17/02/2009

Magazine Roundup

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

The Guardian | Al Ahram Weekly | The New Republic | Eurozine | The New Statesman | Die Weltwoche | The Economist | L'Espresso | Le Nouvel Observateur | Gazeta Wyborcza | Nepszabadsag | Le point | The Times Literary Supplement


The Guardian 14.02.2009 (UK)

Two weeks before the elections in Israel, Aida Edemariam paid a visit to the writer Amos Oz, and talked to him about a two-state solution:"'My precondition for peace,' he says, 'is a comprehensive solution for the Palestinian refugee problem, on the soil of the future Palestine' - which he sees as being the West Bank and Gaza, linked by a corridor, or underground tunnel, and cleared of almost all Israeli settlements. 'And I would insist that this is my primary requirement for selfish reasons - for Israeli security reasons. As long as those people are rotting in dehumanising conditions in refugee camps, Israel will have no security, peace contract or no peace contract.' Palestinians such as the novelist Samir el-Youssef, who grew up in a refugee camp, see things slightly differently. 'Oz sees Palestinians as a problem which the Israelis ought to get rid of as soon as possible,' he says. 'His ridiculous suggestion that all Palestinians could be heaped up in the tiny space of the West Bank and Gaza shows that he sees Palestinians as nothing but old furniture which should be stored away.' Oz's answer is short: 'If every last Palestinian refugee was settled in the West Bank and Gaza, it would still be less crowded than Belgium.'"

Further articles: At the van Dyck exhibition at Tate Britain, Keith Thomas learns how deeply indebted British portrait painting is to the Dutch painter – particularly in matters of clothing, children and dogs. (We also learn that the old English term for lover was 'lemon'.) "Le Corbusier famously built nothing in Britain" but he did exert a strong influence on a number of British architects, writes Brian Dillon, back from a visit to Isi Metzstein and Andrew MacMillan's delapidated St. Peter's Seminary at Cardross College outside Glasgow which was inspired by Corbusier's chapel in Ronchamp and the monastery of La Tourette. UCLA historian Sanjay Subrahmanyam offers a critical rereading of Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" .

Al Ahram Weekly 12.02.2009 (Egypt)

Amr Hamzawy of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is sick to the teeth of hearing any criticism of Hamas shouted down in the Arab world. Criticism, so the argument goes, "constitutes an unhealthy departure from religious and national consensus and is at best an intellectual frivolity that must be put off until a later date. The danger of this position is that it carries totalitarian implications prohibiting the exercise of the intellect and any free expression of convictions when considering Hamas and its actions. The Arabs have long suffered the consequences of this type of silencing. After issuing a certificate exonerating Hamas of any responsibility for the war on Gaza and suspending rational enquiry into the movement's choices and practices, the manufacturers of resistance narratives insist upon another type of exception, undermining freedom of thought and the right to differ."

Further articles: The best performance at this year's Creative Forum for Independent Theatre Groups was "Iphigenie at Aulis", as staged by the Gardzienice Theater, writes Nehad Selaiha, who witnessed the Polish company back in 1996 in Cairo, with their production of "Carmina Burana".

The New Republic 04.03.2009 (USA)

In a pleasantly objective and fact-filled epic essay, Princeton University's Paul Starr analyses the dire predicament of the US newspapers. Just in case you were wondering: he offers no solution. And yet, he writes; "it is not the time for Internet triumphalism." Because instead of a widely informed general public, what could potentially emerge is a two-class information society. The way paved by cable TV. "In the early decades of television up to the 1970s, as [Markus] Prior reminds us in his book 'Post-Broadcast Democracy', the three networks virtually had a captive audience when they broadcast the evening news at the same time. Although many people coming home from work might have preferred entertainment, they watched the national news with Walter Cronkite or Chet Huntley and David Brinkley and they learned something about politics and world events. As cable and then satellite television developed, however, viewers were able to make choices that corresponded more closely to their preferences. According to Prior, a large group, perhaps three out of ten viewers, fled the news for entertainment programs, while a smaller number, perhaps one of every ten, began watching more news and political discussion now that they had access to Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC. The result, Prior's data shows, has been an increased disparity in political knowledge between the news drop-outs and the news junkies."

Other articles: Joe Mathews composes an elegy to a dying Los Angeles Times. And Gabriel Sherman introduces the news site Politico, which, in next to no time, has all the major papers trembling in their boots.


Eurozine 06.02.2009 (Austria)

Serbs have huge difficulties acquiring European visas. This was a complaint that Croatian author Slavenca Draculic encountered recently in a discussion, in which a young Serb asked why the younger generation was being punished for something it had not done. Her reply (which the magazine publishes in English): "I thought he was wrong. Like us [who did not ask our fathers what they did in the Second World War], his generation back home is responsible too: for its silence, for not asking what happened before they were born, for not caring about what their fathers did during the wars, for believing that they have the right to visas just because they are young and their hands are clean and their arrogance just. Most of all, for not asking their parents why they are deprived of visas. True, the young generation of Serbs can not be held responsible for the past. But all of them are responsible for their present attitude to the past because it is important for their future. That was the lesson that we, their parents' generation, should have learned. As we did not learn it in time, we had to learn it the hard way."


The New Statesman 16.02.2009 (UK)

The Oscars need a complete overhaul, writes Ryan Gilbey because,as these year's nominations prove yet again, they have gone nowhere in the last 50 years. He does, though, have a few suggestions for how to improve things, for example, increasing the quota of foreign films. "Call it positive discrimination or affirmative action, but from now on, the total number of Best Picture nominees should be raised to six, of which two must come from non-English-speaking countries. There is simply no other way to redress the balance than to force Academy voters to consider films that are not being screened at the local mall. Let's put 'The Reader' up against 'Waltz With Bashir' and then we'll see some real tears from Kate Winslet."

After three years Alice O'Keeffe is leaving her job as art critic at the New Statesman. It was a bizarre time she says. "The contemporary visual art scene has been the most slavishly money-serving, catering as it has done exclusively to the rich. As the buyers often know little about art, there has been no rational connection between the quality of the work and its price tag."
Die Weltwoche 12.02.2009 (Switzerland)

Malte Hertwig stumbled across a Nazi-party membership card for Hans Werner Henze in the Federal Archives in Berlin. But in the absence of a signed membership application Hartwig is unsure whether the composer, who was born in 1926, made the application himself (Henze denies it). In his article, which makes much mention of the "repressed past", Hertwig mentions the possibility that Henze's father may have made the application on his son's behalf. "The composer describes his father, the teacher Franz Henze (1898-1945), as a staunch Nazi who came to represent for Malte - a homosexual, left-handed outsider - the very essence of the Nazi regime. 'My hatred for my father,' Henze writes in 'Musik und Politic', 'was directly linked to my hatred of fascism and it spilled over onto the nation of soldiers which to me felt like a nation of fathers.' Thirty years after Franz Henze's death, his son continued to be plagued by 'stomach cramps brought on by memories of his father, which persistently surfaced from the big black pond of forgetfulness."

The Economist 13.02.2009 (UK)

One of the advantages of a cosmopolitan magazine such as the Economist, is that it can afford cultural correspondents in Sydney who can catch Cate Blanchett on stage - and in what was obviously rather an interesting play: "It has become fairly commonplace for film actors to star in London's West End and on Broadway, but this transposition is different. Miss Blanchett is playing the king in Shakespeare's 'Richard II', in the first part of a rigorously condensed version of the eight history plays. Miss Blanchett and her husband, Andrew Upton, have become artistic directors of the Sydney Theatre Company, an organisation which already has a fine opinion of itself. 'In so far as there is a National Theatre in Australia, the Sydney Theatre Company is it,' says Rob Brookman, the general manager."

Further articles cover the merger of the two Hollywood studios Dreamworks and Disney and, with the launch of the Kindle 2, on what tend to be rather conservative e-book users. Tech nerds, the article explains, use their iPhones. There are reviews of the memoirs (publishers' site) of South African writer Andre Brink and of David Reynolds's one volume history of America (publishers' site).

And in the cover story, the Economist expresses its bitter disappointment at Barack Obama's economic plans.


L'Espresso, 13.02.2009 (Italy)

Umberto Eco is concerned about our cultural memory and so prefers to have things both ways when it comes to books. "I am no stick-in-the-mud. I have saved all the masterpieces of world literature and the history of philosophy on a 250 gigabyte hard drive. It is much more pleasant to search out a quote from Dante or the 'Summa Theologica' in a matter of seconds than to have to stand up and trawl though shelves that are much too high. Yet I am happy, nevertheless, to have these books in my shelves, and they are a guarantee that the works do not disappear entirely if the electronic gadgets fail." Books are the fixed-interest shares in the memory market, Eco says. "If I chuck my e-book out of the fifth-floor window, everything will be lost. A book might get a get slightly bent."

Le Nouvel Observateur 12.02.2009 (France)

As the Iranian revolution celebrates its 30th birthday, the rift between the regime and the country's youth has never been wider. This, at least, is the conclusion of a sociological study carried out by Iran and religion issues expert, Farhad Khoskrokhavar, in the cities of Tehran, Gazvin and the holy city Qom. Even in Qom, where Islamic law governs every aspect of life, a large portion of the city's youth is involved in a movement for secularisation, albeit cautiously and secretively. He explains in an interview: "They are trying to patch together for themselves a shaky and individual combination of religion and private life. (...) Our research shows that the regime was both successful and unsuccessful with the youth. It was successful in establishing Shia Islam as the cornerstone of the Iranian identity. On the other hand, the youth were able to create a very real distance between themselves and the clerics, who failed to win hearts and minds. Even in a city as conservative and traditional as Qom, you will find that the youth are challenging theocratic politics."

Aude Lancelin celebrates the 40th birthday of the experimental University of Vincennes, where students and professors work together on an equal footing. It lists of lecturers over the years reads like a Who's Who of the French humanities and social sciences. It includes Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault and Jean-Francois Lyotard as well as Antonio Negri. On 18 March Flammariion is bringing out a book about it: "Vincennes - Une aventure de la pensee critique" edited by Jean-Michel Dijan.


Gazeta Wyborcza 14.02.2009 (Poland)

In an interview Polish writer Stefan Chwin talks about a mass grave which has been uncovered by construction work in Malbork (the former Marienburg), and which seems to contain the bodies of 2,000 Germans who were killedduring the last months of WWII. Chwin's advice to the Malbork authorities who want to play the whole thing down: "I would advise them to hand the site over immediately to archaeologists, historians and anthropologists and then bury the bones properly. And do not think that this should be a mass grave, by which I mean a huge pit filled with human remains. I know that it is a difficult, time-consuming and labour-intensive, but since the terrible slaughter in the Balkans, even in Srebrenica, there is a drive to identify these sort of remains."


Nepszabadsag 14.02.2009 (Hungary)

Nepszabadsag publishes a conversation between the polish journalist and diplomat Bogdan Goralczyk and the Hungarian Laszlo Lengyel. The two intellectuals look back over the two decades since the collapse of the Iron Curtain which, both agree, is a long way off being a success. For Bogdan Goralczyk the most striking thing is the ideological, political, mental and material polarisation of post-Communist society. "The worst thing is the we still prefer to look backwards rather than forwards. Instead of clearly drawing out our image of the future and formulating a programme in a common Europe, we retreat into our own provincialism and tailor everything to our own horizons. This is the reason why the Central European cooperation is not functioning. [...] Do I see a way out of this predicament? In spite of appearances, I have a very simple solution: More Europe, more empathy with the neighbours, more calm dialogue with one another. But I fear that we won't even be able to get this minimal programme off the ground. If only I were a bad prophet...!"

Laszlo Lengyel is even more pessimistic: "Just remember, dear Bogdan, how many 'political generations' and how many different political cultures and styles have come out of the USA since 1989, in comparison with Hungary and Poland! The Polish elite has cut off its own supply lines, blocked the way for new faces, ideas, and institutions. Parliamentary democracy is an illusion. Complete dependency on the leaders, on party head quarters, on the prime minister and feudal favouritism has been reinstated. What we remember most from the world of Gomulka and Gierek and in your case, the world of Kadar, is the utterly undemocratic political selection procedure. While the system change and the Europeanisation of the top positions in business and culture, as well as at employee level, called for genuine hard work and adaptability, the Polish and Hungarian political elites demanded just the opposite: provincialism. Our leaders are not international politicians. They talk their own national election speak – even when translating it directly from English.


Le point 12.02.2009 (France)

In his Bloc notes, Bernard-Henri Levy remembers the 20th anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. "The Ayatollahs were not the first people to burn books and kill writers? Certainly. And yet this violation of the safety of the mind is a warning signal for the advance of evil. Just like the Rushdie affair. It rang the death toll for the old world. It was probably one of those events, if not the defining event that heralded the rise of a new form of fascism, Islamofascism. There was the 11th of September with its three terrorist attacks... The death of Massoud ... The martyrdom of Daniel Pearl a little later. But at the start of this chain of events, or at least it seems that way today, a death threat was issued to a writer for his literary insult to the Koran."


The Times Literary Supplement 13.02.2009 (UK)

If anything is true is this world, it's evolution, writes evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. In an acerbic attack on the creationists, he also enthuses about Jerry Coyne's book "Why Evolution is true": "Whence, then, comes the oft-parroted canard, 'Evolution is only a theory'? Perhaps from a misunderstanding of philosophers who assert that science can never demonstrate truth. All it can do is fail to disprove a hypothesis. ... Evolution is true in whatever sense you accept it as true that New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere. If we refused ever to use a word like 'true', how could we conduct our day-to-day conversations? Or fill in a census form: 'What is your sex?' 'The hypothesis that I am male has not so far been falsified, but let me just check again'. As Douglas Adams might have said, it doesn't read well. Yet the philosophy that imposes such scruples on science has no basis for absolving everyday facts from the same circumlocution. It is in this sense that evolution is true – provided, of course, that the scientific evidence for it is strong. It is very strong, and Professor Coyne displays it for us in a way that no objective reader could fail to find compelling."

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