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28/10/2008

Magazine Roundup

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

Portfolio | Le point | Polityka | Tygodnik Powszechny | Le Monde | L'Express | The Philadelphia Inquirer | Die Weltwoche | Le Nouvel Observateur | Odra | Observator Cultural | The Times Literary Supplement | Salon.eu.sk


Portfolio 01.11.2008 (USA)

What would you do if you were the owner of the New York Times? This is one of the questions put to 37-year old internet entrepreneur Marc Anreessen, the co-founder of Netscape, in an interview: "Shut off the print edition right now. You've got to play offense. You've got to do what Intel did in '85 when it was getting killed by the Japanese in memory chips, which was its dominant business. And it famously killed the business - shut it off and focused on its much smaller business, microprocessors, because that was going to be the market of the future. And the minute Intel got out of playing defense and into playing offense, its future was secure. The newspaper companies have to do exactly the same thing. The financial markets have discounted forward to the terminal conclusion for newspapers, which is basically bankruptcy. So at this point, if you're one of these major newspapers and you shut off the printing press, your stock price would probably go up, despite the fact that you would lose 90 percent of your revenue. Then you play offense. And guess what? You're an internet company."


Le point 23.10.2008 (France)

Having predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1976 and the decline of the US empire, historian, anthropologist and former literary critic Emmanuel Todd has now written a book "Apres la democratie" (Gallimard) on the political crisis of France and democracy. In an interview the avowed neo-liberalism critic expounds his theories and once again recites his favourite recipe: protectionnisme. Without it, the Frenchman maintains, France's future looks black: "The problem at the heart of democracy is that the political class refuses to question the principle of free trade. And free trade means incomes sink and inequality rises, in short, the majority of the population sees its standard of living drop. (...) Now we have to decide: it seems unlikely to me that we will see an ethnification of French democracy; the sequence involving 'impoverishment of young academics – class wars – authoritarianism and finally the break-down of democracy' seems more likely. The Communist Party is dead, but Marx is making a come-back. And so is Bonaparte unfortunately."


Polityka 23.10.2008 (Poland)

Jacek Kubiak has the following to say about the Milan Kundera case: "The corpus delicti consists of a police report. Why should we not believe a person who has exposed the communist system uncompromisingly, and paid a high price for it? But belief is only belief." Many commentators were shocked at what they perceived as a political U-turn taken by the magazine Respekt, which first published the incriminating document. Its editor-in-chief Martin Simecka argued that this was a 'non-personal search for truth'. Kubiak writes: "This argument unleashes a deja-vu wave in Poland. How many young journalists today are looking for truth, light, belief and hope under the aegis of the IPN", the Polish Institute of National Remembrance.


Tygodnik Powszechny 26.10.2008 (Poland)

Patrycja Bukalska reports on the Kundera debate in the Czech Republic: "The discussion continues: about the activities of the institute, about the credibility of the secret-police files, about their interpretation (some people are asking whether it is not too one-sided). The oppositional social democrats are again calling for closure of the institute (Ustr)– but as long as the conservatives are in power, they do not stand a chance."

Further articles: In the quarterly literary supplement, there is an announcement of the forthcoming Polish translation of the Virginia Woolf's last novel "Between the Acts". Translator Magda Heysel talks in an interview about how difficult the work was but she is relieved that the gaps in Woolf's translated oevre are finally being filled. (Woolf's early writings and literary criticism are still widely unknown in Poland).


Le Monde 24.10.2008 (France)

In Le Monde the historians Pierre Nora and Krzysztof Pomian join question the authenticity of the document which outlines Milan Kundera's denunciation of a western agent. "The Czech Republic is a member of the European Union. How is it possible that 'Stalinist security service' documents can be brought to bear in a public allegation without first being subjected to the most thorough scrutiny. How to explain this total contempt for constitutional principles such as the presumption of innocence?"


L'Express 23.10.2008 (France)

There has been a thorough inspection of the Kundera document – and just to put Nora and Pomian straight, the object in question is not a secret police document but a police report. There can be no doubt as to its authenticity, reports Jerome Dupuis. Dupuis travelled to Prague where he talked to historian Rudolf Vevoda from the Institute for the Research of Totalitarian Regimes. Vedova told him: "We had the document analysed by the Czech Security Forces Archive. The paper, the names listed, the identity and the signature of the officer were all examined – and the document was found to be authentic."


The Philadelphia Inquirer 26.10.2008 (USA)

The Kundera affair reminds Carlin Romano of how little interest is currently being shown in Eastern European writers. "The single newly published volume that enables one to size up and resist this long, strange spiral of brilliant literature into obscurity is Harold B. Segel's 'Columbia Literary History of Eastern Europe Since 1945'. Despite its reference-book title, it's a one-man show, the magisterial synthesis of a Columbia University professor emeritus of Slavic literatures whose 14 books display the same synoptic touch shown here. (...) Here, Segel examines the literatures of 15 countries: Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, East Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine."


Die Weltwoche 23.10.2008 (Switzerland)

Dutch sociologist Paul Scheffer has just published a new book about immigration. In an interview he talks, among other things, about how immigration can benefit society. "I mean this in a tangible way and it's happening. We cannot throw demands at immigrants without having them bounce back at us. We cannot demand that they know about European history – if we are none the wiser. So now we are seeing an increased focus on history in Dutch schools. Immigration affects the entire society, it changes it. Immigration and integration cut much deeper into our own flesh that all this sentimental discourse about multiculturalism. Migrants can only be invited into and challenged in a society that itself has a strong sense of citizenship."


Le Nouvel Observateur 23.10.2008

In an interview the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel talks about his new book "Le cas Sonderberg" and speaks his mind about Nicolas Sarkozy's plan for French schoolchildren to "adopt" children who died in the Holocaust: "I am sure his intentions are good. But at what age can a child be expected to comprehend such a thing. Some might inquire at the age of eight, some at fourteen, but do we have a right to force it upon them? No. When a teacher sees a boy in the corner who doesn't want to hear anything about it, he should not be forced. Nicolas Sarkozy has failed to understand the drama involved here. I found his idea moving, but also outrageous."


Odra 01.10.2008 (Poland)

In a highly inspiring essay, Anna Nasilowska explains why postmodern theory and literature had such a difficult reception in Poland. "Polish postmodernism does not follow on the heels of modernism but of real socialism. This meant that Poland not only lacked any reference to a local modernist tradition, but also an awareness of the continuity of aesthetic changes." At this point Nasilowska brings in Stanislaw Lem, who moved in both worlds. "He is an acerbic critic of postmodernism who plays with postmodern aesthetic concepts. His work is typical of the paradox in the Polish reception of postmodernism: the polemic comes before the actual reception and what's more, before the attempt to apply the interpretations offered by this current to Polish reality. The postmodern aesthetic was watered down – when it could finally be deployed after the end of real socialism – it was no longer new."


Observator Cultural 27.10.2008 (Romania)

In the English section of the Observator Cultural, literary academic Carmen Musat looks back over Romanian literature of the 80s to assess its postmodern credentials: "Certainly, the subversive-political dimension of Romanian postmodernism, like that of other ex-communist countries, contributes to the outlining of particular aesthetic structures, quite different from those of American postmodern literature – and I have in mind, first, the 'new humanism' theorized by Musina and that Petrescu considers a distictive mark of the 80s literary model. Romanian postmodernism is the outcome of a specific horizon of expectations and originates, not so much in an economic and political context, but, as Carneci notes in her essay, in a series of socio-cultural and psychological causes, among which the opposition to the 'new man' projected by the party ideology plays a very significant role. The novelists of the 80s show an unconcealed interest in the authenticity of language and daily life, in the common man, as well as in the highly sophisticated, refined, and erudite one."


The Times Literary Supplement 24.10.2008 (UK)

David Hawkes reviews a book by a militant pro-capitalist literary critic: Russell A Berman's "Fiction Sets You Free": "Like the most doctrinaire dialectical materialist, he insists that cultural trends are epiphenomenal reflections of economic interests. Anti-Americanism is 'really' anti-capitalism, and in 'Fiction Sets You Free', Berman suggests that anti-capitalism is the true source of an intellectual anti-humanism which opposes imagination, enterprise, even literature itself. His argument is based on the thesis that literature assumes, and thus helps to create, a capitalist mentality in the reader. He is convinced that, by its very nature, literature 'contribute[s] to the value structure and virtues of a capitalist economy', and to 'the dissemination of capitalist behavior', because all fictional writing 'cultivates the imaginative prowess of entrepreneurial vision'. It does this, Berman suggests, simply because it is not true." That Berman also posits Adorno as an advocate of these "commodity aesthetics" is, says Hawkes "an outrageous provocation."


Salon.eu.sk 26.10.2008 (Slovakia)

Last week the Slovakian internet magazine Salon launched its English site. Salon provides press reviews with a focus on Central Europe and translates complete articles into English with links to the original versions. Salon cites our German mothership Perlentaucher as a source of inspiration for the project. We feel extremely honoured! Along side articles about the Kundera affair (here Adam Hradilek's article which started the whole thing), the first English translations address the fraught relations between Hungary and Slovakia (more here and here). Both countries are plagued by extreme-right fractions who are busy stirring up hatred against minorities.

Slovakian political scientist Miroslav Kusy finds it all completely irrational: Jan Slota, "the Chairman of the Slovak National Party, which is part of the ruling coalition, has now shed the last vestiges of self-control and, sounding more and more slurred, has continued to insult the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs (however, like all drunkards he is never particularly inventive, resorting to ever more menacing repetitions of the word 'unkempt'). The prime ministers of both countries blame each other for starting the row and the opposition is trying to exploit the situation by trying to appear even more patriotic than the nationalists." Kusy points out that a thousand years ago, the Slovaks were part of the Hungarian nation:"It is with the Hungarians that we share more history than with anyone else". (The article is also available in Hungarian here.)

What is homo intellectualis to do in this stand-off, asks Rudolf Chmel, the last Czechoslovakian ambassador in Hungary and the Slovakian Cultural Minister from 2002 to 2005. He should, Chmel says, tell the politicians what he thinks of them: "Politicians suffering from inferiority complexes, who until then - perhaps through no fault of their own had never left our mountain villages and valleys - suddenly tried to impose their atavistic stereotypes and traumas upon the country as a whole."

Hungarian philosopher Gaspar Miklos Tamas puts the problem in a European context: "The existing confederations (USSR, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia) disintegrated, harsh discrimination was enforced against members (Russians, Serbians) of those once-dominant nations who were left outside their nation's borders (...) the one remaining multi-national structure (Bosnia under NATO and EU supervision) is close to breaking up. In Austrian Carinthia the provincial government of Jörg Haider is persecuting Slovenes, while Slovenia itself has ordered tens of thousands of its inhabitants – those former citizens of Yugoslavia without Slovenian passports – to leave. In Macedonia, the Slav majority confronts an Albanian 'minority' consisting of almost half the population and peace is maintained by US and other NATO forces. The EU structures supposed to be protecting minorities have proved to be helpless."

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