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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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09/06/2009

Magazine Roundup

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

Al Ahram Weekly | Outlook India | Observator Cultural | London Review of Books | Polityka | Le Nouvel Observateur | The Economist | Clarin | Elet es Irodalom | NZZ Folio | The Guardian


Al Ahram Weekly 09.06.2009 (Egypt)

Al Ahram has collected together a number of articles on Obama's speech in Cairo, all of which seem to have been written before it was held. The most considered article comes from Abdel-Moneim Said, who compares Obama's visit with Sadat's vistit to Jerusalem in 1977. And he asks what the Arabs have to offer if, for example, Obama withdraws US troops from Iraq. ""Perhaps the Arab peace initiative has already delivered the clearest message to the world from the moderate states. However, this message, formulated and sent many years ago after the Saudi-inspired initiative was adopted in the Arab summit in Beirut, still needs to be pinned down in the framework of a working plan or strategy for action. As is the case with Obama's message, the initiative needs substance commensurate with form in order to convince. As symbolically important as the principles of the Arab peace initiative are, they need to be translated into practical steps and actions."


Outlook India 15.06.2009 (India)

It was a mistake for Obama to address the Muslim world from Cairo, writes B. Raman. And by mostly addressing the Arabs, he was limiting his audience. "The Arabs constitute a minority in the Islamic world. Non-Arab Muslims living in countries such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia constitute the majority. The issues, which agitate them, are different from the issues which agitate the Arab world. Osama bin Laden understands this better than Obama and his advisers. That was why in his audio message released through Al Jazeera a day before Obama's Cairo address, bin Laden focused on issues of immediate concern to the non-Arab Muslims in the Af-Pak region such as the large-scale displacement of Pashtuns from the tribal areas of Pakistan. By focusing on their plight and by holding the Americans responsible for it, he sought to make it certain that the anti-American anger in the Af-Pak region will increase rather than decrease."

Observator Cultural 01.06.2009 (Romania)

"The basic question for foreigners in Romania," writes Jean Harris, who runs the Translation Project for the Observator Cultural, "is 'what the hell are you doing here?' That's the existential question, and the sine qua non of successful Romanian-ness involves addressing it to one's self six times a day." The only escape, she suggests, is a healthy sense of the absurd and warm friendships. And with that she introduces doctor-turned-writer Razvan Petrescu, the focus of this month's issue.

Here's an extract from his short story "On a Friday Afternoon":

"Dad went and died. He was a quiet guy, slightly on the mystic side, with two deep furrows on either side of his nose. He was given to occasional bouts of melancholy, and on Sundays he’d do funny stuff over lunch. He'd toss the soup spoon towards the light fixture hanging from the ceiling, then try to catch it. He always failed. Sometimes he'd break the fixture, sometimes – the soup plate. The fat yellow soup would soak progressively into the table cloth first, then into Dad's neatly-pressed trousers, and finally make its way down to the Persian rug, where it became extremely visible and stable. I was in stitches. Not Mom, though. I'm still in stitches now as I look at the Order of Socialist Labor Class III awarded to Dad back in '68 or so. It's a rather nice box, dark cherry in color, soft to the touch, containing a silver medal, a red ribbon and Dad. The medal represents our country's insignia on a bed of sunbeams."


London Review of Books 08.06.2009 (UK)

Michael Wood took in the directorial debut "Synecdoche, New York" of screen writer Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich", "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") and now can't stop scratching his head. "Can you die in a synecdoche and would it be a good thing if you could? Would it be like dying in a parenthesis, as Mrs Ramsay does in 'To The Lighthouse', or would it be entirely different? At the end of 'Synecdoche, New York', Caden Cotard seems to die as a theatrical version of himself inside a replica of Manhattan in a warehouse in Manhattan. A voice that reaches him by wire and microphone has for some time been telling him what to do and what to say. Now it says quite gently, 'Die,' and he does. Or does he?"

Other articles cover the car industry and the freedom fetish, British expenses and corruption scandals, (notably one involving Berlusconi) and diary entries from life in the health care industry and social services.


Polityka 05.06.2009 (Poland)

Justyna Sobolewska describes the Polish literature scene as a 'republic of soloists' (article in German). And she tires to assuage disappointed hopes for the great post-Soviet novel, for a new Bruno Schulz or Witold Gombrowicz: "After 1989 it was not so much literature that changed as its role and way of functioning: literary life, the publishing market, the media. Our expectations are leftovers from another age... From a world when we knew who was a great writer and what belonged in the literary canon, we have entered a world in which hierarchies are no longer clearly defined. Literature prizes are springing up all over the place – soon we will be able to complain that, like in the UK, they have replaced literature itself. Professor Marian Stala described this new era, during a discussion in the 'Polityka Salon', as the age of the publisher. Publishers have control of marketing and advertising tools and thereby determine a book's shelf life. The explosion of cultural magazines at the beginning of the 90s ended with the tabloidisation of culture in the media. But today we are witnessing the next cultural wave, and it's all online. Almost every week a new newspaper, portal or website about literature starts up (the interesting site dwutygodnik for example)."


Le Nouvel Observateur 04.06.2009 (France)

In an interview about his book "Empire, Democracy, Terrorism" (2007), a collection of thoughts on the 21st century, British historian Eric Hobsbawm talks about the pathology of the neoclassical free market, the "fundamentalism of the market" and he presages a return of Marx and Keynes. When asked about the future of America he answers: "The history of the American Empire is another pathological aberration. Bush tried to build a world empire. The Iraq war, which was a part of this project, had no justification whatsoever. (...) The real question is whether a project of world domination by a single state - something that is unprecedented in history – is possible, and whether the USA's overwhelming military superiority is sufficient to create such a thing and sustain it. The answer to both questions is no."


The Economist 05.06.2009 (UK)

The Economist read the memoir of the former US commerce secretary Peter Peterson, "The Education of an American Dreamer", and learned a number of lessons. For example that politicians have no qualms making false assurances: "The huge budget deficit is only the tip of the iceberg, he warns, on posters, through his think-tank and in a surprisingly watchable documentary. The federal government has liabilities equivalent to $483,000 per American household, largely in the form of unfunded commitments to provide old people with health care and pensions. Politicians are too scared by looming elections to do anything about it, as he has seen at first hand. He recalls his shock when Bill Clinton sat down with him, agreed that social security (the public pension system) was bankrupt, and then stood up and told a crowd of voters that it was just fine.

There is also a reivew of Matthew Glass's thriller "Ultimatum", a lurid account of the consequences of global warming.


Clarin 08.06.2009 (Argentina)
Beatriz Sarlo, one of Latin America's leading cultural critics, talks in a fascinating interview about her newly published book on Buenos Aires "La ciudad vista" ("the divided city"). "There is no place for a nostalgic perspective. Much of what is happening in cities today might be unfortunate, but there are still plenty of alternatives that are not just about recreating the past. We have to ask ourselves what sort of a city we want – one for the middle classes, as in the city districts with a strong cultural life that I introduce in my book, or a city for everyone. It also depends on whether we leave the decisions to the construction industry, or whether state and citizens groups can also have a say in where people should live. Society – this is the thing that connects me to people who are different from me."


Elet es Irodalom 29.05.2009 (Hungary)

The historian Ignac Romsics recently published an anthology about the different traditions and manifestations of the Hungarian right, from the conservatives through to the right-wing extremists ("A magyar jobboldali hagyomany, 1900-1948" Budapest, Osiris 2009). In an interview with Eszter Radai he explains why in Eastern Europe the far right, and not democratic conservatism, is gaining strength. "After World War II the history of West and East Europe followed completely separate paths. Within the right-wing spectrum to the West of the Elbe, the Christian democrats and other conservative directions arose to become significant factors that were accepted by democratic institutions. In Eastern Europe this was never able to happen because, after a brief transition phase, a monolithic dictatorship emerged, which left no room for political pluralism (...) You might have thought that the old structures would have collapsed under Rakosi or Kadar. This is true to a point, but the networks, feelings, attitudes and nostalgias in society remained intact. The right, and to a certain extent the left, must now redefine itself after a forty-year period on ice. Efforts have been made, but there needs to be more discussion. It is not only the border between the right and the far right that is blurred, but also the relationship between the left and the Republic of Councils or the Kadar system."

The former Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg complains in his speech (held at the Europa Forum in the Austrian town of Wachau on 17 May 2009) about waning Euro-enthusiasm. The problem, Schwarzenberg says, is that the EU is always expanding its mandate, "europeanising" everything and thus distancing itself from the citizens. "I have never understood why we are wasting our precious energy and our last Euro-political enthusiasm on writing regulations about what our cheeses should look like, or what frog should be protected in what puddle, instead of focussing our attention on the essentials, such as finding a common policy on foreign affairs, security and energy. And why are we not thinking about how to bring Europe back to the citizens? These are the big questions of our European generation. We have to bring the Union up to date and to completion, so that the whole of Europe is part of the European Union. If we fail on all of these fronts we will have to admit that we had great ancestors, inspired European founding fathers, but as European politicians ourselves, we are the kind of potatoes whose better part lies buried beneath the earth."


NZZ Folio 08.06.2009 (Switzerland)

The Folio packed its team off to the Black Sea. Gudrun Sachse headed for the Bulgarian coastline, an area famous for its natural beauty. Unfortunately corruption is rife, which is why the coastline is now being lined with concrete. "Plans are underway to turn the 3,800 kilometres of the Bulgarian coastline into luxury resorts, golf courses, tourist towns and private villas with direct access to the sea. The fishermen, who have relinquished their huts to make way for the 400 apartments of the luxury 'South Bay Beach Resort' in Varna, with their sea views from the whirlpool, are now living on the beach. A particular cause for concern among environmentalists is the planned superstructure by the British architect Sir Norman Foster on the beach at Karadere, just south of Varna. The so-called carbon neutral luxury resort comprises five new hill towns, artificial lakes, a harbour and a vast leisure area. Green energy will make it self-sustaining the developers promise. Nonsense say environmental activists: bring 15,000 people into a landscape and you will destroy it forever... The sour aftertaste really kicks in when you discover that project is the brainchild of Georgi Stanishev, brother of the Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev."

Amalia van Gent bravely ventured into Trapzon in Turkey, apparently the easiest place in the world to find a contract killer. "'We are a people of extremes' says Fethi Yilmaz, publisher of the cultural paper Kiyi (shore) in Trabzon, 'we have the best artists, the best football players, the most popular politicians, the most ruthless killers. Our music and our dances are as furious as the pounding of the waves in our sea.'"

After Bulgaria, Gudrun Sachse contined on to Constanta in Romania, where Ovid was once banished by Augustus, and which is now home to the largest port in the Black Sea. Lorenz Schröter travelled to Sevastopol on the Krim peninsular, which is "primarily a war port, secondarily a town." Other reports cover Odessa, Sochi and Batumi. In his perfume column, Luca Turin explains that the people who make the most money in the perfume industry are the producers of cheap household perfumes."


The Guardian 06.06.2009 (UK)

Ian Jack portrays the sculptor Alexander Stoddart who is Prince Charles's leading rival for the title of "Britain's most eminent opponent of modernism". The Hunterian Gallery in Glasgow is now showing his work. "Stoddart is a devout neoclassicist who believes that statuary's high point came in the early 19th century with the work of an Italian and a Dane, Antonio Canova and Bertel Thorvaldsen. No sculptor since quite cuts the mustard for him. Rodin isn't up to much and Henry Moore is 'incompetent'. He wants his art to be as majestic and serene as that of the neoclassicists who refined the work of Greece and Rome. He describes himself as a 'natural monumentalist' who believes monuments can build the idea of a nation and should reclaim the space devoted to the welded cacophony of modern 'public art', a phrase that makes him want to reach 'for a glass of whisky and a revolver'."

"Why do beautiful scenes inspire us to kiss?" asks literary Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk after a trip to Venice, where he was obviously confronted by the phenomenon on a grand scale. "It must be about realising, for a moment, how beautiful life can be. Besides, tourism statistics and marriage experts tell us that even the unhappiest couples become closer on holiday. But not every beautiful landscape evokes the desire to kiss, or a feeling of happiness in us. Some landscapes evoke fear, and even metaphysical anxiety, as some evoke peace and comfort, and some others, such as in Istanbul, evoke melancholy."

Further articles: Thomas Jones pays homage to Eric Ambler whose political thriller is again available in bookshops again after many years out of print. For Jones, Ambler still has plenty to say about the ominous links between big business and bad government. Matthew Evans remembers his time at Faber publishers and the uncannily shrewd business mind of his colleague, TS Eliot.

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