"An atheist's survival guide"

6 February 2007
Only in en
Merkur rearms the atheists; Reset names the three enemies of reason; dérive considers city networking hocus-pocus; L'Homme puts women back in business; Revista Crítica slaughters some holy cows; Springerin prepares for documenta; Host rereads Kundera; and Semicerchio seeks the role of the poet.

Merkur 2/2007

“In these newly religious times, it no longer seems superfluous to rearm atheists with arguments. Because when push comes to shove, atheists only have their reason to fall back on.” In Merkur, Burkhard Müller writes an atheist’s survival guide, without, thankfully, taking things too seriously. After all, the atheist can’t afford to.

Whoever sees himself as an atheist must say to himself: you’re no more advanced than the animals before something began to dawn in their heads – do you really consider it progress that all of human history has been a muddled detour that started out from brute physical laws only to return to them? It’s not exactly easy to answer this in the affirmative.

In fact, the animal kingdom may have a thing or two to teach us. Take ethics:

If a female monkey, who has no room in her mind for a conception of God, adopts a young monkey (something that happens fairly often), then she behaves more ethically than a believer, who does good for the sake of God. To give credit to the believer, I’ll assume that natural good is as inherent to him as it is to the monkey, and that he’s misunderstanding himself when he thinks that he must ascribe his natural virtues to God.

But above all, religion is just so strenuous. Here’s Müller on faith: “God is that which must not and cannot be explained further, what’s just there. […] But if one stays with the visible and is prepared to acknowledge its intractable majesty, one is also dealing with the inapproachability of the primal mystery, just at a lesser expense of awe and willpower.”

Also in the issue: fellow atheists Rudolf Burger, for whom Nietzsche is too God-fearing, and Hubert Markl, who pokes fun at the “God gene”; and the winners of Merkur’s annual essay competition, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty!”

The full table of contents of Merkur 2/2007.

Reset 99 (2007)

In a focus on Pope Benedict XVI, Iranian philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush writes about the current state of reason: “The idol of reason or the god of reason is shattered today. And the beloved term ‘rationality’, which was once one of the most lofty and sacred terms, conveys little more than a suspect, ambiguous, and modest meaning today.”

The wide variety of “reasons” (Aristotelian, Cartesian, dialectic, practical, etc.) have made it impossible to see reason as whole and undistorted. “Modern reason and classical reason are different because their products – i.e. their science, philosophy, morality, politics, and economics – are different. And, since this is the case, submitting to a kind of relativism is unavoidable. This is exactly the situation in which we all live and breathe today. […] Humanity has now arrived at a healthy and beneficial pluralism and relativism, the fruit of which is modesty and the rejection of dogmatism.”

Soroush identifies revelation, love, and revolution as the three enemies of reason, the third of which is the “most merciless and reason-crushing”. Speaking from personal experience of Iran’s Cultural Revolution, he warns against the dangers of revolution: “When faced with all-embracing revolutions, which have neither love’s beauty nor revelation’s sanctity, we can only seek refuge in God; for they rob people of both life and reason.”

Islam and modernity: Mohammed Arkoun talks about the birth of humanism in the Arab world, where it appeared centuries earlier than in the West; Jytte Klausen is surprised to find that most of Europe’s Muslim political elite are first-generation immigrants; and Abdesselam Cheddadi places the question of tolerance at the heart of Muslim discontent.

Deliberative polls: On 3 December 2006, Italy experienced its first deliberative poll, which Reset editor Mauro Buonocore describes enthusiastically as “a day that could open an interesting future for the democratic life of our country, that could rejuvenate and invigorate the mechanisms of our institutions and re-bond citizens with the world of politics, and political decisions with the evaluation of their effects.”

The full table of contents of Reset 99 (2007).

dérive 26 (2007)

Can a city be managed in the same way as a business? In recent years, many cities have turned their administrations into customer-oriented service industries and have become what geographer David Harvey termed “entrepreneurial cities”: marketing, profit-orientation, and risk propensity make up their new vocabulary.

Furthermore, cities have been gripped by the “proliferating logic of cross-linking/networking, cooperation, and competition, which has led to the spread of public-private networks on a national and transnational level”, write Jens Becker and Jascha Keller in urban research magazine dérive. “Cities are no longer understood as historical entities of integration, but rather via their function in the globalized network.”

More than ever, cities are subject to regional and international competition and need to convince as many transnational companies as possible of their attractivity. With the concept of the entrepreneurial city, metropolises want to counter the “geography of centrality and marginality”. However, until now there has been no evidence that the reformulation of urban policies has had any emphatic influence on corporations’ decisions where to settle, note Becker and Keller. If anything, it is empty coffers, high unemployment, and local elites aiming to promote themselves, that stimulate the reorganization of urban politics.

Also to look out for: In “Spatial practices as a blueprint for human rights violations”, Markus Miessen describes the increasing tendency for governments to create a legal “meta-level” where spatial and physical humiliation become everyday practice. And Denis Duclos writes that the rebellion of the youth in the French banlieues constitutes part of a dynamic culture.

The full table of contents of dérive 26 (2007).

L’Homme 2/2006

Gender studies have not been very concerned with economics – with a few exceptions such as the question of gender and consumerism or gender and work. Studies of markets have also rarely taken a feminist or gender approach. But there seems to be a need for discussion of the topic, note the editors of the Austrian journal of feminist history L’Homme, as several publications in women’s studies are currently taking up the subject. In its new issue, L’Homme aims to fill the gap from a historical perspective.

Feminist historical research on markets has classically dealt with female marketeers, chandlers, or merchants. Anne Montenach, historian at the Université de Provence in Aix-en-Provence, discusses the economic role of women in the food trade of Lyon during the seventeenth century. “The role of women in the craft and retail trade has to be reconsidered”, she notes. Even though the institutionalization of guilds led to an exclusion of women, this should not hide the connections between the “informal” and the “official” economy: a high percentage of economic activity took place outside the guilds, where women were involved in different ways.

Amira Sonbol, from the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, shows that women in early modern Egypt and Palestine were economically active in numerous ways. “Handling money was a normal part of women’s life. Women inherited money, received dowries and alimonies, were entrusted with their orphan [fatherless] children’s inheritance, earned money from investments, bought property, and worked in various fields.” Owning shops and workshops, and involvement in various trades, comes as no surprise, she writes.

Also to look out for: Raffaella Sarti on the new servants in southern Europe. Italy and Spain, which for decades were countries of emigration, have become the only European countries into which one can legally immigrate to work as a caretaker or home help.

The full table of contents of L’Homme 2/2006.

Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais 75 (2006)

Authors in Portuguese journal Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais set about slaughtering some holy cows. “Abstract humanism”, for example, which comes under fire from Joaquin Herrera Flores for its distance to the “depredatory practices of colonialism”. Flores critiques the mechanisms of colonialist violence using “a radical conception of human rights”, the affirmation of which, he argues, is essential to the “capacity to fight for cultural recognition and the just distribution of resources”.

“Development” is a misnomer for what is simply growth, writes António Simões Lopes. He objects to the fact that levels of development are measured by levels of income; instead, he argues, development should be based on the distribution of wealth. This, he says, is what gives people dignity, rather than expecting the poor to wait for the benefits of the “trickle-down effect”.

“Public art”: what’s it good for? At the event “Lisboa Capital do Nada” in 2001, there was a good deal of talk about art’s role in the preservation of “authentic” ways of life, about the artist as “witness of the everyday”, and about art’s capacity to “encourage local identity”. However, writes Fernanda Maio, the mobility of artists, intellectuals, and experts contrasts with the stationary condition of local residents, who become objects of cultural tourism.

Also in this issue: Françoise Meltzer on Aufhebung in Baudelaire, Bataille, and Sartre; Fátima Antunes on governance and education in Europe; and Carlos Gonçalves on violence in the Brazilian countryside.

The full table of contents of Revista Crítica de Ciêncas Sociais 75 (2006).

Springerin 1/2007

Austrian art magazine Springerin picks up on one of the leitmotifs of the upcoming international art exhibition documenta 12, which will open in June: “Is modernity our antiquity?”

In interview, Indian media collective Raqs talks about modernity as a waiting room where narratives other than the one actually realized can be perceived:

The “unexplored possibilities of the modern project”, everything that could have been, is related to rehearsals and improvisations. We have found it useful to imagine these spaces as “waiting rooms”, or even “dressing rooms” of modernity. The relation between such spaces and modernity is not solely defined by a chronological order. It could rather be characterized as a permanent expectation or eternal nostalgia or perpetual regret or unrelenting scepticism or endured enthusiasm or continuous confusion… or combinations of these. The outcome is the possibility of a nuanced and floating spectrum of attitudes towards modernity that can be indefinitely tried out in these “dressing rooms”.

More in this focus: Lawrence Grossberg’s theoretical exposé of alternative, multiple modernities; Georg Schöllhammer’s short feature on the Serbian artist Nesa Paripovic; and stills from Andreas Fogarasi’s video research project on houses of culture and education in Budapest.

Don’t miss! In an essay entitled “The violence of participation”, Markus Miessen confronts the necessity to break with the “consensus machine” and operate outside of existing networks. “Participation is war”, writes Miessen. In view of increasingly fragmented identities, we need to find a form for co-existence that makes it possible for conflict to work as a productive confrontation: “a model for unconventional participation that allows outsiders to judge existing debates without having to fear rejection.”

Supplement: In a captivating bonus booklet, Springerin presents and documents examples of contemporary Ukrainian art. The colour of choice: “post-orange”.

The full table of contents of Springerin 1/2007.

Host 1/2007

A young poet writes his first collection, has it published by a renowned publisher, and the same year is awarded a major literary prize. Sounds too good to be true? That’s what the editors of Host (Czech Republic) thought before they interviewed Marek Sindelka (22), recent winner of the Jiri Orten Prize for his collection Strychnine. This posed a problem for the interviewers, who were used to asking questions about past achievements and instead had to talk about things like poetry. The outcome: “The fact that something isn’t part of the mainstream is not a criterion of quality”.

Mainstream twenty one years later: First published in Czech in 1985 by the Toronto-based ’68 Publishers, illicitly imported copies of Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being first circulated on a strictly hand-to-hand basis. Now, when the novel’s political and social connotations have disappeared, what does it mean to the Czech reader? Jiri Travnicek finds that only now can he get to the novel’s core.

The full table of contents of Host 1/2007.

Semicerchio 35 (2006)

Is the poet today charged with a social mandate as representative of shared values and ideas? In the wake of a lively discussion among Italian literary journals, Semicerchio: Journal of Contemporary Poetry has devoted an issue to finding out what poets outside of Italy have to say. Mostly in their original languages, Semicerchio publishes the unedited responses of a wide range of poets, including Yves Bonnefoy, Michel Deguy, Meena Alexander, and Jaroslaw Mikolajewski.

Winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize Jorie Graham writes: “A great poem […] accesses a place which, for all the apparent outdatedness of the term, is somewhat universal. It is universal because it has delved so deeply into its ‘local’ material (whether subjective or objective) that it has hit paydirt, universality, what Eliot calls an ‘objective correlative’. This is a singular power of poetry – a form of magic and worksong – a way humans have of speaking about something which isn’t really in the speakable. However much the poem might have an apparent ‘subject’, it is always ‘about’ something else, something that cannot be paraphrased. People across all sorts of boundaries – cultural, historical, linguistic, experiential – feel, get, are inhabited by, that unparaphrasable thing. That’s what poetry is: what is NOT lost in translation.”

Indian diaspora poet Meena Alexander finds the task of the poet to “bear witness”. “I would suggest that there is an inner reality within each of us that is bound, however elliptically, to the real solid world. And it is about this that the poet must tell the truth. […] It seems to me that without poetry we cannot survive history. We would die of too much reality.”

The full table of contents of Semicerchio 35 (2006).

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Published 6 February 2007

Original in English
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