On the Death of Siegfried Lenz ? ?You have to justify your life?

Siegfried Lenz, one of the great writers of German post-war literature is dead. He died on 7 October 2014, surrounded by his family. He was 88 years old.... more more

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03/03/2009

Magazine Roundup

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

Salon.eu.sk | Prospect | Polityka | Dissent | L'Espresso | New Yorker | Europa | Le Nouvel Observateur | edge.org | Newsweek | Outlook India | Dawn | La vie des idees | Times Literary Supplement | Eurozine | Observator Cultural | Independent | Al Ahram | The New York Times


Salon.eu.sk 02.03.2009 (Slovakia)

In the Czech magazine Respekt, Jaroslav Formanek is in a tizzy over Bernard-Henri Levy's defense of Milan Kundera and Bernard Kouchner against journalistic research (translated into English by Salon). Background: Milan Kundera has been accused of having denounced a courier for American intelligence in 1950. In a book by Pierre Pean, Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister who founded Doctors Without Borders, has been accused of taking money from the government of Gabun (more here). In both cases, Levy is agitated by the attackers - these "simpletons and non-entities" who want to drag a great man through the mud. Formanek thinks Levy's argument is ill-founded: "For the second time within a few months a leading European intellectual has formulated an elitist idea defining who does and who doesn't have the right to apply the written word - the basic tool of journalism - to towering geniuses. (...) 'No, I really cannot imagine the author of Laughable Loves, not even in his previous life, in his prehistory, taking on the role of a squealer,' writes Bernard-Henri Levy in the article on Kundera mentioned above. But why not? Why should the ability to write good books guarantee an unblemished life? And does the fact that as a young man someone had the logistical skills necessary to organize medical aid in developing countries, endow that person with a life-long immunity to the temptation to enrich himself illegally?"


Prospect 02.03.2009 (UK)

Julian Evans is struck by Odessa's magic, its perfect combination of "a seaside town’s vulgarity, a port’s criminality", as exemplified by Sasha, who buys himself a new Mercedes every year - in 2004, it was the E55 AMG: "During lunch, he gave me the object he had taken from the car for my son to play with. It was his pistol. I had heard that Sasha had been a member of one of the two Crimean mafia 'families'. He had started out as a driver and bodyguard, and been present the night both groups found themselves in the same restaurant at Simferopol. After the fight that followed, he was carried out with 28 knife wounds. But he was irrepressible company (he appeared that weekend dressed in white, pouring out Chablis and charm) and had never sought to implicate me or my family in his professional life."

David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton explain the new trend of experimental philosophy: the x-phi, whose emblem is an armchair in flames. "Philosophers have always been informed by scientific research, history and psychology. Indeed, most of the giants of pre-20th century philosophy combined empirical and conceptual studies. (...) But for many philosophers today the idea of experimental philosophy still grates. Conceptual analysis has been a dominant strain of Anglo-American philosophy in the past 100 years. Philosophy of this kind considers not so much how things are, but rather how we think about them: the way we carve up the world, the frontiers of meaning, of what makes sense. But for the x-phi fan, empirical research is not a mere prop to philosophy, it is philosophy."


Polityka 02.03.2009 (Poland)

Adam Krzeminski paints a devastating picture of the Polish political class. Cosmopolitan, educated men like Bronislaw Geremek are nowhere to be found. And the politicians aren't interested in letting such people emerge. "The aggressive provincialism and national eccentricity of the Law and Justice Party have set the tone for Polish politics in recent years. Not very many politicians from the younger generation can be found, even though there are thousands of well-educated youth with Polish and foreign university degrees who have proven themselves in international institutions. But there's no system for recruiting them for poltical parties, let alone a long-term plan for directing their careers based on principles that aren't purely mercenary. A few years ago, responding to a question about how many fellowship recipients his group had sent to foundations belonging to sister parties in France, Germany, or the UK, a leading politician of one of our parties responded with amusement: Am I so suicidal that I want to nurture an executioner who'll lop my head off someday?"


Dissent 01.03.2009 (USA)

Michael B. Katz has been living in West Philadelphia for nearly 30 years. He teaches history at the University of Pennsylvania and one of his areas of research is poverty and urban transformation. One day he was summoned for jury duty on a murder trial. The trial, which he describes in graphic detail, plunged him into a crisis. "I found the trial experience frustrating. I wanted to interrupt, ask questions, bring up something the attorneys had missed. As someone who teaches seminars, this is what I expect to do. Obviously, I could not. I was also frustrated by what we did not know about Manes [the accused]and Monroe [the victim]. Who were these men, only a piece of whose lives were laid in front of us? What had brought them to the streets of North Philadelphia? Why were two grown men willing to kill each other over 5 dollars? What had made West Oakland Street a place where aging men lived in rooms with knives stashed over the door and most residents refused to bear witness to the killing of a likable and familiar figure?" For decades Katz has written about poverty its contexts and the ideas and used to explain or ameliorate it. "But there is an abstraction in most of the literature and in most of what I have written." Which is why he decided to visit Manes in North Philadelphia after his acquittal...


L'Espresso 27.02.2009 (Italy)

Italy has come up with the ingenious idea of boosting newspaper sales by bundling them with enticing extras. Now Umberto Eco has been brought on board to help La Repubblica and L'Espresso magazine shed some light on the Middle Ages in a series of books. The author of "The Name of the Rose" has written an introduction to the first 81-page volume, which is printed in excerpts in the current magazine. In it he tries to redress the tarnished image of his favourite period in history. Yes, there are some "mystically inspired" modern-day terrorists who would gladly bomb us back to the Middle Ages but, Eco says: "The cities at that time gave rise to a huge variety of business ideas as well as banks, loan systems and checks. And then there are all those Medieval inventions which we still use today: the fireplace, paper in place of parchment, Arabic numerals, noted in the 'Liber Abaci' by Leonardi Fibonacci in the 12th century, double-entry bookkeeping, the musical notation of Guido d'Arezzo. And we should not forget buttons, underwear, shirts, gloves, drawers, trousers, playing cards, chess and window panes. In the Middle Ages we began to sit at a table to eat (the Romans ate lying down) and to use forks." Today, at least, we can say that book series are being thought up to improve the sales of newspapers.


The New Yorker 09.03.2009 (USA)

In an exhaustive portrait titled "The Unfinished", D.T. Max discusses American writer and professor for English literature David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide last September. His breakthrough came with the extremely complex novel "Infinite Jest", but the author, who suffered from acute depression, was really out to show readers how to live a more meaningful life. In the short story "The Depressed Person", about an unhappy, narcissistic young woman, Wallace wrote: "Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Tofranil, Wellbutrin, Elavil, Metrazol in combination with unilateral ECT (during a two-week voluntary in-patient course of treatment at a regional Mood Disorders clinic), Parnate both with and without lithium salts, Nardil both with and without Xanax. None had delivered any significant relief from the pain and feelings of emotional isolation that rendered the depressed person's every waking hour an indescribable hell on earth".

The portrait is complemented by Wallace's story, "Wiggle Room".

There's also a posthumous review by John Updike of Blake Bailey's John Cheever biography, "Cheever: A Life (Knopf). Anthony Lane saw the movie version of Alan Moore's graphic novel "Watchmen" and a restored version of John M. Stahl's classic, "Leave Her to Heaven" (1945).


Europa 02.03.2009 (Poland)

"A good philosopher is a dead philosopher", says Maciej Nowicki in the cultural section of Dziennik's Europa. The occasion for the observation is the publication of English philosopher Simon Critchley's "The Book of Dead Philosophers", which takes as its theme philosophers' relation to death. Critchley examines the deaths of 190 philosophers. Nowicki was especially impressed by the following episode: "Diderot gave up the ghost after returning from a stay in Catherine's court in St. Petersburg. He was exhausted, became sick, and spent some time in bed. When he finally started feeling better, he joined his wife at the dinner table. He ate soup, lamb stew, and some endive. Then he picked up a strawberry. But his wife warned him against eating it. 'Good God, what could a strawberry do to me', Diderot asked with annoyance. And in that second he fell silent. He was already dead". (More here and here and here.)


Le Nouvel Observateur 26.02.2009 (France)

In an interview the French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf talks about the "world in disorder" and his recent essay "Le Dereglement du monde. Quand nos civilisations s'epuisent" (Grasset). In it he deplores the "simultaneous sell-out" of Arab-Muslim and Western cultures. The Muslim world is in the midst of a traumatic crisis which, in many countries, is bringing chicanery, discrimination and racism in its wake. "One would expect religious belief to sharpen moral sensitivity. But the opposite is often the case. As if the very proclamation of faith simultaneously negates all 'civil' values. I level my criticism of the West elsewhere. At the incessant talk of values. At people who seem to believe they are engaged in a constant struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights. But all too often these concepts are used selectively, to suit the situation at hand. (...) This is why moral credibility has a become a rare commodity these days. The West's supply is dwindling and the rest of the world does not have enough."

There is also an interview with Christopher Hitchens about his book "God Is Not Great" which looks at the poisonous influence of religion in the world. In the course of the conversation, Hitchens mentions that not for one moment did he believe that the Pope had no idea that Pius Brother Richard Williams was a Holocaust denier.


Edge.org 02.03.2009 (USA)

Our taste for art is not merely a cultural construct; it's more a product of evolution. That's the thesis of Denis Dutton's book, "The Art Instinct". In an interview with edge.org, the New Zealander philosophy professor and founder of Arts and Letters Daily explains what he means. According to Dutton, three factors determine imaginitive, expressive, and creative development in humans: pleasure, spontaneity, and universality. "What we've had over the last forty years is an ideology in academic life that regards the arts as socially constructed and therefore unique to local cultures. I call it an ideology because it is not argued for, it is just presupposed in most aesthetic discourse. Allied with this position is the idea that we can seldom or perhaps never really understand the arts of other cultures; other cultures likewise can't understand our arts. Everybody's living in his or her own socially constructed, hermetically sealed, special cultural world. But of course, a moment’s thought reveals that this can’t possibly be true. We know people in Brazil love Japanese prints, that Italian opera is enjoyed in China. Both Beethoven and Hollywood movies have swept the world. Think of it - the Vienna Conservatory has been saved by a combination of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese pianists. The universality of the arts is a fact, again a fact that requires explanation."

An hour-long presentation by Dutton at Google's corporate headquarters is on YouTube. And Dutton introduces his book on the Colbert Report here.


Newsweek 28.02.2009 (USA)

As Islamic fundamentalists continue to find support in communities from Nigeria to Indonesia, editor and columnist Fareed Zakaria thinks it's time to make a difference between Islamists "who are violent and those who are merely extreme". Using force against all of them reinforces the appearance of a clash of civilization. Once in power, the fundamentalists often become milder or lose public support as a result of their despotism, incompetence, or hypocrisy. Zakaria approvingly quotes CIA analyst Reuel Marc Gerecht. "What you have to realize is that the objective is to defeat bin Ladenism (...) Moderate Muslims are not the answer. Shiite clerics and Sunni fundamentalists are our salvation from future 9/11s." Most Taliban confine their aspirations to Afghanistan and can be negotiated with in the same manner the U.S. used to enlist the support of former insurgents in Iraq.


Outlook India 09.03.2009 (India)

Fareed Zakaria would probably describe Taliban fighter and cleric Maulana Sufi Mohammed, who has introduced sharia to the Swat Valley with the permission of the Pakistani government, as extreme but not necessarily violent. In return for control, he wants to keep the peace, Sufi Mohammed explains in an interview. "We have set up our peace camp here and appealed to the Taliban to disarm and wind up the checkpoints they have established in the Valley. The Taliban's response is positive. I have asked the government as well to remove the unnecessary checkposts along the roads. Now I am mediating between the two sides to ensure release of the arrested militants and captured personnel of the security forces". What this peace means for his own people can be gleaned from one sentence: "Democracy is a sin and nothing more than infidelity".

The cover story is dedicated to Bollywood composer and Oscar winner A.R. Rahman. Vinod Mehta is annoyed by the anglophone middle class's easy reconciliation with the pretty picture Danny Boyle drew of the slums. "Superpower India has at last come to terms with its penury. It is comfortable with its poverty. If you will pardon my French, that's bullshit!"


Dawn 02.03.2009 (Pakistan)

Mushfiq Murshed thinks the deal with Maulana Sufi Muhammad for introducing sharia to the Swat Valley is absurd. "This was demonstrated by the cold-blooded murder of journalist Musa Khankhel and the abduction of the Swat DCO. The latter was released shortly afterwards reportedly in exchange for some militants in government custody. The accord envisages the restoration of the qazi courts and the imposition of sharia. This precarious truce is based on logic bordering on absurdity. A democratically elected government has entered into an agreement whereby the writ of the state is being virtually handed over to a group of clerics who believe that democracy itself is un-Islamic. Sufi Muhammad is reported to have said, 'From the very beginning, I have viewed democracy as a system imposed on us by the infidels. Islam does not allow democracy or elections'."

Arundhati Roy has no sympathy for the English-Indian Oscar dominator "Slumdog Millionaire", whose success has been taken by the governing Congress Party as a cause to boast. "The party claims that instead of India Shining it has presided over India 'Achieving'. Achieving what? In the case of Slumdog, India's greatest contribution, certainly our political parties' greatest contribution is providing an authentic, magnificent backdrop of epic poverty, brutality and violence for an Oscar-winning film to be shot in. So now that too has become an achievement? Something to be celebrated? Something for us all to feel good about? Honestly, it’s beyond farce. And here's the rub: Slumdog Millionaire allows real-life villains to take credit for its cinematic achievements because it lets them off the hook. It points no fingers, it holds nobody responsible. Everyone can feel good. And that's what I feel bad about." (The Dawn website is sometimes slow; you can also read Roy here.)


La vie des idees 26.02.2009 (France)

In a detailed essay entitled "The mumbling of the white man", Sylvie Laurent traces the mutations Clint Eastwood's screen personalities over the course of his film career. Formerly criticised for his brutality, today Eastwood his celebrated for his (and their) "redemption". This notwithstanding Laurent, alongside her excursions into the history of the American identity, focuses primarily on the character of Walt Kowalski in Eastwood's latest film "Gran Torino", a man who no longer believes in the myth of the post-racial America. "He no longer even knows which strategy could preserve his place at the centre of American society, which is unswervingly white. His racism is perhaps, as Obama and Eastwood put it, the fruit of a long social and economic marginalisation, an exaggerated expression of legitimate fear. But what if they are both mistaken? If racism, as Jeremiah Wright fulminates and academics conclude, is not coincidental but deeply embedded in the American consciousness?"


Times Literary Supplement 27.02.2009 (UK)

No one will ever be as well-versed in early modern England as historian Keith Thomas, writes David Wootton. For his book "The Ends of Life", Thomas slogged his way through Oxford's Bodleian Library in order to document how people grappled with the concept of self-realization from 1530 to 1780. The product of his research is a comprehensive mosaic of references and quotations that, according to Wootton, makes for a wonderful read. But he recommends against readers' taking a similarly thorough approach to Thomas's tome: "His book has some of the characteristics of Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), in that it is capacious, tolerant, endlessly learned, but it is slimmer, sleeker and more user-friendly than that baggy portmanteau. It is hard, indeed, to imagine a better introduction to the early modern world. It will be immediately and universally recognized as indispensable, not just for historians, but for anyone with an interest in the past. At first sight all that seems to be missing is a health warning – trying to emulate Thomas's industry might endanger your life."

In addition: David Aberbach investigates the roots of British poet Stephen Spender.


Eurozine 27.02.2009 (Austria)

The patron, philologist, and social researcher Jan Philipp Reemtsma considers the limits of press liberties vis-a-vis news reports on crime victims - even when they agree to be on television. (Reemtsma himself was the victim of an abduction in 1996.) He details the case of a 13-year old who was kidnapped, held in captivity, and raped for five weeks. She appeared with her parents, lawyer, and therapist on Johannes Kerner's talkshow. "She has no idea what she is letting herself in for. She is driven by the desire to speak, and the medium exploits that desire. At the time of the interviews she may indeed feel relatively well, but she does not know, cannot know, that how she feels could be very different again in weeks, months, perhaps even years. She does not know whether this second exhibition might have a cumulative effect – she cannot know this, but her therapist must know this. The latter's responsibility, and that of the lawyer, should have been to talk her out of the desire to speak before the public gaze. It is always right to forestall this kind of public display; and always wrong to encourage it or even to take part in such an exhibition. The rule of thumb ought to be easy to remember".


Observator Cultural 02.03.2009 (Romania)

The novels and short stories of writer Stefan Agopian mark an important point in the emancipation of Romanian literature from the social realism of the 1950s, writes Jean Harris in her translation-adaptation of Eugen Negrici's introductory essay on Rumanian magical realism: "For Romanian writers, long obsessed with the rediscovery of a creative atmosphere the least bit like that of the interwar years, the return to [post-Stalinist] 'normality' gave rise to something like the reinvention of fiction's alphabet, an activity not unlike the reinvention of the wheel. What mattered first was regaining the right to turn out realist prose with narrative techniques and traditional typologies with social or psychological themes but without dangerous political implications - a modest but 'realistic' objective, so to speak. The older interdictions and recommendations were 'courageously' trespassed - after a transitional interval. 'Major themes' were no longer a creative desideratum ... and literature scrambled out from under the 'tyranny of the typical' and passed on to the exceptional, the marginal, the unprecedented. (...) Stefan Agopian entered this literary scene all the while giving free reign to creative fantasy, with the result that he suddenly brought into being a consequential and plausible irreality that was not sensible to any realistic determination whatsoever".

An English excerpt from Agopian's "The Geographer's Tales" can be found here. It begins: "Back then stripped bare of night (as if for evermore), the days would drag on lengthily, all dust-suffused and glum. From way out somewhere, He, boundlessly watching from amidst His angel hosts, was slowing our pace as He did rest. And our saliva made as if to run dry, akin to fuzzy lint, and all our words would fade. We settled in our progress as if in snaking silence whilst the reclining sun shed blood on the plain. We solemnly desired, bearing our arms, to be".


The Independent 28.02.2009 (UK)

According to British columnist Johann Hari, the freedom to criticize religion is being sacrificed on the altar of religious sensitivity. Case in point: The UN's Rapporteur on Human Rights, a Pakistani, recently requested her job description be changed so she can condemn "abuses of free expression" including "defamation of religions and prophets". Instead of condemning the people who wanted to murder Salman Rushdie," writes Hari, "they will be condemning Salman Rushdie himself. "After Hari's article was reprinted in the Indian Statesman, Muslims demonstrated in front of the newspaper's Calcutta office and the editor and publisher were arrested on charges of "hurting the religious feelings" of Muslims. Among the statements deemed offensive was Hari's comment, "I don't respect the idea that we should follow a 'Prophet' who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn't follow him." Statesman editor Ravindra Kumar has issued an apology for publishing Hari's article, but Hari himself is unrepentent. On 13 February, Hari wrote a follow-up column headed, "I Stand by What I Wrote."


Al-Ahram 26.02.2009 (Egypt)

In the aftermath of the Indian publication of Johann Hari's attack against Muslim censorship - greeted by calls for censorship - opinion editor of the Khaleej Times Aijaz Zaka Syed knows who's at fault: Johann Hari. Syed says Hari's original article was "dripping with hatred for Islam." "We are not against free speech," writes Syed, but "if playing with people's beliefs and trampling on all they hold sacred is freedom, then we're better off without it."


The New York Times 01.03.2009 (USA)

"A signal literary event of 2009 has occurred" proclaims Liesl Schillinger at the heavily delayed English publication of Hans Fallada's novel "Every Man Dies Alone" (first chapter), translated by Michael Hofmann. The book's husband and wife protagonists, who launched a postcard campaign against Hitler during the war, are based on the real-life Berliners Otto and Elise Hampel who were sentenced to death before the People's Court and decapitated. The publishers, Melville House, have simultaneously launched "excellent translations" of Fallada's best-known novels, "Little Man - What Now?" and "The Drinker". Schillinger was also impressed by the scholarly epilogues to "Little Man", written by Philip Brady and John Willet: "According to Brady, the author once admitted that he 'could depict only what he saw, not what might happen.' What Fallada saw in Berlin in the 1940s was enough to make a weaker man close his eyes. But Fallada kept his open. He was not strong enough to leave Nazi Germany, although he was given the chance. But he was strong enough to record what he saw."

Other articles include Brad Gooch's biography of the writer Flannery O'Connor and Alexander Waugh's history of the Wittgenstein family.

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The Republicans are waging a war against women, the New York Magazine declares. Perhaps it's because women are so unabashed about reading porn in public - that's according to publisher Beatriz de Moura in El Pais Semanal, at least. Polityka remembers Operation Reinhard. Tensions are growing between Poland and Hungary as Victor Orban spreads his influence, prompting ruminations on East European absurdity from both Elet es Irodalom and salon.eu.sk. Wired is keeping its eyes peeled on the only unassuming sounding Utah Data Center.
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Tuesday 13 March, 2012

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Tuesday 6 March, 2012

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Tuesday 21 February, 2012

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