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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24/03/2009

Magazine Roundup

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

The Nation | Lettre International | The Economist | El Pais Semanal | Nepszabadsag | The Guardian | L'Espresso | The Times Literary Supplement | L'Express | The New York Review of Books | Le Nouvel Observateur | The New Yorker | Elet es Irodalom | Gazeta Wyborcza | The New York Times

The Nation 06.04.2009 (USA)

Journalism professor Joel Brinkley recently called for an anti-trust law exemption for the newspaper industry, allowing publishers to join forces and start charging for their online content. Then the editors of the largest US newspapers met with Google in order to demand better rankings for their articles. And now, in the Nation's cover story, John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney are demanding public subsidies for established print media. Or rather: increased subsidies - because the press has always been publicly subsidised, actually. "The government subsidies established by the founders did not end in the eighteenth - or even the nineteenth - century. Today the government doles out tens of billions of dollars in direct and indirect subsidies, including free and essentially permanent monopoly broadcast licenses, monopoly cable and satellite privileges, copyright protection and postal subsidies. ... Because the subsidies mostly benefit the wealthy and powerful, they are rarely mentioned in the fictional account of an independent and feisty Fourth Estate. Both the rise and decline of commercial journalism can be attributed in part to government policies, which scrapped the regulations and ownership rules that had encouraged local broadcast journalism and allowed for lax regulation as well as tax deductions for advertising - policies that greatly increased news media revenues. The truth is that government policies and subsidies already define our press system."

In addition: Norman Birnbaum reports with regret that Italy's leftist daily, Il Manifesto, is about to go bust because its subsidy has been axed. You can make a donation here.


Lettre International 24.03.2009 (Germany)

Lettre has published an excerpt from Gabor Altorjay and Carsten Dane's translation of a 1960 essay by Hungarian philosopher and social critic Bela Hamvas, "Direct Morality and the Bad Conscience": "Either you live, and the cost of living is dirty hands, or you don't want to dirty your hands, and have to abdicate from life as a result. That is bad conscience and direct morality. (...) Direct morality is the hotbed of rebellion and revolution. (...) The conformist is not criminal, but vile. He merely arouses indignation, and that's why he doesn't belong in court. This indignation is the seed of rebellion. No one can be indignant without craving revenge. When revenge bursts forth, you have revolution. (...) The revolutionary believes that the wretched automatically have truth on their side. But precisely in the moment when the revolutionary conquers the world and installs himself in it, taking control of property and beginning to defend it, his bad conscience awakes and thereby immediately provokes the direct morality. There has never been a revolution that didn't conform to this paradigm. (...) When the revolutionary attains power, he promptly surrenders himself to the world, and the whole cycle begins anew."

Lettre has also translated Yuri Afanasiev's fantastic essay about the end of Russia into German. Read it in English at Open Democracy.


The Economist 20.03.2009 (UK)

The Economist believes the financial crisis will finally usher in the change that the Internet economy is still in denial about: The days of free online content are everything for free are over. "It is not surprising that rival search engines, social networks or video-sharing sites give their services away in order to attract users, and put the difficult question of how to make money to one side. If you worry too much about a revenue model early on, you risk being left behind. Ultimately, though, every business needs revenues—and advertising, it transpires, is not going to provide enough. Free content and services were a beguiling idea. But the lesson of two internet bubbles is that somebody somewhere is going to have to pick up the tab for lunch." (And will the Economist also be hiding its articles behind a paywall? Untraceable for Google?)

The title story deals with China's precarious new status as superpower - and what it means for the rest of the world. The first book by intellectual entrepreneur Nandan Nilekani, "Imagining India," is discussed, as is Martin Gayford's biography, "Constable in Love" (website).


El Pais Semanal 22.03.2009 (Spain)

"Trust no one who doesn't read novels." Javier Cercas draws conclusions from Timothy Ryback's recently published book on Hitler's private library. "I'm not surprised that the Führer didn't like novels - the novel was eyed with suspicion by humourless people from the outset, although it's the ironic literary genre par excellence, a devil's tool that just makes everything more complicated. On top of that, Ryback provides future novelists with material for two fantastic novels: a thriller about the mysterious book lying on Hitler's bedside table on the night he killed himself in the bunker - it's visible in a photo, but the title is indecipherable. And second, a metaphysical novel about the moustache hair Ryback found in one of Hitler's books - Lord in heaven, this hair..."

Nepszabadsag 15.03.2009 (Hungary)

"Today is the last day when Ferenc Gyurcsany could still volunteer to resign as president," political scientist Laszlo Lengyel wrote last Saturday, and soon afterwards Gyurcsany did precisely that. Hungary now needs to form a "government of experts", writes Lengyel, because Gyurcsany destroyed all support at home and abroad: "The orthodox programmes of the last twenty years no longer function. We now need to learn, exercise self-criticism, test out new solutions. And look inwards: take a stance against violence, brutishness and de-civilisation. Crisis management is not dictatorship; it is democracy and dialogue. You don't trust your people? Then don't expect them to trust you."


The Guardian 21.03.2009 (UK)

We have the Greeks and the Romans to blame for our fantasies about a "good death", final joke and all. It's all nonsense, says Classics Professor Mary Beard: Seneca's death was closer to the real thing: slow, difficult, terrible. "Personally, I am hoping for one of those massive heart attacks (not the little sort that merely leave you an invalid). So too are most of the doctors that I know. Going out with a bang on the golf course is the physicians' preferred exit route. Though quite why they persist in prescribing for the rest of us pills that will make such an event less likely and consign us to far less desirable forms of death, is a bit of a mystery. I'm still waiting to meet a medic who greets my high blood pressure and raised cholesterol with a smile and a warm prediction of a premature but speedy end."


L'Espresso 19.03.2009 (Italy)

Umberto Eco attests to the body obsession of his favourite villain, Silvio Berlusconi. The cult of the body reminds Eco of earlier and - fortunately - long forgotten days. "If there is a similarity between Berlusconi and Mussolini (and just in case anyone is tempted to protest: we don't believe Berlusconi is a fascist, but rather that he, like Mussolini, wants a populistic relationship with the masses and is grinding down parliamentary institutions by having them either abolished or devalued), then the similarity lies in the borderline manic image control. (...) The fundamental difference between Mussolini and Berlusconi is that the former deployed his own body, bare breast included, the way his mama made it. He even emphasised his baldness. In Berlusconi's case, the aspect of the cyborg predominates: modern body sculpting techniques, from hair transplants to facelifts, allow him to present his followers with a mineralised, ageless image."


The Times Literary Supplement 20.03.2009 (UK)

In Josef Skvorecky's novel, "Ordinary Lives," Karl Orend discovers an allegory for the twentieth century, the entire tragedy of Central Europe. The book's protagonist is once again the Czech character, Danny Smiricky; the plot revolves around his high school reunion. This allows Skvorecky to look at the biography of Smiricky and his classmates, at their "ordinary lives" under National Socialism and Communism. "'Ordinary Lives' reveals the horror inherent in life under totalitarianism. Schoolchildren, living in an age when 'few people had an idea of the bottomless evil that was Hitler', are trained in Nazi ideology. Some attend a summer camp to improve their German. Ninety per cent of them are Jewish. Ninety percent end as ash. (...) Eugenics is destiny. A student with a Czech name is classed as Volksdeutsche. He ends up at Stalingrad. Wounded, he is afraid to remain in Kostelec, believing that his neighbours will murder him when the war is over. Madeleines and tea do not provoke Proustian memories. Every time Smiricky sees a blowfly, he is reminded of the swarms that descended on his town from the grave where German soldiers were buried, after being beaten to death by partisans." (Read Randy Boyagoda's interview with Josef Skvorecky in Walrus magazine)

Paul Gifford finds it slightly regrettable that Michel Jarrety's 1,500 page biography of Paul Valery focusses more on the life of the lyricist and philosopher than on the interaction between his life and work. But it did contain plenty of interesting anecdotes, like those about Valery's chronic money worries: "His regret at 'missing' the Nobel Prize concerned the prize money of 70,000 francs: the price of the squadrons of secretaries he never had and the car he never owned."


L'Express 19.03.2009 (France)

Twenty years after the invention of "Agrippina", comic artist Claire Bretecher presents the eighth volume revolving around her legendary hero ("Agrippine deconfite," Dargaud). In an entertaining and sharp-tongued interview, Bretecher confesses to being "reasonably" misanthropic. The militant aspects of the gender struggle constantly disgusted her, and she preferred not to worry about gender differences, just pretending that there aren't any. Asked if she reads women's magazines, she explains: "I flip through them and look at the pictures and curse. They're so dull. Fifty years, always the same thing: how to get tan, how to do one's hair... Not to mention the fashions. Today, you have to be organic. It's the worst! Just look at the recipes: Everything is healthy - they want to get us to eat quinoa. Blech! But I can't stop looking at them. It's the pictures."

The New York Review of Books 09.04.2009 (USA)

John Gray strongly recommends Margaret Atwood's book "Payback", published last October, which shows how human thought has been shaped by notions of debt. "If Atwood's 'Payback' contains a lesson it is that debts must be repaid. The type of political economy that operated in the US over the past twenty years, which some imagined would spread throughout the world, was based on the belief that this old-fashioned maxim no longer applied. A new era had arrived, in which sophisticated techniques of financial management could transform debt into a means of wealth creation from which even the poor could benefit."

Pico Iyer wonders whether there has a been a shift in the politics of the Tibetan independence movement. He accompanied the Dalai Lama on a tour of Japan and was astounded by the monk's mood of resignation. He quotes him as saying: "'I have to accept failure. In terms of the Chinese government becoming more lenient [in Chinese-occupied Tibet], my policy has failed. We have to accept reality."

Further articles: Mark Danner scrutinises a secret Red Cross report from 2007 which describes in minute detail the torture of 14 high-ranking prisoners in CIA custody. The magazine also prints an open letter signed by a long list of prominent intellectuals in support of the Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi, who recently received threats to her life. And Ingrid D. Rowland visted two exhibitions on the artist and natural scientist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) in the Rembrandt House, Amsterdam and the J.Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.


Le Nouvel Observateur 19.03.2009

The great Milan Kundera admirer, Alain Finkielkraut, never took a stance on the Kundera Affair, which broke last year after a document - whose authenticity was later verified - emerged which suggested that the Czech author had informed on a courier for the US secret service in the early 1950s (more here). Now for the Nouvel Obs, he reviews a collection of Kundera's essays ("Une rencontre", Gallimard) about his literary influences. And Kundera's allegiance to, of all things, Anatole France's now forgotten novel "Les dieux ont soif", sounds like a response to the affair. Finkielkraut writes: "Why did this novel, which is set in 1793 Paris, play such a critical role in the Stalinist Prague of the fifties? Because it is not content simply to portray its protagonist Evarist Gamelin, a young painter who becomes a fanatical follower of the revolutionary Tribunal, as a monster, but because it picks apart the existential enigma of this emotional and so ordinary monstrosity." (In Standpoint Michael Weiss summarized the Kundera affair)


The New Yorker 30.03.2009 (USA)

Tens of thousands of prisoners are currently held in solitary confinement in the USA. In an article titled "Hellhole", doctor and medical columnist Atul Gawande asks whether this constitutes torture. On the basis that human beings need social interaction simply to exist at all, he looks at a number of cases showing the appalling mental and socio-psychological effects of protracted isolation. Journalist Terry Anderson, for example, was held prisoner by the Hisbollah in Lebanon for seven years. "'I would rather have had the worst companion than no companion at all,' he noted. In September, 1986, after several months of sharing a cell with another hostage, Anderson was, for no apparent reason, returned to solitary confinement, this time in a six-by-six-foot cell, with no windows, and light from only a flickering fluorescent lamp in an outside corridor. The guards refused to say how long he would be there. After a few weeks, he felt his mind slipping away again.'I find myself trembling sometimes for no reason,' he wrote. 'I'm afraid I'm beginning to lose my mind, to lose control completely.' One day, three years into his ordeal, he snapped. He walked over to a wall and began beating his forehead against it, dozens of times. His head was smashed and bleeding before the guards were able to stop him."

There are reviews of a collection of early letters by Samuel Beckett and John Wray's novel "Lowboy". Paul Goldberger visits the Palladio exhibition at the Royal Academy and asks how "Palladian" the Renaissance architect really was. David Denby watched "Duplicity", a thriller by Tony Gilroy and the Northern Ireland prison drama "Hunger" by Steve McQueen. There is also the short story "Julia and Byron" by Craig Raine, a bit of satire from Woody Allen and poems by Garret Keizer and Mary Jo Bang.


Elet es Irodalom 13.03.2009 (Hungary)

How does our European culture attempt to deal with cultural difference and Otherness? This question is at the centre of the exhibition "The Other", currently showing at Budapest's Ethnographic Museum. The exhibition is accompanied by a series of talks. One of the speakers is anthropologist Anna Losonczy, a professor at the Parisian Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes who, after leaving Hungary in 1972, spent almost twenty years researching the ethnic relations between Blacks and Embera Indians in Columbia. Istvan Harangozo asked her why acceptance of Otherness is so rare in Hungary today, particularly where the Roma are concerned. Hungarians have been confronted with so many new things since 1989, Losonczy says, "that individual groups have become estranged and then, like cartoons, frozen in mutual alienation. All nuances have faded. [...] In a society in which legitimacy is being redefined – all relations to the outside world are also redefined – the inner Other, which was familiar before and was part of one's own identity, becomes an outsider. The familiar Other used to help us define our identities, but this construction process has been interrupted, not only in Hungary, but in other countries in the region. This is why all minorities in the region are now so susceptible to this phenomenon."


Gazeta Wyborcza 21.03.2009 (Poland)

Adam Krzeminski is disappointed in the German treatment of the history of the RAF: Neither Bernhard Schlink's novel, "Wochenende", (the weekend) nor the movie "The Baader-Meinhof Complex" (recently released in Poland) left Krzeminski satisfied. And he had expected so much from the film - among other things, an answer to the question of why the German version of Bonnie and Clyde are still celebrated by the media as heroes. What was really going through the minds, not to mention in the souls of the Germans, can't be gleaned from the film: "You watch this film, and nothing comes of it. It's a platitudinous action flick just like 'Valkyrie,' another comic-book history with well-shot, well-played episodes that leave the basic questions unanswered." For Krzeminski: Lots of action, no background.

History isn't only contested in Poland. Ukrainian historian Volodymyr Pavliv critically examines the cult surrounding the UPA party organisation, the military arm of the "Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists" (OUN) from WWII. The UPA fought against German and Soviet occupiers and stands accused of massacring Polish civilians, Pavliv explains. He makes a sustained plea for a differentiated search for the truth, not only of the Ukrainian people's guilt and mistakes but also of their suffering: "In the eighteenth year of independence, we should remind ourselves of the following two truths: the heroic, and the painful. Fairy tales are for children, but adults need the truth. A truth that should liberate us from the mendacious rhetoric of political fraudsters posing as our national leaders."

The New York Times 22.03.2009 (USA)

Tina Rosenburg narrates the "Many Stories of Carlos Fernando Chamorro", once the editor of the official Sandinista newspaper Barricada and the son of Nicaragua's most prominent independent journalist who is now under threat as the country's leading advocate for press freedom. 1990 marked the turning point in his career: "In 1990, after six years as president, and as the contra war was coming to a close, Daniel Ortega ran for re-election. The Sandinistas expected to win, perhaps by a landslide. The landslide instead went to the candidate of the momentarily united opposition: Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. 'I voted for Daniel Ortega,' Carlos told me, and smiled sheepishly. At Barricada, the staff was in shock at the Sandinista's loss. For Carlos, the shock was more personal. 'My mother was president,' he said. 'I'm here at Barricada. Do I want to be in opposition to my mother?' Well, yes, as it turned out, he did. Although Barricada eventually changed its slogan to 'For the National Interest,' the paper was merciless with his mother's government. Then there was another, more pleasant shock: for the first time, Carlos did not have to censor himself. 'We can be real journalists, not people defending a political project,' he said he remembers thinking. 'We began to feel liberated.' The shift in Barricada was not only a professional imperative; it was a necessity for survival. Barricada had lost its income from government advertising. Now it had to survive by selling papers."

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