They?re Still Painting, and More: The Leipzig Art Scene

First a success, then a bubble: the hype surrounding the ?New Leipzig School? put the city on the map of the art world, but also blinkered its vision.... more more

GoetheInstitute

01/07/2008

Magazine Roundup

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

Literaturen | The New York Review of Books | Tygodnik Powszechny | The New Yorker | Babelia | London Review of Books | Al Ahram Weekly | Prospect | L'Espresso | Wired | The Economist | The Wall Street Journal | HVG | The American Scholar | La vie des idees | The New York Times


Literaturen 01.07.2008 (Germany)

Sigrid Löffler was taken aback by how much fun she had with J.M Coetzee's "Diary of a Bad Year". "Once you've worked out the structure, the book's rewards are far more multifaceted than in the more straightforward 'Elizabeth Costello' and 'Slow Man' which preceded it. They, too, were engrained with metaphysical self-torture but they lacked the counterpoint, the ability to get a distance on themselves. And it is precisely this counterpoint which makes the 'fixed views' of this novel slip about with such sardonic humour."


The New York Review of Books 17.07.2008 (USA)

In a literature special, writer Zadie Smith embarks on the trail of the quotidian Kafka, the one who is so difficult to imagine as a tall, elegant man with a penchant for swimming, cinemas and brothels. "This last Kafka is as difficult to keep in mind as the Pynchon who grocery-shops and attends baseball games, the Salinger who grew old and raised a family in Cornish, New Hampshire. Readers are incurable fabulists. Kafka's case, though, extends beyond literary mystique. He is more than a man of mystery - he's metaphysical. Readers who are particularly attached to this supra-Kafka find the introduction of a quotidian Kafka hard to swallow. And vice versa. I spoke once at a Jewish literary society on the subject of time in Kafka, an exploration of the idea - as the critic Michael Hofmann has it - that 'it is almost always too late in Kafka.' Afterward a spry woman in her nineties, with a thick Old World accent, hurried across the room and tugged my sleeve: "But you're quite wrong! I knew Mr. Kafka in Prague - and he was never late.'"


Tygodnik Powszechny 29.06.2008 (Poland)

In his report from "Sacroexpo", the trade fair for church fittings and devotionalia in Kielce, Michal Olszewski swings between exhilaration and concern. The wares range from ornaments in camouflage colours to fake bronze saints and cemetery management software. "250 trade stands offer a mixture of beauty and kitsch, sacrum and profanum. One Italian salesman with thickly gelled hair is pushing chalices like they were vegetables. (...) The trade fair provides an enduring image of the external form of Polish belief. The sacred art here goes straight to the point, eschewing metaphors, complex forms and questions. Our imagination is still dominated by indulgence stylistics and unequivocal bright images." But one of the fair's managers dismisses any question of impiety. "The more interest believers show in details such as the cost of glass windows and altar heating, the better it is for the community."

One of the most unusual photography projects to emerge from post-war Poland was on view last month at the "Photomonth" festival in Krakow. "Zofia Rydet's 'Sociological Chronicle' is a collection of umpteen thousand photos – no one knows the exact number. She embarked on the project at the age of 68 and it was never published or exhibited." Her photographer colleagues were somewhat sceptical about the work, due to its unwieldy size and sparse aesthetics, writes Wojciech Nowicki. But, he adds, it is precisely these untamed emotions and the documentary character of the collection that make it so timeless. (See a selection of Rydet's photographs here)


The New Yorker 14.07.2008 (USA)

In an article headed "Preparing the Battlefield", Seymour M. Hersh describes how the US government is stepping up its secret moves against Iran. "Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of 'high-value targets' in the President's war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature."


Babelia 28.06.2008 (Spain)

"Capitalism has destroyed us, but we just don't see it yet." Miguel Mora interviews the doyen of Italian communism, Pietro Ingrao (born 1915), onetime chairman of the PCI, parliamentary president and leading editor of L'Unita. "Does Berlusconi's third victory mean all-out defeat for the Italy's communists? No, that would mean the game's over and I wouldn't want to say that. The Leninism which I believed in has certainly failed. We have lost. We never reckoned on the rules of the game being so complex. For example, we paid too much attention to Western Europe at the expense of the East. But we also achieved great things, took over city governments, built up a resourceful trade union, even carried on a dialogue with the Church. But we have not changed the country, we have not achieved power, our attack backfired. Still, compared with Berlusconi's baseness, we were great."


London Review of Books 03.07.2008 (UK)

Reporter Neal Ascherson is thrilled by "McMafia", a book by his BBC colleague Misha Glenny. Glenny travelled through Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere to meet Mafiosi, their victims and their oponents, and he explains the networks, background and machinations of organised crime. Ascherson is particularly impressed that Glenny has provided such a complex view. ""No, big gangsters are not nice people: they get what they want through the threat or ultimate use of violence and blackmail. And it's obvious that their operations can wreck the lives of millions through addiction or – as in the Balkans or Colombia – through the equipping and financing of local wars. But are the mobs and mafias really Public Enemy Number One? It would be shrewder to call them Government Enemy Number One: they are formations that deprive a state of revenue, of the monopoly of violence and law enforcement, and sometimes of international respect. The public, by contrast, may find them less dreadful – often, in fact, less dreadful than the governments that are supposed to be serving and protecting their citizens."


Al Ahram Weekly 26.06.2008 (Egypt)

Rania Khallaf was disappointed by the first international Conference for Literary Criticism in Cairo, which she described as a lot of cross-purpose talking. One professor accused others of uncritical adoption of Western methods and charlatanism, and the next introduced a new method of computer philology. "In final comments made at the conference Mahmoud Amin El-Alem, one of Egypt's most senior critics said that today's crisis in literary criticism (...) is only one symptom in a more general crisis that includes education, politics and the economy. Today, we are at one of the lowest points seen in modern Arab history.'"

Further articles: Hani Mustafa speculates about the chances of independent Egyptian cinema on the world cinema and international festival market. Samir Farid introduces the young Egyptian director Ibrahim El-Batout who, as a winner in Taormina and Rotterdam, would be a prime example for this sort of success – were it not for his problems with the Egyptian censors.


Prospect 01.07.2008 (UK)

The magazine's internet poll on the world's leading public intellectuals was scuppered by a well-organised mob vote which thrust an unknown Turkish Sufi theologist Fethullah Gülen to the top of the list. Prospect's editor, Tom Nuttall, is undetered: "The efficiency and discipline of the Fethullahci is legendary - so in retrospect, for them, a poll like ours was simple to hijack. The temptation for Gülen's followers to elevate their man to the top of a poll organised by two influential western magazines will have been a strong one. In one respect, then, Gülen's crushing win tells us little about what the world thinks about its intellectuals; it merely exhibits the organisational ability of one movement's followers. On the other hand, perhaps we can see through Gülen's victory the emergence of a new kind of intellectual - one whose influence is expressed through a personal network, aided by the internet, rather than publications or institutions."

Ehsan Masood portrays Fethullah Gülen: "From his sick bed in exile just outside Philadelphia, he leads a global movement inspired by Sufi ideas. He promotes an open brand of Islamic thought and (...) is preoccupied with modern science. But Gülen, unlike these western-trained Iranians, has spent most of his life within the religious and political institutions of Turkey, a Muslim country, albeit a secular one since the foundation of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's republic after the first world war. Unusually for a pious intellectual, he and his movement are at home with technology, markets and multinational business, and especially with modern communications and public relations - which, like a modern televangelist, he uses to attract converts. Like a western celebrity, he carefully manages his public exposure - mostly by restricting interviews to those he can trust."

Further articles: Tom Chatfield reviews Ma Jian's thick Tiananmen novel "Beijing Coma" which has an "attention to detail that is almost orchestral - a beautiful, bewildering cacophony of voices and deeds". Chatfiield also talked to the author, who lives in London.


L'Espresso 27.06.2008 (Italy)

Something went terribly wrong in Italy's school leaving exams this year. But it was not fault of the students. Poetry interpretation this year covered Eugenios Montale's "Ripenso il tuo sorriso", which the homosexual Montale wrote as an homage to a male Russian ballet dancer. The professors who set the exam were clearly oblivious to this fact and instructed the students to imagine the woman who was the recipient of Montale's heart-rending words. Umberto Eco can only shake his head in disbelief. "The text itself implies that the addressee is a man. 'O lontano' is one hundred percent a vocative and not even with the best will in the world could you interpret it as 'from far away' or 'when you are far away'. The ministerial officials had obviously never read the poem, otherwise they would have known whom it was about, even without, as Mario Baudino suggests in La Stampa, consulting the critical edition from Contini-Bettarini. The poem is on page 30, with information about the addressee 'K' on page 872."


Wired 30.06.2008 (USA)

Welcome to the Petabyte Age! To anyone who dismisses peta (after mega and giga and tera) as just another name for a big number (1,000,000,000,000,000 in this case), Wired will reply that this is about quality not quantity. And that means an end to the days when theories and methods had priority. Now we need massive amounts of data first, and then we can look for the theories, as Chris Anderson explains. "The Petabyte Age is different because more is different. Kilobytes were stored on floppy disks. Megabytes were stored on hard disks. Terabytes were stored in disk arrays. Petabytes are stored in the cloud. As we moved along that progression, we went from the folder analogy to the file cabinet analogy to the library analogy to - well, at petabytes we ran out of organizational analogies. At the petabyte scale, information is not a matter of simple three- and four-dimensional taxonomy and order but of dimensionally agnostic statistics. It calls for an entirely different approach, one that requires us to lose the tether of data as something that can be visualized in its totality. It forces us to view data mathematically first and establish a context for it later."

This central thesis is then played out in a variety of fields, from the meaning of data mining in the legal system, in predicting wars and riots, in opinion polls, and for insurance purposes (particularly for insurance against terrorist attacks) and many more besides.


The Economist 28.06.2008 (UK)

The Economist is much taken with the debut novel "Atmospheric Disturbances" by American writer Rivka Galchen, and in particular with her unreliable first-person narrator: "Leo Liebenstein, her awkward, misanthropic, middle-aged hero, is a delicious character. Humorously condescending and emotion-averse, he is a psychiatrist who is hard of hearing and fond of secrets ('I'm not very gracious in responding to performances of emotion,' he admits). Also, he may be seriously delusional. The novel begins with him lamenting that his dear wife Rema has gone missing. She simply fails to come home one day. In her place is an imitator, a 'simulacrum', who looks and talks just like her. But Leo is not fooled." (Excerpt here and other positive reviews here, here and here.)


Merkur 01.07.2008 (Germany)

Heinz Schlaffer tells us to stop idealising the way we look at art and to read Theocritus, whose Fifteenth Idyll is full of wise poetic words about the enjoyment of art in Ptolemy's Alexandria. "Without ever saying as much, art historical treatises take for granted the ideal case (in other words the most unlikely) that a viewer with an iron constitution will spend endless time in front of a work of art in order to collect his thoughts. Descriptions and reflections about the actual behaviour of the actual viewer are rare. And this is what is so insightful about Theocritus' poem, it even talks about the conditions before and after viewing art, before and after listening to music. Gorgo considers, even before heading off to the exhibition with her girlfriend, the edge it will give her at the party afterwards: 'Who has seen, can recount it to each and every one, who has not been.' Even in those days it was art exhibitions were a social imperative."


The Wall Street Journal 25.06.2008 (USA)

Yellow journalism feeds hunger for sensationalism and it looks as if science is threatened with being stained the same colour. At least when it comes to climate change, writes the deeply concerned small business owner and engineer James Kerian. The connection between burning fossil fuels and the increase in temperature has never been proved. Worse still, no one is even looking for proof. Why is this? "Randolph Hearst made only a fraction of his estimated 140 million dollars in net worth from yellow journalism. Global warming, on the other hand, has provided an estimated 50 billion dollars in research grants to those willing to practice yellow science."


HVG 26.06.2008 (Hungary)

"It is pointless to strive towards unreachable goals," says Danish political scientist and statistician Bjorn Lomborg who, together with a team of economists, believes that the sums of money that are being spent on reducing climate change would be better spent on research, development and cost effective charity. When asked whether economists have a better solution to climate change than environmentalists, Lomborg tells Norbert Izsak: "We need economists to work out the costs and efficiency of the individual programmes. All we are saying is that there are cheaper and more practical means for CO2 reduction than the traditional ones. We suggest that the international community should reserve 0.005 percent of the global GDP for the development of alternative energy resources. Today solar energy is around ten times more expensive than coal based energy. A few wealthy green-minded people who decorate their roofs with solar batteries are hardly going to halt climate change. But if more effective, cheaper, solar collectors were developed, which people in India and China could also afford, we might be able to solve the problem of climate change by 2050."


The American Scholar 01.07.2008 (USA)

When William Deresiewicz, English professor at Yale, was standing in his kitchen with no idea what to say to his plumber, he sensed that something might have gone awry with his education. "The first disadvantage of an elite education, as I learned in my kitchen that day, is that it makes you incapable of talking to people who aren't like you. Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race. With respect to class, these schools are largely - indeed increasingly - homogeneous. Visit any elite campus in our great nation and you can thrill to the heartwarming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. At the same time, because these schools tend to cultivate liberal attitudes, they leave their students in the paradoxical position of wanting to advocate on behalf of the working class while being unable to hold a simple conversation with anyone in it. Witness the last two Democratic presidential nominees, Al Gore and John Kerry: one each from Harvard and Yale, both earnest, decent, intelligent men, both utterly incapable of communicating with the larger electorate."


La vie des idees 26.06.2008 (France)

Ethnic categorisation is taboo in French statistics because the Republic is "une et unidivisible". Mirna Safi introduces the first edition of the Revue Francaise de Sociologie which features a dossier on the use of ethnic and racist categories as a scientific demographic tool. Although the contributions showed convergence rather than opposition, they were united in their appeal to introduce them on the grounds of pure necessity. As sociologist Dominique Schnapper says: "The step-by-step introduction of ethnic statistics is part of the democratic dynamic." Safi concludes: "In the end, even if this dossier is perceived by some as an open stage for defendants of ethnic statistics, we should remember that the coordinator, Georges Felouzis, clearly delineated the parameters right at the start: The point is not to 'take stock of the contrary positions which divide the discipline', but to come together to consider and discuss the practices and application of ethnic categories within a particular context. And the increase in its legitimacy within France's scientific and political circles is hard to deny."

The New York Times 29.06.2008 (USA)

In a fact-packed and patiently explained article for the Sunday Magazine, Russell Shorto takes on Europe's demographic problems. Among other things, he explains the concept of "lowest-low fertility" which has struck a number of European countries, and where a birth rate of below 1.3 kids per woman can halve the population within 50 years. Hardest hit are the Southern European countries, with their child-friendly family ideal. "This part of the self-definition of southern European culture — the 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' ideal — has a flip side. 'In all of these countries,' Billari said, 'it's very difficult to combine work and family. And that is partly because, within couples, we have evidence that in these countries the gender relationships are very asymmetric.' But in other countries where a large percent of women work, birth rates are also higher.

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