In defence of generalism
Faced with public funding cuts, the editors of Esprit write an open letter defending the role of generalist cultural journals. When the academic world can communicate only with specialists, and the daily press can provide only superficial analysis, cultural journals are needed to balance depth against accessibility. Esprit can find the right questions to ask, write its editors, and can help create shared culture in a world fragmented by globalization. Self-consciously "international", it can bring French ideas into contact with those from elsewhere in Europe and beyond.
Translation and the Arab world: The Arab world of the nineteenth century would seem to have been perfectly placed to adapt to the era of globalization. In Islam, it had a strong identity that was not dependent on a single national background. It shared much with the dominant European cultures: a religion of prophetic monotheism, a legacy of Greek philosophy, a common social structure and geographical proximity. Why, then, have Arab states been so slow to develop economically and culturally over the last century?
Abdesselam Cheddadi writes that the translation rate into Arabic is far lower than into other languages. In historical context, this is very strange: as early as the eighth century, the "translation movement" produced Arabic versions of almost all known Greek science and philosophy, as well as large amounts from the Hebrew, Iranian and even Indian traditions. In the nineteenth century the nahda (awakening) movement produced many translations. Since then, however, the momentum for translation has been lost. In a world economy increasingly dominated by knowledge, writes Cheddadi, this has had very negative consequences.
Jan Patocka: Czech philosopher Jan Patocka is mainly remembered for his involvement in Charter 77, while his philosophy, once interpreted by Jacques Derrida and Paul Ricoeur, is now largely ignored. Olivier Mongin finds contemporary relevance in Patocka's understanding of conflict, which he argued allows for "unity in discord". For Patocka, even the experience of war leads to a feeling of solidarity with the enemy, "in the same situation as us, discovering with us absolute liberty".
The full table of contents of Esprit 2/2009
Res Publica Nowa 4/2008
A creeping self-censorship is taking hold of central and eastern Europe, writes editor Wojciech Przybylski in Res Publica Nowa. Faced with incompetent and philistine bureaucracies, the creative industries are following the Buddhist maxim: "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."
How far do people working in the arts grasp the political and financial mechanisms that determine whether they can realize their projects? In an animated panel discussion on culture and power in the Polish capital, journalist and arts fundraiser Bogna Swiatkowska remarks that non-governmental organizations undertaking cultural initiatives "lack a basic knowledge of the realities and mechanisms that rule cultural life".
Russia: "Whatever happened to the Russian Intelligentsia?" asks sociologist Tomasz Zarycki in an article outlining the story of Russian intellectual elites at the core of ideological restructuring and opposition in the last three decades of Soviet communism. Under Vladimir Putin, Russian intellectuals have been marginalized or absorbed into a technocratic hierarchy to be the new opinion-formers. "As in Soviet times, intellectuals are working for the state mainly as hirelings. They are once again defending the ideological front."
Dogmatic liberalism: Historian of ideas Michal Warchala points out that even though support for liberal principles remains strong after post-communism, as a political doctrine liberal democracy in Poland has been reduced to a few increasingly dogmatic narratives. Image often dominates over substance. Now that the prospects for strengthening liberalism could be so good, it is essential that the essence of liberal democracy – continuing debate between equals and free criticism of the status quo – is not forgotten.
Also: Samuel Abraham calls the allegations against Milan Kundera a failure of journalistic decency; and Miroslav Balastik asks whether the Kundera allegations signify the end of a phase of post-communism.
The full table of contents of Res Publica Nowa 4/2008
In Arena, historian Erik Tängerstad draws attention to an international debt crisis that resembled the current financial crisis:
"Throughout the 1970s, big banks generously lent money to people that would never be able to pay it back. But not to private persons. Instead, huge amounts were transferred to newly independent states in 'the Third World'. The idea was not that the borrowers should pay off by instalments but that they pay interest for ever and ever. 'A country will always pay', it was said. 'A country can't go bankrupt.' But in August 1982 Mexico did just that and the bubble burst. Immediately, trust in the international banking system disappeared. Interest rates sky-rocketed and lending decreased. Smaller banks collapsed and were swallowed by large ones. The world's taxpayers were mustered to save the system. This was the beginning of a net transfer of capital from Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa to the rich world's banks."
Why, asks Tängerstad, does no one talk about August 1982 today? "Of course, that time it hit the others, far away in the poor parts of the world."
Where has feminism gone? To observers from abroad, Sweden has the reputation of a gender-political model society; a feminist's paradise. Yet, since the failure of a new feminist party to enter parliament after the 2006 elections, the feminist debate has disappeared from the public sphere. That, at least, is the hypothesis that has led Arena to ask a wide selection of Swedish feminists where the debate has gone.
Although there seems to be a general consensus that mainstream media is only interested in feminism as long as it can be reduced to personal conflict, most respondents suggest that feminist issues have entered the discussion – public or not – to stay. Anna Wahl, high-profile professor of "gender, organization and management" at the Royal Institute of Technology, writes: "Feminism is alive and well in daily conversations, in workplaces, between friends, at parties, in families, between lovers... It exists as feminist discussion and action rather than as 'debate'."
The full table of contents of Arena 1/2009
Mittelweg 36 1/2009
Mittelweg 36 publishes a roundtable discussion based on a workshop on "The pervasiveness of sexual violence in wars", moderated by Gaby Zipfel.
Wars are states of exception, where exceptional sacrifices and behaviour are demanded, argues South African philosopher Louise du Toit. "It is precisely the state of exception associated with war that leads to an increase in sexual violence."
The connections between masculinity and soldierliness are cross-cultural and cross-epochal, adds Miranda Alison: "Military education usually goes along with misogyny and homophobia"; acts of sexual violence are often regarded as a characteristic of militarized masculinity. Soldiers have to comply to a maximum of discipline, thus certain "liberties" are conceded, Regina Mühlhäuser notes.
Traditional wars aimed at defeating the enemy; present day wars are genocidal, where the aim is to annihilate the enemy. "Now the people is the enemy, nobody is innocent and worth protecting. [...] In present-day wars, soldiers are less exposed to risk than female members of the civilian population", philosopher Debra Bergoffen points out. "In genocidal wars degradation has become a tactical instrument, and this turns sexual violence into an aspect of military and foreign policy." Nevertheless, in many cases it remains unclear whether sexual violence is committed as part of military strategy or not:
"If an atmosphere is produced within an army or in the context of a war where sexual violence is, if not explicitly commanded, then encouraged or at least tolerated, the result for the victims remains the same", observes Miranda Alison.
Also: An extensive international bibliography on sexual violence in warlike conflicts by Ingwer Schwensen; and Christian Schneider's exploration of our need for heroes: "What are heroes for?"
The full table of contents of Mittelweg 36 1/2009
Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 2/2009
US literary theorist Walter Benn Michaels marvels at how conservative politicians like Nicholas Sarkozy quite obviously reinforce ethnic diversity within social elites. They appear to adopt leftist positions against racism and sexism. Yet: "Inequality between rich and poor, between company director and worker, is based neither on racism nor on sexism. Inequality is a product of capitalism and ownership structure."
Benn Michaels heavily criticizes the Left, which, by prioritizing diversity over equality, fosters neoliberalism instead of fighting it: "It is simply a parody of social justice, if deepening the gulf between rich and poor is accepted as long as there are just as many blacks, browns and yellows as whites, just as many women as men, homosexuals as heterosexuals among the rich – strictly proportionally, of course. In other words: this is 'social justice' that accepts the inequality produced by capitalism. Diversity is not a means to achieve equality. It is a method of administering inequality."
Citizenship in Africa: African democracies are usually based on local elites, who are estranged from the people and their living conditions, writes Charlotte Wiedemann. The people therefore feel like mere extras. Practiced democracy cannot be found in governments and parliaments, but in communities. In Mali, local politicians appear on the numerous local free radio stations to justify their work; a citizen's committee fights for the restitution of a privatized, and thus neglected, railway; and local markets are run by the communities themselves – to earn "the small change of participation".
"The external view of Africa abhors the fighting, but loves the suffering. Many Africans have adopted the posture of the eternal victim. To do away with this self-disempowerment is the beginning of every fight for democracy. It is underway in many places. The elites cannot be counted on since they are often the ones who need to be fought against. To displace them requires the establishment of a culture of responsibility within society."
The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 2/2009
Revolver Revue 73 (2008)
The Prague literary magazine Revolver Revue publishes a scathing review of a documentary about the Prague Spring shown on Austrian television last year. Alexander Dubcek is portrayed as a "fearless half-God", writes Adam Gebert, who "strived to fight for the country until the last drop of his sober powers". "The historical fact that Dubcek signed an oath of loyalty to Brezhnev and that shortly thereafter he signed the so-called 'truncheon act' was deemed too insignificant to mention."
Gebert also accuses the documentary of bias in its choice of "eyewitnesses" – Antonin J. Liehm, Kamila Mouckova and Jiri Pelikan: no similar platform was given to those "who were never the least bit involved with the communist ideology". This omission, writes Gebert, "creates a picture according to which the 'revival of the nation' in the sixties was driven wholly by the reform communists and that it was them [...] who bore the weight of the punishment."
"The fortieth anniversary turned the events of August '68 into an article to be peddled. One lot used it to make a demagogic documentary, the other lot used it to polish up their respective personae – and all in the name of a good thing."
Also: The letters of the Czech-born Swiss poet Franz Wurm to Paul Celan, dating from his temporary sojourn in Prague. Wurm recalls the city of his childhood and comments on the atmosphere during the final phases of the Prague Spring.
The full table of contents of Revolver Revue 73 (2008)
Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) 2/2009
Is it the concrete situation that shapes ideas or is it ideas that shape the situation? Lately, writes Remi Nilsen, a number of war films have been released that implicitly address this through questioning the relation between motivation and resistance, including Valkyrie, Max Manus and Waltz with Bashir.
The Stauffenberg plot had as its motivating force a "spiritual, aristocratic idealistic society, a noble and pure Germany free of democratic decadence". This, however, was not developed in Valkyrie. But Nilsen is far more disappointed with Max Manus, a Norwegian film that describes the activities of Norway's foremost saboteurs, the "Oslo-gang". The phrase "king and kingdom" is regularly repeated as the driving force behind their activities. But no further explanation is offered for why a group of cognac swigging students would risk both their own and others' lives in a series of daring acts of sabotage. Not even the inherent evil of fascism is mentioned as a possible reason.
Waltz with Bashir is in a different league, writes Nilsen. The film, which has the Israeli war with Lebanon in 1982 as its starting point, demonstrates the discrepancy between the arguments for the action and the action itself. The Israeli idea is that the radicalizing of an occupied people can be prevented through the killing of the bearers of ideas, and that the ideas, not the occupation, is at the root of the problem.
Truls Lie backs up Nilsen's argument in his review of Waltz with Bashir. He admits that he is one of many who are highly critical of the Israeli leaders' "vulgar glorification of violence". The director Ari Folman attempts to piece together his own memories as well as those of his fellow soldiers sent into a war that Folman calls morally indefensible. In an impassioned article, Lie recommends the world's first animated documentary as an absolute must-see.
Also: Mattias Hagberg's interview with Mike Davis about the evolution of the neoliberal city, and Slavoj Zizek's assessment of Barak Obama's chances of humanizing the "American empire".
The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) 2/2009
The term "post-communist" does not describe any specific type of society, writes Mikko Lagerspetz in Vikerkaar. Rather, it indicates merely an historical accident. Can the term be useful for sociology? Eastern European perspectives on social progress differ completely from those of the western countries in the postwar period, writes Lagerspetz. Sceptical of scientific and economic progress and distrustful of social planning, eastern European societies have less faith in politics and the functioning of democratic institutions, while their experiences of a globalized economy have highlighted nation states' inability to control social developments.
Yet for sociology, writes Lagerspetz, the historical experience of the eastern European countries has been illuminating, insofar as it has challenged assumptions about democracy, politics and society.
"After the change of system, the newly established democratic institutions – as well as those necessary for the functioning of capitalism – depend on what the population takes them to be. [...] If democracy acquires new forms [...] these will depend on how the citizens themselves conceive of their own interests, their group allegiances and obligations. These need not coincide with the hypothetical objective structures identified by sociology beforehand, under different historical circumstances."
Also: Authors associated with the Estonian Institute of Humanities on its twentieth anniversary. Lorenzo Cañás Bottos doubts the usability of the term "culture"; Jaan Puhvel casts new light on the baffling etymologies of ancient Estonian words; and Mihhail Lotman provides a useful introduction to Vladimir Nabokov's poetry.
The full table of contents of Vikerkaar 1-2/2009
Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais 82 (2008)
In Revista Crítica, Luciana F. M. Mendonça analyses the socio cultural factors behind the "manguebeat", the musical movement invented in Recife in northeastern Brazil. Updating local musical influences for the MTV generation, manguebeat is a way of re-articulating identities and energizing the city space, notes Mendonça. Her observations lead her to reflect on relations between the local and the global, tradition and modernity, culture and enjoyment.
Founding myths: Heloisa Maria Murgel Strarling reflects on pretensions to roots and ancestrality in the political foundations of Brazilian republicanism. One possible way of interpreting the normative ideals of the republic is through the concept of sertão (the term coined by Portuguese settlers for the hinterland of north-eastern Brazil), which in Brazilian literature, as Strarling demonstrates, represents the imagination.
Liquidity: Zygmunt Bauman's notion of "liquidity" as a feature of modernity has much in common with the thought of Keynes, writes José Maria Castro Caldas. In both authors, liquidity and speculation appear as rational responses to uncertainty, and, at the same time, as individual strategies contributing to increased systemic risk.
The full table of contents of Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais 82 (2008)
Greek Political Science Review 32 (2008)
In Greek Political Science Review, Constantine Tsoukalas remembers the Greek-French Marxist sociologist Nicos Poulantzas (1936-1979). Objecting to simplistic conceptions that saw the state as a mere instrument of the capitalist class, Poulantzas instead interpreted the state in terms of a system of shifting relations formed at the core of social conflict and transformation. Poulantzas, argues Tsoukalas, is to be seen neither as a dogmatist who imposed a rigid schematization on recalcitrant political realities, nor as an easy-going reformist. Rather, he is a thinker with enduring relevance in the era of economic globalization.
NGOs: The relationship between grassroots movements and NGOs is complex, containing elements of reciprocal exclusion and elements of feedback, writes Mihalis Psimitis. While some NGOs are embedded in social movements, the big international NGOs decidedly are not. Many NGOs represent the institutionally oriented and professionally organized sector of social movements, while grassroots movements are more conflict-prone and are organized in a system of informal relationships.
Platonic leaders: Political theories of leadership have traditionally been divided over whether to define it as an innate trait of the "charismatic" personality or as a matter of coincidence; over whether it is related to morality and vision or rather to the capacity for efficiency and even violence. Yet, writes Anthony Makridimitris, little attention has been paid to Plato's distinction (in Politicus) of the three types of leader: shepherd, therapist and weaver.
The full table of contents of Greek Political Science Review 32 (2008)
In Akadeemia S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery find no persuasive arguments to support the theory that large numbers of species will die from global warming. Instead they find a great deal of evidence that species move effectively to keep or expand their ranges in response to climate change. They also offer evidence that higher concentrations of CO2 help plants – and ultimately animals – adapt to higher temperatures.
In addition they find that a reputable biologist, Chris Thomas, has made exaggerated claims about massive extinctions; and that a well-known biologist, Camille Parmesan, has repeatedly misused the term "locally extinct" to over-dramatize climate warming risks. Finally, they argue that eco-activists and biologists who claim that global warming is killing corals contradicts scientific research showing the adaptability of coral reefs. That extinction theorists continue to ignore important evidence is inexcusable, say Singer and Avery.
Mind over matter: In a translation of a lecture by Henri Bergson, delivered at the University of Birmingham on 29 May 1911, Bergson differentiates between matter and consciousness. He asks if it is possible that while in this world, consciousness prepares itself for an even more efficient activity after the disintegration of the body?
Also: Anneli Kaasa and Karin Koppel on why fewer students join student organizations; and Tiit Kärner on how learners today acquire material superficially without understanding its content.
The full table of contents of Akadeemia 2/2009
The Eurozine review is published with the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union and Allianz Kulturstiftung.
Original in English