They?re Still Painting, and More: The Leipzig Art Scene

First a success, then a bubble: the hype surrounding the ?New Leipzig School? put the city on the map of the art world, but also blinkered its vision.... more more

GoetheInstitute

31/03/2009

Magazine Roundup

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

Prospect | Tygodnik Powszechny | The Economist | L'Espresso | The New Yorker | Le Figaro | The Spectator | ResetDoc | The Guardian | Gazeta Wyborcza | Wired | Elet es Irodalom | n+1 | The Times Literary Supplement | Salon.eu.sk | Al Aham Weekly | The New York Times


Prospect 30.03.2009 (UK)

Kenan Malik met author Hanif Kureishi for a chat. Kureishi remembers the fatwa against his colleague and friend Salman Rushdie: "The fatwa was traumatic for Kureishi, and not just because he was, and remains, a friend of Rushdie. 'It changed the direction of my writing. Unlike Salman I had never taken a real interest in Islam. I come from a Muslim family. But they were middle-class - intellectuals, journalists, writers - very anti-clerical. I was an atheist, like Salman, like many Asians of our generation were. I was interested in race, in identity, in mixture, but never in Islam. The fatwa changed all that. I started researching fundamentalism. I started visiting mosques, talking to Islamists.' Kureishi thinks the results of the fatwa were stark. "'Nobody,' Kureishi suggests, 'would have the balls today to write The Satanic Verses, let alone publish it. Writing is now timid because writers are now terrified.'"

Additional articles: In the cover story, "After Capitalism," Geoff Mulgan compares contemporary capitalism with monarchy in the early nineteenth century. Bartle Bull fears that Obama will become the unthinkable: a second Jimmy Carter. Aatish Taseer tells of a journey to the land of his forefathers, Pakistan. Jamie Bartlett and Michael King explain the trick of how to deal with Al Qaida: Make the terrorist organisation boring. Colin Murphy asks how vital Samuel Beckett's work is today.


Tygodnik Powszechny 29.03.2009 (Poland)

In an interview with the Polish weekly, French philosopher Jean-Luc Marion says of his field: "Philosophy is responsible for everything - which doesn't mean that it's directly responsible for one specific issue or another. It doesn't deal with questions of detail or needs - for that, there's science, technology, or culture. Philosophy is an opening; it opens the space for all other questions." Among other things, it's about the question of God's existence: "God exists, but what is the consequence if this coffee cup in front of me also exists? I don't believe in God because he exists; I believe in Him because He's God. One can't believe in everything that exists!"


The Economist 30.03.2009 (UK)

What's the deal with the new American populism aimed primarily at financial institutions? It's foundation is solid, The Economist fears, and it backs up its argument with stats showing a huge loss of faith in institutions: "The General Social Survey has been polling Americans about their confidence in major institutions (among other things) since 1972. The preliminary data for 2008 show a marked drop in confidence in every American institution since 2000 except military ones and education. The proportion of people expressing 'a great deal of confidence' fell from 30% in 2000 to 16% in 2008 for big business, from 30% to 19% for banks, from 29% to 20% for organised religion, from 14% to 11% for the executive branch and from 13% to 11% for Congress. It was up, to 52%, for the armed services. These figures are the stuff that nasty movements are made of."

The business section features two articles on a new low-cost car, the Nano from Indian automaker Tata (cost: 1600 euros). On one hand, it makes for a surprisingly good drive; on the other, it might not be enough to solve the automaker's problems. Other articles discuss cowboy poetry and the success of online dating sites during times of crisis. There's also a review of Alain de Botton's new collection of essays, "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work" (more on his website).


L'Espresso 19.03.2009 (Italy)

They've already conquered Europe, and now they're going for Africa and, above all, the U.S.: For the Calabrian Mafia, the 'Ndrangheta, crisis times are good times, writes Antonio Nicaso. Now, they can expand. They've been in all these places for quite a while. "Today, the 'Ndrangheta rule in the U.S. without giving orders. And they communicate without speaking. A recent case from Manhattan: A broker from the 'Ndrine was seen at a table with three drug dealers. The Calabrian broker and the three Mexican drug guys ordered their fish and then started using their Blackberrys for text messaging with ptt - push to talk. One of the few systems that, like skype, can't be monitored. The whole meal, they remained practically mute, from the crayfish to the crab cocktail, sending text messages to finish their business. High tech and blood bonds - that's precisely where the power of the 'Ndrangheta lies: adjusting to every situation without betraying their roots, without deviating from the model of a society of 'honor', with rules and values that have been handed down from father to son since the mid-nineteenth century."


The New Yorker 06.04.2009 (USA)

In an article researched with his usual meticulousness, Seymour M. Hersh examines Syria's ongoing readiness for peace with Israel and the country's interest in ties with the West - an opportunity for the Obama administration, says Hersh, to become active as a negotiator for Mid-East peace. Iran would play a key motivational role for all parties, as Syria's President Bashar Assad does not want to push it to the margins but wants it instead to take part in regional talks - with the participation of the U.S. and, eventually, even Israel. The end of Bush administration policies would be a decisive factor. Hersh summarises: "The White House has tough diplomatic choices to make in the next few months. Assad has told the Obama administration that his nation can ease the American withdrawal in Iraq. Syria also can help the U.S. engage with Iran, and the Iranians, in turn, could become an ally in neighboring Afghanistan, as the Obama Administration struggles to deal with the Taliban threat and its deepening involvement in that country—and to maintain its long-standing commitment to the well-being of Israel. Each of these scenarios has potential downsides. Resolving all of them will be formidable, and will involve sophisticated and intelligent diplomacy—the kind of diplomacy that disappeared during the past eight years, and that the Obama team has to prove it possesses."

Anthony Gottlieb discusses "The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War," about the Austrian business family that spawned philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Sasha Frere-Jones introduces readers to U2's album, "No Line on the Horizon." And Anthony Lane saw both Rob Letterman's sci-fi animation movie "Monsters vs. Aliens" and Emmanuel Mouret's French romantic comedy "Un baiser s'il vous plait" (A Kiss, Please). There's also a short story, "Visitation," by Brad Watson, and poetry by A.S. Byatt and Lawrence Raab.


Le Figaro 27.03.2009 (France)

In a brief interview promoting the publication of his essay, "Homo aestheticus" (LGF), Luc Ferry, philosopher and former French Minister for Youth, Education, and Science, fulminates against museums as "supermarkets devoid of meaning." The popularisation of museums is "the most extreme dumbing down of a consumer society" that doesn't even acknowledge the paradox it embodies: The fundamentally subversive has been reduced to popular pablum. "If you follow a school class or busload of tourists going through the Musee du quai Branly, you'll hear comments in front of a mask of the Dogon tribe such as: 'I wouldn't want that hanging in my living room,' and religious symbols are looked at as artworks because we've lost their significance. This is not especially gratifying."


The Spectator 25.03.2009 (UK)

Monty Python veteran John Cleese has started working as a part-time columnist for The Spectator. In his first contribution, he takes mischievous delight in running through all the nasty things the magazine has published about him over the past thirty years. "However, there was a silver lining to receiving such consistently appalling notices in this magazine. Whatever one does, there will be critics who dislike it, and all one can do is to hope that they will write for journals with circulations as tiny as that of The Spectator 20 years ago. It also helps to know that such reviews will never be read by one's colleagues in the creative arts, or, indeed, by anyone who might offer one work. So, a panning in these pages was only slightly more damaging than one in, say, the Zagreb Bugle. A digression. Interesting ideas often emerge from the world of management. One useful concept is that of the 'articulate incompetent'. This is a person who speaks clearly and cogently and persuasively about something, without actually understanding anything about the reality that their words are intending to describe. Such a person is dangerous to an organisation because they can sound very persuasive, despite the fact that they have absolutely no clue what they are talking bout. Which brings us back to critics. It is deeply funny that people who cannot write dialogue, and who cannot direct or act it either, are appointed to pass judgment on those who can."


ResetDoc 30.03.2009 (Italy)

Reset looks at the preordained victory of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in the Algerian elections on April 9. The journalist Mahmoud Belhimer describes how Bouteflika did away with limits presidential term limits, prompting opposition parties to boycott the elections and credible opposition leaders to refuse to talk to the press. Knowing that voting apathy is high due to public awareness of the electoral rigging, the authorities "are desperate to keep voter turnout at a respectable level. (...) Arab regimes have been very successful in developing totalitarian means even in ostensible democracies. This is the iron hand in the velvet glove. They maintain power by tolerating certain 'pluralist' activities, which are strictly controlled to prevent them disrupting the status quo."

Marco Cesario interviews Algerian writer Mohammed Benchicou, author of "Bouteflika: An Algerian Deception". To "solve Europe's two major problems of illegal immigration and terrorism," "the European Union must understand that to stabilise the countries on the the Southern shores of the Mediterranean you need to democratise the political powers in those countries." Cesario also talks to Benjamin Stora, a history professor from Paris, who has written a number of essays about the war in Algeria.


The Guardian 30.03.2009 (UK)

PD Smith read Laurent Keller and Elisabeth Gordon's "The Lives of Ants" with amazement, learning that ants are either communists or bioterrorists: "As Keller's fellow myrmecologists (ant specialists) EO Wilson and Bert Hölldobler have memorably pointed out, "it would appear that socialism really works under some circumstances. Karl Marx just had the wrong species." Weaver ants create nests in trees by stitching together leaves with the silk secreted by their larvae. The degree of co-operation and collaboration required to build such intricate structures is remarkable, an example of swarm intelligence in which complex structures arise not because of a plan but through the interactions of individuals following simple behavioural rules. But despite their matriarchal, communistic society, ants are one of the most aggressive species on the planet, waging war on other species as well as their own kind. To defend their colonies, ants will go to any lengths, including suicide. One Malaysian species has even turned itself into a walking chemical bomb, having evolved glands that contain a toxic fluid. Upon violently flexing its abdominal muscles, it bursts, spraying its enemies with lethal poison."

James Campbell finds actor and dramatist Wallace Shawn "attractive and humorous" and gives readers a taste of his new play, "Grasses of a Thousand Colors": "So you see, for me, the way things are now still seems astonishing - I mean the fact that people talk about their penises and vaginas in public, at dinner parties ... it's all changed so much. I mean, personally, I only mention my dick as frequently as I do because, to be absolutely frank, it interests me, and to be perfectly honest, it's just about the only thing that interests me."

In addition: Writer Richard Ford makes it clear that his Frank Bascombe is no 'everyman'. Simon Callow assesses Simon Louvish's Charlie Chaplin bio, "The Tramp's Odyssey". After half a century, Brian Dillon still can't quite define all the attributes in Chris Marker's half-hour masterpiece, "La Jetee".


Gazeta Wyborcza 28.03.2009 (Poland)

Joanna Derkaczew was disappointed by what sounded like a promising coproduction of Warsaw's Teatr Rozmaitosci and the Berliner Schaubühne, a staging of Dorota Maslowska's drama, "Miedzy nami dobrze jest" (We Get Along), directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna: "A worse fate could not befall Maslowska's text. Not everything is lost in the production, but Polish theatre is portrayed as anachronistic and pretentious. The 'modern' is equated with laptops, designer sofas, and smooth jazz playing in the background." The grotesque aspects of the original text are lost between spasms and soporific club sounds: "Trauma, suffering, martyrology. Without irony. In all seriousness."

"Contemporary Europe is dominated more by memory than history. And as far as memories go, you have yours, I have mine, and that's that. You can debate history, but not memory." American historian Timothy Snyder also doubts that the terrible and complicated history of Central Europe can be explained to the West, in particular to the Americans. Snyder emphasises that one would need an understanding for mutual history rather than a common historical narrative. "Europe is dealing with the question of further expansion. The common culture is being trumpeted, but how is anybody supposed to talk about that if there's no European understanding of history?"

According to Maciej Stasinski, the former American ambassador in Warsaw, John Davies, seems to have had a better understanding of the events of 1989 than the actual participants. His reports to Washington were published three years ago. "Reading his letters is a lesson in political brilliance and the healthy understanding of human nature," writes Stasinski.


Elet es Irodalom 20.03.2009 (Hungary)

Hungarian writer Gergely Peterfy must have had a good year in 2008: After four volumes of prose and a fairy tale novel, his first "real" - and outstanding! - novel ("Death in Buda") has appeared, and his book, "Baggersee", has been published in German. Explaining why novels are generally held in higher esteem than short stories, Peterfy says: "Even I prefer the thorough description of a richly orchestrated story; even I like the large orchestra - the various groups of instruments, the separate, little solos, the clever constructions and the impressive changes in tempo. The orchestral, the rich orchestration of a text narrated comprehensively through to its end - this awakens in the reader the impression that he's dealing with a grand unity. Beethoven's 7th Symphony makes a very different impression from that of the Appassionata. They're both long, but because of its rich orchestration, the variety of themes, the demands it makes and its creative battles, I see the Seventh as more of a novel."

A committee was recently set up in Hungary to advertise the country as a "brand." Janos Szeky has his doubts about the success of the initiative: "Big, wealthy countries setting the standard of development don't need this kind of propaganda. This is the kind of thing that states do to endear themselves when they're on the periphery, when they lack real recognition and want to push their way into the centre of things. For that, they need to prove that they're extraordinary in a way that is prized by the centre - either in an endeavour characteristic of the centre (e.g., the arts), or by virtue of an idiosyncrasy (romantic landscapes, or cheap and colourful markets with bizarrely dressed old folks). What does Hungary have to offer? [...] Hate, fear, paranoia, awkwardness, and the general idiocy that has surfaced in recent years - this is what's characteristic of our country, but it certainly hasn't been endearing us to others. So why should a country that treats itself so coarsely be appealing to others?"


n+1 01.04.2009 (USA)

Giles Harvey didn't exactly hate Roberto Bolano's novel "2666," but he often had the feeling that "2666 didn't particularly like me": "Rounded personalities, incidents, evocative description: Bolano seems to have no use for them. Samuel Beckett, the original laureate of failure, needed only a few pages of dialogue or prose to suggest an infinity of excruciating boredom; Bolano chooses to actually subject us to that boredom, for 900 pages. This epic minimalism is a dubious enterprise. One result is that the book runs the risk of being boring, formless, and ugly, a risk that, to my mind, it does not altogether skirt. [...] Bolano is playing a serious game here, and there is something courageous about the way he has pursued his vision - of how little literature can know and do - to such extreme lengths. Yet we condescend to a writer if we only consider his intentions. A work of art, if it is to engage us on a conceptual level - to make us reflect on what we think we know - has first to fulfill the obligation to please. Otherwise it becomes a lesson, a mere demonstration."

The sticky pages of Charlotte Roche's "Wetlands" provide Justin E.H. Smith with an opportunity to let loose a few of his thoughts about the sex lives of Germans : "If I may be frank, they've long seemed to me far too healthy. German youngsters have sex with the same matter-of-factness with which they sign up for classes at the university, join clubs, cultivate hobbies. (...) Many readers are by now thinking: Wait a minute. Germany? Isn't that where all that old fetish porn comes from? Aren't Fassbinder, Klaus Nomi, and that guy who lip-synchs in the motel in My Own Private Idaho all, in their own way, German perverts? Yes, but that was a generation ago, or it was the stereotyped condensation of forms of behavior that one might have found a generation ago. These days, it's all as normal as watching the World Cup. (...) Roche might thus be thought worthy of praise, at least, for making Germanic sexuality weird again."

Other articles: Nikil Saval reads "The Rest is Noise" by music critic Alex Ross, a new narrative of Europe and America's twentieth century from the perspective of classical music. For its enthusiastic critics, the book has evoked the "desperate need to buy piles of CDs." Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn discusses three English translations of Per Petterson novels.

The Times Literary Supplement 27.03.2009 (UK)

In Pushkin's head: In his book, "Pushkin's Lyric Intelligence," Andrew Kahn tries to trace the intellectual horizons of Russia's national poet. As preparation, he systematically read through hundreds of volumes that once constituted Pushkin's reading. In so doing, Kahn finds new paths of research, says Rachel Polonsky. "Using B. G. Modzalevsky’s annotated catalogue of the library, which records the pages cut and the marginal notes and annotations made in them by Pushkin, Kahn seeks not to identify sources as past critics have done, but to trace the poet’s 'thinking through lyric'. Kahn’s Pushkin is a poet of ideas, the intellectual heir of 'a long eighteenth century', but one who 'suspends judgement', using his deceptively simple and transparent poems as opportunities for the indirect dramatization of those ideas, and for 'creating a lyric speaker who thinks aloud'."

Elsewhere: Gabriel Paquette explains what tobacco and chocolate have to do with symbolic universe of indigenous Latin American tribes. Michael Downes learned a great deal from the second volume of John Tyrrell's Leos Janacek biography - for example, about the composer's affair with actress Gabriela Horvatova, which the two did little to hide: "Horvatova herself was scarcely discreet: she would sign the cards that Janácek sent to his wife Zdenka from his holiday retreat in Luhacovice, and when she visited the family home in Brno she placed her own photograph on the wall, separating two oil paintings of Janácek and Zdenka that had been given to the couple as a wedding present."

Al Ahram Weekly 26.03.2009 (Egypt)

Amr Hamzawy was inspired by the first report of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) on human rights in the Arab World to take a closer look at totalitarianism and demagoguery in the Arab world. "Following the wave of electoral victories of religious parties and forces, many Arab leftists, Arab nationalists and even liberals shrugged off the phenomenon. With no small degree of oversimplification, they chalked it up variously to 'a false mass consciousness', a transitory phase, or evidence of the political apathy of the 'secular majority' which left the field open to well- mobilised Islamist forces. The anti-democratic demagogic bent here resides in the readiness to divorce facts from their social substance and bend them to ideas that suit the convictions of the speaker. The demagogic approach to history is evidenced in the crude handling of the Jewish Holocaust in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s."

Wired 01.04.2009 (USA)

Leonardo Notarbartolo
was sentenced to ten years in prison for masterminding the world's biggest diamond heist: diamonds, gold and othere jewels worth 100 million dollars were stolen from the Antwerp Diamond Center. The loot has never been found. From behind bars he tells Joshua Davis his gripping story. Notarbartolo spent a lot of time in Antwerp and "when he had stolen goods to sell, he dealt with only a few trusted buyers. Now, as he finished his espresso, one of them—a Jewish dealer—came in and sat down to chat.' Actually, I want to talk to you about something a little unusual,' the dealer said casually. 'Maybe we could walk a little?' They headed out, and once they were clear of the district, the dealer picked up the conversation. His tone had changed however. The casualness was gone.'I'd like to hire you for a robbery,' he said. 'A big robbery.'The agreement was straightforward. For an initial payment of 100,000 euros, Notarbartolo would answer a simple question: Could the vault in the Antwerp Diamond Center be robbed?" With a bit of help it could be, but imagine the surprise when Notarbartolo and friends opened the door and ... Read the rest for yourselves and be sure to watch the video!

Further articles: Andrew Curry introduces the German board game "The Settlers of Catan" and its inventor, the dental technician Klaus Teuber. Since its launch in 1988, "The Settlers" has been translated into 30 languages and has sold 15 million copies. It is, says Curry "the Mona Lisa of the board game renaissance". And Erin Biba writes about MoPho, the Stanford Mobile Phone Orchestra.


The New York Times 30.03.2009 (USA)

In the Sunday Magazine, Nicholas Dawidoff writes an epic portrait on the most famous of climate skeptics, phyicist Freeman Dyson. Living in Princeton, Dyson is different from many populist climate skeptics in that he's one of the most significant living physicists. He doubts the calculations of climate models such as those used by Al Gore. But he also emphasises that the debate is a political one involving divergent ideas about humanity and nature. He doesn't miss the class society, writes Dawidoff, "but what he liked about growing up in England was the landscape. The country's successful alteration of wilderness and swamp had created a completely new green ecology, allowing plants, animals and humans to thrive in 'a community of species.' Dyson has always been strongly opposed to the idea that there is any such thing as an optimal ecosystem - 'life is always changing' - and he abhors the notion that men and women are something apart from nature, that 'we must apologise for being human.' Humans, he says, have a duty to restructure nature for their survival."

In the Travel section, Nicholas Kulish raves about the culture of readings and open mike competitions during Berlin's dark winters.

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