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10/05/2010

Magazine Roundup

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

Eurozine | London Review of Books | Polityka | The New York Review of Books | | The Times Literary Supplement | Caffe Europa | Standpoint | Odra | The American Interest | Magyar Narancs | Le point | The New Yorker | Wired | Salon.eu.sk | The New York Times


Eurozine 07.05.2010 (Austria in English)

Slovakian writer and journalist Martin M. Simecka and Hungarian architect and former samizdat author Laszlo Rajk were both communist dissidents at an early age. They are also sons of prominent persecuted communists: Milan Simecka, Laszlo Rajk senior. The two sons discuss their fathers and why it is so hard to be a dissident today.

Martin Simecka: "Since '89 I have spent almost my entire life surrounded by former communists, who are always charming and nice people. My wife Marta comes from a communist family: her father was editor-in-chief of the communist paper in the 1950s and in Moscow during the Second World War. We are all from these communist families. Our families were victims of the other communists, the bad communists. Even today I have a problem saying that I am anti-communist. I don't like the word. I had a huge quarrel with Adam Michnik about the Kundera affair, and he told me: 'What's happened to you that you now belong to the anti-communists, that's the worst thing in the world.' So it's still there, this leftwing intellectual mafia in Europe, if I can put it like that. There is a deep link, not only of shared experience, but a view of the world, the commitment to social equality and freedom, which of course many communists had at the beginning. It is time to debate the issue from a new perspective, especially now when the Left in Europe is starving from a lack of ideas and no longer defends freedom."

Laszlo Rajk: "There are two fundamental elements in the political changes that are rooted in the past and which none of the post-communist countries have been able to handle. These are privatization and the nomenklatura. Each country has tried a different method of privatization or semi-privatization and none have been successful. None. (...) I wouldn't leave this element out when talking about the nomenklatura and how they survived, how they parachuted themselves into the new era. These are two key questions that influence contemporary political life and will continue to do so in the future."


London Review of Books 13.05.2010 (UK)

In a wonderfully subtle piece of philological erudition, Frank Kermode (born 1919) examines T.S. Eliot's use of the "shudder" as a laudatory critical term. Eliot experienced it with Baudelaire for example: "Eliot insisted strongly that poems must be treated as wholes, … you must in the end come to understand every part in order to understand any part.' Or: 'We cannot extract the full significance of any part without knowing the whole.' It is a doctrine he could have learned from Baudelaire, who applied it to the whole of 'Les Fleurs du mal': 'Je repete qu'un livre doit etre juge dans son ensemble.' (...) Yet the stanzas Eliot chooses, the lines that induce the shudder, are obviously singled out, and their selection justified by their contribution to an experience of religious despair (which applies to the whole poem) and by their technical dexterity, which must be studied in its particular instances, and may be rewarded by the reader's frisson of discovery."

In a mammoth essay, Jeremy Harding describes the fragility of the global food supply and the massive problems posed by current production and consumption levels. Not to mention the exploitation involved: "Then there is the state of the world's 1.1 billion agricultural workers: more than half of them own neither land nor machinery and live in a state of semi-slavery. The conditions of this new global underclass are at last a matter of concern: worldwide food production is set on a downturn as their wretchedness weakens their capacity to produce and earn, driving more people inexorably towards the cities."

Further articles: In a scathing assessment David Bromwich tracks the path of Barack Obama from self-proclaimed opponent of the establishment to its best man. In a thorough and very U.S. critical essay, Gareth Pierce explains why rule of law is not considered sufficiently binding in the U.S. for terrorists to be tried there. Peter Campbell reviews the Ron Arad exhibition in the Barbican and Jenny Diski's reads right-wing columnist Melanie Phillips's book in which she condemns everything she considers liberal and left-wing as the work of irrationality and the devil.


Polityka 07.05.2010 (Poland)

Historian Adam Suchonski researches the portrayal of Polish history in foreign school books. Although he is not entirely satisfied with what he finds, he does (here in German) apportion some of the blame to the Poles: "In 1992, twelve European historians wrote a 'History of Europe' up to the year 1990. In the team, our part of Europe was represented by a single Czech historian. Today almost 90 million school children read this book. Three years ago the education ministers of all EU states met in Istanbul to coordinate the work on a new version of the European history book. All of them were in favour of it, except the Polish minister at the time, Roman Giertych, who said he had no interest in a joint history book because the European states would not be able to agree on a shared view of their history."


The New York Review of Books 27.05.2010 (USA)

Daniel Wilkinson and Nik Steinberg of Human Rights Watch paint a vivid picture of the Cuba dilemma: the US trade embargo is distracting people – Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Brazilian president Lula da Silva Chile's president Michelle Bachelet for example – from condemning Castro's human rights violations. And human rights violations in Cuba are legion, as the article makes very clear. The authors recommend that the US lift the embargo although this alone would not be enough to force Castro to respect human rights: "For this to happen, the United States must make the first move. President Obama should approach allies in Europe and Latin America with an offer to lift the US embargo if the other countries agree to join a coalition to press Cuba to meet a single, concrete demand: the release of all political prisoners. Some governments are sure to rebuff the offer, especially in Latin America. But for many others, the prospect of ending the embargo will remove what has long been the main obstacle to openly condemning the Cuban government's abuses. And concentrating this multilateral effort exclusively on the issue of political prisoners will make it far more difficult for leaders who say they respect human rights to remain silent."

Further articles: Ian Buruma reviews William T. Vollmann's "Kissing the Mask: Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater, with Some Thoughts on Muses (Especially Helga Testorf), Transgender Women, Kabuki Goddesses, Porn Queens, Poets, Housewives, Makeup Artists, Geishas, Valkyries and Venus Figurines" which would be hard to swallow were if not so ensconced in "warm-blooded romanticism". Richard C. Lewontin picks apart "What Darwin Got Wrong" by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini. Orville Schell reads a string of books about climate change and melting glaciers. Marc Lilla sees a new political type behind the Tea Party movement: "the anti-political Jacobin". These people are "apocalyptic pessimists about public life and childlike optimist swaddled in self-esteem when it comes to their own powers."


The Times Literary Supplement 07.05.2010 (UK)

Julian Barnes whets the appetite to read Eugene Delacroix's diary. "Delacroix was twenty-four when he began the Journal on September 3, 1822. It opens with a simple declaration and an alluring promise: 'I am carrying out my plan, so often formulated, of keeping a journal. What I most keenly wish is not to forget that I am writing for myself alone. Thus I shall always tell the truth, I hope, and thus I shall improve myself. These pages will reproach me for my changes of mind. I am starting out in a good humour.' You can quite see why some believe all journals are written to be read by others. Despite the excludingness of that second sentence, the paragraph as a whole invites us in. If this were a novel, the narrative hook would have already been inserted: we want and need to know whether the diarist does tell the truth, whether he improves himself as a result, whether he changes his mind, and whether or not his initial good humour dissipates."

Further articles: Kate Webb reviews Helen Simpson's collection of short stories "In-Flight Entertainment" and Daniel Karlin reviews two books on Lewis Carroll – one of them on his reception in France.


Caffe Europa 07.05.2010 (Italy)

Italy, land of the conspiracy theory, where Berlusconi, the Mafia and the Vatican take it in turns to pull the strings. The delayed release of Alejandro Amenabar's film "Agora" prompted many to suspect the latter at work. The film about the natural scientist and philosopher Hypatia, who was murdered by fundamentalist Christians in the 5th century, opened in Germany on March 1. When no one was permitted to buy the film in Italy, 10,000 people signed an online petition demanding its immediate release. Emanuele Rauco reports: "On October 7 an article in La Stampa by a certain Flavia Amabile entitled 'The film Italy will not see' describes the battle for 'Agora'. A key role is played by Jan Klaus Di Blasio, the man behind the online petition. 'I do not want to talk of censorship, but it's worth bearing in mind how few books there are on neo-Platonism and Hypatia. Take Volume 8 in the series on the Roman and Greek philosophers by Giovanni Reale (Bompani). Volume 8, with the title of 'Plotinus and Pagan Neoplatonism', is the only volume which is out of print, our Di Blasio explains. A number of important personalities were behind this volume, including Piergiorgio Odifreddi, a scientist known for his anticlerical tendencies. He writes: 'Hypatia was an exemplary character, a mathematician, a woman of great culture, who fought the first fight between science and belief. She was killed by the henchmen of the Bishop of Alexandria, Cyril, and was science's first martyr. Since then 1,600 years have passed, and we have not progressed at all.'" "Agora" has since been released in Italy and according to Umberto Eco, Volume 8 is due to be reprinted.


Standpoint 01.05.2010 (UK)

Peter Whittle is concerned about the homophobic behaviour of many Muslim immigrants in Europe. Bruce Bawer, an American based in Oslo and author of the book "While Europe Slept", "fears that on an everyday level, the situation for gay men in cities like Oslo and Amsterdam is becoming more difficult, with an increase in attacks by Muslim youths. In Oslo, reports of assaults on gays by Muslims are increasing, and instead of admitting to this as a problem, prominent Muslims are arguing that in 'their' neighbourhoods, Muslim cultural values should reign, meaning that gays who enter their territory should not, for example, hold hands. In one recent incident, a gay couple exchanged a kiss in an Oslo kebab joint and were chased down the street by a fellow-customer. Later, one of them told a reporter: 'It was perhaps a little dumb of us to do that. I don't like to provoke people.' Bawer notes: 'This is the reigning mentality. Gays have learned to blame themselves for having 'provoked' people who want to beat them up for being gay.'"


Odra 01.04.2010 (Poland)

"Why have we forgotten Bogdan Wojdowski?" asks Konrad Oprzedek. He remembers the writer (more here), a Holocaust survivor, who "fell into the abyss of alienation, loneliness and silence. But he managed to break through this silence by writing about his personal experience of the extermination by the Nazis in Poland. To read his prose is to immerse oneself in the greatest trauma of civilisation – we discover the Holocaust not as an historical, but as a universal experience." Everything he wrote was an attempt to find a narrative for the indescribable, according to Oprzedek. Memory needs more than history, "we need literature, which allows us to defeat time and meet people in the past. This is precisely what Wojdowski does, but he himself has been all but forgotten."

Online are reviews of an anthology on the German "Sonderweg" or rather German debates about it, recently published by the Polish Germanist Hubert Orlowski.


The American Interest 01.07.2010 (USA)

Against the background of the crisis in Europe, American Interest asked a number of North American intellectuals to predict the future of the European idea. Optimism is thin on the ground. Walter Laqueur, who at the Lisbon Conference in 2000 advised against mapping out a purely economical future for Europe, diagnoses "a subacute case of Abulia - a psychological term first used in the 19th century to connote listlessness and apathy. No one has as yet provided a satisfactory explanation for this condition, either regarding individuals or societies. (...) It seems to have nothing to do with economics and everything to do with beliefs - specifically, belief in the values for which the society stands. (...) The sense of involvement in a great mission, of preaching the virtues of a better world, has vanished. The closest thing to a shared noble cause is now an anodyne, lowest-common-denominator environmentalism. It is hard to generate much enthusiasm for the commandment to separate green glass from brown."


Magyar Narancs 29.04.2010 (Hungary)

The philosopher Miklos Tamas Gaspar, one time founder of the liberal SZDSZ party, is now a sympathiser of the far-left and the anti-globalisation movement. Ferenc M. Laszlo asks him why the opposition to the system mostly comes from the right in Hungary. Gaspar replies: "The hatred of liberalism – which, verbally at least, steps in every now and then to defend minorities and the weak – has its origins in middle-class fear of losing social status. In West Europe it is expressed in opposition to immigration and in Hungary, as hatred of the Roma. Rebellion against the system is not emancipatory, it is regressive and the anger is not directed upwards but downwards, against social pariahs. At the same time, ideas and efforts aimed at protecting weaker members of society are identified exclusively with liberalism – with the sort of liberalism which created this system. The leaders of the far right are intelligent enough to use this against the ultra left and the communities."


Le point 06.05.2010 (France)

In his Bloc-notes, Bernard-Henri Levy explains why he has signed JCall's "Call for Reason". JCall is the European offshoot of the Jewish-American lobby group JStreet which, unlike other powerful lobby groups, is pushing for a two states solution in the Middle East and an immediate stop to Israeli settlement building. Even if Levy believes that the appeal will essentially fall on deaf ears. "I do not speak the same language as the fascist Islamists of the Hisbollah, to put it mildly, and the chances of this call to reason penetrating the wall of their merciless hatred is close to zero, I know. To talk to an Israeli partisan about the continuation of settlement building or even with a strong believer who is determined not to give way on the Jerusalem issue, strikes me as being in the realm of the possible and therefore in the realm of the absolutely necessary."


The New Yorker 17.05.2010 (USA)

Julia Joffe portrays Andrei Ternowski, the 17-year-old who started the internet video portal Chatroulette in November 2009, where visitors can communicate face to face with strangers at random."Like many young Russians with programming skills, Ternovskiy turned to hacking. When he was eleven, he came upon zloy.org (which translates as angry.org), a hacker forum led by a young man named Sergey (a.k.a. Terminator), who trained his followers in cyber warfare. Using the handle Flashboy, Ternovskiy soon mastered the art of the denial-of-service attack, wherein a target system is paralyzed by a mass of incoming communication requests. Next came Web-site and e-mail hacking, a service he gladly performed for girls who asked nicely. By 2007, at the age of fifteen, Ternovskiy had learned about what hackers call 'social engineering '- getting what one wants through deceit or manipulation. Posing as a teacher, Ternovskiy got access to some practice tests before they were delivered to his school."

Further articles: Claudia Roth Pierpont was gripped by Harvey G. Cohen's biography "Duke Ellington's America" and his attempts to get under the skin of" this apparently most imperturbable of men". Peter Schjeldahl visits the imposing new headquarters of the investment bank Goldman Sachs. Sacha Frere-Jones listens to the "midlife" album "Love and its Opposite" by British singer-songwriter Tracey Thorn. And David Denby watched "The Oath", Laura Poitras' film portrait of Osama Bin Laden's former bodyguard, and Thomas Balme's documentary "Babies" about the first year of four babies in Namibia, San Francisco, Tokyo and Mongolia. There is also a short story "Free Fruit for Young Widows" by Nathan Englander and poems by Susan Wheeler, Kathleen Graber and Sophie Cabot Black.


Wired 07.05.2010 (USA)

"Facebook's gone rogue," writes Ryan Singel, about the rapidly expanding social network which has "creepily" reneged on its privacy promises and is exploiting the private data of its users. Setting up a decent system for controlling privacy on a web service shouldn't be hard. "Facebook could start with a very simple page of choices: I'm a private person, I like sharing some things, I like living my life in public. Each of those would have different settings for the myriad of choices, and all of those users could then later dive into the control panel to tweak their choices. That would be respectful design - but Facebook isn't about respect — it's about re-configuring the world's notion of what's public and private." Singel concludes with an appeal to programmers "It's time for an open alternative!".


Salon.eu.sk 05.05.2010 (Slovakia in English)

How will Victor Orban, himself a thoroughly unpredictable individual, govern the Hungarians asks Slovakian journalist Martin Simecka. "A wide-ranging international survey of shared values has revealed the Hungarians to be among the most closed societies (they have ended up in the same group as Russia, Moldova and Ukraine) whose desire for civil and political liberties is considerably lower than in countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Poland, and who, of all European nations, are the least trusting of other people and institutions. On the other hand, of all European nations they come second after the Greeks in terms of the strength of their desire for social equality. Sociologist György Istvan Toth sees these dismal results partly as being caused by the history of a country in which the 'development of the middle classes was constantly and repeatedly interrupted.' (...) How is Victor Orban to rule a society, which on the one hand expects the state to look after it, but is deeply suspicious of power on the other?"


The New York Times 09.05.2010 (USA)

Brook Larmer reports from Sichuan province where in May 2008, 87,000 people died in the earthquake. The government has launched a number of imaginative initiatives to regain control of the situation. The earthquake zone is to become a tourist attraction and state agencies are arranging second marriages between the widows and widowers. "By holding its 'earthquake wedding' under China's five-star banner, the government turned the act of moving on and remarrying into a patriotic duty. Remarriage can bring tangible benefits not just to the individuals but also to the state. In impoverished rural Sichuan, a family with two adults has a better chance at surviving without government aid than a single parent. The burden on reconstruction is also reduced from two homes to one. The government's emphasis on forging ahead is also a way of forgetting. To blunt criticism over the collapse of thousands of poorly built schools, which killed more than 5,300 students, the government silenced parents who lost their children, giving them compensation only after they signed a pledge 'to obey the law and maintain social order' - an implicit warning against ever raising the issue again."

In the Sunday Book Review, Harold Bloom reviews a book by Anthony Julius on the history of anti-Semitism in Britain. It is Shakespeare's portrayal of Shylock that grieves him most: "No representation of a Jew in literature ever will surpass Shylock in power, negative eloquence and persuasiveness." And he cites Julius's wry summation: "Shylock is an Englishman's Jew — wicked, malignant but ultimately conquerable." Even if Martin Heidegger was a Nazi, should his books really be removed from the philosophy canon and filed under propaganda together alongside Alfred Rosenberg, as Emmanuel Faye suggests in his book. For Adam Kirsch, this is going too far. Daniel Maier-Katkin's book, by contrast, on the friendship between Heidegger and Hannah Arendt does not put enough pressure on its subjects, he believes. Francis Fukuyama read Julian Young's biography of the politically impossible and endlessly fascinating Friedrich Nietzsche.

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