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

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21/07/2009

Magazine Roundup

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

Poets & Writers | Gazeta Wyborcza | The Boston Review | The New Statesman | Le Journal du Dimanche | London Review of Books | Frontline | The New Yorker | Nepszabadsag | Al Ahram Weekly | The Spectator | The Times Literary Supplement | Caffe Europa | The New Criterion | Elet es Irodalom | Foreign Policy

Poets & Writers 01.07.2009 (USA)

Towards the end of an epic interview about publishing houses, authors and agents, the publisher Jonathan Galassi of Farrar, Straus and Giroux also talks about digital book sales. In the future, he says, publishers will sell their books directly: "One of the things that all publishers are worried about now is this idea that a book on Kindle is worth 9.99 dollars. If that establishes the price of what a book is worth, what does that say? What if I want to sell Maureen McLane's book as a hardcover for twenty-four dollars? I think that's a problem. Again, it's a lesson from the music business. People have been used to the idea that intellectual property - that a book, an artwork - is worth a certain amount of money. It's a mark of respect, in a way. But if you turn it into a widget, where every book is worth the same amount, it's not good. This is where the author, the agent, and the publisher should be working together to protect their mutual interest. And not have the business be decided by a seller." Yet Gallassi is convinced that the digital book business will present an enormous opportunity for the publishing industry:"In a digital world there would be no returns. Returns are a huge drag on our business. The waste is just enormous, and once that is gone it will help our business enormously."

Shell Fischer introduces the world of Flarf, a movement for experimental poetry. Never heard of it? Shame on you! "So far, at least sixteen books of Flarf have been published - a flurry of them just in the past several years. Since 2006, the Bowery Poetry Club in Manhattan has held an annual three-day Flarf Festival that features poetry as well as "flarfy" music, theater, and film. Last September a group of Flarf poets were invited to read at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. In April, New York City's Whitney Museum of American Art hosted its own Flarf reading. And in November, Washington, D.C.-based independent publisher Edge Books will release a four-hundred-page anthology, 'Flarf: An Anthology of Flarf', featuring the work of twenty-five to thirty poets." Apparently the poems have evolved from "bad" to "sort of great".

Gazeta Wyborcza 18.07.2009 (Poland)

The Gazeta prints a previously unpublished interview with philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, who died last Friday, in which he talks to Anna Bikont about whether there is a truth worth dying for. "Perhaps the only truth which would be worth dying for, would be that there is a truth worth dying for – without stipulating what that might be. Christian martyrs died for their beliefs and plenty of people died at the stake for their beliefs. I don't want to judge them one way or the other. A profound belief in something of value enriches our lives. Even if this belief has terrible consequences for its followers – we see this every day – they often continue to believe that they are being enriched. But of course we don't know whether the lives of others are being enriched, because precisely these beliefs can have something inhuman about them. So we need to rephrase the question a little. We should not ask whether a truth is worth dying for but whether there is a truth that is not worth dying for. And this lands us in the thick of uncertainty. Is it worth dying for the fatherland? Yes."

Kolakowski
was a leading authority for the democratic opposition to Communism, even as a committed Marxist, as Tadeusz Sobolewski explains in a biographical summary. "Marxism and religion were among his most important themes. In his youth Marxism seemed like an opportunity, but he later revealed it to be a trap. And religion, which Kolakowski initially saw as a trap, features in his later works as a opportunity." This U turn fascinates SDP politician Gesine Schwan who knew him well and, in the late 60s, wrote a dissertation about his work. "He was a defender of tolerance and the fight against all forms of absolutism. He wrote: man must be inconsistent, because inconsistency is human," she writes. And Adam Michnik, who attended Kolakowski's lectures at Warsaw University, remembers: "Back then, in the days of darkness and hatred, he was a beacon of intelligence and dignity."

The Boston Review 01.07.2009 (USA)

Julius Purcell's reportage describes the painful process of dealing with the victims of the Spanish Civil War. Last September the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon – who issued an arrest warrant for Pinochet – announced that he intended to launch an inquiry into the remains of those who "disappeared" during the Civil War, as well as into the republicans who were executed under Franco after the war. His aim was to find evidence for the crimes against humanity committed by the Franco regime. A heated debate erupted in Spain. The socialists expressed thin-lipped approval, which is more than can be said for the conservatives or the Church. "Throughout the 1950s the Franco regime excavated and re-interred with full honors as many as possible of 'their' mass graves - those containing the 60-70,000 soldiers and pro-Franco civilians murdered in the Republican zone during the war itself. The same efforts have never been extended to the Republican defeated. And here is the emotional crux of the debate, without which it is impossible to understand the passion and anger that the graves generate today."

The New Statesman 20.07.2009 (UK)

Philosopher John Gray reviews Timothy Garton Ash's new book, a collection of essays which also feature Garton Ash's article on "Islam in Europe", which provoked a furious debate at signandsight.com and then in the international press. In it Garton Ash accused Ayaan Hirsi Ali of being an "Englightenment fundamentalist". After the debate he eventually retracted the accusation in a footnote. Gray thinks this was a mistake: "Much of the state terror in the past century was secular, not religious. Lenin and Mao were avowed disciples of an Enlightenment ideology. Some will object that they misapplied this. And yet it is a feature of the fundamentalist mindset to posit a pristine faith, innocent of complicity in any crime its practitioners have ever committed, and capable – if only it is implemented in its pure, unsullied form – of eradicating practically any evil." (But Gray makes no mention of whether he sees Ayaan Hirsi Ali in these terms. His interest is in positing the Enlightenment as a mirror reflection of Islamism.)

Sholto Byrnes is very taken by the new book by Catholic nun-turned interfaith authority Karen Armstrong, "The Case for God: What Religion Really Means", in which she gives the hardcore atheists Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris a run for their money. "The God whom Armstrong is discussing is one whose existence cannot be proved in any way to rational satisfaction, not by the ontological arguments of Anselm and Descartes, nor by science, as Newton thought he had. In fact, even to talk of his 'existence' is in itself troublesome. The point she makes from the start is that language, being necessarily limited to human comprehension, cannot fully convey anything about God."


Le Journal du Dimanche 19.07.2009 (France)

The French Socialist Party, writes Bernard-Henri Levy is nothing but a load of old "elephants" left over from the days of Mitterand the grand corrupter, wasting their dying breaths on in-fighting. In an interview with the Journal du Dimanche, he suggests that a fresh start might be in order. What has brought French socialism to its knees, he says, is: "this European thing, which so many have joined with the chauvinism of the Jules Guesdes era. This Pavlovian anti-liberalism, this inability, just like the Italian Left, to distinguish between a good 'liberalism' (worker's autonomy, fighting for freedom) and bad liberalism (market driven, even in culture). Or anti-Americanism, that unmistakeable sign that we have landed in the counter-Enlightenment."


London Review of Books 20.07.2009 (UK)

US policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan is staring catastrophe in the face, writes Tariq Ali after a visit to Kabul. Only recently the US ambassador Anne Patterson naively said of the new president, Bhutto's widower Ali Zardari: "He does everything we ask." Good for him, Ali comments caustically, but that's not all he does: "Zardari may be a willing creature of Washington, but the intense hatred for him in Pakistan is not confined to his political opponents. He is despised principally because of his venality. He has carried on from where he left off as minister of investment in his late wife's second government. Within weeks of occupying President's House, his minions were ringing the country's top businessmen, demanding a share of their profits." There are even, Ali continues, plenty of people, otherwise not prone to conspiracy theories, who believe he was personally involved in the murder of Benazir Bhutto. Although Ali is not one of these people himself, he finds it telling that people believe Zardari would be capable of such a thing.

Further articles: In an essay which is "actually" a review of a book by Alain Badiou about Nicolas Sarkozy, the universal thinker Slavoj Zizek touches on Sarkozy, Achmedinejad, the Marx Brothers, Kung Fu Panda, Niels Bohr, a Putin-joke about castration and the "reasonable anti-Semitism" of Robert Rasillach before arriving at Silvio Berlusconi. Adam Shatz thinks about "loud music" as torture and weapon. Peter Campbell dwells on the fact that parts of the Codex Siniaticus can now be read online. Mary Beard delivers an exhaustive review of the biography of Emperor Marc Aurel, which she finds unsatisfactory.


Frontline 18.07.2009 (India)

Raza Naeem reviews Tariq Ali's book "The Duel - Pakistan in the Flight Path of American Power". The book is unofficially banned in Pakistan but, says Naeem, can be bought on the blackmarket. Its central thesis is that Pakistan's elite has been snuggling up to the USA out of corrupt self-interest since Pakistan's independence, thereby distancing itself entirely from the rest of the population. "Ali shatters a few myths about Pakistan, which in the West fill tonnes of paper, devoted to proving that Pakistan is a failed state. Firstly, the duel that he alludes to in the title of his book is not one on its western borders between the Taliban and the government, but the duel between the people of Pakistan and the American-backed elite, who have historically ruled and plundered the country. In fact, this duel is a familiar story in many parts of the world - Colombia, Afghanistan, Israel, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria and the scores of tiny American protectorates in the Gulf, the Balkans and the Caucasus are part of this distinguished club. Secondly, that Pakistan is on the verge of a takeover by the Taliban and that the only party able to do business with them are the khaki ironclads. Indeed, the way Washington is currently dealing with the new regime in Islamabad proves that the latter claim is false."


The New Yorker 20.07.2009 (USA)

The human appetite is elastic: the more you get, the more you eat. In an essay entitled XXXL, Elizabeth Kolbert refers to a number of studies to answer the question of why Americans are so fat. One book, "Globesity", looks at the rivals to America's waistline. Now apparently the US has been outgrown by the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece and Slovakia. The authors, who are mostly nutritional scientists, regard obesity as a catastrophe – for those affected and for national health systems. "Type 2 diabetes, coronary disease, hypertension, various kinds of cancers - including colorectal and endometrial - gallstones, and osteoarthritis are just some of the conditions that have been linked to excess weight. (Last month, the Times reported that gout, once considered a disease of royalty, is, as the population gets fatter, making a comeback among the middle class.) It has been estimated that the extra pounds carried by Americans add ninety billion dollars a year to the country's medical spending. No credible estimates exist for global costs, but, Delpeuch and his co-authors write, 'Obesity is inescapably confirming itself as one of the biggest drains' on national health-care budgets." The World Health Organisation therefore recommends 36 steps to improved eating and fitness – among them a "fat tax" on calorific snacks.


Nepszabadsag 18.07.2009 (Hungary)

Critic Sandor Zsigmond Papp is looking forward to the slew of summer festivals which now offer the best programme of performing arts available in Hungary today. The Sziget festival for example, "which created in Hungary - a closed society which was gradually recovering from Communism – the illusion of an independent world, and then made it more real every year in high-dosage portions of theatre, dance, music and culture. We were introduced to world music and a bouquet of aromas which others had to journey for years to sample. In one week in one spot we travelled the world. [...] And thanks to the wealth of culture on offer, our taste, our weltanschauung was fed with the stuff that feeds intellectuals: openness. [...] What this festival has shown us – contrary to the drone of propaganda - is that there is no single truth that makes everyone happy."


Al Ahram Weekly 16.07.2009 (Egypt)

As terrible as he finds the murder in the Dresden courtroom of Egyptian woman Marwa el-Sherbini, Abdel-Moneim Said was a little unsettled by the harshness of some of the reactions in Egypt. "The incident in Dresden was unquestionably terrible and condemnable by all standards. However, to turn that incident into a bitter conflict between civilisations would be tantamount to killing Marwa, the human being and academic scholar, twice: once by an evil hand and a second time by the hysteria that leads to the death of others and the severing of relations that should remain unbroken. On the other hand, the incident could become a starting point for something positive, so that Marwa's blood will not have been shed in vain. In her name, people could create Arab- Muslim-European fronts, together with other faiths, to stand up against fanaticism, bigotry and discrimination on both sides."

Reem Leila describes the reactions to the murder in the Muslim world, and reports that the German prosecutor-general issued a ban on publishing details about her death after Focus magazine reported that the murder was premeditated. "El-Sherbini's family reacted angrily to the ban, describing it as an attempt to silence the media and an attempt to conceal the truth. 'The ban surprised us,' Ali El-Sherbini, Marwa's father, said. 'I'm sure they are trying to hide information about things such as the court's delay in summoning the police after my daughter had been attacked, and the security guard who shot Elwi Ali Okaz, my son-in-law.' Okaz, who was seriously injured, was apparently mistakenly shot by a court guard as he attempted to go to his wife's aid. Ali El-Sherbini added that he believed the media ban was meant to protect Germany's reputation abroad rather than further the interests of the case. 'Germany is refusing to allow the media to report the case in order to avoid the condemnation of other countries,' he said." (This is not true. The protests in Egypt were a rude awakening for the German media and since then all the leading newspaper have continued to cover the case: for example Frankfurter Rundschau, die FAZ, die Welt, die taz, die Süddeutsche, die Zeit, Focus, Spiegel, Bild.)

Why do Arabs seem to be incapable of building a modern state? It certainly doesn't have anything to do with the West, concludes Hussain Abdul-Hussain. "True, America and Western capitals have committed grave errors in dealing with Arab peoples, but blaming others for all of one's faults can hardly be a remedy. After all, India - a rising power now - won its independence from imperial Britain in 1947; a few years after most Arab countries - still struggling to figure out how to build a state until today - had been independent."

Nehad Selaiha is surprised at the number of classical authors represented at the Egyptian National theatre festival. "It seems that our young directors are getting a bit timid", she grumbles. She might be right, but the list of writers whose works are being stages is still impressive: Shakespeare times six, Ionesco, Max Frisch, Eugene O'Neill, Nazim Hikmet, Tankred Dorst, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Victor Hugo, Harold Pinter, Alfred Farag, Tawfiq El-Hakim, Bahig Ismail, Mahmoud Diab und Nagib Mahfouz. Germany certainly doesn't have a festival that features the equivalent spread of non-European writing.


The Spectator 18.07.2009 (UK)

Journalist Iason Athanasiadis spent 18 days in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. Athanasiadis has reported from Iran for the international media for many years, carries a British passport and was arrested at the airport on charges of spying for England. In a permanently lit cell with a copy of the Koran, he spent the time thinking about Iranian-British relations. "So where does this almost transcendental fear of the English come from? I had time to think in prison, and I decided that it has much to do with Iran's geographical position in the hinterland of the British Empire. Unlike the Indians, the Iranians never dealt with British administrators, never lived in British-designed cities, never came to know the English up close. Their only encounters with the vaunted empire crouching just over the common buffer zone of Baluchestan were with shadowy spies engaged in the Great Game and fluent Persian-speaking diplomats at the courts of the Safavids, Qajars and Pahlavis. Back in Evin, my interrogator was about to reveal to me 'definitive proof' that I was a spy. He handed me a printout of a colour image as if he were dispensing a death sentence. The colour picture showed a younger me in a crowded conference hall chatting with a tall man I recognised as the press attache at the British embassy."


The Times Literary Supplement 17.07.2009 (UK)

Peter Green presents Anthony Grafton's essay, "Worlds Made by Words", which looks to the Renaissance and the Republic of Letters to play out the pros and cons of digitizing knowledge. "The conclusion Grafton reaches is that while the recent present will 'become overwhelmingly accessible' online, for the past we still need a painstaking hands-on approach in the archives themselves. The transfer of documentary archives – even those of the US or the UK – to the web is still in its infancy, and Grafton makes a strong case for the need to consult originals rather than digitized images: one researcher traced the history of cholera outbreaks by sniffing letters in a 250-year-old archive to see which had been sprinkled with vinegar in the hope of disinfecting them. Yes, the young scholar is told, take every advantage of the new electronic Aladdin's cave. But – and here Grafton shows a rare moment of deeply felt emotion – these streams of data, rich as they are, will illuminate rather than eliminate the unique books and prints and manuscripts that only the library can put in front of you."

A.N. Wilson laboured through "Enlightening", a collection of Isaiah Berlin's letters, and pronounced them "thunderingly boring". Light relief comes only in the form of venom, as when Berlin gloats over the disastrous inaugural lecture of historian Hugh Trevor-Roper in Oxford: "It was terrible to see aged dons and white-haired ladies rudely pushed away from these empty places which were waiting to be filled by elegant persons from London. In the end, apart from the Duke of Wellington and about eight members of the Astor family and his own wife and her sister Doria nobody came and the seats were filled by plebeians in the end."


Caffe Europa 17.07.2009 (Italy)

The magazine reprints an article from Reset by Naomi Sakr, who addresses the position of women in the Saudi media. The presence of women in the media is increasing, Sakr writes, but there have been few changes to their actual status there. "These contradictions reflect the lobbyist core of an essentially authoritarian system, which is undergoing a superficial modernisation that is unlikely to change actual power relations in the foreseeable future. It was probably the result of a very top-down decision that numbers and visibility of women increased between 2004 to 2006. Members of royal family will have pulled strings to ensure that their country gives the appearance of modernising. (...) The first Saudi actress, Hind Mohammed, made her debut in the film 'Keif al-hal?' [How are we doing?], which was produced by the [state-owned] Rotana Group. Hala Nasser, the author of a book about the difficulties facing Saudi women in the world of the media, went on to become the editor-in-chief of the magazine of the Rotana Group. And it was the [state-owned] broadcaster Mbc, which made the decision to import, subtitle and broadcast the Oprah Winfrey show. Oprah's delicate way of handling personal experiences appealed to female Saudi audiences."


The New Criterion 01.06.2009 (USA)

Canadian journalist Mark Steyn is overcome by melancholy after reading Paul Anthony Rahe's book "Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift", which describes beautifully our "soothing and beguiling" drift into servitude. "When President Bush used to promote the notion of democracy in the Muslim world, there was a line he liked to fall back on: 'Freedom is the desire of every human heart.' Are you quite sure? It's doubtful whether that's actually the case in Gaza and Waziristan, but we know for absolute certain that it's not in Paris and Stockholm, London and Toronto, Buffalo and New Orleans. The story of the Western world since 1945 is that, invited to choose between freedom and government 'security,' large numbers of people vote to dump freedom every time — the freedom to make their own decisions about health care, education, property rights, and eventually (...) what you're permitted to say and think." If you want to find out what freedom means, Raye and Steyn will tell you to read "three dead French blokes": Montesquieu, Rousseau and Tocqueville.

Unfortunately only available in print: Joseph Epstein's review of the letters of George Santayana.


Elet es Irodalom 10.07.2009 (Hungary)

Janos Szeky attempts to understand the Hungarian tabloid fascination with plastic surgery, which manifests itself in the growing number of TV celebrities who are famous for nothing but their enhancement. This is sustainable TV, he concludes. "The Hungarian tabloid is a famously closed, cyclical, self-recycling system, completely eco-friendly: whatever makes it in there will be used over and over again, nothing is wasted."


Foreign Policy 01.07.2009 (USA)

In a very ballsy article, journalist Reihan Salam pronounces the death of machismo. The credit crisis, which the macho brought upon himself, has broken his neck. Here are the stats: "More than 80 percent of job losses in the United States since November have fallen on men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the numbers are broadly similar in Europe, adding up to about 7 million more out-of-work men than before the recession just in the United States and Europe as economic sectors traditionally dominated by men (construction and heavy manufacturing) decline further and faster than those traditionally dominated by women (public-sector employment, healthcare, and education). All told, by the end of 2009, the global recession is expected to put as many as 28 million men out of work worldwide." And how are they going to go about repressing women now? Salam has some depressing ideas about this, which are mostly inspired by Russian and Chinese models.

"Not so fast", cries Soren Lerby in a shocked reader's comment (scroll down to read). "... it is precisely those risky or overconfident investments, or business entrepreneurship that build the foundation of today's developed society and business -imagine if all the world is dominated by risk-averting, empathy/estrogen-plenty women in the late-19 th and early 20th century for example -then we'd still be writing our mails with pen under candlelight, and bartering goods at roadside (unpaved) makeshift small market."

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