Comparing cultural capital(s)

10 February 2009
Only in en
Kulturos barai watches Linz turn from smalltown to cultural metropolis; Blätter calls for a collective European politics of memory; Osteuropa sees the dawn of Great Russia; Merkur doubts the benefit of hindsight; Ny Tid follows a reluctant EU president; Varlik talks to Turkish poets about their support for the Palestinians; Springerin asks if there is art without a market; Akadeemia disapproves of hedonistic students; and Transit lights the way in climate politics.

Kulturos barai 1/2009

On New Year’s Eve, Vilnius in Lithuania and Linz in Austria rang in 2009 as European Capitals of Culture. Brilliant firework displays in both cities could not hide the fact that while the organizers in Linz have a good relationship with both private and public sponsors, their Lithuanian counterparts are facing substantial budget cuts from the state. Moreover, one of the main private sponsors, the airline FlyLAL, has filed for bankruptcy. In solidarity with his colleagues in Vilnius, Martin Heller, the artistic director in Linz, recently criticized the budget cuts. The amount allocated is not befitting of a European Capital of Culture, he told the weekly Baltic Times.

In Kulturos barai, Lithuanian art historian Rasa Gecaite confesses that she was a bit nervous about spending the first week of the year in Linz and not in her hometown Vilnius. Perhaps it could have been seen as “unpatriotic”. But in the end she was more than happy. She is enthusiastic about everything she saw, from the newly built Ars Electronica Center to the “intriguing” exhibition “The Führer’s Capital of Culture” (a critical view on another moment in history when Linz was a focal point of European cultural politics, envisioned by Adolf Hitler to be the centre of his Nazi “Reich”).

“I arrived in a small and quiet provincial town and left a world metropolis of culture”, raves Gecaite, noting that the sizeable budget available to the organizers has been spent on much more than fireworks. “This is a rational investment in culture and science, an investment that will benefit everyone in Linz and Austria.”

“Linz has already succeeded”, she concludes. “What about Vilnius?”

Also: Kestutis Sapoka on the exhibition, “The Vilnius Art Scene After 2000” that opened in the Latvian capital Riga in December. Though curated by a woman, Sapoka describes it as being “dominated by the male gaze”.

The full table of contents of Kulturos barai 1/2009

Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 2/2009

The debate about the “correct” interpretation of history divides the European Union. In Blätter, Claus Leggewie considers how the Europeans, “this biggest not-yet-people of the world”, could be able to create a common memory and thus a collective historic consciousness.

In lieu of a recent heroic past, present day Europe can only remember the great catastrophes of the twentieth century. In order to avoid a “re-nationalization of memory”, these catastrophes will have to be considered collectively. Leggewie discusses differing perspectives and experiences of the Holocaust and Soviet communism; displacement; the Armenian question; (post-)colonialism; and present day migration. In the process he shows how Europe’s collective memory is as diverse as its nations and cultures, shared and divided at the same time.

“Whoever wishes to give European society a collective identity will have to value the debate on and recognition of the contested memories as highly as treaties, monetary union and open borders.”

Leggewie is optimistic that it is possible, via the European route, to “collectively remember the crimes of previous generations and thus to learn lessons relevant to contemporary European democracies.”

The heroic entrepreneur: Robert Misik shows how the collapse of neoliberal ideology also destroyed Schumpeter’s ideal of the heroic entrepreneur. To finally overcome market liberalism, however, a fundamental critique of selfishness is needed.

The full table of contents of Blätter 2/2009

Osteuropa 1/2009

“Any coming to terms with historical tragedies in collective consciousness is based on the attribution of the roles of good and evil and the identification with either”, writes Arseni Roginski, chairperson of Memorial, in Osteuropa.

He analyses the memory of Stalinism in present day Russia as fragmented. The perpetrators and victims of Stalinist terror can hardly be separated, today’s executioner might be tomorrow’s victim: “When remembering the terror it is difficult to ascribe the leading roles; we cannot distinguish between ‘us’ and ‘them’. This impossibility to single out the evil is the most important obstacle for the formation of a functioning memory of the terror. That way, the traumatic character of memory is deepened, while being relegated to the fringes of a wider historical memory.”

As contemporary witnesses disappear, collective memory in Russia is altering. Not the hardships of war, but the victory is being remembered; the Stalinist terror is being forgotten and Stalin is coming to be seen as the one who defeated the essence of evil – and who can therefore not be evil himself. Thus remembrance focuses on the victims, who “appear as victims of a force of nature or any other catastrophe, whose origin and meaning remains inaccessible to collective consciousness”.

The official politics of history have been encouraging this interpretation since the 1990s, evoking the image of “Great Russia”, of which Stalinism slowly and subliminally is becoming a part.

Putin’s leadership sensed this willingness towards a new reconstruction of the past and utilized it to the full extent. This does not mean that the government aimed at rehabilitating Stalin. It was merely a question of supplying the idea of a Great Country whose greatness outlives the ages and which emerges honourably from all ordeals.

Also: Jörg Baberowski and Ulrich Schmied on Karl Schlögel‘s new book Terror and dream. Moscow 1937; Nawojka Cieslinska-Lobkowicz on “looted art”, restitution and the eastern European Jews; and Alexander J. Motyl on Putinism as a fascistoid system.

The full table of contents of Osteuropa 1/2009

Merkur 2/2009

In Merkur, Michael Rutschky takes the media to task for its dependence on prognoses and prophecies. “Whoever recognizes the future gains power over the present.” The future absolves the media of the task of making the distinction between what, according Niklas Luhmann, is the criteria for news reporting: information or no information, newsworthy or not newsworthy. Hindsight, writes Rutschky, is an especially effective technique for imbuing the present and the past with the future, one for which the financial crisis has provided ample opportunity:

Because, thundered editorials and readers’ letters in unison, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Bush Sr. and Jr. betrayed and sold out social-political ideals for all the world to see, the meltdown of the US economy has led not only to a dangerous economic crisis, but also to a dangerous identity and cultural crisis. Yet why, newspaper readers must be asking, did Reagan and his successors not read the editorials and readers’ letters of Autumn 2008 in time?

Comparing the Holocaust and Gulag: Ulrich Schacht reads Terrence Des Pres’, The Survivor. An Anatomy of Life in Death Camps (1976). The recent German publication of the book, which places the testimonies of survivors of the Nazi death camps alongside those of the Gulag, is significant because, argues Schacht, it breaks with a consensus in Germany forbidding a comparison of the two. Similarities between the Vernichtungslager and the Gulag emphasized by Des Pres include, most strikingly, the experience that in order to survive, one had to bear in one way or another the moral damage that came with “compromising with the murderers”.

The Edward Said cult: Siegfried Kohlhammer looks at how critics of Edward Said’s Orientalism (Robert Irwin, Daniel Martin Varisco and Ibn Warraq) accuse him of factual and methodological errors and omission of counter-evidence. “Orientalism is the basis of an academic cult, the holy text of one of the many communities that have arisen in the humanities in the last fifty years or so, which with their respective founding theories have created and justified their own autistic worlds, instead of describing and explaining the real world.”

Also: Peter Furth on Panajotis Kondylis’ definition of mass democracy as a new social form that includes capitalism without the bourgeoisie and the proletariat – a caricature of the communist ideal of the classless society.

The full table of contents of Merkur 2/2009

Ny Tid 5/2009

Helena Chvojková records 1 January 2009 – the first day of the Czech EU presidency – in her diary. One minute after midnight: The sky is festooned with phosphorous stars. “All political fights have been called off. The goal has been set: not to discredit ourselves in the eyes of Europe and the world, and to show that a small nation is capable of leading the continent.”

Around lunch time: President Václav Klaus gives his traditional New Year’s address, carefully “avoiding his favourite themes: Euroscepticism and climate change scepticism”. But he refuses to join the gala dinner celebrating the EU presidency, and declines to raise the EU flag over Prague Castle. “The flag turned up later though”, notes Chvojková. “But just for one night, projected onto the walls of the castle by Greenpeace activists.”

In the evening: more fireworks are launched from the Letná hill. Not far away, on the same plinth on which the statue of Stalin used to stand, now wrapped in the EU flag, a huge pendulum beats the time for the presidency. “Next day, the stars were cut out of the flag. A few days later the pendulum stopped. Cause unknown.”

More about Ny Tid

Varlik 2/2009

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan knew what he was doing when he stormed off stage during a debate over the war in Gaza with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “You know very well how to kill”, Erdogan said. It is too early to estimate what the outburst will cost Turkey in terms of its relations with Jerusalem, Brussels and Washington, but one thing is certain: at home Erdogan has been greeted as a hero.

In Turkey, support for the Palestinians has a long tradition. Istanbul-based Varlik dedicates much of its February issue to the problems in the Middle East. Alongside translated articles by Jennifer Loewenstein, Joseph Massad and Norman Finkelstein (all heavily criticizing the Israeli policy), Turkish author Sezai Sarioglu pleads for a “poetic perspective” on the conflict. The historical tragedies of the Palestinians and the Israelis are similar, but no one acknowledges the other’s “pain, language, existence”, writes Sarioglu, quoting the poet Cemal Süreya: “Why in my land / are heroes / always cross? / Why are those / written in geography / and not in history / important? […] And why / does nobody / look out the window?”

Varlik asked a wide selection of Turkish poets why so many of them and their predecessors have made “the Palestinian resistance a cause of their own”. One of the respondants, Adnan Özer, says that he is too human – and too much of a writer – to write poetry about this tragedy: “Literary talent stops at certain ethical limits. It must; otherwise, the borders of humanity will be trespassed. This is what Adorno had in mind when he said that there can be no poetry after Auschwitz. This applies to those who are aware of their ability to be human. Poetic power and talent cannot be made sacred.”

Also: Aamir Mufti, professor of comparative literature at the UCLA, criticizes Pascale Casanova’s account of world literature (see the last Eurozine Review). What paved the way for non-European literatures and now structures global literary relations was not the decolonization that took place in the twentieth century, but rather the orientalist “philological revolution” that preceded it.

The full table of contents of Varlik 2/2009

Springerin 1/2009

The latest issue of Springerin, entitled “Art on Demand”, focuses on the various structures of interest behind today’s universal validation of art. The first thing Alessandro Ludovico asks in his article “Art with (or without) the market” is: “In the twenty-first century, is there any art without a market? Is there any artistic expression that we truly can take as contemporary and which at the same time has no commodity form?”

Even the avant-garde of the early twentieth century, with its critical approach to the market, has today become historicized and turned – by the market – into a commodity. This raises the question whether the global financial crisis will have an impact on the superstars of art and the art market. Ludovico sees artists as those who can playfully deal with the new situation, referring to an exhibition curated by Piroschka Dossi and Franziska Nori entitled “Art, price and value. Contemporary art and the market”.

Uncollectable art? Julia Gwendolyn Schneider looks Down Under and finds interesting things. To counteract the various subjective art rankings, a group of Australian artists began carrying out guerrilla actions and ended up in the NUCA! (Network of UnCollectable Artists), where works of art are classified according to different, yet also subjective criteria: “Anonymous works are preferred to those with an artist’s name; political ones to non-political ones; those made for love to those made for money; ephemeral ones to eternal ones, etc.”. Three thousand collecting cards were produced, showing “Australia’s 50 most Un-Collectable Artists”. They were distributed at various arts festivals; those who wanted to have all 50 had to exchange cards with others – money was no longer a guarantee for getting what one wanted. As the fans developed an obsessive collectors’ urge, the paradox was proved: “The ‘less collectable’ something is, the more it becomes ‘collectable’.”

Also: Beti Zerovc on artists’ and curators’ internalization and functionalization of the credo: That there is art and that the artist is free.

The full table of contents of Springerin 1/2009

Akadeemia 1/2009

Drug use is a major problem among Estonian students according to national and international research. A recent study published in Akadeemia reveals that above all hedonism accounts for the dramatic increase in drug use. According to the authors, dramatic social changes and problems such as poverty, rejection by peers, the decreasing role of the family and the failure of schools to make up for absent parents are the reasons behind young people’s drug abuse.

Seventy-seven per cent of Estonian students reported having “acquaintances who had tried or used drugs” by the age of 12, while experimenting, or regular drug use increases rapidly among 14 to 15 year-olds. The study also sees teachers helpless and, in many cases, clueless in the face of the problem: half of teachers were found unable to distinguish between legal and illegal substances. A weak education policy has had a devastating effect on teaching, the study claims. It calls for inspection measures at schools, for support and training of parents, and for attention to be paid to initiatives by civil society.

Also: Diogenes Laertus’ biography of Socrates in an exclusive translation; and Mihhail Lotman’s study on Semiotics of fear and typology of Russian culture.

The full table of contents of Akadeemia 1/2009

Transit 36 (2008)

“The sheer dimension of the probable climate change and the potential for social and political conflict associated with it exceeds all that has previously been understood under environmental politics”, write the editors of Transit at the start of a new issue on climate politics and solidarity. “Climate change makes compartmentalized political thinking obsolete, given that its ecological consequences are inseparable from its economic, social and security consequences.”

A view corroborated by Wolfgang Sachs, who argues that the more that natural resources decline, the more urgent the question of their distribution becomes. “The health and survival needs of local communities stand opposed to the needs of far off consumers. […] To put it strongly, the poor are robbed of their resources so that the rich can live above their means.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights placed the rights of the citizen over those of states, notes Sachs. Now a new “legal revolution” is needed that puts the rights of the citizen over those of companies. “‘Do no harm’ is the minimum rule for good global neighbourliness; the core of transnational responsibility is not to increase cross-border wealth but to avoid cross-border damage.”

Consumer power? According to Oliver Geden, the current boom in eco-products overrates the power of the “environmentally aware” consumer. A fundamental change in “material flow management” will only be achieved via regulation that would impact upon broader sections of the public. The new EU law on energy-saving bulbs lights the way:

Not only will it phase out the conventional light bulb within a few years without having had to convince a single household of the advantages of alternative lighting systems. Also, because the law applies to a domestic market of 500 million consumers, it is likely to trigger off a leap in technological innovation that will consign to memory the energy saving bulbs currently available in the shops.

Also: Claus Leggewie and Harald Welzer argue that reaching eco-political targets requires more participation of citizens as active architects of their society; Anthony Giddens calls for the state to take a stronger role in preventing climate change; and Dirk Messner examines Europe’s role in international climate politics.

The full table of contents of Transit 36 (2008)

Published 10 February 2009

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


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