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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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17/03/2009

Magazine Roundup

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

Osteuropa | The Guardian | Frontline | Al Ahram Weekly | Salon.eu.sk | The Times Literary Supplement | New Humanist | ResetDoc | The Economist | Elet es Irodalom | Le Nouvel Observateur | The Spectator | Nepszabadsag | The New York Times

Osteuropa 18.03.2009 (Germany)

In a large special issue the magazine commemorates the new European era that began in 1989.

There's an online interview with Czech writer Jachym Topol, who's surprised that Eastern Europe is still so different from the West, twenty years after the Soviet collapse: "Take the subway ticket inspection, for example. Here in Berlin, all the people just show their tickets. In Prague, this would be inconceivable; there, the people intentionally rummage around in their pockets in as laborious and protracted a manner as possible because the inspector, as the representative of a public institution, is viewed as the enemy - and so it's valid to hold him up for as long as possible to give the fare dodgers time to get out of the carriage... A second phenomenon I hadn't counted on in 1989 is the fact that many Communist crimes have still not been atoned for after twenty years - the perpetrators have not been punished."

Katharina Raabe retraces how Central European authors, from Peter Nadas, Aleksandar Tisma, and Imre Kertesz to Andrzej Stasiuk, Slavenka Drakulic and Dubravka Ugresic, shook the world, and she explains an important difference: "People say East and mean Moscow; people say Central Europe and think Vienna. It's the historical destiny of Central Europe," writes Juri Andruchowych, "to get 'stuck between Russians and Germans.' There's the Central European fear - of Germans, of Russians. The Central European death: in a camp, in prison; a collective, violent death. And last of all the Central European journey: the escape. Even today, the difficulty of literature from this region stems from the unavoidability of explaining ways of dying."

In addition: Slovenian poet Ales Steger casts a harsh judgment on European cultural policy which, in its obsession with harmonisation, smacks of Tito, mere PR in place of European discourse. There's also Adam Michnik's speech for the opening of the large Eastern European conference, "Freedom in View." György Konrad, Petr Pithart, Ivaylo Ditchev and Karl Schlögel also contributed articles.


The Guardian 14.03.2009 (UK)

Sophie Harrison met Indian writer Amit Chaudhuri, whose new novel "The Immortals" has just been published. Chaudhuri studied at Oxford before returning to Calcutta in the late 90s (although he still teaches at the University of East Anglia.) And yet he really doesn't seem to be at home there anymore. "He also feels that the Indian press haven't found a workable language to talk about value. 'They criticise a lot, but the criticism is based on arguments about authenticity these days. Did he earn his right to talk about this? Is it really this street he's talking about? Should he have been talking about this particular street or a street which is more representative of this or that?' He feels that imagination has become subservient to the social sciences, in insidious ways. 'Margins and the centre, colonialism - it all has to fit into that.'"

Elsewhere: You don't need a "grand idea" to play Beethoven - you just have to play him in the right tempo, says conductor Roger Norrington.



Frontline 14.03.2009 (India)

Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, Professor of Physics at the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, caustically criticises the "grim and humourless" "Saudi-ising" of Pakistani culture and life in recent decades. "Total separation of the sexes is a central goal of the Islamists. Two decades ago the fully veiled student was a rarity on Pakistani university and college campuses. The abaya was an unknown word in Urdu; it is a foreign import. But today, some shops in Islamabad specialise in abaya. At colleges and universities across Pakistan, female students are seeking the anonymity of the burqa. Such students outnumber their sisters who still dare show their faces. While social conservatism does not necessarily lead to violent extremism, it does shorten the path. Those with beards and burqas are more easily convinced that Muslims are being demonised by the rest of the world. The real problem, they say, is the plight of the Palestinians, the decadent and discriminatory West, the Jews, the Christians, the Hindus, the Kashmir issue, the Bush doctrine, and so on. They vehemently deny that those committing terrorist acts are Muslims or, if faced by incontrovertible evidence, say it is a mere reaction to oppression. Faced with the embarrassment that 200 schools for girls were blown up in Swat by Fazlullah's militants, they wriggle out by saying that some schools were housing the Pakistan Army, who should be targeted anyway."


Al Ahram Weekly 12.03.2009 (Egypt)

Amal Fawzi talks to Nesmahar Sayed about "Private File" her documentary about virginity. "We are neither for nor against the idea that so much moral value should be attached to a girl staying a virgin until she gets married. What we are more interested in is how the concept of honour plays out in society." It was clearly a struggle to finance financing for the film, although Fawzi's approach could hardly be described as radical. "The idea of the film, according to Fawzi, is to show the average Egyptian girl what the consequences of premarital sex could be. She says she made a point of excluding the opinions of those who believe in premarital sex as they do not reflect the vast majority - and may have been taken as a sign that the film is promoting premarital sex."


Salon.eu.sk 09.03.2009 (Slovakia)

Michael Zantovsky recalls taking a good friend on a visit to Woody Allen in New York in the early 90s. "We rang Mia's bell and Woody Allen answered the door. He said Mia was out and we should come later. I put my foot in the door before he managed to slam it shut, and explained that we were actually looking for him, that we had come from Czechoslovakia and that my friend, a playwright and president, would like to meet him because he is an inquisitive sort of guy. Woody was flattered that we came all the way from Czechoslovakia and asked us to come in, though I did notice that he left the alarm on."


The Times Literary Supplement 11.03.2009 (UK)

Gabriel Josipovici took great pleasure in reading Beckett's correspondence from 1929 to 1940, when the author was still unsure of what to do with his life and art: "By the end of the decade friends were showing him pictures they had purchased with queries about provenance and authentification. But Beckett could no more become an art dealer than he could become a lecturer in French, a commercial pilot, a student of Eisenstein or any of the other careers he briefly toyed with but either resigned from when they became a reality, or simply left to drift in the realm of possibility. For there was really only one thing Beckett wanted to do, and that was to write. Even the letters about art are in the main concerned with the same thing as the letters about music, philosophy and literature: the attempt to understand what he hoped to achieve and how the art in question could help him. Hence his passion for the unlikely trio of Watteau, Cezanne and Jack B. Yeats."


New Humanist 01.04.2009

Eliane Glaser is annoyed that scientists still speak so dismissively about the humanities even though they've evolved so remarkably since the 1950s. And they're useful, too: "Science doesn't have the conceptual language to deconstruct religion, just as religion doesn't have the methodological tools to criticise science. The inability of either side to win the argument is the reason why it rages tediously on. The most effective opponent of religion is not science but the humanities. The humanities can help us move beyond the current redundant debate, because they understand concepts of language, discourse and genre, and are able to compare the two opposing enterprises philosophically. They have the analytical wherewithal to account for the growth of biblical literalism and scientific fundamentalism. The humanities are powerful allies of secularism, with their ability to critique the rise of religion historically, politically and culturally."

Elsewhere in the magazine: Michail Ryklin tells Caspar Melville why Communism is a religion; and there is a review of Kenan Malik's book, "From Fatwa to Jihad,".


ResetDoc 16.03.2009 (Italy)

The assertion that the civil societies in Muslim states are backwards and incapable of self-criticism is just a product of the postcolonial logic of the West, says Marco Cesario. He lists a few examples of dissent in Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria, and Jordan in order to insist: Arab societies are changing, unbeknown to the West, and the Internet is the key factor. "As stated by Jihad Al Khazan in the pan-Arab daily newspaper Al Hayat, the Middle East of today is writing a new chapter thanks to the Internet and blogs, since these open the way to greater freedom of expression. Today an army of bloggers, intellectuals, artists, political refugees, are using various forms of dissent to demolish the political inflexibility of governments and push through far-reaching change in their societies. Everything that happens inside a country can be filmed and published online for everyone to see. It is easy for a blog to dodge regime censorship and report the facts. Power relations between political regimes and civil societies, once balanced in favour of the regimes, are slowly achieving a new equilibrium."

Further articles: Khalid Chaouki criticises the tendency of Western governments to curry favor with autocratic regimes in the Arab world. Nadia Urbinati, Professor of Political Theory at Columbia University, explains the importance of dissent for democracy. In an interview, Michael Kazin, Professor of History at Georgetown University, describes the role of opposition movements in the USA.


The Economist 12.03.2009 (UK)

The Economist praises Samuel D. Kassow's book "Who Will Write Our History? Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive". The Polish-Jewish historian Ringelblum and other historians who were forcefully immigrated to the Warsaw ghetto compiled a huge archive at colossal personal risk. "The archive ranged from raw eyewitness accounts to scholarly histories, such as Ringelblum's own lengthy analysis of Polish-Jewish relations. About 35,000 pages (only a fraction of the whole) survived the war, buried in milk churns and tin boxes. Some were carefully soldered shut; others had leaked, leaving an illegible soggy lump requiring painstaking conservation work. That the documents came to light at all is thanks to the persistence of Rachel Auerbach, one of only three survivors of hundreds of people involved in the project. It was she who went to Warsaw in 1946 and demanded that the cold and hungry survivors of the city’s destruction make the effort to dig out the caches from the ruins." The Economist regrets only that "the author does not give a little space to the view of the ghetto from the outside. And the use of 'Pole' as the antonym for 'Jew' may jar with some. Many of the people he writes about would have said they were both." (Here is another review from The New Republic).

Otherwise this issue has a focus on entrepreneurship which, says Adrian Woolridge, is experiencing a global renaissance. "The downturn has advantages as well as drawbacks. Talented staff are easier to find and office space is cheaper to rent. (...) Microsoft, Genentech, Gap and The Limited were all founded during recessions. Hewlett-Packard, Geophysical Service (now Texas Instruments), United Technologies, Polaroid and Revlon started in the Depression."


Elet es Irodalom 06.03.2009

Capitalism has become a four-letter word again: synonym for greed and uninhibited profiteering. This applies to Hungary in particular, and not just since the start of the crisis. One poll says that only 18 percent of Hungarians view themselves as having profited from the capitalist changes of the last 20 years. In light of the crisis, more and more Hungarians want to abandon capitalism and liberalism. And if democracy is lost, too?, ask historian Zoltan Vagi and psychologist and campaign expert Gabor Bruck: "Capitalism and democracy go hand in hand. Every wealthy democracy we envy has a market economy. The freedom of enterprise, a free economy, strengthens democracy everywhere and weakens tyranny. That's why the spread of anticapitalism in Hungary is questionable in more than just the economic context. Before we write off capitalism, it's worth recalling for a moment the American Declaration of Independence: the point of government, it says, is to guarantee 'inalienable' rights to every single citizen - rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So before we bury capitalism in the hopes of winning a wonderful future, we should first think about whether we'd be burying democracy in the same grave."

After Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany failed at the EU economic summit to set up a 190 million euro aid fund for Central Eastern Europe, the editor-in-chief of Elet es Irodalom takes a sceptical look at this traditional Hungarian strategy: Every time Hungary finds itself in a scrape, it first turns the situation into a regional problem, spreading Hungarian distress across Central and Eastern Europe, and then presenting the entire problem-bundle to the EU institutions. It was a successful strategy, even under Kadar: "But it no longer works. On the one hand, because we have long ceased to play a progressive role in Europe, as we did before the collapse of Communism. Actually the situation is much worse: we have become the lazy and complacent man of Eastern Europe. While the other states were pushing though structural reforms, [...] we Hungarians spared ourselves the unpleasantries involved and are now acting over-hastily. Lobbying has become all the more difficult because the other countries, which have got ahead by making grave sacrifices, obviously want nothing to do with it. Neither Slovakia, nor Poland, nor the Czech Republic. And they show no regional solidarity with Hungary which is quite understandable: if they have paid for things with an arm and a leg, why should they be enthusiastic if someone else wants to solve the matter in diplomatic antechambers."


Le Nouvel Observateur 12.03.2009 (France)

In an interview titled "Egypt's Two Wounds" Alaa El Aswany, the country's most-read writer and founder of the democracy movement Kifaya, denounces Egypt's dictatorship and its complicity with Islamic fundamentalism. "Egypt is fighting a war on two fronts: it is fighting for democracy and it is fighting Wahabism for a tolerant Egypt. I am active in both battles. They are connected. The link between Wahabism and dictatorship is incontrovertible and it's not possible to strengthen one against the other as the West believes. Dictatorship and fanaticism are Siamese twins. They have much in common: the image of women, views on freedom, democracy and private life, and the elitist conviction that unlike themselves, the population is incapable of differentiating between good and evil. In a democracy there is no need for fanaticism. But Egypt has been poisoned by the Saudi exegesis of Islam."


The Spectator 12.03.2009 (UK)

Oliver Cole is concerned about the future of art in London. In 2007/2008 art sales dropped by 10 percent. And we can't rely on the next generation – not with the education they're getting. "'Bathers at Asnières' is a dreamily double-edged impressionist painting: an idyll as tricksy as the tiny dots, instead of brushstrokes, that Seurat used to paint. Young Parisian workers are stretched out like cats in the sun, or swimming in water so cool that you can almost feel it, and yet in the background the chimneys puff away, calling them back to work. At the National Gallery the other day, I overheard an official gallery guide addressing a heap of near-comatose teenagers: 'This is a very large painting,' she said, 'and it was painted about 100 years ago.' In an escape from the shackles of the classroom, as opposed to the factory floor, 80,000 schoolchildren pass through the doors of the National Gallery every year — that's one potentially excitable child every 15 minutes. But if it is made this much fun, how many of them will return? Why would they? A few rooms away from Seurat, at a cost of 50 million pounds, come September, will be 'Diana and Actaeon', the proverbial 'saved for the nation' Titian. Perhaps this will be presented as a medium-sized painting, done by an Italian."


Nepszabadsag 14.03.2009 (Hungary)

Miklos Haraszti is the OSCE representative for press freedom and as the "censor of the censors" he is getting busier by the day. Because while in Western Europe the phenomenon of self-censorship is spreading (as in the case of the Mohammed cartoons in 2006), in Eastern Europe freedom of the press in coming increasingly under threat from the state. And how does the situation look in Central Asia and the Caucasus?, Bela Kurz asks. "In many places, the BBC and Radio Free Europe survived the years of change as the only 'public' radio stations, although they have since moved to FM frequency. And now they are being shown the door in a number of countries, particularly the ones where people most need to tune in to stations that are not centrally steered or biassed. Some countries are even persecuting reporters. But the most important thing I learned from my underground-oppositional generation is that the media is always useful. It might not be able to straighten out serious blunders or assist in law enforcement, but it can prevent a situation from getting worse. In countries which lack a pluralist press, the OSCE has approximately the same value for civil society as the Helsinki Process has for Hungary."

Julianna P. Szucs recommends the paintings of French artist Gustave Moreau, currently on show in the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, as a miracle cure for the financial meltdown blues. "The key to his art is hidden in the artificial world of culture, fantasy and mythology which he holds up against the real world in a dogged defence of arbitrary beauty that answers to no one and nothing. During his career he was – to his great fortune or misfortune – never confronted with the naturalistic dictates of everyday life. Morally speaking, this is undoubtedly problematic. But today, in times of a total collapse of value, of general existential crisis and all-pervading media pollution, it is a sight for sore eyes to let them rest on these quaintly brilliant gems."

The New York Times 15.03.2009

Arthur Lubov portrays the conductor Valeri Gergiev, director of the Mariinsky Theater in Petersburg, as a man of his time who never shies from doing whatever he deems necessary. A friend of Putin's and anyone else with power, a man who after the Russian attack on Georgia played Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony in Tskhinvali – in honour of the victims and the Russian army. He is also a man who has made an international name for himself as a composer and is using his talents and contacts to save the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky. Gergiev remembers how in 1998 he managed to squeeze money out of Boris Yeltsin: "I said: There are so many old artists — singers, musicians — with small pensions. I hope we can find a way to help them. No answer. And also we want to make a trip for the first time in our history to the regions of Russia on the Volga. Maybe your aides could help us organize it. No answer. Then, boom, I hit with America.' Shrewdly gauging the leader's competitive instincts, Gergiev told Yeltsin that he would need 30 million dollars to start the process of transforming the theater district to match American standards. ... Later a friend of Gergiev's, who was then the deputy minister of finance, telephoned him from Moscow. 'He called, laughing. He said: What did you say to Yeltsin? He signed it so hard there is a hole in the paper.'"

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