"Electing a monarch"

17 April 2007
Only in en
Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) prepares for the French presidential elections; Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) supports Norway's stance on Hamas; Arena confronts male honour and female subservience; dérive places an ear to the pavement; Transit seeks solutions for the struggling welfare state; Esprit rides the religious wave; Merkur takes a wry look at the game of loyalties; Helicon leaps artistically into the unknown; Revolver Revue follows Jirí Weil to Alsace; and Zeszyty Literackie brings Sandor Marai to Poland.

Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 4/2007

“France is electing its monarch”, announces the latest issue of Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin). When the first round of the French elections takes place on 22 April, it will be the rare exception in Europe that a head of state with such powers is elected directly. But critique of the institutions of the Fifth Republic is growing in France. The constitution designed by General de Gaulle combines the shortcomings of the presidential as well as the parliamentary system, writes André Bellon, who from 1981 to 1993 was MEP for the Socialists. It is time, he thinks, to call in a constituent national assembly.

In a commentary on the presidential elections, François Brune scrutinizes the public performance of the candidates and finds it over-emotional. Bernard Cassen, former president of Attac, examines Sarkozy’s and Royal’s foreign policy programmes and declarations and observes: a lot of talk but nothing much said.

Guernica: In the middle of the Spanish Civil War, on 26 April 1937, between 4:15 pm and 7:30 pm, the town of Guernica was levelled completely. For the first time in history a combat unit had tried to destroy a whole settlement, including its civilian population, from the air. Four hundred out of 500 houses burned down; within hours more than 1000 of the 6000 inhabitants died. But, asks historian Lionel Richard, would anybody remember this if Pablo Picasso had not devoted a masterpiece to the victims and shown it at the 1937 World Fair in Paris?

The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 4/2007.

Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) 4/2007

Norway was the first country to end its boycott of Hamas, establishing normal economic and political relations with the Palestinian Authority and the newly formed government. This is an important step towards a working peace strategy, writes Mark B. Taylor, director of the Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies in Oslo, in the April issue of the Norwegian edition of Le Monde diplomatique.

Sanctions, writes Taylor, have helped Hamas to consolidate its position; and Hamas is not going away. However, it is not the strongest player in the field and, because it is politically pragmatic, Hamas is capable of compromise. “To continue to marginalize Hamas is a poor substitute for a peace strategy and will lead directly to further bloodshed, both Palestinian and Israeli”, writes Taylor. He goes on to quote Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre’s argument for a political solution: “There must be a diplomatic process with rights and obligations for every conflict. To halt violent extremism, we must involve all parties, including non-state actors, in dialogue and responsible engagement. Failing to do so would leave the initiative to extremists and to those who refuse compromise. Groups cannot be eradicated by military force or eliminated by decree.”

Baudrillard in memoriam: In a cluster of articles on Jean Baudrillard, who died earlier this year, editor Truls Lie portrays “the last of the great French philosophers”. Lie’s article also contains excerpts from a previously unpublished interview with Baudrillard conducted during his visit to Oslo in 2000. Baudrillard on the label “postmodernist”: “I have nothing to do with it. I don¹t know who came up with this term […] I am a nihilist, not a postmodernist.” And on his own death: “I would say that it remains an issue very much connected to disappearing. There has to be an art of becoming visible as well as an art of disappearing […]. If it’s a complete accident, it’s a negative death.”

The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) 4/2007.

Arena 2/2007

In one of the best articles written recently on multiculturalism and so-called honour killings, journalist Nisha Besara tells the story of tens of thousands of girls and young women in Sweden who live their lives under the strict control of fathers, brothers, and husbands. She used to be one of them. Besara sets out by criticizing those who use the marginal phenomenon of honour killings to brand entire cultural communities. But her critique of those who try to make light of it on the basis of cultural relativist views is just as harsh: “Oppression is universal, whether exercised by a group or an individual.”

A new dawn for Africa? The African Union celebrates its fifth anniversary. On the agenda for the upcoming AU summit in Ghana in July is a discussion about the road leading up to the USA – the United States of Africa. But assessments of the AU’s past performance and future potential diverge. Is it an anti-colonial dream project ready to politicize the world, or rather a club for dictators and a recipe for economic disaster?

In its statutes, the AU talks about strengthening and defending the human rights of the African people, protecting democratic institutions, and guaranteeing the rule of law. Words are big but reality is shaky, says the South Africa-based Zimbabwean journalist Admire Muziro in a themed section on the AU. The way the AU has handled, or rather failed to handle, Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe makes clear that the Union is a toothless tiger; without radical reforms, it will remain irrelevant to the African people whose interests it is supposed to protect. A new dawn for Africa? Muziro has his doubts.

Also to look out for: The threat of invasion is killing the democratic opposition in Iran. Shahram Khosravi thinks of his parents and of all activists who are now being sidelined. Katrine Kielos explains why liberal rights theory cannot cope with rape and Maria Ringborg interviews three former rape victims. And editor Håkan A. Bengtsson claims that the climate crisis is the crisis of capitalism: the Left needs to make the market more versatile and climate-friendly.

The full table of contents of Arena 2/2007.

dérive 27 (2007)

The “spatial turn” we know, but the “aural turn”? dérive responds to a growing interest in the acoustic environment in urbanism, architecture, and city planning. Guest editor Peter Payer describes how background noise in the European city reached new levels in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Accompanying the urban din caused by urbanization, industrialization, and technological advance was a new breed of sensitive citizen – the neurasthenic – and a new civic duty to keep the peace.

In turn-of-the-century Vienna, “loud noises such as the irritating crack of whips, shouting, ringing, music-making, and hooting were gradually restricted and eventually prohibited, the behaviour in public space regulated and disciplined, until large parts of the city presented themselves as acoustically and socially cleansed. A procedure that, among other things, led to the almost total disappearance of the once countless street vendors and buskers.”

If the globe is an acoustic space, then globalization is an audible process, writes Swiss sociologist Hans-Peter Meier-Dallach. In Zurich, he listens for the acoustic equivalent of Michael Friedman’s theory that the world is “flat”, in other words, that globalization levels local differences (for Friedman a positive development):

The noises emitted by work and activities associated with money have become quiet, at times eerily silent. The jangling of coins became a whooshing or a hissing, until with virtual media it fell silent entirely. One senses this in the perimeters of banks, even before the opening of the automatic glass doors. Finance loves silence. In Zurich it is omnipresent […] Zurich is and remains a silent city.

Also in this issue: Six visually impaired people from Vienna talk about their perception of the city (on a supplementary CD); Philipp Rode theorizes “negative space in post-Socialist Sofia”; and Johannes Novy assesses the rehabilitation of Robert Moses, New York’s most influential and controversial city planner.

The full table of contents of dérive 27 (2007).

Transit 32 (2006/2007)

Addressing the challenge that demographic aging poses to the welfare state, Rainer Münz depicts the future of “Old Europe” in Transit. With rising life expectancy, stagnating working-age populations, and low birth rates, Europe faces a challenge in the next fifty years that it has never known before: “We are on the threshold of a society in which for the first time there will be more old than young.”

What consequences will this have on the economy? A shortage of local workers; a lack of skilled workers (because qualified workers will retire without passing on their knowledge to the next generation and because an older workforce is less likely to innovate); shifts in sectoral demands (e.g. from nappies and schools to reading glasses and old people’s homes); and more conservative investment behaviour, writes Münz.

Münz’s solutions to this dreary forecast include raising the age of retirement. This, however, “presupposes a functioning labour market for older potential employees. In large parts of Europe nothing of the kind exists as yet. Without such a labour market for older men and women, raising the retirement age will merely mean a shift in funding problems from pension insurance to unemployment insurance.”

Also to look out for: Charles Hirschman surveys the history of immigration in America in an attempt to understand the current attitudes and the future. “While it is not possible to predict the role of immigration in America’s future, it is instructive to study the past. The current debates and hostility to immigrants echo throughout American history. What is most surprising is that almost all popular fears about immigration and even the judgements of ‘experts’ about the negative impact of immigrants have been proven false by history.”

The full table of contents of Transit 32 (2006/2007).

Esprit 3-4/2007

In a bulging double issue on “Religous ebullience around the world”, Esprit manages to cover most of the controversial issues currently occupying public and scholary debate – and a few more. Topics range from “The West as an opportunity for Buddhism” and the Orthodox faith as “Europe’s spare lung”, to secularization, atheism, paganism, and Pentecostalism.

Islam – in Europe and in the world – is, not surprisingly, the focus of many of the contributions. In a debate with Michel Marian – about the difficult “acclimatization” of Islam – Olivier Roy describes the development of a Western Islam as the best chance for a reformed and “modernized” Islam in general. In turn, philosopher Abdennour Bidar asserts that the responsibility of a self-avowed “Muslim” scholar is to help Islam to break out of its ritualistic and dogmatic matrix.

Yet, as Blandine Chelini-Pont points out, in 2050, the religion with more believers than any other in the world is not going to be Islam but Christianity. Within the latter, however, the Roman Catholic Church will weaken and the Evangelical and Pentecostal constellations will dominate.

The challenge facing the EU, as described by Bérengère Massignon, is to handle the relationship between confessional faiths and the unified body that it is striving to create. Being inherently pluralistic and removed from historical legacies, it is incumbent upon the EU to develop a fresh form of secularism.

Heiner Bielefeldt questions religious freedom as an ultimate criterion for deciding on the legitimacy of public expressions of faith. More and more cases being brought to court revolve around such issues, while at the same time the law resorts to the principle of religious freedom in order to both allow and restrict expressions of faith. However, it does so to the detriment of other criteria such as the legacies of culture and tradition.

When the discussion about religion and society hit the public sphere a few years ago, many seemed to be taken by surprise. But this discussion has obviously come to stay, and for anyone who wants to take part in it, this issue of Esprit will remain a reference for a long time to come.

The full table of contents of Esprit 3-4/2007.

Merkur 4/2007

Revision or betrayal? In Merkur, Michael Rutschky takes a wry look at how loyalties affect the life and behaviour of a former 68er and his family. Patriotism – that new-found German passion – causes his protagonist, referred to simply as “Father”, no sleepless nights. “The fact that Klinsi, Poldi, Schweini move you and all the other Germans to tears”, he teases his wife during last year’s World Cup, “by no means obliges me to any kind of proof of loyalty.”

Soul-searching is induced, however, by a shift of party loyalty, namely a switch from the Social Democrats to… the Christian Democratic Union. Father is almost disappointed that “the consequences of this apostasy were just as unspectacular as those provoked by his demonstrative disinterest in the World Cup. […] The football-hater was no more excluded by his nation than the floating voter by his political-ideological community. Orthodoxy is out.”

Aunt Fritzi doesn’t share his scruples. In her old age, she has become a loyal citizen of the GDR post festum. Aunt Fritzi – who, absurdly, sympathizes with Al Qaeda – now refuses to buy the “Western” products she used to insist her family bring her when they visited from the West. Meanwhile, all that remains of Father’s loyalty to his former Marxist milieu is to read news about the Linkspartei (a far-Left party) “without enthusiasm, without anger, with a kind of stunned fascination”.

Also to look out for: Nick Cohen on Washington’s useful idiots; Matthias Küntzel on the Iran hostage crisis of 1979; and Hubert Markl on “learning to die”.

The full table of contents of Merkur 4/2007.

Helicon 76 (2007)

Revolutionaries, saints, lunatics, and lovers – the new issue of Israeli poetry journal Helicon, entitled “Across”, explores broken boundaries and identities in and through art.

Nakamura Fumiaki discusses the radicalism of Butoh, the modern Japanese dance form. Butoh’s leading performer Tatsumi Hijikata is inspired by Mishima, Artaud, and de Sade and is concerned with the transmutation of the body:

“Hijikata said: do not jump upwards. Try to jump downwards, to the abyss. The body that falls into the abyss is before the door of the body as Other. Because we lose control of self-consciousness, we feel the fear of bottomless existence. Then we know what it is about the ‘body’ that doesn’t belong to ‘will’, to the ‘ego’. We see the body, the body is the Other.”

Also in the issue: Seamus Heaney on crossing the barriers of culture, geography, and religion; curator Meir Aharonson on art as a way of crossing borders; and poetry by Roni Somek, Sharon As, Hedva Harkavi, Amir Or, Natali Brown, Noam Wohl, Oded Pelod, and Miron Azikson.

The full table of contents of Helicon 76 (2007).

Revolver Revue 66 (2007)

Jirí Weil, a Jewish Czech author who survived the Holocaust by staging his own death, appears in Revolver Revue with his short story “Strasbourg Cathedral”. He describes the Alsatian town of Ribeauville on the eve of WWII: “A neatly dressed waitress in a white apron entered the dining room… ‘I have no lunch and no wine for you’, she said strenuously in accented French. ‘Why didn’t those sewer rats feed you?'” Contemporary author Alena Wagnerová followed Jirí Weil’s footsteps and describes her journey in “What would a Czech do in Alsace?”, providing food for thought about the relationship between reality and fiction.

Ivo Vodsed’álek, winner of the Revolver Revue Award 2006, features in the issue with short prose sketches. In “Meeting and missing” he describes the paranoid relationship between Louis Ferdinand Céline and Roger Vailland. “In his trilogy, Céline mentions several times how Roger Vailland always regretted not having killed Céline. […] Vailland himself, in his novel Drôle de jeu, proves that Céline’s concerns were justified: ‘Céline lives above us. Any time there is a noise in my place, he thinks we are going to kill him. Are we? Why don’t we kill him indeed?'”

Also to look out for: Petr Vanous on Neo Rauch, contemporary German art star, complemented by reproductions of his paintings; the correspondence of Friedrich Nietzsche selected by Ivan Dubsky and translated by Vera Koubová; and Karel Haloun’s reflections on a project by Tomás Brousil on “Death notices”.

The full table of contents of Revolver Revue 66 (2007).

Zeszyty Literackie 96 (2006)

Novelist, short story and memoir writer, poet, journalist, and playwright: the Polish literary journal Zeszyty Literackie devotes an issue to Hungarian author Sandor Marai. Largely forgotten outside Hungary after WWII, he was “rediscovered” in the 1990s and is now considered to belong to the literary canon of the twentieth century.

Marai was born in Kassa (Koszyce) in 1900, a child of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He moved to Berlin at the age of 19 and later to Frankfurt to write for the Frankfurter Zeitung, travelling to Paris and elsewhere in his early years before settling in Budapest in 1928. His feeling of rootedness was strong. He always looked over his shoulder at the past, constantly reminding the reader that the social fabric is fragile: “This is the Hungarian middle class whose way of life I was born into, observed, came to know, and scrutinized in all its features to the very roots, and now I see the whole disintegrating. Perhaps this is my life’s, my writing’s sole duty: to delineate the course of this disintegration.” Marai committed suicide in exile in San Diego in his 89th year.

The issue contains a selection of articles by Marai: “The memoir of Kassa”, “Sister”, “Journal from 1948”, “Goodbye”, and – as the first to review Kafka – his “Journal of Reading. Three Novels by Franz Kafka”. These are complemented by a series of essays and articles on Marai by Imre Kertesz, Tomasz Mann, Andrzej Stasiuk, Mariusz Wilk, and others. J.M. Coetzee writes that it might be the flow in Marai’s prose that makes it so bleak. “In Embers nothing much happens. […] The novella is really a vehicle for Henrik to ponder aloud the mutations of jealousy and to speak his thoughts on life; it reads like a sometimes clumsy description of a stage play.”

Also to look out for: “Under water”, an essay by Adam Zagajewski on Miquel Barcello’s art; and a section on Stanislaw Baranczak, co-founder of Zeszyty Literackie in Paris in 1983 and noted Polish poet, translator, and critic.

The full table of contents of Zeszyty Literackie 96 (2006).

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Published 17 April 2007

Original in English
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