All about the beautiful game
Dublin Review of Books June 2014
Brazil may be a favourite to win the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but the tournament "has utterly failed to be the promised game-changer for Brazil", writes Tom Hennigan in Dublin Review of Books.
"Brasilia's plano piloto and several neighbourhoods in other cities, most importantly São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, are reminders of the triumphs of the tropical modernist movement that flourished in the country during the middle decades of the last century. But they have since been swamped by subsequent development, almost none of it displaying the same attention to design. These neighbourhoods serve as a kind of monument to a faded moment that held out hope of a better urban future for Brazilians, now mocked by the chaos they find themselves imprisoned in."
In a wide-ranging article that covers the practices of architects ranging from Oscar Niemeyer to Paulo Jacobsen, Hennigan concludes that, in the face of ongoing urban misery, "politicians must thus regard the preparations for the World Cup as a missed opportunity."
Brexit: DRB's blog-writers cover the broadside launched against la perfide Albion by former French prime minister Michel Rocard in Le Monde on 5 June. In his article, entitled "Amis Anglais, sortez de l'Union européenne mais ne la faites pas mourir!" ("My English friends, leave the European Union, but don't kill it!"), Rocard addresses the British directly: "It seems you want to go: the majority of your people don't seem to have any doubt about this. But you still have some banking interest in profiting from the disorder you are creating."
DRB adds: "There is no doubt that all this is tremendously emotionally satisfying, and not just to the French. There are certainly many people in Ireland too who are heartily sick at having to watch the Tories (and now the überTories of Ukip) doing their European tease over so many decades ('We're going to go... I'm warning you, we'll go unless you give us what we want!' 'Byee! Close the door gently.')"
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Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 6/2014
Pronouncing the World Cup final "the festival of global togetherness" in Blätter (Germany), Detlev Claussen traces the roots of the jogo bonito or beautiful game: from the players who had to work in order to be able to play to an institution that, "like the art market, has become ideal for money laundering."
It's the derby though that, for many football fans, constitutes the "salt in the soup", not to mention a model that can be re-staged on a national and international level – as the first ever game between countries in 1872 proved, when Scottish amateurs surprised the English with a no-score draw. Thereafter followed Liverpool vs Everton, Dortmund vs Schalke, Argentina vs Brazil, and Germany vs Italy.
Claussen characterizes this year's World Cup as perched somewhere between protest – given that "sporting world events, in the midst of a sea of corruption, deprivation and social inequality, set free a sense of dissatisfaction that is difficult to calm" – and enthusiasm. Whether games and carnival alone still suffice today remains an open question. Not that this undermines football's utopian potential. After all, anyone can play football, a game in which the weak can still triumph against the strong – or at least draw.
No place to hide: Daniel Leisegang bemoans both the heterogeneity and low level of politicization of net communities in the face of the biggest spy programme of all time. Leisegang finds the re:publica conference in Berlin in May indicative of their weaknesses. Traditionally a mecca for digital natives, the fact that the "majority of Internet-users consider themselves consumers" seems to have taken its toll. This explains the "absurd advertising stunt of making David Hasselhoff the highlight of this year's conference. And that scarcely a single participant seemed disturbed by the main sponsor being none other than NSA collaborator Microsoft."
Without a new civil movement capable of rising to the challenges posed, concludes Leisegang, there will be "no place to hide"; as per the title of Glenn Greenwald's new book on the NSA and the surveillance state, an extract from which complements the current Blätter issue.
The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 6/2014
Schweizer Monat 6/2014
"This month our business hours have altered", announce the editors of Schweizer Monat. "From 12 June to 13 July you can reach us Monday to Friday from 12 noon at the earliest." Because "the roundest side issue in the world is much more than just a game!"
Will football rescue the world? In a portrait of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, Bruno Affentranger proves himself a fan. Given the controversy that has persistently swirled around Blatter up to now, one might have expected a more critical approach, but Affentranger paints Blatter as a man who still believes in his core business. After all, "football is peace and, moreover, worthy of the Nobel Prize and not entirely of this world, more powerful indeed than anything earthly. Sepp Blatter is the high priest who bears this message."
Affentranger certainly implies that Blatter's job has brought him close to receiving honours in Oslo City Hall: "In 2001, Blatter personally brought together both of the chief ideologues, Shimon Peres and Yassir Arafat, pined thereafter for the Nobel Peace Prize that not he himself but FIFA would be well lined up for. However, here's a typical Blatter statement: Peres and Arafat received the prize."
It's all about money! Steven Chu was US energy secretary from 2009 to 2013 and really does have a Nobel Prize (in physics). Indeed, Rolling Stone magazine once dubbed him "secretary of saving the planet". As part of a focus on converting to sustainable energy, Chu discusses in interview with Florian Rittmeyer and Claudia Mäder the potential to develop renewable energy sources fast enough to meet both human and environmental demands.
As the first scientist without any political experience to take up the post of energy secretary, Chu explains: "I have never taken part in an election, never wanted to become a politician and never wanted to stay in politics either. So once in office, I never owed anyone anything, and no one had to pay me back for anything with the post."
Chu remains optimistic as to renewable energy's prospects. But as for the finer points – whether to transport electricity, for example, above ground via high power voltage lines or underground – well, it's all about money!
The full table of contents of Schweizer Monat 6/2014
Kulturos barai 5/2014
In interview with Almantas Samalavicius in Kulturos barai (Lithuania), author Richard Heinberg insists not only that the coming global energy crisis can no longer be avoided. He also sees it as a hugely unappealing but necessary shock to a system driven by the boosters of fossil-fuelled industrial expansion:
"When governments and central banks stepped in with massive bailouts, stimulus spending and quantitative easing, everyone breathed a sigh of relief and went back to sleep – even though the fundamental problems had not been addressed and the 'solutions' are obviously short-term. It will take a bigger jolt to wake everyone up again."
Further, Heinberg urges a far more reflexive approach to science itself:
"We need more critical thinking, not less. However, science is often directed toward the ends of those who are able to pay for research projects. So, for example, we have chemical companies funding research to 'prove' that genetically modified foods are perfectly safe, and oil companies funding research apparently showing that fracking is completely harmless to the environment and to human health. Because it's science, we therefore tend to believe it. We must always question the motives behind research projects, as well as the assumptions on which they rest."
The full table of contents of Kulturos barai 5/2014
One year after the Gezi protests, Varlik (Turkey) sees a country where "a minority that speaks out and acts against the tyranny, negligence and failings of the government are repressed by a variety of methods, and the majority keeps its head down." This being Osman Deniztekin's verdict in the editorial.
Permanent potentiality: Süreyyya Evren sees a country poised on the edge of change, since all government credibility has been shredded by the Gezi movement. Since the uprisings, the government has resembled a cartoon character sliced by a sword but as yet unaware the blade has cut him in two. "In a single moment, Gezi pulled the rug from under the government, but the fall has its own pace, its own rhythm", Evren writes. That Gezi did not bring down prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan already last year is "very fortunate", he says. "Sudden changes in government can be an obstacle to societies engaging in periods of sustained debate."
When 301 coal-miners died in a pit disaster in May, police warned the local people in the town of Soma to beware of provocateurs from outside: "Look out, the Gezi people may come", they said. In such moments, Evren sees the permanent potentiality of the Gezi movement: "It seems that the people we call Gezi people are a theatre troupe that wanders from town to town. In fact, even stranger, they have the ability to appear at the same time in many towns and, increasingly, in very many towns."
Global movements: The current issue also features two texts based on presentations at the 2013 Eurozine conference in Oslo. Pelin Tan examines the spread of protest movements, looking at how new skills and methods disseminate. She finds that artist-run platforms can foster networks that spread practices, methods and ideas from city to city. And Jean-Louis Fabiani situates the protests of Zucotti Park and Tahrir Square in a continuum that points to how future innovation may enable a global public sphere to overcome democratic fatigue.
Also: Hülya Bulut and Muharrem Kaya contribute essays marking the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the pioneering female writer Halide Edib Adivar.
The full table of contents of Varlik 6/2014
In a special issue of Springerin (Austria) on censorship, Anna Tolstova looks at issues of artistic freedom of expression and (self-)censorship ahead of the opening of the Manifesta biennial in St Petersburg in three weeks. And Pelin Tan elaborates on the activities of the Silent University as an institution that takes a tough stand on such issues insofar as they impact on refugees, asylum seekers and migrants (see Tan's article based on her presentation at the Eurozine conference in Oslo).
Other than censorship: Words are under siege in Turkey and journalism has been taken hostage, writes Süreyyya Evren. Indeed, given "the scale of censorship rolling over the country", Evren concludes, "I would say maybe we need a different word, other than censorship. A stronger word."
Exhibiting global activism: Gislind Nabakowksi reviews the exhibition global aCtIVISm at the Centre for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe. The show attempted to put into practice Peter Weibel's provocative observation that "global activism is the first art form of the twenty-first century". Works included Mark Wallinger's painstakingly detailed reconstruction of the protest camp that peace activist Brian Haw (1949-2011) maintained in Parliament Square, London from 2001 to 2006. MIT Press will publish an extensive volume of texts on the issues the exhibition raised in autumn.
Also: An obituary by Georg Schöllhammer for art historian Markus Brüderlin (1958-2014), who had a formative influence on Springerin since the journal's foundation; and the German version of an instalment of Soundings' online "Kilburn Manifesto", in which Stuart Hall and Alan O'Shea take on "common-sense neoliberalism". (For the English version, see Soundings 55.)
The full table of contents of Springerin 2/2014
Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais 103 (2014)
In Revista Crítica (Portugal), Guy Standing reframes the precariat as a class-in-the-making in the global market system of the twenty-first century, taking 2011 as the year in which a new form of global protest kicked off that lacked anything like the requisite level of organization:
"Although the precariat, characterized by chronic uncertainty and insecurity is still a class-in-the-making, divided within itself, its elements are united in rejecting mainstream political traditions. To become a transformative class, however, the precariat needs to move beyond the primitive rebel stage manifested in 2011 and become enough of a class-for-itself to be a power for change."
Lusophone middle class rebellions: Elísio Estanque looks at social movements in Portugal and Brazil between 2011 and 2013, paying special attention to the victims of precarious working conditions on the one hand and young educated people on the other.
"Especially in Brazil, the dynamics of rebellion provide evidence of a rising social conscience among the middle class, who wants to see its rights, opportunities and dignity recognized. In Portugal, the middle class, who once enjoyed established rights, expresses its frustration and desperation now that it is confronted with the abolition of these rights as a result of economic constraints and a discredited political power."
Also: Maria da Paz Campos Lima and Antonio Martin Artiles on the diversity of the "European Spring" (Indignados in Spain and Portugal, Gezi resistance in Turkey, etc.).
The full table of contents of Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais 103 (2014)
Dag Solstad, one of Norway's most well-known authors and intellectuals, expresses his dissatisfaction at the state of contemporary European literature in Samtiden (Norway). The 73-year-old's latest novel, an epic account of Norway's Telemark region from 1591 to 1896, received mixed reviews, with some critics branding it boring and unreadable. Solstad's retort: "But should a novel exist only to satisfy a need for entertainment?"
"When I lived in Berlin in the beginning of the 2000s", he continues, "I was horrified by the best-selling lists in Der Spiegel – it was filled with bad literature. Today, I can say the same about Norway." Solstad considers the authors of quality literature in Germany to have stopped writing novels, and moved on to writing for the theatre instead; Peter Handke, Christoph Hein and Elfriede Jelinek being prime examples.
He concludes that now, as the chase for bestsellers and easy money has reached even the more serious publishing houses, important and challenging books are turned down. "The situation for a type of novel not purely for entertainment is critical [...] throughout Europe. But it is worse still in the old cultural nations such as France, Germany and the UK."
Thousands of Gadaffis: Åsne Seierstad recalls the moment that news of Muammad Gadaffi's death reached the Libyan people, and they finally took to the streets cheering for their new-won freedom. And then?
"Society was paralyzed, the Libyan National Transitional Council was incapacitated by quarrelling and power play, and the protesters soon filled the streets again." Seierstad's portrait of converting a war zone into a democracy has little to offer in the way of reassurance. After the first parliamentary elections in 2012, the Libyan parliament appointed a new government, but spent most of 2013 and the winter of 2014 trying to bring it down.
As the third year after Gadaffi's removal passes, the security situation deteriorates and self-appointed military councils, some of them run using mafia tactics, prevail. Tensions between politicians and protesters and rivalries between different tribes and cities is the order of the day: "Instead of one, there are thousands of Gadaffis", concludes Seierstad.
The full table of contents of Samtiden 2/2014
The current issue of Host (Czech Republic) explores the relevance of the Czech literary classic in an era that has put its cultural achievements through the (self-)ironic grinder.
"The lament over the downtrodden genius and his oeuvre has an almost two-hundred-year tradition in European cultural history and, at least since Theodor Adorno or Dwight Macdonald, has been part and parcel of the obligatory definition of the one and only true art vis-à-vis pop culture", writes Ondrej Krajtl in an essay on literary classics as a pop-cultural theme (or rather, meme).
But are contemporary remixes of classic works reinvigorating the literary canon, or rather, "corrupting the classics"? The works of the Bohemian "national treasure" Bozena Nemcová offer a prime example where literary recontextualization is concerned. Her most famous novel, The Grandmother, has seen numerous versions, each reflecting varying levels of respect for the original.
Faster than a Facebook feed: "What is crucial is the ease with which this postmodern combination works: in an online environment, the previously reflexive, critical and collage-like method in arts and philosophy has become a self-evident, non-reflexive approach to information, communication and reality", says Zdenek Staszek. Recounting the impact of 25 years of the World Wide Web on literature, Staszek notes that social media have spawned self-made celebrity-authors, Filip Dousek being the prime Czech example, while the aura of the literary e-work evaporates faster than a post in a Facebook feed.
Ultimately, according to Staszek, literature and the Internet remain two incongruous textual worlds.
The full table of contents of Host 5/2014
Krytyka Polityczna 37-38 (2014)
India should not be a great unknown to Polish society, but a point of comparison – not least where the development of democracy and capitalism since the 1990s is concerned. Krytyka Polityczna (Poland) presents a themed issue on India to fill the gaps.
It's the women: In interview with Agnieszka Wadlowska, Urvashi Butalia assesses the achievements of the Indian feminist movement since the 1970s. "Today you see many more women in the streets of Delhi than during my student times. They mainly represent the middle class. You can see that they have jobs previously inaccessible to women. They are not only saleswomen, but guards, police officers or taxi drivers. So if you ask me, what changed during all that time – it's the women."
Women have taken advantage of their right to be elected at a local level and there is a new openness about sexual abuse that fosters self-awareness in the victims. But Butalia remains cautious. Women still have their own compartments in buses and in the underground, a new law concerning violence against women fails to tackle domestic abuse and the prospect of the death penalty for rapists may discourage a woman from pressing charges against the perpetrator, who more often than not hails from her own family.
Narendra Modi: Pawel Marczewski speaks with sociologist Vinod K. Jose about the rise of new Indian premier Narendra Modi, elected last month. "From a Hinduist chauvinist with a knife between his teeth he turned into a smiling, open technocrat [...] like a cut and dried chess player, he didn't miss a move."
"Most voters don't care about Modi's past, the part he played in the 2002 pogroms or his ideological baggage", says Jose, adding that the key thing is this: under his rule, the pace of Gujarat's economic growth left most other regions green with envy. However, Jose is pessimistic about the prospects for India's Muslim minority during Modi's spell in power and bruising about the new leader's general approach: "I'd say he's a fascist who decided to act in concordance with selected principles of Indian democracy."
The full table of contents of Krytyka Polityczna 37-38 (2014)
Original in English