02/02/2010

Magazine Roundup

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

Wired | The Boston Globe | El Pais Semanal | The New Yorker | Elet es Irodalom | Outlook India | Merkur | Prospect | Odra | Tygodnik Powszechny | The Walrus Magazine | Salon.eu.sk | openDemocracy | Le Nouvel Observateur | The Times Literary Supplement | Al Ahram Weekly | The Nation | The New York Times


Wired 01.02.2010 (USA)

After all the recent discussions about the virtual monopoly of the web by – Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple – it is somewhat surprising to read that Chris Anderson still believes so firmly that the garage industry can give the giants a run for their money – even in hardware production. Cars, for example, or building autopilot systems. Anderson's article is littered with links to back up his argument. It's impossible not to be sceptical, but Anderson's optimism is infectious: production facilities in China for example (which are accessible via the Internet) now produce hardware in series as low as one unit and ship around the world, and prices for hardware (such as 3D printers) have dropped dramatically. A new industrial revolution is underway, raves Anderson. He had lunch with Mark Hatch, the head of Techshop, who started thinking out loud about "the arc of manufacturing history. With the rise of the factory in the industrial age, Karl Marx fretted that a tradesman could no longer afford the tools to ply his trade. The economies of scale of industrial production crowded out the individual. Although the benefits of such industrialization were lower prices and better products, the cost was homogeneity. Combined with big-box retailers, the marketplace became increasingly dominated by the fruits of mass production: goods designed for everyone, with the resulting limited diversity and choice that implies. But today those tools of production are getting so cheap that they are once again within the reach of many individuals. State-of-the-art milling machines that once cost $150,000 are now close to $4,000, thanks to Chinese copies. Everybody's garage is a potential high tech factory. Marx would be pleased."

Further articles: Yudhijit Bhattacharjee describes how a spy with real problems reading and writing, cooked up a code which the USA's top cryptographers have yet to crack.


The Boston Globe 31.01.2010 (USA)

Chris Wright, who is currently living in the United Arab Emirates, entered a competition for poems about camels. Not that he was expecting to win the Range Rover which was first prize, because the poem had to be written in Nabati style. Nabati owes much of its current popularity to the Nabati talent show "Million's Poet" but, Wright says, it is also being heavily funded by the government because it represents an Arab tradition which is greatly missed in the modern Emirates today: "Nabati is to this tradition what break dancing is to the minuet. It's meant to be loose-limbed and spontaneous, recited in everyday language, expressing common concerns. Its rules are negotiable; if it sounds good over a plate of al harees, you're in. And while Nabati themes do occasionally tend toward the lyrical - 'My Heart Is Set Ablaze By Anxieties' by Si'dun Al Waji comes to mind - you're just as likely to hear a poem about whose goats have been encroaching on whose territory. 'Nabati,' says Ghassan Al Hassan, a Nabati scholar and a 'Million's Poet' judge, 'speaks the language of the common people.'"


El Pais Semanal 31.01.2010 (Spain)

"Europe is fast asleep." Juan Cruz talks to the 88-year-old French sociologist Edgar Morin just before he set off for Brazil. "The vitality levels in many Latin American countries are conspicuously higher than those in Europe today. People over there seem only too open to identify their problems, and to think about how to solve them. Europe, by contrast, seems to be in the grip of paralysis and lethargy. There is huge anxiety about the future and when, like here in Europe, the present seems to be the only possible future, the present is experienced as a threat and there is no other option but to cling to the past, to religious identity, to the idea that Europe belongs to Christianity. But democracy is not a Christian invention; it comes from the Greeks; science and technology are not Christian; modern Europe is not Christian, and secularism exists in other civilisations, too."


The New Yorker 08.02.2010 (USA)

John Lahr profiles "the pathfinder", playwright and actor Sam Shepard, whose latest play, "Ages of Moon", is currently being toured by the Atlantic Theatre Company. Shepard came to New York at the age of 19, he tells Lahr: "'It was absolute luck that I happened to be there when the whole Off-Off Broadway movement was starting.' Shepard, a refugee from his father's farm in California, had spent eight months as an actor travelling the country by bus with a Christian theatre troupe, the Bishop's Company Repertory Players. Acting had been his ticket to ride; he'd been so scared at his Bishop's Company audition that he'd recited the stage directions. 'I think they hired everybody,' he said. Once he'd taken up residence in Manhattan — 'It was wide open,' Shepard said. 'You were like a kid in a fun park' — he proceeded to knock around the city, 'trying to be an actor, writer, musician, whatever happened.' He had no connections, no money (he sold his blood to buy a cheeseburger), and nothing to fall back on but his lanky, taciturn Western charisma."

Further articles: Adam Gopnik, Lillian Ross and John Seabrook remember J.D. Salinger (see photos of the writer in the Seventies from the Ross collection). In a letter from Haiti, Jon Lee Anderson describes the tireless work of a woman taking care of her neighbourhood. Paul Goldberger visits the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Anthony Lane watched Martin Campbell's film "Edge of Darkness" with Mel Gibson, as well as Powell and Pressburger's classic "The Red Shoes". There is also a short story "William Burns" by Roberto Bolano and poems by Mark Doty and Jane Hirshfeld.


Elet es Irodalom 22.01.2010 (Hungary)

Hungary tends to rank around 40th on the Transparency International corruption list, no matter what party is in power. On the one hand, this means that the country has been spared the worst corruption scandals (involving an incumbent president as in Croatia for example, or linking leading politicians with the mafia as in Bulgaria, or involving a cocktail of politics, sex and money as in Northern Ireland). But journalist Ivan Lipovecz has noticed that the major European corruption scandals are exposed and cleared up by the press rather than by political rivals, as is invariably the case Hungary. The Hungarian opposition has just promised to "clean up" after the elections, but Lipovecz wants to see the press involved instead. "That's what we need in this country. Instead of rivalling political powers emptying their bed pans over each other's heads, the press must muster up the necessary civil courage and professional ambition to shed light on such cases."


Outlook India 08.02.2010 (India)

The cover story and a dossier of related articles look at the spate of violent attacks on Indian students in Australia, referred to nastily as "curry bashing". The students, who often live in poor parts of town and work night shifts, are considered soft targets. But John Brumby, Labour premier of the state of Victoria where there were 1,447 incidents of crime against Indians in 2007-2008, says in an interview that some, but not all the attacks are racially motivated. "Robbery is the only offence type where Indians are over-represented." But according to Pranay Sharma: "those in the left-liberal parties feel the attacks on Indians, or at least some of those, have a strong racial basis". He then points to "what can be termed 'repressed racism' in Australia, erupting at the slightest provocation or under the influence of liquor or often for no reason other than the sight of an Indian."

In a second article Pranay Sharma looks at what is being done to stem the violence. Delhi has engaged in tough talking with Canberra, and the former foreign minister wants to raise the issue with the Commonwealth countries: "But there are others who believe drastic measures could impair India's relations with Australia, a democratic, developed country that enjoys a certain salience in the international arena - and from which India stands to gain in the future. Drastic measures could stem the inflow of Indians down under. Sections in the Indian establishment believe Indian-Australians can act as an effective lobby group for India, like the Indian-Americans in the US."

When a recent study in the New York Times on skin-whitening "fairness" creams showed that many of them not only contain mercury but also steroids, hardly an eyebrow was raised in India. Indeed the "fairness" market in India has a dizzying annual growth rate of 20-25 per cent. In view of this alarming trend Shefalee Vasudev asks: "Why do Bollywood stars, who claim to be global-local ambassadors of new India, agree to become brand ambassadors of products without being absolutely sure they are hundred per cent safe? Katrina Kaif, who is naturally fair, sells Olay's Natural White (youtube). Preity Zinta, another fair lady, was not so long back the face of Fem's Herbal Bleach. 'It is not a bleach, it is a breakthrough,' said the ad. Wow! Sonam Kapoor sells L'Oreal's White Perfect and Deepika Padukone sells Neutrogena's Fine Fairness range."

Other companies competing for the lucrative "fairness" cake include Ponds (Whitening cream), Nivea (Whitening range for the Asian man), Estee Lauder (Cyper White Ex), Chanel (White Essentiel Precision) and Dior (Prestige White).


Merkur 01.02.2010 (German)

James Bowman, an older and self-proclaimed curmudgeon of a New York Sun film critic, has a healthy rant about the lack of verisimilitude in the cinema whose fantasy productions, he says, now cater solely to children and cynics. "My editors either agreed with or tolerated my ever-more-crotchety critical stance. But finally, in late 2007, I submitted such a review of a film which obviously pushed a new, younger editor to the limit. 'Of course it's fake,' he wrote to me in obvious exasperation. 'It's a movie!' Maybe he thought that I thought this movie, or any movie, was or should have been a faithful photographic record of things that had actually happened in that world which we increasingly often have to qualify as 'real,' but I doubt it. More likely he was simply noticing that to say that a movie or any other work of ostensibly representative art bore no resemblance to reality is no longer a legitimate critical response." (read the full article in English in The New Atlantis)

Further articles: Karl Otto Hondrich talks about Charly, his clever dog, and his sick cat Tiger. "The man sees his animal. He is moved by how familiar it is and how much it resembles him." In his ecology column Hansjörg Küster describes the dynamics of nature. Christian Caryl raves about Pixar Studios. And Jürgen Kocka dedicates his history column to capitalism research.


Prospect 01.02.2010 (UK)

The never-knowingly-under-confident Martin Amis explains why he doesn't give two hoots about literature that fails to please. "Coetzee, for instance—his whole style is predicated on transmitting absolutely no pleasure. ... I read one [of his books] and I thought, he's got no talent. The denial of the pleasure principle has a lot of followers. But I am completely committed to it, to pleasure. ... If there is no pleasure transmitted then I'm not interested. I mean, look at them all: Dickens, George Eliot, Jane Austen, Smollet, Fielding, they'e all funny. All the good ones are funny. Richardson isn't, and he's no good. Dostoyevsky is funny: 'The Double' is a scream. Tolstoy is funny by being just so wonderfully true and pure. Gogol, funny. Flaubert, funny. Dickens. All the good ones are funny."


Odra 01.02.2010 (Poland)

What is the use of literature in a country where 60 percent of the population claim not to be interested in reading. The poet and literary critic Jaroslaw Klejnocki takes a realistic stance: "Literature's formative role is no longer an issue for youth today. The consequences of this will start making themselves felt in 15 years time, when this generation takes over the reigns. Reading should not become an elite pastime as it was 100 years ago. I do not how this will influence poetry, but when society finally achieved its material aims, people will perhaps start to miss something and perhaps one or two of them will find the time to start reading again. But it would be pointless to try to get the Poles to read poetry en masse. This country never read poets, it is not reading them now and it will not do so in the future." Backed up against the wall like this, it is more important to nurture the quality of the language instead of courting the approval of the masses, Klejnocki argues.

There is a series of articles on Berlin and a review of two Polish films which take a rabbit perspective on 1989: Bartek Konopka's documentary "Rabbit a la Berlin" which received an Oscar nomination and can be seen on YouTube, and Izabela Plucinska's animation film 'Esterhazy' (Hase being the German word for rabbit). "These films form an unusual outsider perspective," writes Marta Brzezinska. "German cinema is still looking for new ways to talk about recent history. It is still too close to allow an objective look, from a different, rabbit perspective, say."


Tygodnik Powszechny 31.01.2010 (Poland)

The debate about the pros and cons of freedom for Polish writers after 1989 continues. According to Dariusz Nowacki, most of them have weathered the transition better than commonly believed, and the negative consequences of commercialisation are actually quite limited. The power of poetry stems from its lack of influence on society as a whole. This makes it independent from power. Unlike prose, poetry is not bound up in the market and the media, and is free from politics and ideology." And while social engagement in prose usually impairs literary quality, poets are at work on creative counter-discourses. It's just that almost anyone takes any heed, Nowacki concludes.

Further articles: WG Sebald's "Vertigo" and "The Emigrants" have just been published in Polish and "The Rings of Saturn" republished, much to the approval of Grzegorz Jankowicz. Krakow's Art Bunker is celebrating the years 1985-1995 as the "hidden decade" with Polish video art. Agnieszka Sabor writes: "To focus on the years 1985-1995 is to focus on years of wide-reaching changes. This affected not only the economy and technology but also identity. The art from this time not only recorded these changes, it also played a role in instigating them." One of the major changes was the renegotiation of private and public.


The Walrus Magazine 01.03.2010 (Canada)

Nav Purewal writes an insightful essay about a number of novels by immigrants which address the situation in Canada. The differences between English and French-speaking Canada are, Purewal says, exemplified in the novel "Cockroach" (excerpt) by Lebanon-born writer Rawi Hage, which is set in Quebec: "In a way, Quebec's problems are the inverse of Toronto's. Whereas Toronto lacks a clearly defined culture for new immigrants to join, Quebec is intent on maintaining an increasingly untenable homogenous identity. In this sense, it is the country's largest ethnic enclave, and its tireless efforts to preserve its unique culture can breed xenophobia in ways a less ossified culture might not."


Salon.eu.sk 27.01.2010 (Slovakia – in English)

Martin Simeka shares his thoughts about corruption in post-communist countries and concludes that many things remained the same after the regime change: "The StB and its agents functioned on the same principle of knowing and covering up a crime, creating firm ties and building an impenetrable wall of silence. Even the motives that make people enter this closed world are very similar today, from the desire to acquire or achieve something to despair, as when you are trying to save your mother and are prepared to give the doctor anything to make her better, just like many people in the past signed an agreement to cooperate with the StB believing they would thus protect their loved ones."


openDemocracy 29.01.2010 (UK)

The former Georgian foreign minister Salome Zourabichvili complains about the "wilted petals of the Georgian rose revolution". She believes that President Saakashvili is most to blame that Georgia is sinking back into corruption, and she curses his re-election day three years ago: "Mikheil Saakashvili has elevated the tactical ruthlessness marking the successful electoral politics that took him to power into a principle of executive authority. It is as though he has not really grown up in office and has proved incapable of understanding that dissident voices and accountability are part of what keeps governments on their toes and effective. The result is a country where history can appear to run backwards. We are not a dictatorship, but the drift is clear."


Le Nouvel Observateur 28.01.2010 (France)

Bernard-Henri Levy and Slavoj Zizek argue over the future of the left and the return of communist ideas. "Le nouveau philosophe" Levy is "incensed" at this "reanimation of a corpse". "In a conversation in the Nouvel Observateur, Michel Foucault said to me: 'The question of the last century is this: is revolution possible? The question of the modern age is this: is revolution desirable?' Like him, I answered with a no." Zizek the Marxist counters "in all modesty", that for all its "naivite" communism presents a potential answer to the "catastrophic antagonisms of capitalism today" such as global environmental destruction, segregation or biotechnology. "This privatisation, this destruction of everything that we share, this attempt to blackmail us with the very substance of our physical and social existence, all of this forcibly summons up a desire to see new forms of collective decision making. Not leaving the future to the market or the state – that is communism for me."


The Times Literary Supplement 26.02.2010

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Times prints an edited text of Will Self's Sebald Lecture: "To read Sebald is to be confronted with European history not as an ideologically determined diachronic phenomenon – as proposed by Hegelians and Spenglerians alike – nor as a synchronic one to be subjected to Baudrillard's postmodern analysis. Rather, for Sebald, history is a palimpsest, the meaning of which can only be divined by rubbing away a little bit here, adding on some over there, and then – most importantly – stepping back to allow for a synoptic view that remains inherently suspect. I think it's this beguiling overview – which Sebald calls our attention to again and again in his writings by describing the works of Dutch landscape painters and English watercolourists – that explains in part our willingness to ascribe to him some specifically moral ascendancy, and by implication a historiography he explicitly denies. For the English-speaking world – and the English in particular – Sebald is the longed-for 'Good German'; he is everything Speer wanted to become but never could."


Al Ahram Weekly 01.02.2010 (Egypt)

Mohamed Abdel-Baky outlines the conflict over the niqab in Egypt. The Supreme Administrative Court has ruled that universities should not be allowed to forbid female students from wearing the niqab, even during exams (which surely makes cheating an issue -ed). "In a six-page judgement the court said that 'banning the niqab, the full face veil, has no legal bases and contradicts the personal freedoms guaranteed by the constitution'." On the other hand, in October Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, "banned the niqab within Al Azhar University campus and affiliated classrooms and dormitories. Tantawi's move was followed by statements from Hilal saying the niqab could no longer be worn inside women’'s hostels for 'security concerns'."

At the Cairo Book Fair, Gamal Nkrumah serenades the guest country Russia. Injy El-Kashef recounts her appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show, where she talked about Egyptian women, marriage, divorce and the veil (see the videos on youtube here and here). Nehad Selaiha watched a theatre production that proved right Samuel Johnson's "vexed complaint that bad texts could often result in successful stage productions" – although not quite in the way Johnson intended.


The Nation 15.02.2010 (USA)

In the third volume of his memoirs "Summertime" J.M. Coetzee has his fictional biographer interview five people that the author knew in earlier years, two of them being former lovers. The book provided Joanna Scott with a much deeper insight into the writer's thinking than she would have believed: "But what do we end up learning about this writer? We learn that he is viewed with indifference, contempt and puzzlement by the same women he'd hoped would inspire him. He can't tell when they've had enough of him. They can't recognize his genius."

Alice Kaplan was fascinated but not entirely convinced by the biography of literary critic Ramon Fernandez who, in 1936, joined the Jacques Doriot's fascist Parti Populair and became one of France's most zealous Nazi collaborateurs. The book was written by his son, the now 80-year old writer Dominique Fernandez, who describes in detail his father's deep admiration for Hitler and Goebbels and the equally "brutally anti-Semitic" Doriot, as well as countless anecdotes intended to excuse his father: "But the anecdote about the yellow star is just that - anecdotal - and it's difficult to measure a family story against a literary reading, and a literary reading against an archive. For the historian, they're not equal. For the son, they coexist, footnotes of the heart."


The New York Times 31.01.2010 (USA)

Omar Hammami of Daphne, Alabama, is one of Somalia's leading terrorists and goes by the name of Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki. Andrea Elliott tells his story in painstaking detail: "Despite the name he acquired from his father, an immigrant from Syria, Hammami was every bit as Alabaman as his mother, a warm, plain-spoken woman who sprinkles her conversation with blandishments like 'sugar' and 'darlin'. Brought up a Southern Baptist, Omar went to Bible camp as a boy and sang 'Away in a Manger' on Christmas Eve. As a teenager, his passions veered between Shakespeare and Kurt Cobain, soccer and Nintendo. In the thick of his adolescence, he was fearless, raucously funny, rebellious, contrarian. 'It felt cool just to be with him,' his best friend at the time, Trey Gunter, said recently. 'You knew he was going to be a leader.'"

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In La Vie des idees, historian Anastassios Anastassiadis explains why we should go easy on Greece. Author Aleksandar Hemon describes in Guernica how ethnic identity is indoctrinated in the classroom in Bosnia and Herzogovina. In Eurozine, Klaus-Michael Bogdal examines how Europe invented the Gypsies. Elet es Irodalon praises the hygiene obsession of German journalists. And Polityka pinpoints Polish schizophrenia.

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