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24/02/2009

Magazine Roundup

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

London Review of Books | Clarin | HVG | Plus-Minus | Le Nouvel Observateur | The Times Literary Supplement | Salon.eu.sk | The New York Review of Books | Polityka | L'Espresso | The New Yorker

London Review of Books 26.02.2009 (UK)

Not even in the First Republic, writes Marxist historian Perry Anderson, did Italy experience such levels of avarice, injustice, dereliction and failure. But, as Anderson is quick to emphasise, Berlusconi is not to blame. The problem stems from the greed of political classes: "The Quirinale, where the president of the Republic – currently Giorgio Napolitano, until yesterday a prominent Communist, as impervious as his predecessors – resides, puts at his disposal more than 900 servitors of one kind or another, at the last count. Cost of the presidential establishment, which has tripled since 1986? Twice that of the Elysee, four times that of Buckingham Palace, eight times that of the German president. Takings of its inmates? In 1993 Gaetano Gifuni, the Father Joseph of the palace, at the centre of then President Scalfaro's operations to protect himself from justice, received 557,000 euros at current values for his services – well above the salary of an American president. Transport? In 2007, Italy had no fewer than 574,215 auto blu – official limousines – for a governing class of 180,000 elected representatives; France has 65,000. Security? Berlusconi set an example: 81 bodyguards, at public expense. By some reckonings, expenditure on political representation in Italy, all found, is equivalent to that of France, Germany, Britain and Spain combined. Beneath this crust of privilege, one in four Italians lives in poverty."


Clarin 21.02.2009 (Argentina)

"Gomorrah" author Roberto Saviano, currently visiting Argentina, is obviously relishing a break from writing about the mafia. In Clarin, he celebrates the new football legend Lionel Messi: "To watch Messi play is like listening to music, like watching the bits of a broken mosaic reassemble themselves before your eyes, like a demonstration of John Nash's game theory. Like a chess player, Messi has memorised all the great moves of his master, Maradona, and sometimes he manages to re-play them one-to-one. I should add that Messi agreed to let me interview him not because I am a writer, but because I come from Naples. For a fan of Maradona like he is, this is the equivalent of a Muslim meeting someone who hails from Mecca.

HVG 21.02.2009 (Hungary)

On February 8th, the Romanian national handball player Marian Cozma (until recently under contract with "MKB Veszprem") was stabbed to death and two of his team mates badly injured in the Hungarian city of Veszprem. Initial reports suggest that the perpetrators are Roma members of a mafia-like organisation. "The gypsy has killed again," the right-wing press immediately barked. And so the Roma are outlawed again, says philosopher Janos Kis, who points to the racist crimes against Roma that generally go ignored. Kis warns: "Anyone who tries to boost grass-roots support in this country using cheap ethnic propaganda, is playing with fire. When emotions break loose, the first victims are often the most needy and vulnerable - and this is certainly the case in Hungary. But the price will be high for the majority society. The past two decades have shown what happens if we fail to take on the burden of Roma integration. The road ends in catastrophe."


Plus-Minus 21.02.2009 (Poland)

Who'd have thought that "theatre rebel" Jan Klata would be a fan of the historical novels of Henryk Sienkiewicz ("Quo Vadis"). But the director has now staged a new version of Sienkiewicz's "Trilogy" for the Old Theatre in Krakow. In an interview he explains why: "I am fascinated by this living foundation of Polish national identity. The 'Trilogy' became a legend whose heroes have been living in our collective consciousness for the past hundred years. Which is why this historical cycle cannot only be read in the context of what Sienkiewicz wrote. Plenty of people in the Old Theatre will not even have read the books, but everyone knows the films. They colour our historical thinking, our political outlook and our social and aesthetic sensibilities."


Le Nouvel Observateur 20.02.2009 (France)

The general strike in Guadeloupe has forced France to reexamine its colonial past in the Caribbean. In the Obs historian Nelly Schmidt introduces her latest book with the provocative title "Has France abolished slavery?" In it she explains that whereas in England the 1848 abolition of slavery was a movement that had the backing of the general public in France was a "matter for the elites". Indeed the committee that was set up to implement aboliton bitterly defended its own economic interests. "Three solutions accompanied the abolition of slavery: ' maintaining order', 'maintaining employment' and 'forgetting the past'. The latter in particular proved extraordinarily effective. Historians themselves toed the republican propaganda line and manufactured a past that was more myth than reality. It was one-sided and told from only one point of view: that of the colonisers and the government." Things stayed that way until the 1960s when British historians began to research French colonialism.

There is also a comprehensive essay in La vie des idees on the history of French post-colonialism entitled "French Antilles or Relics of the Empire?" .


The Times Literary Supplement 18.02.2009 (UK)

Jon Garvie has trawled his way through a series of books on globalization and concludes that cultural globalization and economic globalization go hand in hand. Even if authors like J. MacGregor Wise ("Cultural Globalization") or David Singh Grewal ("Network Power") would like to believe otherwise. "MacGregor Wise's meander through music and youth culture offers a vision of a free global sweet shop, in which fashionable kids can pick and mix their identities. Theoretical jargon flows freely. Individuals 're-territorialize' their societies and power relations break down in 'liminal' cultural spaces. MacGregor Wise prefaces these 're-imaginings' with the assertion that only cultural globalization concerns him. But the exclusion of economics does not work. Are Korean teenagers in hip hop clothing really challenging fundamental aspects of their culture, or simply satisfying niche market demographics?"

In a further article John Bowen enthuses about a book that documents Charles Dickens's philanthropic ambitions: he opened a women's asylum which attempted to re-socialise its inmates using a system of speech therapy that Dickens had invented himself. Mary Beard read Stephen Halliwell's history of Greek humour in literature and philosophy and learned that humourlessness is a characteristic of the tyrant, that the ancient Greeks loved to joke about "eggheads" and that the painter Zeuxis literally laughed himself to death after looking at one of his paintings.


Salon.eu.sk 21.02.2009 (Slovakia)

The writer Peter Nadas recently gave a talk to the monetary council of the Hungarian National Bank on the subject of trust. He speaks (here in English translation) about the connotations of the word in Hungarian, French, English and German, and the use of language in Europe (dissimulative in the West, simulative in the former Eastern Bloc countries), and how this use of language changes attitudes to democracy and capitalism: "The reality concealed by both those who simulate and those who dissimulate has a different appearance. Following the collapse of the socialist system the expansion of capitalism was unfrozen and that is why those who dissimulate immediately started to dismantle the social state, while at the same time maintaining the reversed order of politics and economy. It was as if public good still stood in the way of global competitiveness, forcing local interest groups to plan political decisions on behalf of the whole of society, in accordance with their financial agreements. Those who simulate, on the other hand, have never for a moment given up the idea of robbing the state and their neighbours - quite on the contrary, they keep doing everything they can to avoid legalizing their illegal activities in line with the rules of democracy or regulated capitalism."


The New York Review of Books 12.03.2009 (USA)

Fred Halliday recommends Steve Coll's book "The Bin Ladens" even if the title is slightly misleading: "To read Coll's book is to enter a universe of perpetual movement and deal-making, but one in which little, if anything, is recorded or written down, where power and money are distributed by means of kin networks, informal gatherings of influential Saudi males, and the mobile phone. 'The Bin Ladens' is not so much a book about Osama bin Laden himself, or his terrorist network and political aspirations, as about the power structures of modern Saudi Arabia. And in this it is most informative."

Further articles: Ian McEwan writes about John Updike. Julian Barnes analyses Orwell's relationship to England and vice versa. The reviews cover Gus van Sant's film "Milk" and Azar Nafasi's memoirs.

Polityka 20.02.2009 (Poland)

Marcin Zaremba writes (here in German) about the discovery of a mass grave in Malbork which apparently contains the the bones of Germans killed at the end of WWII. "That the discovery of these remains was a front page sensation shows that our historical memory is failing us. We have forgotten that our country is strewn with hundreds of such graves. Most of them are trenches, bomb cavities and moats. The path that joins the death pits stretches from Gdansk to Grudziadz, Kolobrzeg, Pila and Szczecin. In other words throughout East Prussia and along the Pomeranian Wall, where the carpet bombing and bloody battles of 1945 left piles of human and animal corpses in their wake. By April or May the stench had became unbearable. The flies were huge and swarmed in their masses over the battlefields. "At the time the corpses had to be dealt with as quickly as possible. Today we can treat them with more dignity. "An Internet user commented recently that there would have been a scandal had they done the excavation work in Katyn with a JCB."

(An excerpt of the interview with polish writer Stefan Chwin on the mass grave at Malbork featured in last week's Gazeta Wyborcza is now available in English at Salon.eu.sk)


L'Espresso 20.02.2009 (Italy)

Spring is on its way in Italy, but the budget cuts and the general stagnation in the "Ministero per i Beni e Attivita Culturali" prompt L'Espresso to declared the onset of a "cultural autumn". Culture is so low on the list of the current government's priorities that the cultural minster and Berlusconi protege, Sandro Bondi, is rumoured to be throwing in the towel after just a year in office. In an interview, Salvatore Settis, head of the economic committee in the ministry of culture says Italy needs a Sarkozy. "Not for the ministry of culture, but for the next floor up: to defend the department. When the economy is struggling, the Italian government's response is to cut the cultural budget. The French government does exactly the opposite: Back in September President Sarkozy emphasised the importance of cultural investment in times of crisis (...) And Sarkozy, not someone who could be accused of having communist leanings, took immediate action. He extended both museum opening hours and free admission. This is no taboo: the National Gallery and the British Museum do the same thing. Yes the state is spending more, but it's worth it: it's a significant contribution to human and civic education."


The New Yorker 02.03.2009 (USA)

Ryan Lizza rather cautiously portrays Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama's new chief of staff, whose controversial style of doing politics has earned him the nickname "Rahmbo". Lizza writes: "Emanuel didn't want the job at first. (...) While Obama was wooing Rahm, Rahm's older brother, Ezekiel, an oncologist and a bioethicist, served as a sounding board. 'I probably spent half an hour every day being screamed at on the telephone by him,' he said. I don’t want to do this. Why do I have to do this? Tell me I don’t have to do this. 'All of which said to me he knew he had to do it.' (Ezekiel told me that the rivalry among himself, Rahm, and their third brother, Ariel, a Hollywood agent, was so intense that they had to pursue careers in different cities. 'We couldn't possibly be within a thousand miles of each other, because the force fields just wouldn't let it happen.')"

Adam Gopnik examines what makes American writer and journalist Damon Runyon "Runyonesque". David Denby watched Andrzej Waida's film "Katyn", Henry Selick's animation film "Coraline" and Tom Tykwer's finance thriller "The International". There is also a short story "Brother in Sunday" by A.M. Homes and poems by Jack Gilbert and Leonard Cohen.

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