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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08/12/2009

Magazine Roundup

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

The Wilson Quarterly | Nepszabadsag | Prospect | Die Weltwoche | The Boston GlobeLe Nouvel Observateur | The New Criterion | Odra | NZZ Folio | Elet es Irodalom | Al Ahram Weekly | Dawn | The Walrus Magazine | ResetDoc

The Wilson Quarterly 07.12.2009 (USA)

Frank Schirrmacher recently explained in his book "Payback" and in an interview at Edge, how desperately overwhelmed and enslaved he feels by the multitasking required of him in our brave new Internet world. The economics professor Tyler Cowen, on the other hand, is in his element, as he explains in an essay taken from his book "Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World": "Multitasking is not a distraction from our main activity, it is our main activity," he announces cheerfully. And what looks like incoherence, is actually a highly personalised filtering system. "My own daily cultural harvest usually involves listening to music and reading - novels, nonfiction, and Web essays - with periodic glances at the New York Times Web site and an e-mail check every five minutes or so. Often I actively don't want to pull apart these distinct activities and focus on them one at a time for extended periods. I like the blend I assemble for myself, and I like what I learn from it. To me (and probably no one else, but that is the point), the blend offers the ultimate in interest and suspense. ... Many critics charge that multitasking makes us less efficient. Researchers say that periodically checking your e-mail lowers your cognitive performance level to that of a drunk. If such claims were broadly correct, multitasking would pretty rapidly disappear simply because people would find that it didn't make sense to do it. Multitasking is flourishing, and so are we."


Nepszabadsag 05.12.2009 (Hungary)

Literary critic Akos Szilagyi is concerned about the political apathy of many of his fellow Hungarians. "The question today is no longer which form of governance - liberal or illiberal - wins the upper hand within a democracy. The question is whether parliamentary democracy and rule of law can even continue to guarantee the principle of humanity, when a large percentage of the population is no longer even concerned about their own fate, and the increasingly anti-democratic middle class, which is riddled with hysteria and irrationality, increasingly sees its own destruction as its most important task. We have reached a point at which even the illiberal democracy of the right, who emerged as the victors of the cold civil war, seems like some beautiful dream - compared with the hellish reality of a ethno-nationalistic dictatorship that is growing in hysterical souls and cruel hearts."
 

Prospect 07.12.2009 (UK)

Sam Leith gets his teeth into our weirdly undying love affair with vampires and zombies. The choicest part of the article is the following phenomenology on the difference between the two guises of ghoul: "Vampires are monsters of the right; zombies are monsters of the left. Vampires are toffs; zombies are proles. Vampires are individualists; zombies are the mindless, nameless, faceless mob. Vampires are about hierarchies, tradition, bloodlines. They have mittel-European honorifics, live in castles, dress up and have manners. ... Vampires are sexy. Zombies are not; they have poor personal hygiene. The vampire's bite is voluptuous and penetrative; the zombie just chomps down on foot, leg, hand, bum, nose… whatever comes within range, like a drunk teenager at a disco. Vampires are clever. Zombies are not. They want to eat your brains—but not to make themselves brainier; just to make you stupider. They want to bring you down to their level. Braaaaiiiinnnsss!"


Die Weltwoche 03.12.2009 (Switzerland)

Roger Köppel is outraged by the criticism that followed the outcome of the minaret vote, which he finds undemocratic. "An dishonest game is being played here. The critics of direct democracy are constructing an artificial polarity between law of nations and people's sovereignty. Now people are talking about international law courts in order to hush the voices of the Swiss citizens who voted in this referendum. The talk of the noble values and ideals of international law is nothing but a cover for the cold will to power. The self-appointed elite wants an insubordinate people off its back. Anyone who plays off direct democracy against the constitutional state is only trying to reduce the democratic rights of the citizen. This is a fatal trend and it strongly breaks with traditions of this country." Really? What about when the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland overruled the decision of Appenzell Innerrhoden's male voters to allow women the right to vote in 1990?

The hotelier Peter Bodenmann lists a number of demands for equality, which we endorse wholeheartedly: If Bishop Norbert Brunner has his way, Catholic priests will be able to marry in the future. But that's not enough. "Brunner's demand is revolutionary, but it stops half way. Why should priests be able to marry women, but women not be able to become priests? And why shouldn't Catholic women priests not have the right to marry men, or become Pope? Anyone who dares to take the first step should follow up with a second and a third. The same thing should apply to Catholics and Muslims alike in Switzerland: irrational religions should not hinder equality."


Further articles: Martin Schubarth tells his government exactly what to do at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. And Andreas Gross, who opposes the minaret ban, vents his disappointment in the political parties and the media.


The Boston Globe 06.12.2009 (USA)

The new Shangri-La? Drake Bennett presents the controversial ideas of Yale political scientist James C. Scott about Asia's lawless mountain peoples. They live in "Zomia", as the Dutch historian Willem van Schendel termed the region, which extends from the Vietnamese-Chinese border, across Tibet and on to Afghanistan. Scott has developed an anarchist political theory based on his observations of these people who, he believes, have deliberately rejected the civilisation of Asia's lowland states, in favour of an anti-hierarchical culture: "In his most speculative and contested claim, Scott argues that even the lack of a written language in many Zomian societies is an adaptive measure and a conscious societal choice. For peasants, writing was, first and foremost, a tool of state control - it was the instrument the elite used to extract money, labor, and military service from them. As a result, Scott argues, when those peasants escaped into the hills they discarded writing in an attempt to ensure that similar coercive hierarchies didn't arise in the new societies they formed." Here is a longer article about James C. Scott from Crooked Timber, here yet another, and here a review of his last book in which he presents his ideas about "Zomia": "The  Art of not Being Governed".


Le Nouvel Observateur 03.12.2009 (France)

"A bestseller sheds light on society's latent sensibilities," explains historian Pierre Nora, in a conversation about the nature and definition of the bestseller. Of its three forms - programmed, predictable or unexpected - he is not surprisingly most interested in the latter. "Instead of the rules of the market or the publishing industry, it reveals those of the history of mentalities. Because the unexpected success means that a previously unknown sensibility in society has been touched upon. ... It's like a perforation of the collective unconscious."


The New Criterion 01.12.2009 (USA)

Why is the Pop art bubble refusing to pop? James Panero's rather misanthropic answer has to do with Andy Warhol's painting, "200 One Dollar Bills", which sold at Sotheby's in November for 43 million dollars. According to Panero, it was profit-minded pop artists like Warhol who managed to circumvent the critics and connoisseurs and leave the value of their work to be determined by the nouveau riche collectors. "The art that proved to be most amenable to market manipulation was often work of the most uncertain initial value. Art depicting quick punchlines of cheapness and death shot up in price, while more traditional work, which might unfold through years of visual contemplation due to the complexity of its formal qualities, did not experience the same market uplift." And the museums played along: "Curators defend such expensive contemporary work as relevant to the commercialism of the age: the market gives meaning to the art. Through their acquisitions, international collectors can demonstrate their membership in the social club of market excess. Many museums will even sell off low-priced traditional art in their permanent collections in order to purchase a single overpriced contemporary piece. The public meanwhile gravitates to such contemporary art because the public sees its own profligacy reflected in it—an attitude that the public then feels justified in maintaining."


Odra  01.12.2009 (Poland)

The Polish periodical continues the discussion about the development of literature since 1989 (where we left off). This time, it's the turn of writer and literary critic Jacek Gutorow, who misses the stormy nineties, when poetry still had something "happily coincidental" and the market was "wonderfully deregulated". "On the one hand, the book market has stabilised, on the other, the obsession with literary upheaval has diminished. Thirdly, I have the feeling that readers want smoothness and conformity after all the years of difficult poetry. The media glut, the mass of prizes, stipends, and translations, the authors' metre-long biographies and the obsession with the cultural pages of the major newspapers - it all seems to be laid on so thick, and creates a virtual, pseudo-artistic atmosphere which rather sticks in my throat."


NZZ Folio 07.12.2009 (Switzerland)

In interview with Gudrun Sachse, the cultural anthropologist Gunther Hirschfelder talks about culinary culture, alienation and functional food: "The added vitamins and minerals that go into functional food are often entirely pointless as the body does not absorb them. Food is not a drug. Even if we are talking in terms of healthy and unhealthy. Basically food is about enjoyment. Unfortunately lots of people fail to appreciate this because they connect eating and drinking with guilt, seeing it either in terms of weight gain or sidelining its importance. For them, food is not a pleasure, but a source of guilt."

Peter Haffner tells the story of the nutritional scientist Robert Baker, who wanted to make chicken as profitable as beef, and who also happens to be the inventor of the chicken nugget. "The vivacious Jacoba, 'Jackie' Baker, his now 89-year-old widow, was required to serve up her husband's concoctions. 'If our kids didn't like them, he would shrug his shoulders. If the neighbours' kids didn't like them, he thought they were spoilt,' she said. 'It was only when the dog refused to eat them that he'd say it was time to go back to the laboratory and work on them.'"

Reto U. Scheider kills the appetite for breakfast cereals which, he says, can contain up to 55 percent sugar. "Sometimes it's healthier to eat the boxes,' says nutritional scientist Mario Nestle of the University of New York."

There are also inspections of tinned ravioli, ketchup, crisps and salad. And in his perfume column "Notes from the nose", Luca Turin compares (here in English) cocktails with perfumes. "Martini is Chypre, Manhattan Chanel No. 5, Gin Tonic Pino Silvestre, and the Margarita Chanel Pour Monsieur."


Elet es Irodalom 27.11.2009 (Hungary)

"We have to recognise that history is pounding in our ears," writes political scientist Ervin Csizmadia in a critique of contemporary Hungarian political science which, in his opinion, is overly fixated on the present. This wouldn't be a problem - after all political science should be about today's mechanisms and processes - except that Hungarian politics cannot soley be understood from the perspective of the present day, says Csizmadia: "I believe that political science can only become a "science of democracy" if is is highly sensitive to the past and starts opening the lid on everything that has happened under the catchword of politics until now. (...) Of course this programme will seem rather paltry to more established democracies, but in this country which, in the wake of the system change, regards the past as a closed book, this is the most we can ask. Not that it will help. In the last twenty years we haven't even begun to learn the basics from the west: an understanding of our own past and of ourselves."


Al Ahram Weekly 03.12.2009 (Egypt)



What do political Islam groups want? "They don't tell us what kind of Muslim state they really want. Do they want a state that focuses on religious rituals mostly, or on practical matters first?" asks Galal Nasser, in an article about the dangers of such vagaries. "According to the scholar Abdallah Turkoman, 'loyalty in the Islamic state is a matter of controversy. Should one be loyal to the state or to faith? Also the question of non-Muslims is still a thorny one. And the question of loyalty of Muslims in non-Muslim countries is quite unresolved.' Muslims, including moderates, fail to answer questions concerning loyalty and patriotism though such ideas are central to the composition of a modern political state. The answers they do give are ambiguous and inconsistent, betraying their inability to think the matter through. In a world where Muslim countries have to address modern political concepts, Islamist thinking is fundamentally flawed."

Nehad Selaiha thanks the Institute of Performing and Visual Arts at the American University in Cairo (AUC), for bringing the classics of world theatre to Cairo. She reserves particular praise for the actor, director and teacher Mahmoud El-Lozy, who ensures that the AUC stages one modern Egyptian play every year. This year he chose Tawfiq El-Hakim's melodrama "The Thief". It tells the story of a young woman who has to defend herself with sheer wit and ingenuity against the advances of her licentious stepfather, but whose honour is finally saved by the intervention of one of his former employees, who shoots the old man. But El-Lozy gives the play a new end: the stepfather does not die, but leaves in a fit of rage having divorced his wife, thrown out his stepdaughter and threatened her husband. A stroke of mastery, Selaiha writes, because: "By withholding El-Hakim's melodramatic solution, leaving the fate of all the main characters, including the sacked employee and his seduced sister, hanging in the balance, El-Lozy not only rid the play of its facile, symmetrical design, in which the action is triggered by a gunshot and resolved by another, but also transformed the stepfather into an undying symbol of coercion, exploitation, unbridled greed and moral corruption. The message of the play was no longer that one should trust in divine justice, but a warning that such businessmen as the corrupt, unconscionable, and exploitative Pasha are still with us, seducing and preying on the younger generation, albeit under new guises. It was as if El-Hakim's Pasha walked out of the scene on stage right into present day reality."


Dawn 07.12.2009 (Pakistan)

If Barack Obama wants to win the war against the Taliban, he has to send more troops. When a bomb went off in October in a popular market in Peshawar leaving over a hundred dead, it was the Americans' fault - at least this is what many Pashtuns believe, AFP reports: "'What did my father do? Why did somebody do this to us?' said Rashid Javed, who lost his father and two cousins on October 28. 'Half his (my cousin's) body was missing. We received the upper half... I think America, Israel and India are involved. The Taliban can't do this - they used to target only police and army men.' Such views are widely held in Peshawar, a cultural capital for Pashtuns. The sentiments are allegedly fuelled locally by Taliban propaganda blaming America and rival India for Pakistan's ills and accusing the United States of trying to occupy the region."


The Walrus Magazine 31.12.2009 (Canada)

Did you know that it's illegal in Canada to sell or publish crime comics. This is in accordance with the definition of obscenity (section 163) in the Canadian Criminal Code. Nick Mount relates the circumstances that led to the bill being passed in 1959. "Opponents of Bill C-58 had cast its author, Justice Minister Davie Fulton, as a crusading Christian. In fact, Fulton was a nationalist. The real target of Bill C-58 was exactly what he said it was: not literature, but the American pocketbooks and comics that prompted CBC Radio producer Robert Weaver (himself no Conservative) to complain that same year about Canadian newsstands 'groaning with investigations of homosexuality, lesbianism, prostitution and drug addiction, miscegenation, and juvenile delinquency.' Bill C-58 was the stick to the Canada Council's carrot: one to promote Canadian high culture, the other to proscribe American popular culture. The problem - and the lesson of 1959 - was that in crafting a definition of obscenity wide enough to capture more than its ostensible target, Bill C-58 missed its real target and hit a Lady." ("Lady Chatterley's Lover" that is.)


ResetDoc 01.12.2009 (Italy)

Joseph Massad, a professor at New York's Columbia University, talks in an interview about his book "Desiring Arabs", and explains that homosexuals in the Arab world are an invention of western social Darwinism, culturalism, civilisational thinking, Orientalism, colonial medicine, and colonial law: "Western anthropologists and Gay Internationalists are unhappy that according to their own 'research', they found out that most Arab (or Latin American, or Indian, or Iranian, et al.) men who engage in sex with men (and women who engage in sex with women, though there is less interest in the literature in the latter) do not identify or name themselves in accordance with these intimate practices anymore than those men who have sex with women identify themselves in accordance with their practices. While there is a small number of upper class and upper middle class westernized Arabs who are seduced by gayness and the American example of it, they are not representative of, nor can speak for the majority of men and women who engage in same sex practices and do not identify themselves in accordance with these practices."


A number of what Massad would classify as "westernized Arabs" in Lebanon have now founded an organisation called Helem, for the protection of gay, lesbian and transgender Lebanese. A spokesman for the organisation Hossein Alizadeh rejects Massad's accusations outright. "It is true that the concept of homosexuality as we know and understand it in the West is a strictly western experience. It is however certainly not true that people with desires for their same sex did not exist in other cultures before contact with the west. The truth is that Arab Islamic society has never accepted an open dialogue on sexuality. The idea of being gay and having a different identity has never been developed among Muslims. This does not mean that homosexuality has been exported from the West, just as it does not means that human rights are valid only for the West and not for Muslims."

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