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12/01/2010

Magazine Roundup

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

The New Yorker | Le point | Qantara | The Times Literary Supplement | L'Espresso | HVG | The Nation | Literaturen | Rue89 | Tygodnik Powszechny | Le Monde | Standpoint | Frontline | | The Spectator

The New Yorker 18.01.2010 (USA)

In an article entitled "Found in Translation", Claudia Roth Pierpont delivers a comprehensive overview of the contemporary Arab novel, covering books by Alaa Al Aswany, Elias Khoury, Nagib Mahfuz, Rajaa Alsanea, Mahmoud Saeed and others. By way of introduction she writes: "What do you know about how people live in Cairo or Beirut or Riyadh? What bearing does such information have upon your life? There are, of course, newspapers to keep responsible Americans up to date when trouble looms, and public television or even the History Channel to inform us about the occasional historic battle or archeological discovery or civil war. What else do we need? The ways that people think and work and suffer and fall in love and make enemies and sometimes make revolutions is the stuff of novels, and Arabic novels, while not yet lining the shelves of the local bookstore, have been increasingly available in English translation, offering a marvellous array of answers to questions we did not know we wanted to ask."

Magret Tabot reports on the legal status of gay marriage in the US. There is also a short story "A Death in Kitchawank" from T.C. Boyle and poems by Mary Karr and Galway Kinnell.


Le point 06.01.2010 (France)

In his Bloc notes, Bernard-Henri Levy explains why the French debate about national identity had to be brought to a immediate close: because it was presidentially prompted. "It was ordered by the state. Forced. A steered, guided, controlled debate that was veiled in beautiful words from all sides. Anyone who loves debate because they believe that there is no opinion, no thought, no certainties that do not deserve to be shaken up with some fine prodding, has to reject this false debate, this caricature of a debate.

In a fascinating interview, the artist Christian Boltanski talks about his attitude to art (life is more moving), and his most recent work: he has sold his life to an Australian art collector.


Qantara 11.01.2010 (Germany)

What is wrong with Arab societies? Why are they unable to install democratic governments? These are the questions addressed by the British journalist Brian Whitaker in his book "What's Really Wrong with the Middle East". His answer (available in English), according to the reviewer James M. Dorsey, is that not only the governments but also the societies themselves are repressive. "To describe this phenomenon, Whitaker draws on Palestinian-American historian Hisham Sharabi's theory of neo-patriarichism. In a controversial book published in the 1980s that is still banned in many Arab countries, Sharabi says Arab society is built around the 'dominance of the father (patriarch), the centre around which the national as well as the natural family are organized. Thus between ruler and ruled, between father and child, there exist only vertical relations: in both settings the paternal will is absolute will, mediated in both the society and the family by a forced consensus based on ritual and coercion.' That is to say, Arab regimes have franchised repression so that society, the oppressed, participates in their repression and denial of rights. The regime is in effect the father of all fathers at the top of the pyramid."

The Times Literary Supplement 08.01.2010 (UK)

Wendy Doniger was fascinated by William Dalrymple's latest book of reportage from India, "Nine Lives", which describes people on a quest for spiritual salvation – who have turned the subcontinent into a "huge lunatic asylum for the divinely mad." "But the uglier face of religion, religion as wound rather than balm, is visible too. Other Hindus persecute both the Tantrics and 'poor, widowed, and socially marginalized women, who are accused of practicing witchcraft and 'eating the livers' of villagers, particularly when some calamity befalls a community; indeed they are still occasionally put to death, like the witches of Reformation Europe and North America'. Mataji (a digambara who wanders 'sky-clad' through West Bengal) underwent two ceremonies in which the hairs on her head were pulled out one by one, a process that she chose instead of having her head shaved. 'The whole ritual took nearly four hours, and was very painful. I tried not to, but I couldn't help crying.'"


L'Espresso 08.01.2010 (Italy)

The attacks on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have led to a extensive debate about the role of the media as rabble rouser. Interest in sleaze is nothing new, writes Umberto Eco, but newspapers today are bloated things. They celebrate every story in ten different ways and inflate irrelevant details out of all proportion. "The victory of the daily over the weekly paper, (another overkill problem, which resulted when TV took away the daily newspaper's privilege of pure reporting) has thrown the weekly magazines into crisis on the one hand, and on the other, has made broadsheets unreadable."


HVG 06.01.2010 (Hungary)

The deep divides in Hungarian society, postulates the writer Istvan Kemeny, do not fall along party-political lines. They are a result of widespread hatred. "You always have to take hatred into consideration, regard it as a natural and normal phenomenon. You cannot hate hatred, you have to factor it in, and try not to fear it. The hatred is the starting point. It is the foundation of the entire, complex system of emotions which control Hungarian society today. In better times this could might been something else (understanding, respect, correctness or good-naturedness), but today it is hatred."


The Nation 25.01.2010 (USA)

Can journalism be saved? With subsidies, yes, write John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney. Thirty billion a year should suffice, they reckon. That would be today's equivalent - as a percentage of the GBP – of the 1840 press subsidies. It might also be worth considering whether this money should be used to help commercial media struggling to stay afloat. "But the lion's share of subsidies must go now and in the future to developing and expanding the nonprofit and noncommercial sector. Journalism needs an institutional structure that comports with its status as a public good. What are we talking about? For starters, spending on public and community broadcasting should increase dramatically, with the money going primarily to journalism, especially on the local level. ... Let's also craft legislation to expedite the transition of failing daily newspapers into solvent nonprofit or low-profit entities."

Further articles: Ben Ehrenreich introduces the new novel of Columbian writer Evelio Rosero. "The Armies": for all its gruesomeness is "hardly a realist novel, much less a journalistic one. It has a stronger kinship to Kafka and Juan Rulfo's "Pedro Paramo" than to any of Rosero's immediate contemporaries." David Caroll Simon profiles the British writer Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978).


Literaturen 11.01.2010 (Germany)

The writer Annett Gröschner (website) has lived in the Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg since 1983. By now, this has become a source of embarrassment, as she admits in her portrait of the district, "About Berlin", because it really is as Die Zeit idescribed it 2008 (see our translation "Organic or bust"). "The public idea of Prenzlauer Berg is now dominated by middle-class society which has constructed a perfect facade, like the rennovated houses (no one sees the cellars). The inhabitants present themselves as open-minded, vote green, produce two obligatory state-funded kids at an advanced age, involve themselves in private kindergartens and schools and form collectives to work together on building their dream homes. In the process, hundred-year old trees are felled, alcoholics are driven from their benches, houses in the back courtyards are deprived of light."

Further articles: Jochen Schmidt sees Germany on the way to becoming a literary dwarf. Aram Lintzel tracks down pop literature online.

There are reviews of Margaret Atwood's "Year of the Flood", Rainald Goetz's latest book "Loslabern" (prattling on), Alexander Kluge's "Chronik der Gefühle" (chronicle of emotions) as audio book , Alex Ross's history of 20th century music "The Rest is Noise", Hans Blumenberg's posthumously collected essays on the history of technical ideas "Geistesgeschichte der Technik", new crime novels, Spike Jonze's film "Where the Wild Things Are" and book of photographs by Dennis Hopper.


Rue89 08.01.2010 (France)

Louis Mesple is very taken by a slim volume called "A cercle. Histoire veridique d'un symbole". Writers, musicians, and semiologists write about a symbol and its profound effect on the political battles of the second half of the last century: the Anarchist A - the encircled A. The authors refute the Wikipedia claim that the symbol has a long history: "Actually this sign is a very recent iconographic creation... Now we know that the first encircled A dates back to 1964, to the April edition of the Bulletin des Jeunes Libertaires, where it was suggested as a sign for "the anarchistic movement as a whole". According to the article that spawned the idea, the point was "to find a practical, and rapid way of reducing the long list of signatures under texts and slogans to a minimum."


Tygodnik Powszechny 10.01.2010 (Poland)

Wojciech Albinski lived in Africa for almost 40 years, writing books about his experiences. For his latest book, he returned to Warsaw to write about his childhood during the 1944 uprising. In conversation with the weekly paper, he explains where the two worlds overlap. "I described a mystical land which I sometimes don't even believe in myself. Africa was completely different. What a life! And this is just a memory. But if I hadn't left Africa, perhaps I would never have returned to these stories. When you are somewhere, it feels as if things had never been any other way. When you return from a journey you see that everything is different. When I came here, I discovered that the really exotic place is Poland. And only now, after Africa, am I discovering the world as it is."

Zbigniew Libera's most famous work of art is the "Lego Concentration Camp". A gallery in Warsaw is now presenting a retrospective of his work, much to the approval of Piotr Kosiewski. "You see it everytime, how much the artists, who made work after 1989, owe to their predecessors. Libera seems to be an important connection between generations. This makes his exhibition in the Zacheta Gallerie all the more important."


Le Monde 09.01.2010 (France)

The philosopher Edgar Morin writes an homage to metamorphosis, which becomes essential when a system can no longer solve its problems and embarks on a course of self-destruction. "The idea of metamorphosis, in terms of its transformational radicalness, is much richer that the idea of revolution, although it is linked to preservation (of life, of cultural heritage). But how does one shift course to achieve metamorphosis? Because as possible as it might seem that certain ills can be corrected, is is impossible to thwart the technological-scientific-economic-civilisational surge which is propelling the planet into catastrophe. And yet the history of mankind has changed direction many a time. Everything always begins with innovation, a divergent, marginal, humble message, which is often invisible to others at the start. This, at least, was how the great religions began, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam. Capitalism developed parasitically on the back of feudal societies and rose up with the help of the royalties, only to destroy them in the end."

And Wassyla Tamzali, author, lawyer and women's rights representative for Unesco, writes about Albert Camus romanticised relationship with Algeria, his country of birth, and analyses the political position of "happy Sisyphus".


Standpoint 01.01.2010 (UK)

At the Royal Academy's Van Gogh exhibition of 65 paintings, 30 drawings and 40 original letter-sketches, Fisun Güner learned that the Dutch painter was not just a tortured and child-like soul, he was also acutely interested in the world around him. "Van Gogh was a voracious reader - fluent in Dutch, French and English. He read all of Dickens in English ("Hard Times" was his favourite), he was particularly moved by Shakespeare's history plays, and he loved Flaubert and Maupassant. Indeed, he was extremely knowledgeable about much of the French fiction of his day. In addition, he learned a great deal about Japan from the fiction of Pierre Loti, particularly his bestselling Madame Chrysantheme, the basis for Puccini's Madame Butterfly. Van Gogh identified particularly with French naturalist writers, and was inspired by Zola's depiction of Parisian life, reading all 20 novels in Zola's Rougon-Macquart cycle. '[They] paint life as we feel it ourselves, and thus satisfy that need which we have, that people tell the truth,' he wrote to [his sister] Wil in 1887."


Frontline 15.01.2010 (India)

To celebrate its 25th birthday, Frontline has compiled new essays together with ones from older editions (more about this in the editorial) to provide an overview of Indian quality journalism. Specifically Indian issues might take a bit of time to unpick but it's almost always worth the effort.

S. Viswanathan launches a stinging attack on the half-hearted attempts by the state to provide employment for the lower castes in India through "positive discrimination": "In the case of Dalits, the situation is worse, particularly because of what Dalit leaders describe as 'tardy' implementation of reservation. Dalit activists complain of discrimination against Dalits in this policy of 'positive discrimination'. Bureaucrats from the 'oppressor castes' do not show any genuine interest in implementing reservation. A large number of posts under the quota remain unfilled, and upper-caste officials show the least interest in clearing backlogs. This only proves that reservation in employment and education is not enough to bring about any big change in raising the social status of Dalits. Dalits on the payroll of private employers presumably suffer a much worse form of discrimination."


The Spectator 09.01.2010 (UK)

Harry Mount's waves a teary farewell to a national treasure: "After more than 200 years, a uniquely British taste is on the way out. Shabby chic has been vacuumed, whitewashed and dry-cleaned out of existence. Frayed shirt collars, egg yolk on the tie, soup stain on the crotch, roses rambling out of control over the crumbling terrace flagstones, walls cluttered with pictures, tables covered with teetering piles of books. The quintessentially British air of decayed gentility has been destroyed by a combination of minimalism, modernism and nihilism. For the first time in history we live in a civilisation where, the richer you are, the fewer things you have, and the newer, cleaner and more stripped-down those things must be. Shabby chic meant the opposite. The idea was that the richer you were, not only did you have more things, but also the things were older and more run-down. 'I've got so much stuff, and it's so old that of course it's going to get dusty and battered,' went the mantra, 'but it's so stylish that it'll never go out of fashion.'"

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