"All eyes on Germany"
Merkur is the latest addition to the Eurozine network. In its June issue, the “German journal for European thought” offers an insightful analysis of the conflict around the Mohammed caricatures. Philosopher Christoph Türcke, in his article on “Blasphemy and the structure of mass insult”, sees the strong Muslim reaction as a substitute conflict.
Islam, he writes, has always been precariously close to the West, not only geographically, but also as the third of the monotheistic religions. As a result, the West has also been its fiercest rival. Hatred of the West, says Türcke, is to a large extent self-hatred for not being immune to it. “From the West – as spawn of Christianity – a power has penetrated the Islamic world: the capitalist world market, whose rules have advanced into everyday household management – not only economically but also mentally.” The consequence is an abundance of bizarre reactions: Mullahs that preach against the “West” and, at the same time, advocate the use of microelectronic communications devices that the West has brought and that can be used against it.
It is significant that the anger has only been fuelled in countries such as Iraq, Iran, or Afghanistan – countries that have a great interest in deflecting dissatisfaction with their authoritarian regimes or with the disinterest in the well-being of their people. However, one should not conclude prematurely that the caricatures are a religious lightning rod for political tensions, Türcke argues. “Westerners have done something that Muslims would never do. With a few ink strokes they have let Western victory reappear. The Mohammed caricatures are the mockery by the victorious; and it is this mockery that offends so deeply.”
Related to this topic is sociologist Karl Otto Hondrich’s article on integration as clash of civilizations. Talk shows on TV as fights staged for the mass media; everyday rudeness; or wearing headscarves as a symbolic expression – these are three levels on which this clash occurs, he shows.
Also to look out for: Jan Piskorski on twentieth-century expulsion; Ilko-Sascha Kowalczuk on 1956 as a European year; Jan-Werner Müller on why the American Conservatives are so successful; and Hans-Peter Müller on whether a study of Europe is possible and necessary.
The full table of contents of Merkur 6/2006.
What is Germany? Jana Scherer finds a metaphor for the World Cup hosts in the town of Bielefeld, Westphalia. Herself from Bielefeld, she finds that Bielefelders’ attitude towards their city matches the way Germans feel about their country: shame and regret about a lack of character and qualities. “We are not passionate, humorous, relaxed, generous. So what are we?” Desperately trying to counter this destructive energy, politicians have set up the “You are Germany” campaign, a commercial in which famous Germans try to generate national self-consciousness for the rest of the population.
“If we are now in a position where we even have to be told that we are Germany, then this means above all one thing: that we obviously don’t want to be Germany. A commercial in which Bielefeld comedian Ingolf Lück whispers ‘You are Bielefeld. Not to worry!’ would be a lot more honest than talkshow host Günther Jauch telling us to tackle our problems with national pride.”
To get a bird’s-eye view of the country, du sends Ukrainian author Natalka Sniadanko on a backpack journey to places of German normality. She discovers traces of her home country everywhere she goes – be it cigarette smugglers, students, or old friends – and comes to the conclusion that German society is and has long been deeply interwoven with eastern Europe. People may not know where to locate her hometown Lviv, and most probably have no idea about Ukrainian reality. Still, stereotypes about Ukraine exist even in the most rural parts of Germany, something amply demonstrated by the following encounter between the author and a Bavarian farmer: “Where are you from?” – “Ukraine.” – “Great! I need a wife…”
The full table of contents of du 5/2006.
The Swedes are anticipating the World Cup in Germany with mixed feelings. Reports about “mega-brothels”, “quickie-booths”, or “performance-boxes” being put up around the football stadiums has led to a heated discussion about prostitution and trafficking. The debate exploded in April when the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman Claes Borgström (appointed by the government to ensure compliance with Swedish laws against discrimination on grounds of sex, ethnic background, disability, and sexual orientation) proposed that the Swedish team should boycott the tournament.
“Reading Swedish statements about Germany’s plans concerning prostitution and trafficking during the World Cup, one gets the impression that the Germans are inhuman and irresponsible people who could not care less if tens of thousands of women are brought into their country to be sold as sex slaves”, writes historian of ideas Susanne Dodillet in the new issue of Arena.
Dodillet shows how two systems clash in this debate. While Sweden has a strict law banning all forms of prostitution, German legislation (and the debate around it) distinguishes between professional prostitutes, drug-addicted prostitutes, and victims of trafficking. Advocates for the German model argue that the patriarchal oppression under which prostitutes suffer has to be overcome by improving the sex-workers’ social position, not the other way around.
Not knowing the background of the liberal German legislation, Swedish politicians are hardly likely to be able to convince their German colleagues about the advantages of the Swedish model, says Dodillet.
Playing the quality card: In a theme section on quality and pluralism, gender studies scholar and journalist Vanja Hermele takes a look at the most prestigious Swedish theatres and finds that 95 per cent of the plays shown on the Royal Dramatic Theatre’s main stage have been written by men. “The world of theatre is a gated community, an area guarded by a gatekeeper. This gatekeeper is called ‘high artistic quality'”, writes Hermele. But quality is not a neutral concept, and it should not be treated independently of equality and pluralism.
The full table of contents of Arena 3/2006.
Glänta‘s double issue on “collective art” links into one of the most lively discussions on art currently around. Since the beginning of the 1990s, collective endeavours have become more and more important in the art world, and critics, artists, and curators now talk about “the collective” or “networking” in terms of strategy rather than style.
“So-called ‘informal networks’ keep immigrants out of the boardrooms and cement male dominance in prestigious art institutions. At the same time alternative networks are created: female artists form groups, mobile or Internet-based galleries open up new spaces, and alternative worlds are being built on the Web”, write editors Göran Dahlberg and Fanny Söderbäck in their introduction. But are these new networks necessarily different from the old ones? For example, when artist Malin Arnell, in a productive act of alternative name-dropping, lists all the women who in different ways have influenced the way she makes art, is this an “informal network”? Yes. Is it more OK than the dominant ones? Perhaps.
The collective in itself is politically charged. Art historian Solveig Gade tells the story of the American art group “Critical Art Ensemble”, whose collective character has drawn the attention of the FBI. And Cecilia Parsberg investigates art emerging on the wall between Israel and Palestine. (Parsberg’s work “The wall” is currently on exhibition in the Eurozine Gallery.)
Stephen Wright, art philosopher and guest-editor of a recent issue of the journal Third Text on “Art and Collaboration”, describes the collective as something paradoxical and delicate, the very prototype of constant change. Art critic and curator Robert Stasinski uses similar words when he defines the concept of network as something that will always slip through your fingers.
The most amusing contribution in this consistently inspiring issue is a mail conversation between Anders Johansson, Anders Johansson, and Anders Johansson. The three namesakes – one author and two literary scholars (Anders Johansson is a common Swedish name!) – exchange thoughts on “what’s in a name” in such a fruitful way that in the end you don’t know who is saying what: “The collective is most often more unified than the individual self.”
The full table of contents of Glänta 1-2/2006.
Kulturos barai 5/2006
In Lithuanian cultural journal Kulturos barai, Skaidra Trilupaityte reviews Alexei Yurchak’s book Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation (2005). According to Yurchak, “Soviet late socialism provides a stunning example of how a dynamic and powerful social system can abruptly and unexpectedly unravel when the discursive conditions for its existence are changed.”
Yurchak avoids the assumption frequent in the West that all Soviet citizens who were not “brainwashed” by Soviet ideology replaced its “lies” with “truth”. Instead, he argues that in the post-Stalinist era the reproduction of “authoritative discourse” became a ritual whose significance was contained not in the meaning of what was said but in its community-forming function. Repeating the empty phrases of the party line displayed solidarity rather than plain cynicism: “We know we don’t believe what we’re saying, but we’ll agree to keep saying it in order not to rock the boat.”
Yurchak describes “a sudden ‘break of consciousness’ and ‘stunning shock’ […] quickly followed by excitement and readiness to participate in the transformation” when conditions changed during perestroika. Trilupaityte discusses how far Yurchak’s insights apply to Lithuania during the Soviet period. Referring to criticism of the tide of Soviet nostalgia in contemporary Lithuania, she applauds Yurchak’s success in exposing the dangers of romanticizing the Soviet past while not condemning the Soviet system a priori.
Elsewhere: Romas Sakadolksis interviews British director and screenwriter Anthony Minghella on his production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly at the Lithuanian National Opera; Irena Aleksaite finds quantity but not quality in theatre outside Vilnius; and Saulius Kuizinas welcomes the conservative aesthetic of the graphic art on show in the exhibition Space, Flatness, Body at the Vilnius Centre for Contemporary Art.
The full table of contents of Kulturos barai 5/2006.
Diwan 17-18 (2006)
The introduction of VAT in Bosnia and Herzegovina has meant belt tightening for the literary establishment as well: two major annual literary awards have been called off and publishers have been making redundancies and cancelling projects. In this climate, say the editors of Diwan, any literary initiative in Bosnia and Herzegovina is something of an event.
In the latest issue Dubravka Duric discusses the institution of literature and the literary canon. She places cultural studies – a discipline that “produces meanings in the context of social power” – against the dominance of the secular canon. The pertinence of Duric’s examination to the literary, cultural, and political phenomena of the Balkan communities is more than obvious, write the editors. And in a similarly critical vein is the transcript of the Gradacac Literary Meetings 2005. Entitled “The literary Left and Right today”, participants identify and discuss literary polarizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region.
A section on translation includes poems by Russian greats Anna Akhmatova and Osip Mandelstam, extracts from the memoirs of German poet Marina Achenbach, a review by German author Christa Reinig on German-French artist Lena Vandrey, prose by social-critical Turkish novelist and dramatist Haldun Taner, and an essay by US philosopher Richard Rorty on Heidegger’s Nazism.
Also to look out for: Branka Vujanovic argues that Blake’s individualism and romanticism was “far ahead” of the pseudo-Enlightenment attitudes of Mostar-born thinker Abdurezak Hivzi Bjelevac a century later; and the surreal images of Bojan Bahic, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s maestro of digital art.
The full table of contents of Diwan 17-18 (2006).
Reset 95 (2006)
“Monolingual or polyglot, the world of electronic communication is a world of textual overabundance in which the supply of written work far surpasses the capacity of the readers to appropriate it”, writes historian of written culture Roger Chartier in Reset. Since Gutenberg’s invention in the fifteenth century, there have been those who criticize the “uselessness of accumulated books, the excessive number of texts.”
Rather than reading a few books many times carefully, the printing press made it possible for people to possess thousands of books that they would skim or perhaps not read at all. But what will happen to reading in the face of electronic technology, where the supply of texts is growing even faster than it did as a result of the printing press? And what about the problem of copyright?
“The electronic text as we know it is a mobile, malleable, open text. The reader can intervene not only in the margins but also in the content, moving, reducing, enhancing, rewriting the parts they want. […] The consequences, potentially, are of great relevance. It could lead to the eradication of the name and figure of the author, given as guarantor of the identity and authenticity of the text. The figure of the author could constantly be modified by multiple, collective writers.”
On post-secular Europe: sociologist Klaus Eder finds post-secular society to be “the contradictory and uncontrollable counterpart of the secular state. The development of both is not a zero-sum game but a positive-sum game. Both processes are accelerated and regulated by a third actor between state and society: the public sphere organized by the mass media.”
Also to look out for: editor-in-chief Giancarlo Bosetti gives some post-election advice; a section devoted to Enrico Berlinguer, the national secretary of the Italian Communist Party from 1972-1984; and Reset‘s “Dialogues on Civilizations”, including texts by Fred Dallmayr, Hassan Hanafi, and Ramin Jahanbegloo.
The full table of contents of Reset 95 (2006).
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