04/01/2010

Magazine Roundup

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

The New York Review of Books | Merkur | Res Publica Nowa | Slate | Nepszabadsag | Le Nouvel Observateur | Eurozine | Elet es Irodalom | Babelia | ResetDoc | The Boston Review | L'Express | Prospect | Tygodnik Powszechny | NZZ Folio | The New York Times


The New York Review of Books 14.01.2010 (USA)

Historian Tony Judt suffers from ALS. By now he can move little more than his neck and head. In the daytime people are up and there's plenty going on. But then comes the night: "Of course, I do have access to help if I need it. Since I can't move a muscle, save only my neck and head, my communication device is a baby's intercom at my bedside, left permanently on so that a mere call from me will bring assistance. In the early stages of my disease the temptation to call out for help was almost irresistible: every muscle felt in need of movement, every inch of skin itched, my bladder found mysterious ways to refill itself in the night and thus require relief, and in general I felt a desperate need for the reassurance of light, company, and the simple comforts of human intercourse. By now, however, I have learned to forgo this most nights, finding solace and recourse in my own thoughts. The latter, though I say it myself, is no small undertaking."

Louis-Ferdinand Celine
's anti-Semitic pamphlets were not just pamphlets, writes critic and essayist Wyatt Mason, in an excellent essay on a number of new publications in French and English. Celine was "a writer who, from 1937 to 1944, spent all his flagrant literary energy and aptitude calling - shouting - for the death of every Jew in France (for a start)." His "Bagatelles pour un massacre" was a book of over 300 pages, and even before Vichy days, sold more than 75,000 copies. Two further editions and reprints of "Bagatelles" came out under Petain. This is why it's unacceptable to do what the famous Pleiade is doing now, and omitting the anti-Semitic writing from Celine's collected works: "Henri Godard, editor of the Pleiade edition of Celine's novels, has argued that, taken together, the eight novels possess a 'dynamic unity' without which 'it is not possible to get the true measure of Celine.' This does not go far enough. Once one extends the reach of Godard's claim to include the anti-Semitic trilogy, the congruence of Celine's wink-wink misanthropy with his unblinking sociopathy becomes apparent. It is not that we shouldn't read Celine because he was, at a profound level, contemptible. It is rather that, to understand Celine, we must be ready to, and permitted to, read all that he wrote. Only in this way can we begin to understand what we are saying when we might think to class him as - of all things - a humorist."


Merkur 01.01.2010 (Germany)

Art historian Wolfgang Ullrich sees a new artist myth on the rise whereby the artist secures major deals in the manner of a film producer or businessman, has his work made by the likes of Mike Smith studio in London, mixedmedia berlin or Carlson & Co in LA, and offers his seal of approval for "singular quality" at the end – like in the whiskey ads: "The idea of a unified style, which was central to generations of artists who made art with their own hands, has suddenly become a sign of idiosyncrasy. And having no skills for making anything is not only not a handicap but it's even seen as a qualification for being able to stay spontaneous and flexible as an artist." And instead of the innocent eye, it's all about the innocent hand now. "This means that in the development of his concepts, the artist should not be influenced by his knowledge of techniques and material properties best disposed to create masterpieces. And some artists deliberately present themselves as technical ingenues: not only to distance themselves from something as lowly as craft and skill, but because they want to be perceived as free and thus authentic. The less I can do, the less I am determined."


Res Publica Nowa 28.12.2009 (Poland)

After years of talking about it the Museum of Modern Art has finally got down to work. The museum is opening with the "Warsaw Under Construction" exhibition, in an attempt to create a connection with a city in constant change. "Thank goodness!" writes art critic Anda Rottenberg. But it shouldn't stop there: "Without instruments like this museum, TV reports, school lessons, without an educational context, our society will continue to react negatively to modern art, and new museums will not change that. And by the way, these museums only look the way they do because we accept the sort of architecture that no one else in the world is building any more. Warsaw has become a sort of dumping ground for out-of-date ideas but everyone here seems to think this is a good thing, or at least that's what they are saying. Otherwise they'd do something about it. Unfortunately the whole of Poland reflects a taste born of complexes and resentment. Of course you can't expect change to happen overnight, but this is taking ages."

Timothy Snyder's much discussed speech at the "Eurozine" conference in May (first published in the New York Review of Books) will certainly influence the Western understanding of the Holocaust, writes Jaroslaw Kuisz. "The text undoubtedly argues against writing history solely from a western perspective. The 'centre' writes a popular history of the world and stubbornly ignores the voices from the 'provinces'." So far, so good, but, Kuisz continues, "we are presented only as victims. Snyder's story, for all its noble intentions, is nothing but the next historiographical installment from a Western perspective. The victims of past crimes remain passively 'the provinces'." The delight over the recognition Snyder's text gives to the Polish victims of both totalitarianisms, should therefore be a little less enthusiastic, Kuisz thinks.


Slate (USA), 29.12.2009

Jack Shafer conducts a long and fascinating interview with John Maxwell Hamilton about his book "Journalism's Roving Eye. A History of American Foreign Reporting". Hamilton introduces a number of the most interesting foreign correspondents (links in the interview lead to excerpts): Benjamin Franklin, who - not unlike a blogger - compiled foreign reports from letters and European newspapers, James Gordon Bennett, Richard Harding Davis, Nellie Bly, Victor Fremont Lawson, Jack Belden or Vincent Sheean. He rounds it off with an encouraging nudge to the Internet-battered craft: "... we should not be surprised that foreign newsgathering - or, indeed, newsgathering of any kind - is going through such a traumatic period. Serious organized journalism is not that old a profession. Looking at it in terms of the broad sweep of history, it is in the toddler stage. That does not mean that we should not be nostalgic about some of the great owners, editors, and reporters who brought news this far. But there were plenty of ark moments too. Journalism, like democracy, is not something that is achieved. It is a work in progress, and not every day is as good as the last. But there will always be journalists, like you, who care about foreign news. Otherwise, why would you be asking me all of these questions?"


Nepszabadsag 24.12.2009 (Hungary)

Is Hungary in a moral crisis?, Peter Nagy N. and Akos Toth ask the writer Peter Nadas. His reply: "A country cannot be in a moral crisis, only its people can. Morality is an issue for the individual, I cannot accept an extension of the concept of morality to the collective. [...] We are currently in the midst of a long-term political crisis. We have to live with this because it is our own crisis. It will not come to an end until we have a substantial class of well-to-do people whose lives have stabilised and who do not take from society to serve themselves, but who are forced to give: who have to give knowledge and work. From that point on, these people will no longer speculate on the destabilization of society, as they are doing now."


Le Nouvel Observateur 24.12.2009 (France)

In an interview, Francis Ford Coppola talks openly about his new film "Tetro", family dynamics, his film oeuvre, and the future of cinema: " As I see it, a DVD has no value for me (as illegal downloading shows). It's just an object in circulation. DVDs should be free, because they are nothing more than mechanically-reproduced objects, mass products with no inner value, not like a theatre performance, which is unique every time. Earlier composers such as Mendelssohn, for example, never went near the copyrights of their partitures. The only way they felt they could live their music, was to go on tour with an orchestra and to conduct their music themselves. If you take all these elements into account, you see where the future of the cinema lies."


Eurozine 28.12.2009 (Austria)

Almantas Samalavicius provides an overview of Lithuania's literary scene which, twenty years after independence, is marginalised but not devoid of strong voices. Herkus Kuncius for example. His book "'Pijoko chrestomatija' (Anthology of a drunkard, 2009) is a witty, subtle, sometimes sarcastic novel; the rupturing episodes of its postmodern plot are held together by its characters' lust for alcohol. The protagonist, a young post-Soviet conceptual artist, travels through Europe, spending his time in artistic communities whose members share his interest in heavy drinking. Combining the main plot with anecdotal stories of the Soviet and pre-Soviet era, the author reconsiders the peculiarities of drinking culture during the communist regime, comparing it with the habits of contemporary artists in the East and West. The parallels reveal absurdities: back then, people drank out of hopelessness, lack of meaning, or simply as a social habit under communism; today's artistic bohemians drink to drown a new spiritual emptiness, a lack of a meaning in their artistic activities."


Elet es Irodalom 18.12.2009 (Hungary)

The most important literary event of 2009, according to literary critic Csaba Karolyi, is Laszlo Darvasi's novel "Viragzabalok" (the flower eaters). Karoly talked to the author and asked him whether he thought about the reader while writing. "A novelist should not be concerned about his readers, he should not consider their reactions and expectations, he should not take them into account, that would be dishonest to the profession. People who think you can learn to write a novel are right, but that's not going to help them. Not a bit. People who believe you can learn to write a novel also believe that they know the reader. On one hand, though, the reader doesn't exist. If, on the other hand, he does exist, we don't know who he is. [...] A really good book is a very selfish thing, it is interested in nothing but itself. And suddenly it will do something that cannot be learned or predicted, because it's not in the instructions. A creation like this is a lonely act and the novel feeds during its creation, on this inviolable experience of loneliness."


Babelia 26.12.2009 (Spain)

Spain's fifty leading literary critics have, for the first time, nominated not a novel but a work of non-fiction as book of the year. Javier Cercas' "Anatomia de un instante" deals with the failed putsch attempt on the young Spanish democracy on 23 February, 1981. Alberto Manguel extols its virtues on behalf of his colleagues: "A fantastic topic does not guarantee a fantastic delivery. In the case of 'Anatomia de un instante', however, it has resulted in one of the most important works in Spanish-language literature. The book is exemplary in every sense. In a style that is calm, fluid and precise, Cercas has succeeded in illuminating a critical moment in Spanish history. You think you are reading a political chronicle whose action is propelled by its dramatic power; in reality, however, we become witnesses, as in some great Greek tragedy, to a spectacular act of resistance against history's relentless repetition of infamy."


ResetDoc 29.12.2009 (Italy)

For sociologist, Nilüfer Göle the minaret ban is an indication of the problems the Swiss are having in recognising Muslims as an "endogenic component" of society. And she seems to regard mosques with minarets as a key site of integration: "Mosques act as an interface between the urban environment, Muslim citizens and religious pluralism. Accepting their visibility involves a series of negotiations and rules that involve aesthetics, worship, finance, architecture and space, so as to create objects of a future shared legacy. The Swiss referendum has now imposed non-negotiability and it is also in this sense that this referendum indicates a non-democratic attitude, because it involves stopping the process of evolution, exchange and cultural mixing."


The Boston Review 01.01.2010 (USA)

On the twentieth anniversary of Samuel Beckett's death, the writer Roger Boylan describes seeing Beckett's frail silhouette in an old people's home in Paris, but not having the courage to approach him. "I subsequently learned from those who knew him that he was as content in that nursing home as one of his temperament could be in such a place: He had plentiful whiskey (Jamesons, Tullamore Dew) and smokes (Havanitos Planteros cigarillos), a TV, select books (mostly collections of English verse, plus Dante), a stereo on which he could listen to his beloved Schubert, and a small ground-floor room facing onto a courtyard."


L'Express 04.01.2010 (France)

In his blog, Philippe Gavi comments on the attempt to kill Danish caricaturist Kurt Westergaard, who was issued with a fatwa after the publication of his Mohammed cartoon in 2005, and was attacked on Janary 1 by an axe-wielding Somali Islamist. "The situation is grave. The call to kill free spirits in the name of Jihad has provoked no outraged reactions from the so-called moderate Muslims; nor have I read any explanations in the newspapers from religious leaders or figures of authority in the community condemning this appalling insanity. Nor from any other religious or non-religious figures of authority for that matter. At the time of the caricature affair, however, they were only too happy to express their outrage over the mockery of their religious feelings. Why is no one saying anything, warning young Muslims, reminding them that Mohammed was not some crazed killer, and that a lot worse things are being committed against him than drawings – the carryings-on of bloodthirsty madmen who invoke his name, for example."


Prospect 01.01.2010 (UK)

Brian Semple has seen Cristian Mungiu's latest film "Tales from the Golden Age", the follow-up to the celebrated abortion drama "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days". It is a comedy about communism. Mungiu explains why: "'The first Romanian films which were made about communism just after the fall of the Berlin Wall were very bad - just author's comments about communism through the mouths of their characters. Now we are making films about the period with way less anger. Humour is what helped Romanians survive the period, so we thought a comedy is a possible way of looking back.' But even today, he says, there are lots of Romanians who refuse to accept that you can make a comedy about communism."

As part of a rather UK-centric list on over- and underated artists, events etc. of 2009, historian Timothy Garton Ash singles out a German moment: "Where was he, the giant of Oggersheim, in all the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of 1989? Old, sick, wheelchair-bound after a stroke, compromised by a party funding scandal, ruthlessly pushed aside by Angela Merkel: he did not get his dues. For Helmut Kohl it was who seized the chance to unify Germany. Of all the great actors of 1989, he was the one who set himself the largest strategic goal, and achieved what he intended."


Tygodnik Powszechny 03.01.2010 (Poland)

Sociologist Marek Kucia analyses the theft of the "Arbeit macht frei" sign from over the gate to the former concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and talks about the conflicting concerns about preserving authenticity and maintaining the site. "I have nothing but respect for the people who work there, because it is now the third generation who are trying to preserve the material leftovers of the past. But it is just not possible to preserve everything. This is why in the future of Auschwitz has to be about preserving memory over matter. In some places the steps have been worn down by the huge numbers of visitors. Should they be kept or replaced? The buildings at Auschwitz will not stand forever; the barracks in Birkenau are an exact copy of the originals, because wood does not last long. In my opinion there is some justification for one suggestion, which the museum's directors oppose, that there should be a modern building containing the exhibits outside the camp and the camp buildings should be viewed from the outside only. No matter what happens to the objects, whether they disintegrate or are kept in tact using new technologies, one thing will never disappear: the place."


NZZ Folio 01.01.2010 (Switzerland)

This week's edition is all about death. In an article entitled "You again", Mary Roach tells of her travels with Kirti S. Rawat, who is conducting scientific research into reincarnation in India. They visit a boy, Aishwary, who at the age of three began talking about people from an earlier life. "His family believes Aishwary is the reincarnation of a factory worker called Veerpal Singh, who lived a few villages away and was killed by an electric shock shortly before Aishwary's birth. Rawat shows me some photos that were taken a month ago, when he started his investigations. One picture shows Aishwary with Rani, the factory worker's 26-year-old widow. On the photo the young boy looks tenderly at his alleged former wife - you might say lewdly, if you'd be spending too much time with reincarnation researchers. I live in California, and the idea of a factory worker being reincarnated is new to me. Rawat explains that the same rules apply in America: 'These are completely normal people who remember a completely normal former life.'"

Anna Gosline compares ten types of death with refreshing objectivity: "Decapitation, as gruesome as it may seem, is one of the quickest and least painful ways to die, provided the executioner knows his craft, keeps a sharp blade - and the condemned holds still."

Further articles: Lukas Egli researches the cost of funerals. And in his "Notes from the nose" column, Luca Turin sniffs out (in English) niche fragrances.


The New York Times 03.01.2010 (USA)

Philip Roth might not be able to write brilliantly about sex any more, but for all his anger and frustration about this, he is still streets ahead of all his followers, says Katie Roiphe in the Book Review, shaking her head about the new purity in American literature: "The current sexual style is more childlike; innocence is more fashionable than virility, the cuddle preferable to sex. Prototypical is a scene in Dave Eggers' road trip novel, 'You Shall Know Our Velocity,' where the hero leaves a disco with a woman and she undresses and climbs on top of him, and they just lie there: 'Her weight was the ideal weight and I was warm and wanted her to be warm' ... Compare Kunkel's tentative and guilt-­ridden masturbation scene in 'Indecision' with Roth's famous onanistic exuberance with apple cores, liver and candy wrappers in 'Portnoy's Complaint.' Kunkel: 'Feeling extremely uncouth, I put my penis away. I might have thrown it away if I could.' Roth also writes about guilt, of course, but a guilt overridden and swept away, joyously subsumed in the sheer energy of taboo smashing: 'How insane whipping out my joint like that! Imagine what would have been had I been caught red-handed! Imagine if I had gone ahead.' In other words, one rarely gets the sense in Roth that he would throw away his penis if he could."

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