25/07/2006

From the Feuilletons is a weekly overview of what's been happening in the German-language cultural pages and appears every Friday at 3 pm. CET.. Here a key to the German newspapers.

Frankfurter Rundschau, 25.07.2006

With his novel "The Yacoubian Building," Egyptian writer Alaa Al-Aswani has sparked much attention in his home country (news story here). He tells a story of the residents of an old Art-Deco house in Cairo: corruption, Islamism, torture, homosexuality – it's all there. In an interview, Al-Aswani explains why the book has been so successful in Italy and France as well: "For the west, the discrepancy between the appearance and reality of Egypt is interesting. It lies in the nature of dictatorship. Only in a democracy can people say what they really think. One result of dictatorships is that they turn into 'as-if societies.' The president operates as if he were elected. The parliament behaves as if it had emanated from a free election. The veiled girl appears in her neighbourhood as conservative and demure – as if she had no sex life. But every evening you can see hundreds of demure girls kissing their boyfriends in the centrer of the city. This is what I call an 'as-if society.'" The book is due out in Germany in 2007.


Der Tagesspiegel, 25.07.2006


Lebanese poet and writer Abbas Beydoun sees Hizbullah's attacks on Israel as a sort of domestically motivated military putsch, which put an end to discussion within Lebanon: "The debate over Hizbullah's weapons was about the future of Lebanon. Should the country persist in a state of revolution and submit to an armed avant-garde, or should it become a democratic country whose various ethnic groups decide together on their future? Does Lebanon see itself as a war society, grouped together in the fight for a leader? Or is it a pluralistic nation, concerned with finding similarities between its various communities? Is it counter to the law of nations, or does it seek to rejoin the international community? The majority wanted the latter: peace, pluralism and democracy. But Hizbullah, which could no longer maintain its current standing, put an end to this debate with a military strike. The kidnapping of the soldiers was just the first chapter."


Die Welt, 25.07.2006

Every summer it's the same thing. The feuilletons give themselves over to the latest gossip about the Wagner family and their Bayreuther Festspiele, dedicated to the music of forefather Richard Wagner, which starts today. "Rumour has it that Wolfgang Wagner has taken to wandering aimlessly about the grounds and picking fights with his inexperienced directors, telling them how he thinks things should be done and stubbornly refusing to back down. Meanwhile Gudrun Wagner goes around with a face as if her dog had just died. The family's comments at rehearsals are increasingly dilettantish, and everywhere reigns an atmosphere of mistrust." But all this talk shouldn't surprise people, because there's nothing at all to say about the performances themselves, writes Manuel Brug bitingly. "Nowadays Bayreuth just reacts, the days when it took the initiative are past. And the appointment of an 80-year-old debut director (more here) by an 86-year-old festival director – who is appointed for life – is a goldmine for bad jokes."


Süddeutsche Zeitung, 25.07.2006


The Salzburg Festival of drama, music and opera kicked off on Sunday. As every year, it opened with the play "Jedermann" (Everyman) by Hugo von Hoffmannstal, who co-founded the festival in 1920. Christine Dössel was at a performance of Johann Nestroy's "Höllenangst", directed by Martin Kusej, head of the festival's drama department: "The play, a sort of proletarian paraphrase of 'Faust', was a flop in Nestroy's day. Even after Hanns Eisler adaptated it in 1948, it still didn't remain in the theatres for too long.... What may have interested Martin Kusej in this bagatelle becomes clear with Martin Zehetgruber's stage design and Bert Wrede's music: not the 'burlesque musical farce' set in Nestroy's homey Vienna, but an atmosphere of paranoia and hopelessness.... Existentially grounded and conceptually weighted in this way – one always has to apologize for moments of lightness in German theatre – the production slowly but surely finds pleasure in pure playfulness, which it then overdoes for a good half-hour. Even if, despite Kusej's attempts, the play doesn't really make it as a depressive comedy on modern susceptibilities, the actors give it their best shot. And with talents like that, that's a lot."


Süddeutsche Zeitung, 25.07.2006


Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk sees the Kaczynski twins as representatives of a stagnating Poland: "There are moments when they look like old, tired babies. And there's probably a deeper truth in that, the hidden meaning of democracy. My country has, in the end, elected the best representatives, because my people are tired, dead tired, it's like the profound exhaustion of a child. This fatigue, which actually can be ascribed to senility, now hits us in our youth, in the cradle. Even before we learn to walk, we feel exhaustion like that felt after a long march. Confined in the children's room, we breathe in the air of an old-age home. And there's no better actor for this national drama than the tired, anxious twins with their round faces."


Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 25.07.2006


A good month ago, Mirjam Schaub called for a strike against cutbacks in the humanities, in which so many students enrol. Sonja Margolina doubts that most of these students choose "disciplines with dubious career prospects" out of pure enthusiasm. "It's generally known that the number of women in academia has been on the rise for decades, so that today they make up half the student population. In cultural and educational studies, girls are in the majority. The fact that this is a mass phenomenon and not happening in Germany alone suggests that the explanation actually lies the evolutionary development of female intelligence. Anyone who finds this idea too reactionary might prefer the fully plausible gender aspect. Schools appear to discriminate against girls in the natural sciences. The end result is the same. Girls on the average do less well in the natural sciences. Consequently, many of them have no choice but to register for the humanities. That does not sound like enthusiasm for Arts faculties, but rather like a lack of options."

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