20/05/2008

Magazine Roundup

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

London Review of Books | Al Ahram Weekly | ResetDoc | The New Yorker | Elet es Irodalom | The Times Literary Supplement | L'Espresso | Le Nouvel Observateur | The Boston Globe | The New York Review of Books | Le point | The New York Times|
London Review of Books 22.05.2008 (UK)

Is this a fake? In a slightly peculiar report, Kevin Kopelson, English professor at the University of Iowa, confesses to building his career on plagiarism. It all started in 1968 when as a fourth-grade pupil, Kopelson had to write an essay on a conquistador. "I chose Hernando Cortez – probably because, like Keats, I like the name. (Keats meant Balboa, of course.) But knowing that whatever I turned in wouldn't really count and also that Mr X cared even less about this ridiculous situation than I did, I simply transcribed an encyclopedia entry.(...) Now the thing is, this was no ordinary encyclopedia and no ordinary entry. The set, which came with the house, was about a hundred years old. 'Cortez' there was about twenty pages long. Clearly, then, my submission wasn't the kind of thing an eight-year-old could devise. Even a precocious eight-year-old. Even a pretentious one. So imagine my – relief? surprise? indifference? contempt? – when this primal larceny came back marked 'A'."

Al Ahram Weekly 15.05.2008 (Egypt)

Translator Marilyn Booth still seethes with fury when she thinks back at how her work for "Girls of Riyadh" was treated. First of all the author Rajaa Alsanea didn't answer her emails, and then she made everything worse by trying her own hand at translation. Penguin publishers let her have her way. A symptom, says Booth, for the fatal and widespread contempt for the art of translation. "The changes that Alsanea made are in line with the sort of easy hybridity that publishers think readers prefer, as opposed to an engagement with the original text and culture that compels readers to move outside of their comfortable notions about the rest of the world: to learn something new. It is a vicious circle, of course. If English-reading audiences are led to expect that they need not engage with other cultures on those cultures' own terms (for example, in Banat al-Riyadh, the ways Saudi youth verbalise global consumer culture in a local idiom), they will remain in their own comfortably isolated cultural easy chairs, unaware of the rich cultural specificities, political nuances, and beautifully jolting reading experiences passing them by."

"Les Miserables" is being performed in Cairo's National Theatre as a stage play, but even without the music, Nehad Selaiha wept her way through a whole packet of tissues, as she gleefully reports. And she discovered a new star: Tamer El-Kashif who is still in drama school.


ResetDoc 14.05.2008 (Italy)

Resetdoc focusses on Christians in the Middle East. Coptic priest Giuseppe Scattolin tells Khalid Chaouki in an interview, that from a Christian point of view, the old dictators were not all that bad. "Interestingly, at the time of Nasser's revolution, the Egyptian Coptics felt themselves much more bound up in the fate of their country, thanks to the Arab National Movement which, although inspired by Arab culture, was completely secular. And Saddam Hussein's Baath Party also recognised the role played the Arab-Christian communities against a secular background."

Frederic Pichon travelled from Lebanon to Greece on a tour of old Christian communities and convents in the region. He talked to Elisabetta Ambrosi about the precarious situation of the Christians in Muslim countries and their useful role in majority Islamic societies. "The extremism which is raging in the Muslim world is really an internal issue for Islam. The real divide is between Sunnis and Shiites. The Christians have always functioned as a glue between these two communities, which is why their presence is more important now than it was in the past, when they helped modernise the Arab world." Pichon has also written a book on the subject.

Further articles: Writer Massimo Carlotto reminds his interviewer Amara Lakhous about the common Mediterranean roots of the Christians and Muslims. And in an article originally published in La Stampa, Andrea Riccardi appeals to Muslims to work together with Christians to build a future for the Arab world.


The New Yorker 26.05.2008 (USA)

Joan Acocella looks through a glass darkly at the phenomenon of the hangover. We learn, for example that: "some words, like ours, refer prosaically to the cause: the Egyptians say they are 'still drunk,' the Japanese 'two days drunk,' the Chinese 'drunk overnight.' The Swedes get 'smacked from behind.' But it is in languages that describe the effects rather than the cause that we begin to see real poetic power. Salvadorans wake up 'made of rubber,' the French with a 'wooden mouth' or a 'hair ache.' The Germans and the Dutch say they have a 'tomcat,' presumably wailing. The Poles, reportedly, experience a 'howling of kittens.' My favorites are the Danes, who get 'carpenters in the forehead.'"

Anthony Lane watched Fatih Akin's film "The Edge of Heaven" in which fathers and sons, mothers and daughters are caught up in the machinery of fate across Turkey and Germany. "But the film does not 'prefer' either country. True, it finds much to worry at in the spectacle of Turkish unrest (...) and the German courts and prisons that we see are run with humane decorum, yet beneath this organized decency lies a nagging sense that life is happening elsewhere, at a higher intensity, perhaps on a scruffy street in Istanbul. Akin's movies, like the works of a major novelist, tend to seek out those thorny, intractable areas of private experience where politics is never going to gain more than a crumbling foothold."

Further articles: Ruth Franklin portrays Nigerian novelist China Achebe, on the new publication of his first book "Things Fall Apart" (Anchor). James Wood reviews the novel "Netherland" by Joseph O'Neil (Pantheon).


Elet es Irodalom 16.05.2008 (Hungary)

"The state of the Polish press looks almost paradisical to Hungarian eyes," writes journalist Janos Szeky, who can barely disguise his envy after a tour of Polish editorial offices. "The Polish media and the print press in particular, had sufficient energy to survive two lean years of right-wing popularism (as well as the attempts of the Left to intervene beforehand). But the resistance (in a biological sense) of the Hungarian press is much more questionable. The reasons for this difference are economic, cultural, and stem from the political system. (...) After 1956 business was seen as the "outlet" in Hungary; in Poland it was culture. Perhaps they did better business. Even during the dictatorship, the newspaper Polityka employed a world-famous writer, Ryszard Kapuscinski, and after 1980 the country underwent a full-blown cultural revolution. Here in Hungary the underground press was the basis of oppositional opinion but this all took place above ground in Poland, albeit in the censored Catholic press. This meant there was no separation between professionalism and opposition."

The murder of thousands of Polish officers by the Russian army in 1940 in Katyn was not only a result of the war, explains historian Ewa Rosowska, in an interview with Andras Palyi: "In the winter of 1939-40 two opinions were battling it out behind the scenes in the Soviet Union to decide the fate of the Polish officers. The Soviet generals recognised that the Polish had a well-organised and well-armed traditional army, which the Germans had only managed to defeat with technical superiority and blitzkrieg strategies. The political leaders on the other hand saw the Polish army as a typically bourgeois army, with Polish officers but regular soldiers from the exploited nationalities – Ukrainians, Belarussians, Jews and others, and this class conflict became its downfall. In April 1940, the latter view won out – which was no surprise as it was also held by Stalin. According to the former standpoint, the Polish army could have been used against the Wehrmacht at a later date, because as everyone knew, the Molotov-Ribbentropp pact would only hold temporarily. The latter standpoint however meant an immediate death sentence. Poland disappeared from the European map and there are a number of indicators to show that Stalin was happy for it to remain that way. He knew that the best way to ensure this was the liquidation of the Polish intelligentsia."


The Times Literary Supplement 16.05.2008 (UK)

Ritchie Robertson sees a "cultural matrix" of Austrian literature behind the case of Josef Fritzl. From Adalbert Stifter in "Tumalin" to Elias Canetti in "Die Blendung" there is a whole history of fathers locking up, "castigating" and abusing their children. "Fritzl existed in literature before he existed in life. We should attend more carefully to those critical writers – Nestroy, Anzengruber, Franz Nabl, the Canettis, and numerous others – who are too readily dismissed as caricaturists. Their monstrous and grotesque characters, from Gundlhuber to Benedikt Pfaff, actually turn out to embody some of the twisted energies at work in Austrian society. In his writings on realism, Georg Lukacs praised writers such as Balzac or Dickens whose characters do not represent a kind of statistical average but are unique, extraordinary, larger than life, like Balzac's master criminal and police chief Jacques Collin, represents a triumph of realism, because in him the conflicts and contradictions of society find their expression."


L'Espresso 16.05.2008 (Italy)

In his Bustina di Minerva, Umberto Eco observes how the Mafia is adapting to the new millennium. Police in Rome recently found the body of Moroccan who had obviously been forced to swallow his mobile phone. "The stone in the mouth is a Mafia punishment and is found in the throats of corpses who, when alive, imparted secrets to outsiders (Giuseppe Ferrara made a film with the same title). It is not surprising that this custom has been adopted by other ethnic groups as the Mafia is a completely international phenomenon. My Russian translator was once asked in Russia for the Italian word for Mafia. But this time it wasn't a stone but a mobile, and this is highly symbolic. The new criminality is not rural but urban high-tech, and victims are no longer garotted but, well, cyborged. To make someone swallow a mobile phone is like making them swallow their genitals. The mobile is the most personal object a person possesses, it's the natural complement to the body, an extension of the ear."


Le Nouvel Observateur 15.05.2008 (France)

To coincide with the publication of his new book "House of Meetings", English writer Martin Amis talks, in a long interview, about September 11th, women and the increasingly apocalyptic-political content of his books. On the subject of Islamism and particularly religious martyrs, he had this to say: "I don't know what it's like in France but there is enormous naivety about the issue in Britain. People tend to convince themselves that suicide bombers who blow themselves up are using the only weapon available to the poor and suppressed. They are incapable of seeing that radical Islam is actually a sect, a pathological phenomenon."

The Boston Globe 18.05.2008 (USA)

Elaine McArdle cites in her "Ideas" section two new prominent studies about why there are so few women in the sciences and engineering. It is sexism? "An important part of the explanation for the gender gap, they are finding, are the preferences of women themselves. When it comes to certain math- and science-related jobs, substantial numbers of women - highly qualified for the work - stay out of those careers because they would simply rather do something else."

The New York Review of Books 29.05.2008 (USA)

Thomas Powers has worked his way through an entire stack of new books on the deadend situation in Iraq, which even a new president won't be able to change. "It is not just lives, theories about national security, and American pride that are at stake. Money is also involved. The two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have already cost about 700 billion dollars, and the economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimate that costs such as continuing medical care will add another 2 trillion even if the Iraq war ends now. But the true cost of the Iraq war ought to include something else as well—some fraction of the rise in the price of oil which we might call the Iraq war oil surcharge. If we blame the war for only 10 dollars of the 80–90 dollar rise in the price of a barrel of oil since 2003, that would still come to 200 million a day."

There is also a review of Pico Iyers' biography of the Dalai Lama, "The Open Road", a series of new studies on Islamic terrorists, Patrick Hamilton's newly published novels and John Lukacs' Churchilll biography "Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat".


Le point 15.05.2008 (France)

In his Bloc notes Bernard-Henri Levy puts the dictatorship in Burma under the microscope and analyses its characteristics and manifestations – from deaf and autistic to racist, mafioso and "ubuesque". "The dictatorship is not only barbarous, it is insane, pathologically insane and also suffers from paranoid delusions at the moment. This is the other key to this lunatic regime, that it would rather leave its people to die than open its borders and gates to Medecins Sans Frontieres: humanitarian helpers must be spies, who only want to enter the country to destabilise and ruin it, and their aid packets contain deadlier poisons than the rotting bodies that are floating in the river deltas – these sick lunatics, these cretins are truly and utterly convinced of this (...) Strange laboratory conditions. It is not often that you can watch a dictatorship functioning in such a chemically pure way."


The New York Times 18.05.2008 (USA)

David E. Sanger, head of the Washington office of the Times, recommends Robert Kagan's essay "The Return of History and the End of Dreams" (lengthy excerpt), not only because Kagan is one of the few neocons not to have got his fingers dirty under the Bush administration – but because he has the respect of the potential next president John McCain. "In the world according to Kagan, 20 years after the cold war's end there is a new divide — just one that isn't as neat as the one defined by the Iron Curtain. European democracies and Asian democracies have joined a floating, usually pro-American coalition, tempered by their economic interests. Increasingly, they are facing off against authoritarian regimes in Russia and China that maintain ties with Iran, bail out North Korea and cozy up to dictatorships in Africa, which are happy to sell oil to countries that won't make them sit through tiresome lectures about human rights. (Of course, we cozy up to Saudi Arabia, and Bush has been pretty disciplined about hitting the mute button on his lectures about liberty when the Al-Saud family is in the room.)"


Further articles: David Shaftel sends and wonderful reportage from Trinidad where the people are furious about the island's greatest son, V.S. Naipaul. In the magazine, Matt Bai writes in detail about John McCain and his position on Iraq. And John Wray has spotted a new trend in indie pop: stay solo but sound like a band.

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