"Catastrophe unfinished"

11 April 2006
Only in en
Osteuropa returns to Chernobyl; Multitudes proclaims the second era of political ecology; Reset offers suggestions to the Italian Left (government?); Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) continues its cosmopolitical quest; Kulturos barai broaches the unspeakable; Revista Crítica puts Portuguese literatures to use; Magyar Lettre Internationale celebrates fiction writing past, present, and future; and Mehr Licht! takes Don Quixote out of politics.

Osteuropa 4/2006

Twenty years have passed since the Chernobyl disaster. But it will take another ten years for the radioactive isotope Caesium-137 to reach the end of its half-life, write the editors of Osteuropa, who devote a highly disturbing issue to the legacy of the reactor accident, and the obligations it has brought.

“The medical, political, and social effects of the nuclear disaster in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine are omnipresent. They have changed Ukraine and especially Belarus tremendously, where nearly one fifth of the population lives in contaminated areas.” However, the three eastern Slavic countries have undergone such a sharp social change since the end of the 1980s that it is difficult to attribute these changes to the reactor accident. This, of course, opens the door to speculation and playing down the significance of Chernobyl.

Chernobyl has changed the character of catastrophes, writes risk-sociologist Guillaume Grandazzi. It has made apparent what it means to live in a risk society. Blindness towards disaster makes it hard to understand and to learn from it. But prohibitions pervade the everyday lives of a whole generation of people living in the contaminated areas: never again to tread on this meadow; never again to walk through these woods; never again to till this field.

Alfredo Pena-Vega (EHESS, Paris) notes that health problems are only the visible side of the “post-Chernobyl” era. A feeling of helplessness and resignation among the people living in the contaminated regions has radically changed their value of life. At the same time, these experiences shape the relationship between the people involved and the state, says historian David Marples. In Belarus, the most affected region, the enormity of the catastrophe is one of the psychological fundamentals of Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime.

Alla Yaroshinskaya, author of Chernobyl, the forbidden truth, has come across secret documents that reveal a massive cover-up and systematic politics of disinformation by the Soviet leadership. The state and party covered up the scale of the danger, sending people back into contaminated areas, circulating contaminated food, and downplaying the accident to foreign countries.

Igor Kostin, who flew over Chernobyl on the night of the accident, was the first to photograph the damaged reactor in 1986. Since then, he has returned to the scene again and again, documenting the events and the standstill. In the issue, he talks about his Chernobyl photos.

The full table of contents of Osteuropa 4/2006.

Multitudes 24 (2006)

Environmentalism relies on a nature-culture dualism and defines human beings as external to nature, hence arguing that human activities are the cause of damage to the environment, writes Multitudes editor Emmanuel Videcoq, self-proclaimed “militant in ecological politics”. This goes hand in hand with a radical critique of economic rationality, he says, according to which the possibility of a political ecology emerges. Because current environmental projects are – for various reasons – limited in impact, Videcoq calls for a second era of political ecology.

Accordingly, Multitudes‘s new issue is entitled “Ecopolitics Now!”. Articles in the print issue are complemented with just as many online articles to form a range of questions around the need for a renewal of the reflection on ecology and of political practices.

In an interview, Romanian-Parisian social psychologist Serge Moscovici makes clear what is at stake: the creation of a new way of life. Moscovici spearheaded a new environmental sensibility that led him to put nature back on the political agenda.

Jorge Riechmann, in “Biomimesis: Elements for an industrial ecology” argues for a reintegration of the technosphere into the biosphere: “The study of the latter can be a source of ideas for changes that should be made in the former.” And Isabelle Stengers, Belgian philosopher of science, proclaims the beginning of a culture of non-symmetry. “Nature”, she writes, “has no innate reason to care about us; rather, we must care about her.”

Also to look out for: a dossier on the filmmaker and psychologist Fernand Deligny, “the pedagogue following the footsteps of autistic patients”; an interview with Jacques Robin and Felix Guattari about the information revolution, published for the first time; and a piece by poet, activist, and performer John Giorno, entitled “Welcoming the flowers”, including an interpretative essay by Bernard Heidsieck.

The full table of contents of Multitudes 24 (2006).

Reset 94 (2006)

“Finally we have reached the Cape of Good Hope,” writes Reset editor Giancarlo Bosetti in an issue published before the Italian elections last weekend. These words may seem extremely optimistic in light of the current chaos, but Bosetti has hope “not because of the goodness of one person, but simply because of the passing of time, which, in a democracy, guarantees the periodical occasions to liberate oneself from one government and inaugurate another.”

Although the results are still uncertain, Reset sees Romano Prodi’s centre-left Unione as relief “above all from a feeling of boredom caused by years of a government inspired by a raging, repetitive conflict degraded by suspicions and personal interests beyond any limit of decency.”

Political economist Paolo Onofri finds the two main challenges that a centre-left coalition would face if elected to be globalization and an aging population. He suggests pursuing three objectives: increasing the rate of economic growth by relieving the tensions of resource distribution; redressing, at least partially, the effects of the major inequalities that have been created in recent years, and that were also aggravated by the way in which the transition from the lira to the euro was dealt with; and resuming the course towards reducing the public deficit and the ratio of public debt to GDP.

In a look at the psychological side of elections, linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff talks about his theory of the Left as “nurturing mother” and the Right as “strict father”. He finds that this is the only way to understand the liberal combination of environmentalism, feminism, and support of social programmes and progressive taxation. The Right’s vocabulary consists of words like “character”, “discipline”, “authority”, “competition”, and “hard work”, whereas the Left prefers words like “help”, “human dignity”, “freedom of expression”, and “social responsibility”. Lakoff credits the recent rise of conservative governments to their awareness of the psychological effect of their expressions.

In response to this, Domenico Parisi recommends the creation of a think tank for the Italian Left. By using new technology to disseminate information about policies, it would create a public better able to understand how policies affect them. Another area lacking analysis is the complicated nature of present oppositions. In the past, says Parisi, the main conflicts were between different social classes or political parties, but now they are within them.

The full table of contents of Reset 94 (2006).

Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) 4/2006

The Nordic edition of Le Monde diplomatique continues its focus on cosmopolitics. In the April issue, Danish philosopher Mikkel Thorup describes political cosmopolitanism as one of the most ambitious attempts at comprehending the global system – and at changing it:

“Questions concerning world citizenship, dual citizenship, and multiple loyalties make their presence felt as it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate between inner and outer, foreign and domestic politics, citizen and foreigner, friend and foe”, writes Thorup. “Cosmopolitanism in general and political cosmopolitanism in particular do not say that these conceptions are becoming completely meaningless, rather that they are becoming ever more ambiguous, uncertain, volatile, the subject of constant negotiation. Our political institutions, practices, and imaginations have their work cut out for them. Cultural cosmopolitanism attempts to create the relational infrastructure, and political cosmopolitanism the institutional infrastructure, that should make it possible to enter the age of cosmopolitanism.”

In an accompanying interview, Mikkel Thorup talks to David Held, one of the leading cosmopolitical theorists. “We are forced to become cosmopolitans”, says Held, “even if it will take a few generations to form a truly cosmopolitan culture.” In an enthusiastic yet critical conversation, he defends cosmopolitics against the accusation of being an elitist project, prasises the European Union as “a fantastic innovation”, and argues for Turkey’s accession to the EU.

Also of interest: Slavoj Zizek and editor Truls Lie on Slobodan Milosevic; Norwegian philosopher Espen Hammer on Arne Næss, Theodor W. Adorno and “deep ecology”; and French “diplo” editor-in-chief Maurice Lemoine reporting from Columbia, where President Alvaro Uribe’s government is up for (re-)election in May.

The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) 4/2006.

Kulturos barai 3/2006

Opening the latest issue of Kulturos barai, Vytautas Kavolis writes on “Modernization, globality, and nationalism as cultural goals”. Cultural modernization, he argues, can be understood as a stratified historical process including anti-modernist reactions and postmodern resonances. The globalization of humanity is a communicative structure in which particular and universal inform one another; contemporary nationalism, he writes, will become moderate once it is constrained by this system.

Turning to aesthetics, philosopher and poet Stephen Schroeder examines literary and philosophical approaches to the unspeakable. Included in his focus are religious suffering in Kierkegaard; the legacy of Auschwitz in Adorno; the social experience of women in Virginia Woolf; and the history of American slavery in Toni Morrison. About contemporary unspeakables, Schroeder has the following to say: “The only way to speak of the whole is to learn to say nothing – not to stop at the obvious, the incompetence of bureaucrats, the brutality of dictators, the spin of politicians, but to shake the system to its core, to say no to the process as well as the products it produces.”

Elsewhere in the issue: Arunas Spraunius discusses the “entropy of content” in contemporary fiction. Are “stories about stories” the symptoms of a genuine end-point in narrative form, or are we being duped by authors-cum-marketers? And reviewing the newly-opened Kumu museum in Tallinn, Ruta Miksioniene is impressed not only by the range of exhibits, which include ancient and Soviet art, but also by the democratic feel of the space.

The full table of contents of Kulturos barai 3/2006.

Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais 73 (2005)

Many might be surprised to learn that Marcel Mauss, well known as an anthropologist and ethnologist, has also made relevant contributions to sociology, writes Paulo Henrique Martins in the latest Revista Crítica, the Portuguese journal for social sciences. The sociologist from the University of Pernambuco (Brazil) records that Mauss was one of the leading figures, along with Durkheim, behind the journal Année Sociologique, as well as a major systematizer of the theory of the gift. Deduced from research into modes of exchange among archaic societies, the theory is being recovered for reflection on the foundations of solidarity and alliance in contemporary societies. Mauss’s conclusion that the value of things cannot exceed the value of relationship is one of his central contributions to sociology, says Martins.

Portuguese literatures and especially Afro-Luso-Brazilian literary productions are the focus of an article by literary scholar Laura Cavalcanta Padilha from the University of Fluminense (Brazil). She looks into the expansion of the Portuguese language and discusses the problematics of lusism and lusophony in connection with identifications among and differences between the speakers of the intercontinental language.

Also to look out for: migration expert and economist Maria Ioannis Baganha from the University of Coimbra analyzes the way in which the various governments since Portugal’s accession to the European community have regulated immigration. Sociologist Jacob Carlos Lima from the University of São Carlos analyzes the new industrialization of the Brazilian Northeast. And economist and historian João Carlos Graça asks, what is the New Economic Sociology – a theory that has enjoyed an unstable theoretical status for a while, placed somewhere between economics and sociology.

The full table of contents of Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais 74 (2005).

Magyar Lettre Internationale 60 (2006)

To mark its 60th issue, Magyar Lettre Internationale assembles the “Best of Lettre” – the cream of prose fiction published in the magazine until now. Introducing the section is the inaugural speech given by Carlos Fuentes at the Fifth International Literature Festival in Berlin in September 2005. The novel, he argues, derives its contemporary relevance from the tradition of the form; the novel’s endurance is thanks to its democratic and anti-dogmatic spirit:

“When Don Quixote enters the printing shop in Barcelona and discovers that what is being printed is his own book […] we are suddenly plunged into a truly new world of readers, of readings available to all and not only to a small circle of power, religious, political, or social. By multiplying both authorship and readership, the novel, from the times of Cervantes to our own, became a democratic vehicle, a space of choice, of alternate interpretations of the self, of the world […] Religion is dogmatic. Politics is ideological. Reason must be logical. But literature has the privilege of being equivocal.”

The speech by Fuentes introduces prose by Hungarian and international authors including Péter Esterházy, with an extract from his forthcoming book on life and football; György Konrád, with an essay on the everyday duties and activities of the writer; Jorge Semprún and Bernardo Atxaga, both with excerpts from published novels; and László Márton, László Darvasi, and Lajos Parti Nagy, with excerpts from works in progress.

From the established to the up-and-coming: extracts from novels by the fourteen authors participating in the newly-launched European First Novel Festival, which will run alongside the Budapest International Book Festival on 21-23 April.

The full table of contents of Magyar Lettre Internationale 60 (2006).

Mehr Licht! 26 (2006)

In Albanian literary magazine Mehr Licht!, Ismail Kadare finds no room for Don Quixote in twentieth-century politics. “There is no political force today”, says Kadare, “that has not accused its opponent of being Don Quixote.” Be it the Communists accusing Western leaders, or vice versa, “Don Quixote appears lost in all cases, because in all cases, the politicians that use his name are not on his level and lack even a fraction of his nobility.”

While the “exterior” world has glorified the images of some literary heroes, such as Prometheus, Don Quixote has only been degraded. “I believe that Don Quixote is still an unexplained character. It is necessary to make an attempt, a great attempt by all, to put him in the place that he belongs. Don Quixote cannot be used in political discussions. The real world history, the one that interests literature and to which Don Quixote belongs, is the inner history. Passing from one world to the other, as in the case of Don Quixote, may have dramatic consequences.” Mehr Licht! also dedicates a dossier to the 400th anniversary of Don Quixote, including articles by Edward C. Riley, Milan Kundera, and Alfred Uçi.

Focusing on Albanian poetry of the past, Koçi and Edion Petriti look at the work of Ndre Mjeda (1866-1937). They write about the euphonic, metric, and rhyme aspects of his sonnets, as well as analyzing his lesser-known poems, including “Meyerling”, on the suicide of Archduke Rudolf, the son of Hapsburg Emperor Franz Josef.

Also to look out for: prose and poetry by Albanian and foreign authors and a section dedicated to the creativity of Jean Paul Sartre.

The full table of contents of Mehr Licht! 26 (2006).

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Published 11 April 2006

Original in English
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