find oil. Lots of oil. Because everyone wants to be able to drive a car."

Il Foglio, 26.08.2006 (Italy)

Siegmund Ginzberg believes that all Italian UN soldiers serving in Lebanon should be outfitted with a CD of Gioacchino Rossini's opera "L'italiana in Algeri" as a handbook on how to behave in enemy territory. "The title refers to Algeria, but the mind's eye sees Beirut and its surroundings. The main character is an Italian woman on a 'mission impossible' who finds herself in the lion's den, more as a conscious choice than bad luck. The cards are stacked against her. The chorus repeats 'A tidbit for Mustafa' (who recalls Nasrallah). At the beginning, nobody would bet a cent that she would make it."

L'Express, 24.08.2006 (France)

In a wonderful interview, jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman talks about the development of his music. The 76 year-old, who will open Paris' jazz festival on August 30, tells many tales, among them that of his first performance in New York at the Five Spot in November 1959. On the first evening, he and his fellow players were forced by all the booing to leave the stage, the next day a debate broke out in the newspapers about his music. "I was accused of playing wrong notes, of having no idea about notes or harmonies or the rules of bebop. My music was labeled 'free jazz' which meant something like 'meaningless'. On the third evening, I saw to my great surprise Leonard Bernstein. He came onto the stage, hugged me, took the microphone and explained that our music was the most interesting that he had heard since Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk in the 1940's. He whispered into my ear: 'It's much better to be crucified than to be bored, my dear. And by the way, crucifixion will immortalize you.' And so, my concerts became meeting points for the New York intelligentsia."

Gazeta Wyborcza, 26.08.2006 (Poland)

Marcin Wojciechowski reports from Kiev on how the Ukrainian national image is being shaped – for example, by calling up the traditions of the Cossacks or the memory of the "Holodomor", the deaths of millions of Ukrainian farmers caused by Stalin's collectivisation. "Although national identity has been a work in progress since independence in 1991, the election of Viktor Yushchenko as president marked a new chapter. His idea was to have the state propagate a version of history that was acceptable to both the national and Europe-leaning West Ukraine as well as the Russian-speaking East. The hunger epidemic of the 1930s is the most important symbol that should unite people on both sides – and does unite, because every family was affected." Yushchenko also has in mind the reconstruction of the Cossack capital Baturyn, which was destroyed by the Russians in the 18th century – a sort of amusement park of Ukrainian history.

Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik, 28.08.2006 (Germany)

The "Blätter" translates a conversation between Daniel Postel and Ramin Jahanbegloo, the liberal Iranian philosopher who was sent to the notorious Evin Prison by the regime in Tehran on April 27. The conversation (here the Englsh original out of the magazine Logos) began at the beginning of the year as email. Jahanbegloo speaks in detail about Jürgen Habermas, Hannah Arendt and Richard Rorty and his term of "soft universalism": "I see 'soft' universalism as the only hope for promoting democracy in non-democratic cultures. This relies on conscious cross-cultural learning and understanding. When cross-cultural learning can enable us to internalize democratic values, the possibility of moving in and out of any value system is preserved. In this situation, individual responsibility replaces particular values as the focus of concern. So we are talking here of universal values within a global democratic sphere. I think it would be extremely dangerous to have a dialogical exchange among cultures without a structure of shared universal values."

Also published is a call by hundreds of international intellectuals for the release of the philosopher. A Canadian website informs about the fight for Jahanbegloo's release.

Reportajes, 27.08.2006 (Chile)

Now writer Mario Vargas Llosa has also come out on the "Grass case". For him, neither Grass' literary nor his political or moral merits can be put in question. In Vargas Llosa's view, the hefty criticism surrounding Grass has more to do with "people's image of the author Grass desperately tried to be for his whole life: one who expresses his opinions on every issue, and for whom life – as literature – adapts to one's dreams and ideas. A man for whom the writer is the absolute number one, simultaneously entertaining, teaching, giving orientation and guidance. Dear Günter Grass, we have blissfully carried this fiction around with us long enough. It's over now."

Polityka, 26.08.2006 (Poland)

This week the Polish magazine takes a literary turn. After discussing Polish-German relations last week in the context of the Grass debate and the Berlin exhibition "Erzwungene Wege" (forced departures - more here and here), this week Adam Krzeminski investigates Grass' book as a literary event. "'Peeling the onion' is precisely about how you can free yourself of guilt by talking about yourself, while at the same time keeping quiet about the truth and all the finangling. It's about how you can create a sort of 'bypass' with the help of literature, to give relief to clogged arteries." Yet Krzeminski also mentions that Poland "is rather indebted to Grass. If anti-German apprehensions are at a low in western Poland, it's largely thanks to him. He has allowed us to let go of the complex hanging over us that Poland is a fortress besieged by German revanchists."

Bohumil Hrabal, the Czech author much-loved in Poland, is slowly being (re)discovered in the rest of Europe, writes literary critic Aleksander Kaczorowski, Hrabal's translator. "Hrabal, who died ten years ago, continues to fascinate younger generations. Much credit for that goes to the Czech director Jiri Menzel, whose film version of 'Closely Watched Trains' won an Oscar. Menzel is now working on Hrabal's 'I served the King of England' (with Julia Jentsch in the lead role). This film version came about under very adventuresome circumstances – among other things, Menzel had publicly castigated his producer Jiri Sirotek, and a success can bring the director right back into the public eye. Meanwhile one thing is clear: Hrabal is a highly successful author, translated into an ever-growing number of languages."

Le point, 24.08.2006 (France)

In his "Notebook" column, Bernard-Henri Levy comments on the affair surrounding Günter Grass' late avowal that he had been in the Waffen SS (more here). The first problem, writes Levy, is that the affair focusses on the intellectual Grass, who wanted to become – and actually did became – the "conscience of Germany." Meanwhile the affair is "emphatically not about the author who takes every liberty," in hiding his "dark, damnable side." Levy says he feels sorry for John Irving, who still admires Grass and holds him up as a "model", a hero and "moral mind": "If Grass remains a model, it's a result of that iron law which is never, or at least hardly ever, called into doubt: that amnesia is fate; that there are gaps in memory, black holes, abysses in which the worst elements swirl about before coming crashing down on one's head. A lie of this calibre, a single lie, even if it is played down as a bagatelle or 'youthful folly,' is like a dark ray, a tumour that spreads its metastases onto life.... Günter Grass, that fatty fish of the literary world, that flounder frozen for over sixty years of posing and lies, suddenly disintegrates into his constituent parts in the heat of belated truth. This form of thaw has a name: it is literally a debacle, when the ice starts to flow."

Babelia, 26.08.2006 (Spain)

Enough of the cult of genius! The Dutch architect Felix Claus talks about his collaboration with the architect Kees Kaan and "the tragedy of contemporary architecture; many architects who can do solid, professional work, want to be geniuses at any cost. We'd rather be good than interesting. Public space embodies our understanding of freedom. A good city is better than a good house. In Holland, people are returning to the cities. They've had enough of swimming pools, garages, dogs – they discover the advantages of life in a quarter where you can go to school by foot. The city is still the best place to live, suburbs kill us."

Prospect, 01.09.2006 (UK)

21 years after the English translation of Vasily Grossman's novel "Life and Fate" first appeared, the book about World War Two has become a best-seller in England. For the translator Robert Chandler, Grossman is comparable to Tolstoy and Chekhov. But the most remarkable thing about the novel is this: "We have no more complete picture of Stalinist Russia. The power of other dissident writers—Shalamov, Solzhenitsyn, Mandelstam—derives from their position as outsiders; Grossman's power derives at least in part from his intimate knowledge of every level of Soviet society. In 'Life and Fate,' he achieves what many other Soviet writers struggled and failed to create: a portrait of an entire age. Every character, however vividly realised, represents a particular group or class and endures a fate which exemplifies the fate of that class: Shtrum, the Jewish intellectual; Getmanov, the cynical Stalinist functionary; Abarchuk and Krymov, two of the thousands of Old Bolsheviks arrested in the 1930s." - let's talk european