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11/11/2008

Magazine Roundup

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

Al Ahram Weekly | The Guardian | Die Weltwoche | Le Nouvel Observateur | The Times Literary Supplement | Tygodnik Powszechny | Gazeta Wyborcza | The New Statesman | Radar | Outlook India | Nepszabadsag | Salon.eu.sk | The New Yorker | Rue89 | Vanity Fair

Al Ahram Weekly 06.11.2008

If only we could read Arabic! Dina Essaz introduces a highly interesting internet project launched by the library of Alexandria, documenting the history of Egypt from 1802 to 1981. The website which will be reguarly updated, currently offers "20,000 photographs of historical events, 11,000 documents, 1,200 essays and biographies and 5,800 news clippings. The site also offers some 1,000 speeches that Egyptian leaders delivered throughout this period on historic junctures, as well as some 250 videos recording political events. Audio recordings of political speeches as well as songs, interviews are also available." And there's plenty of cultural material as well: the role of women in Egyptian art and journalism, poems by Biram Al-Tunsi or songs by Sayed Darwish. A mass of information for research and interested readers. "The fact of the matter is that in Egypt there is a big problem in history education. At schools history is taught in a style and through curricula that defy the basic purpose of research and analytical thinking. And at university it is only taught to those who fail to register at other faculties," said Magdi Guirguis, a historian who has provided access to his family archive.

The reviews cover: the Czech film "Tobruk" which gives an insight in the "fascinating" relationship of the Czech Republic to Egypt - except that the Arab side remains a little underexposed, writes Eric Wallberg, and two books which take a critical look at Egypt today: Sophie Pommier's "Egypt, L'Envers du decor" (here) and John R. Bradley's "Insight Egypt: the Land of the Pharaohs on the Brink of Revolution" (here).


The Guardian 09.11.2008 (UK)

When asked whether, like Wordsworth, he is "a person who early in life had an intense experience about inanimate nature, which he spent the rest of his poetical life trying to describe", Irish poet and Nobel Prize laureate Seamus Heaney explains: "The early-in-life experience has been central to me all right. But I'd say you aren't so much trying to describe it as trying to locate it. The amount of sensory material stored up or stored down in the brain's and the body's systems is inestimable. It's like a culture at the bottom of a jar, although it doesn't grow, I think, or help anything else to grow unless you find a way to reach it and touch it. But once you do, it's like putting your hand into a nest and finding something beginning to hatch out in your head."

Alexander Waugh's biography of the Wittgenstein family sheds a good deal of light on its most famous member, Ludwig, writes literary professor Terry Eagleton. The family, it seems, was "a seething cauldron of psychosomatic disorders." And the sons in particular "had a distressing habit of doing away with them selves. Handsome, intelligent, homosexual Rudolf strolled into a Berlin bar, dissolved potassium cyanide into his glass of milk and died in agony on the spot. Two years earlier, Hans Karl had disappeared without trace and is thought to have killed himself at sea. He was a shy, ungainly, possibly autistic child with a prodigious gift for maths and music, whose first spoken word was 'Oedipus'. He, too, was thought to be gay. Kurt seems to have shot himself 'without visible reason' while serving as a soldier in the first world war. The philosopher Ludwig claims to have begun thinking about suicide when he was 10 or 11."

Further articles: the writer Adam Thirlwell looks to Dostoevsky, Musil and Kafka for advice on transcribing thoughts. And Charlotte Higgins visits the artist Anish Kapoor in his London studio.


Die Weltwoche 06.11.2008 (Switzerland)

Albert Kuhn portrays Charles Lewinsky, a Swiss novelist, TV series writer and folk-pop lyricist. In 2006 he published "Melnitz", a 800-page Jewsish family saga which made it to the top of the Swiss bestseller list. "Charles Lewinsky is a man of old-fashioned principles. You should not describe yourself as an artist. It is up to the readers to decide whether what they are reading, watching or hearing is art." And readers will be able to decide for themselves on 20 November, when the second volume of the book comes out. "The only hitch is that 'Doppelpass' is not finished novel that can be dished up in servile portions. It is intended to be written continuously, picking up on current events. So the author cannot plan the plot or the ending. He has to continuously predict the unpredictable. ... A novel which lays its own eggs and sets its own traps. Lewinsky's comments: "It'll be a rollercoaster ride. I've never done anything like it. That's why I took took on the challenge."


Le Nouvel Observateur 06.11.2008 (France)

"Ghetto urbain. Segregation, violence, pauvrete en France aujourd'hui" (Robert Laffont) is the name of a new study by sociologist Didier Lapeyronnie, in which he examines the evils and values of the "counter-society" in the new ghettos of the banlieue and small French towns. When asked whether this "counter-world", the "cage and the cocoon in one", also produces values which reach beyond the logic of latent violence in these milieus, he told his interviewer: "The ghetto is a world of close ties: everyone knows everyone else. This is very different from the normal social world in which we live, which is ruled by loose social ties. We know people but they don't know each other. But loose social ties are far more socially efficient. They provide a network. People find work through these ties, not by writing job applications. Strong connections protect people, they function like a cocoon, with all its negative aspects. But they also represent a handicap and a burden."

Further articles: Under the title "The future should not be made from the refuse of the present", the Spanish philosopher Daniel Innerarity talks about his new book "Le Futur et ses ennemis. De la confiscation de l'avenir a l'esperance politique" (Climats-Flammarion). In it he declares the classical right-left divide as redundant and presents his hopes for a renewed democracy.


The Times Literary Supplement 06.11.2008 (UK)

Benjamin Britten was obviously not an inspired letter writer. The tenor Ian Bostridge is fascinated by the composer's lack of self-awareness in his letters compared with his musical brilliance. Take the description of the work on Britten's opera "The Turn of the Screw", which was based on a Henry James novella. "One of the most terrifying moments in the whole opera, Act Two, scene two, when the children walk in like choirboys singing a sinister parodic Benedicite, is painted by Britten, in a letter to the director Basil Coleman, in the most innocuous light: 'I feel so strongly, for the form & drama of the work as well as for the music's sake, that we must have something light and gay here, something for the children to be young & charming in (for the last time, almost, in the work) – & I think the idea of the hymn (a kind of 'choir procession') to be the best yet thought of.' Yet when the work was complete, Britten's surefootedness as a musical dramatist, his conscious analytical mind, allowed him to express the heart of the matter in a way in which he had not allowed himself to do during actual composition: clear that on the issue of the reality or otherwise of the ghosts in the opera, 'Myfanwy Piper [the librettist] and I have left the same ambiguities as Henry James did'."

After reading a book on the First World War, historian Hew Strachan, asks whether British historians writing on the subject will ever remove their insular spectacles. "The French, together with the Americans (not the British), then staged the counter-attack on the Marne on July 18, 1918 which marked the turning point on the Western Front. This is not the version favoured by British historians. They falsely accuse Petain of failing to support Haig after the German attack on March 21, 1918, and say that Haig, not Petain, inflicted the decisive blow against the German army, at Amiens on August 8, 1918."


Tygodnik Powszechny 09.11.2008 (Poland)

Anita Piotrowska and Agnieszka Sabor talk to director Jolanta Dylewska about her documentary film "Po-lin", which brings alive the world of Polish Jews, using amateur footage shot by American Jews visiting the shtetls in the inter-war years. (More info here, and a trailer here - in Polish only, so far). "There was a recurring motif in these films which moved me deeply: the people come up to the camera and look into the lens, as if talking to a intimate friend. I think this is an emotional strength of the films which allows today's viewers to communicate with these people. This is what most drew me to these films – more than the fact that they document synagogues that no longer exist," says Dylewska.

Andrzej Rostocki remembers how the deceased American writer William Wharton hit a nerve in 1990's Poland (2 million of his books were printed there). He was the "most important therapist" of the transformation era. Andrzej Franaszek reports on the "birthday celebrations" in Krakow to honour the poet Zbigniew Herbert, who died a decade ago.


Gazeta Wyborcza 08.11.2008 (Poland)

Tadeusz Sobolewski was also impressed by "Po-lin": "Jolante Dylewska made it a film about life, not annihilation. The emptiness of this little town fills out wonderfully before our eyes. First of all inanimate objects talk to us – doors, shop windows, reliefs. And then 'they' come, the pre-war inhabitants. They emerge from their houses and smile into the camera. They make no accusations, they don't want anything from us. We are the ones that need them." Sobolewski is only sorry that just two (!) copies of the film are in circulation.


The New Statesman 10.11.2008 (UK)

Tunesian singer and oud player Dhafer Youssef is due to play at the London Jazz Festival on 14 November. Hisham Matar takes the opportunity to sing the praises of a musician who combines Sufi philosophy with classical Indian music and Scandinavian avant-garde jazz. In 'Divine Shadows', as well as in his most recent release, 'Glow', (...) Dhafer Youssef seems to chart with these north European musicians the point where Arabic and western music meet and separate. Western music, with its preoccupation with the linear journey, with movements that progress to resolution, is contrasted with classical Arabic's perambulatory nature: it is less concerned with getting there than with being. The combination is haunting, and evokes the Sufi longing for union in new ways that resonate with the predicament that the Muslim world and western Europe find themselves in today. Here the longing to return to the divine becomes the desire for harmony and brotherhood with the other."

Here a performance by the Dhafer Youssef Quartett (Dhafer Youssef, Eivind Aarset, Audun Erlien and Rune Arnesen) at the Jazz Onze Plus Festival 2006 in Lausanne: "Odd poetry"

And Norman Stone introduces "The Ghost of Freedom", Charles King's "instructive and interesting" history of the Caucasus.


Radar 09.11.2008 (Argentina)

The writer and critic Rodrigo Fresan puts the "bestseller in the dock": "Once again people are talking about the crisis of literature. I don't believe it. Literature is alive and well. It's bestsellers that are in crisis because they are increasingly badly written. Compared with Dan Brown and his imitators, Robert Ludlum, Irving Wallace and Morris West are up there with Balzac, Hugo or Zola. What's more, every flash-in-the-pan bestseller spawns countless clones which tend to be even worse than the already average original. And this in turn means that even the most successful beststeller authors feel obliged to imitate themselves or, to somehow free themselves of the formulas that brought them success in the first place, wiping out their best characters in a desperate centrifugal movement."

Outlook India 17.11.2008 (India)

In the pile of articles on Barack Obama Dipankar Gupta asks, among other things, who India's Obama might be: "Will it be a Muslim? Or will it be a member of the scheduled caste?" Religion, Gupta believes, will be the greater hurdle of the two. "If India is to truly take a lead from Obama's phenomenal success, then the test really lies in how we treat our Muslims. A major reason why minorities in the US feel good about their country is because the rule of law applies to all citizens. No matter how prejudiced someone may be at heart, the moment it is expressed, the law steps in."

Namrata Joshi promises new "exciting" cinema from Marathi and praises two films in particular. Umesh Kulkarni's allegory "Valu" about taming a wild bull, and Ramesh More's film "Mahasatta" about temporary workers at the Tata plant, who set themselves on fire in 2003, when their requests for permanent work were refused. "'Mahasatta' is outstanding in the way it addresses and stirs our collective consciousness. It recreates the heartlessness of the new economic order, the betrayal of the expelled workers by the company as well as the union, their desperation. However, it is not just another stern, plodding, didactic pamphlet on a serious social issue; it's also inventive, edgy, engaging storytelling."

The reviews include: a very positive assessment of Walter Crocker's Nehru biography, "A Contemporary's Estimate", and the Afghanistan novel "The Wasted Vigil" by the Pakistani writer Nadeem Aslam.


Nepszabadsag 08.11.2008 (Hungary)

Political scientist Laszlo Lengyel congratulates the American voters on "bringing not only hope to themselves, but to the whole world". He then expresses his own hope that the election of Barack Obama will usher in a completely new culture "which instead of violence and authoritarian policy, relies on negotiation and peaceful solutions, and that will bring about a great change in our lives. Like the sixties radically changed our understanding of everyday life, and the last twenty years which also allowed another culture to flourish, I believe that the greatest change will be cultural and that it will be come out of America, but this time, hand-in-hand with Europe and Asia. The way we think about relations between woman and men, between parents and children, between young and old, between the different ethnic and religious groups, has changed forever."


Salon.eu.sk 07.11.2008 (Slovakia)

In the Slovakian paper Sme, Martin congratulates Barack Obama on his election victory (here in English). But it's good new for Slovakia, too, Butora writes: "If an Obama administration succeeds in overcoming the current economic and financial crisis, it will help restore faith in democratic capitalism, and this is not without importance for us in Slovakia. What I mean by democratic capitalism is a social system that is not doctrinaire but open, capable of self-correction and learning from its mistakes. Our faith in this system has been badly shaken and it would be unfortunate if this opened the door to other, less desirable models of state-controlled or authoritarian capitalism."


The New Yorker 17.11.2008 (USA)

This week's edition is dedicated to the president elect. In a lengthy Obama portrait, David Remnick sets two complementary focal points. One is Obama's election campaign, and the second is the race issue, with respect to the "Moses generation" of civil rights activists in the black community. Remnick cites Colin Powell, who puts positively what might have irked Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton: "Here's the difference in a nutshell, and it's an expression that I've used throughout my career - first black national-security adviser, first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs, first black Secretary of State. What Obama did, he's run as an American who is black, not as a black American. There's a difference. People would say to me, 'Gee, it's great to be the black Secretary of State,' and I would blink and laugh and say, 'Is there a white one somewhere? I am the Secretary of State, who happens to be black.' Make sure you understand where you put that descriptor, because it makes a difference."

Other articles: James Wood experienced Obama's victory speech as "a good night for the English language". Joan Acocella introduces a series of new publications on "overparenting". Peter Schjedahl strolls through an exhibition by the photogapher William Eggleston at the Whitney. And Anthony Lane watched the new Bond film "A Quantum Solace". There is also a short story "Lostronaut" by Jonathan Lethem and poems by C.K Willams and Robert Wrigley.


Rue89 09.11.2008 (France)

The newspaper and magazine crisis has struck in France and elsewhere, resulting in a 30 percent drop in print turnover. Economist Francoise Benhamou blames plummeting reader figures not only on general economic constraints and the fallout effect on content, but on two other factors: the standardisation of the press and the seemingly arbitrary interchangeability of journalists. When, in fact, irreplaceable journalists are their most important capital. "The strength of a press organ lies in its specificity, in the pens which write for it. In today's hyper-competitive media landscape, the survival of a paper depends not only on the creation of a brand, but on the construction of an editorial team which the readers encounter inside, and which define tone and content."

Vanity Fair 01.12.2008 (USA)

Seth Mnoonkin writes about the New York Times office in Iraq. The running costs are 3 million dollars a year – swimming pool, weapons for the journalists, 100 Iraqi employees, many of them armed guards, imported furniture from Jordan and Kuwait – all for four reporters and two photographers! "As [reporter and photographer] Mike Kamber puts it: 'We're working in an environment where there's a price on our head at all times." Indeed, the Iraq war has been, by any measure, one of the most dangerous conflicts to cover in the history of modern journalism. As of this fall, 135 journalists have been killed there since 2003. (Another 51 support personnel - drivers, interpreters, security guards, and the like - have also lost their lives.) That is more than the combined total of journalists killed since 1981 in conflicts in Somalia, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, the Philippines, the Balkans, and the first Iraq war. From 1955 to 1975, 66 journalists were killed in Vietnam. Eighty-seven died in World Wars I and II and the Korean War combined." But readers are rapidly losing interest in reports from Iraq.

In a second article Mnoonkin describes what looks to become the 21st century's top news provider: Bloomberg. And it has two men to thank its success: Michael Bloomberg und Matt Winkler."'Matt's unique achievement,' Mnookin quotes Bloomberg president Dan Doctoroff as saying, 'is really to recognize the symbiotic relationship between news and the rest of [Bloomberg L.P.'s] business' - essentially to think of a journalistic organization as a capitalistic one. 'He has been absolutely brilliant at conceptualizing that.'"

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