?From the great beyond into the present? ? an interview with Jo Lendle

Hanser publisher Jo Lendle talks about gentle adjustments of languages and marketing strategies.... more more

GoetheInstitute

15/05/2007

Magazine Roundup

Magazine Roundup, which appears every Tuesday at 12 p.m., is originally published by Perlentaucher.

Gazeta Wyborcza | The New York Review of Books | Nepszabadsag | Al Hayat | The New Statesman | Letras Libres | Outlook India | Al Ahram Weekly | Il Foglio | Elet es Irodalom | Wired | L'Espresso | The Times Literary Supplement | Die Weltwoche | The New York Times


Gazeta Wyborcza 12.05.2007 (Poland)

A sensation in the Monday edition of the Wyborcza! Editor in chief Adam Michnik, who has always vehemently argued the case against former secret police collaborators being exposed, now sees only one way to go now that the constitutional court has decided to exempt certain professional groups, such as journalists and scientists from lustration: "I was always of the opinion that the spectacle of public rummaging around in the archives of the secret police would culminate in an atmosphere of suspicion and fear. And this is precisely what the leaders of the Institute for National Remembrance (who currently have control of the files) are doing today. We have to put a stop to this nightmarish memory policing. Today all files must be made accessible to everyone with all the dreadful consequences this entails. We have to make the files public, to put an end to their power over us. A terrible end is preferable to never-ending terror."

In the weekend edition, writer Dubravka Ugresic remembers how difficult it was to explain communism to her students in Berlin: "The entire Eastern European culture from the communist era is disappearing in an abyss of forgetfulness." The fault lies principally with institutions responsible for maintaining countries' cultural memory alive, Ugresic writes, citing the example of a Croatian poet: "In Croatia the word 'Yugoslavia' is more or less forbidden. 15 years ago many of the country's libraries were cleansed of 'communist', 'Serbian' 'Cyrillic' and other 'incorrect' books. That means my nine-year-old nephew will never learn who Vladimir Nazor is - the author of the classic Croatian tongue twister that's still taught in schools today. In 1941, as an old man, he joined the partisans and wrote a poem about Tito. That's his entire wrongdoing... A terrific example of the transformation schizophrenia that's overtaken post-communist culture."

The New York Review of Books 31.05.2007 (USA)

"Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's film 'The Life of Others' has turned 'Stasi' into a default global synonym for the secret police terrors of communism." Another example of the great German guilt paradox, writes Timothy Garton Ash. "No nation has been more brilliant, more persistent, and more innovative in the investigation, communication, and representation - the re-presentation, and re-re-presentation - of its own past evils." Ash remembers clearly from his time in Berlin in the seventies, how uncritical many Westerners were in their judgement of the situation in East Germany. "Even to suggest a Nazi-Stasi comparison was regarded in many parts of the Western left as outmoded, reactionary Cold War hysteria, harmful to the spirit of detente. The Guardian journalist Jonathan Steele concluded in 1977 that the German Democratic Republic was 'a presentable model of the kind of authoritarian welfare states which Eastern European nations have now become.' Even self-styled 'realist' conservatives talked about communist East Germany in tones very different from those they adopt today. Back then, the word 'Stasi' barely crossed their lips."

Further articles: Nicholas D. Kristof found William T. Vollmann's portrait "Poor People" a tad on the dreary side giving as it does mostly poor people the opportunity to express themselves (instead of high earning, smart talking Ivy League professors). But the book did drive one point home: "The real face of poverty is not so much the pain of hunger or the humiliation of rags, but the impossible choices you face. If you can only afford school fees for some of your children, which do you send?" Also featured is a discussion in which Rory Stewart, head of the NGO Turquoise Mountain Foundation reports on his unexpected disillusionment at the developments in Iraq. Having repeatedly handed out 10 million dollars a month for reconstruction projects in which no Iraqi showed any interest, he is now calling for troop withdrawal. "Our presence is infantilizing the Iraqi political system. We're like an inadequate antibiotic."


Nepszabadsag 14.05.2007 (Hungary)

Alongside Wong Kar-wai, the Cohen brothers, Emir Kusturica, Quentin Tarantino and Gus Van Sant, the Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr is also showing his new film "Homme de Londres" in the competition at Cannes film festival. The film is about a lighthouse warden in a small town in the south of France, Tarr tells his interviewer. "Most of the ships come from England and the travellers continue on further into the continent. The story begins when the warden witnesses a murder. But this story is peripheral, I was more interested in the loneliness of the warden, how he falls into temptation and kicks back against the monotony of his daily life." The directors whose films are premiered at Cannes "all represent different genres, different styles and one cannot really compare their work. Competitions involving works of art are impossible. The prizes are always given for political or commercial reasons, and the big distribution companies lobby for their directors." When asked who his backer was he replied, "I have only my film and the team behind me."


Al Hayat 13.05.2007 (Lebanon)

The festivities on International Workers' Day promted Walid Mahmud Abd al-Nasir to make a surprising observation: Islamic movements are showing interest in the needs of the workers. Whether in Egypt, Yemen, or in Iran, the Islamists always to view the concept of class struggle as a dangerous western import. Islamistic groups in Egypt "are now going so far as to support the strikes, although in the recent past, they viewed these as threatening to the stability (of the country) and repudiated them in the interests of the Umma. (...) Not long before the Hisbollah expressed solidarity for the position of the Lebanese workers' movement against the privatisation measures of the current government and supported its demands for rights and guarantees for Lebanese workers." There are many reasons for this: the vacuum left behind by the Arab left and the desire of the Islamists to secure their hold on power by siding with the workers against the regime. Above all this is about "spreading traditional religious culture among the Arab working classes."


The New Statesman 14.05.2007 (UK)

Stephen Armstrong welcomes the growing number of "militant customers" who have made it their business to fight back against bad service. The initiative "More Trains Less Strain" successfully lead to the customers' ticket price strike in January. "The group persuaded 2,000 passengers to travel from Bath to Bristol submitting fake tickets and passes for their entire journey. Each ticket had Fare Strike written across the bottom in glaring capitals, the company's logo presented as Worst Great Western and the route given as Hell and Back. Passengers showing the fake tickets were waved through, with staff at Bristol Temple Meads even showing strikers out through a side gate.(...) In the preceding 12 months, at least ten separate consumer groups began withholding or reclaiming money from utilities, banks, credit cards, incompetent councils and software providers across the UK. 'The problem is that the governments of the past 20 years have legally sanctioned poor service and aggressive disregard of customers by allowing large monopolies to grow up and then refusing to regulate their behaviour,' says Gareth Coombs at the Cambridge Strategy Centre."

Letras Libres 13.05.2007 (Spain/Mexico)

The current edition of the magazine is focussed on Iran. Is Tehran an emblematic city? asks writer and philosopher Dariush Shayegan. In a lecture given last year and now translated for the magazine, he comes to a surprisingly optimistic conclusion. "Tehran is on the brink of fundamental change. In the shadows of this grey and sad city an astonishing new world lies hidden, and when its underground powers surface one of these days, we will witness a radical change in perspective. Its lay character will emerge in all its freshness from inside the so-called Islamic society. We hope that we are gradually beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel through which other Islamic countries, in the hope of establishing a religiously determined order, are travelling in the opposite direction. In the not too distant future Tehran will become the lively and eloquent example for change."

In a very readable interview with Leon Krauze, Newsweek publisher Fareed Zakaria comes to a similar appraisal: "In five or ten years, an Iran will emerge with more modern policies than the other countries of the Middle East, putting religion once more firmly in the private sphere. That's just the way it is: life exerts a natural pressure toward modernisation, and sooner or later religion follows."

Less optimistic is the view from the Israeli standpoint. Sociologist Joseph Hodara from Bar-Ilan University sees further negotiations as the sole practicable alternative to a preventive attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, "so that at least, as during the Cold War, we can reach agreements that keep the temperature low and that are acceptable to a large part of Israeli society, and of course to their enemies as well."


Outlook India 21.05.2007 (India)

Jairam Ramesh recommends Ramachandra Guha's "India after Gandhi" (excerpt), a thousand-page, elaborately constructed history that has appeared to mark the 60th anniversary of the country's independence. Above all he praises the narrative strength of the author, who has also published a "ground-breaking history of cricket" ("A Corner of a Foreign Field" - review here). "There have been other books looking at politics, economics and society separately in India since Independence but there has hardly been anything like Guha's new offering which brings it all together in one continuous narrative. It is a gamble that he took eight years ago. Clearly, it has paid off and even though the terrain is overwhelmingly political, Guha is able to present a synthesis."

In an annual dossier dedicated to Bollywood films, the magazine observes an alarming trend in patriotic cinema. In the lead article, author Mukul Kesavan reviews 60 years of patriotic Indian cinema. And Neena Gopal documents the case of the grand old man of Indian art, Husain. A Muslim, Husain lives in voluntary exile in Dubai, because his permissive paintings of Hindu divinities have attracted attacks from Hindu extremists.


Al Ahram Weekly 10.5.07 (Egypt)

A court in Cairo has sentenced an Al-Jazeera producer, Howaida Taha, to six months imprisonment for staging several scenes in a documentary film on the torture methods of the Egyptian police force. In this way she gives "false pictures about the internal situation in Egypt that could undermine the dignity of the country," quotes Mohamed El-Sayed in his report on the judgement. "After the announcement of the sentence Hussein Abdel-Ghani, chief of Al-Jazeera's Cairo bureau, voiced concern over the steady erosion of freedom of expression in Egypt. 'I'm very disturbed about mounting restrictions on freedom of expression. Writers, TV journalists and bloggers all face a crisis. The cases of torture reconstructed in the documentary produced by Taha were not only documented by international human rights organisations but reported by the state-affiliated Human Rights Council. Those who claim that reporting incidents of torture in Egypt tarnishes the country's image would better use their time campaigning to end the practice in Egypt's police stations. It is the fact that torture is regularly used that tarnishes the country's image, not the reporting of it."

In an interview with Amira Howeidy, literary scholar (and nephew of Edward Said) Saree Makdisi discusses the difference between Israeli and Palestinian historical narratives: "Such Israeli narratives of 1948 - which insist that there was always a Jewish land, that the Arabs were a minority, and Palestinians were killed by accident, not because of systematic Zionist massacres - contrasts sharply with the Palestinian narrative of the Nakba, which Makdisi describes as 'raw'. It is personal, spontaneous and in the case of Ghassan Kanafani, for example, 'intimate'. And this might be the difference, he explained, between 'myth' - propagated by Zionist and Israeli narrative, and 'reality' - expressed in the Palestinian narrative."


Il Foglio 12.05.2007 (Italy)

Stefano di Michele reflects (here and here) about the aging priesthood and the technology of the 21st century. Their precarious relationship has led to the well-meaning Internet counselling portal pretionline. "Dozens and dozens of experts, from every age group and in every possible diocese, sit there waiting to answer all manner of questions online. 'If the light's green, the priest ready to answer. If it's yellow, the priest is available, but possible busy at the moment. If it's red, he can only be reached with difficulty.' In case of a real theological emergency, a nagging doubt or a probing question, however, the only solution is a trip to the sacristy: a message sent days ago still hasn't received an answer."


Elet es Irodalom 11.05.2007 (Hungary)

Hungarian-based Japanese businessman Morita Tsuneo complains about the post-socialist mentality of the Hungarian conservatives: "The economic boom is stagnating because many people cling to the old mentality, which simply isn't viable in a free market economy. We've got to improve quality on a daily basis. But the Hungarians have lost this drive, and many of them long to be back in the lazy, lukewarm days of the past. The conservative opposition party Fidesz is waging a bitter ideological and anti-communist fight, but at the same time it holds fast to structures inherited from socialism. Of all Hungarian parties, the very vocal anti-communist Fidesz is the closest to the party of Lenin and the Bolsheviks."


Wired 15.05.2007 (USA)

There are many urban development projects in China, writes Douglas McGray. But the Chilean architect Alejandro Gutierrez is supervising one of the most interesting for the London engineering and design giant Arup. It's a "green city" called Dongtan for 500,000 inhabitants, designed entirely according to ecological principles: "Dongtan's master plan - hundreds of pages of maps, schematics, and data - has almost nothing to say about architectural style. Instead, it outlines the world's first green city, every block engineered in response to China's environmental crisis. It's like the source code for an urban operating system. 'We're not focused on the form,' Gutierrez explains. 'We're focused on the performance of the form.' He and his team imagine a city powered by local, renewable energy, with superefficient buildings clustered in dense, walkable neighbourhoods; a recycling scheme that repurposes 90 percent of all waste; a network of high tech organic farms; and a ban on any vehicle that emits CO2."


L'Espresso 17.05.2007 (Italy)

It's not censors that kill books, but readers who don't show any interest in them, writes Umberto Eco in his Bustina di Minerva column. But "there is one way to compensate for the disappearance of books, and that's by inventing some that never existed. Everyone (at least those people I associate with, who have never had a mobile telephone) know the book list by the Abbe de Saint Victoire described by Rabelais, which contains such fascinating titles as 'The gentle method of farting' or "About shitting.' These books never existed, but they could be better than some that exist or existed in the past. Paolo Albani's book 'Biblioteche immaginarie e roghi di libri' on the genre has just been published by Palladino, with historical texts on this exquisite discipline."


The Times Literary Supplement 11.05.2007 (UK)

Philip Longworth has read Aleny Ledeneva's book "How Russia Really Works," and learned which practises characterise Russia's politics and economy. The six deadly sins are black propaganda, the use of compromising information, Mafia business contacts, money laundering, double bookkeeping - and the privatisation of the judiciary: "By the mid-1990s, private fixers, security companies or criminal gangs were enforcing informal contracts, providing alternative means of redress to conventional, legal means. Their methods ranged from arranging for officials to inspect a targeted enterprise to the application of financial pressure, and from blackmail and the threat of violence to contract killing. Such tactics compounded the inefficiency of the law but helped to fill spaces left by an inefficient post-Communist state. Indeed, all the practices Ledeneva describes had positive as well as negative effects, helping to sustain the economy and society while simultaneously undermining them."


Die Weltwoche 10.05.2007 (Switzerland)

Peer Teuwsen decodes the secret success of writer Peter Bieri, alias Pascal Mercier, whose success is unrivalled in Switzerland although his writings have a whiff of kitsch to them. "He's received thousands of letters from readers, from taxi drivers, nurses and even the actress Senta Berger, all of whom exclaim that his books express what they have felt for so long. Peter Bieri tries to understand. To understand what moves people, their doubts, their unease, their desire for another existence, another time, another pace of life. And he doesn't do it by having his characters go through endless ordeals. He doesn't expose them, dissect or massacre them. No, he has them strive for the truth, and go through the process of finding themselves. His characters are understandable, and for that reason likeable. And this gingerliness on the part of the Basel author, his sudden slowness, meets with a huge echo."


The New York Times 13.05.2007 (USA)

In the New York Times Magazine, Clive Thompson declares the idea of the artist working alone in his studio as obsolete. The modern musician, for example, has long put his new works online for commentary or joint completion: "It's possible to see these online trends as Darwinian pressures that will inevitably produce a new breed call it an Artist 2.0 and mark the end of the artist as a sensitive, bohemian soul who shuns the spotlight.... It is also possible, though, that this is simply a natural transition point and that the next generation of musicians and artists even the avowedly 'sensitive' ones will find the constant presence of their fans unremarkable. The psychological landscape has arguably already tilted that way for anyone under 20.... It's also true that many recluses in real life flower on the Internet, which can famously be a place of self-expression and self-reinvention."

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