Erring on the side of secrecy

27 January 2010
Only in en
Index on Censorship covers another chapter of the fruitless cartoon debate; Glänta pays attention to nature; RiLi picks over the debris of aviation's dreams; Multitudes calls on cognitarians of all lands; L'Homme misses women's lib in the 68 anniversary; Edinburgh Review takes Kafka's Prague down from the top shelf; NZ says Russian readers never had it so good as during Glasnost; Osteuropa doubts there's anything left in the pan-Slavic idea; Mehr Licht appeals to philosophy's transformative potential; and Vikerkaar uncovers the ancient origins of the telenovela.

Index on Censorship 4/2009

Jytte Klausen talks to Index on Censorship about Yale University Press’ decision to publish her book on the Danish cartoon crisis (The Cartoons That Shook the World, 2009) without reproductions of the cartoons themselves.

“When we launched the book I always had an agreement with the press that we would never detach the illustrations from the context of the book”, Klausen reveals. “They would never be posted, they would never be removed from the book itself. And the book should not be a symbolic issue. So it’s highly ironic that by this act of censorship on the part of Yale, they have turned my book into another chapter of this fruitless debate – and have in fact made it a symbolic issue.”

“The whole point of the book is that the cartoon conflict has been misreported as an instance of where Muslims are confronted with bad pictures and spontaneous riots explode in anger. That is absolutely not the case. These images have been exploited by political groups in the pre-existing conflict over Islam. They have become not just a tool for extremism but also created a soap opera in the West about what Muslims ‘do’ with respect to pictures. Similarly, the cartoon episode also reinforced pre-existing prejudices about the things westerners do on the part of the broad Muslim middle class.”

US: Obama has improved government transparency in several areas, yet his administration continues to suppress material documenting the abuse of foreign prisoners in US custody and illegal surveillance practices, writes Melissa Goodman. “Where disclosure would promote the view that his administration, as opposed to the prior one, is acting openly, legally and wisely, Obama has erred on the side of disclosure. Where disclosure and openness would effectively fan the flames for holding Bush administration officials accountable for illegal activity, Obama has erred on the side of secrecy.”

Russia: Dmitry Muratov, editor of Novaya Gazeta, explains to Maria Eismont why investigations into the murder of staff journalists are getting nowhere and why he pulled his correspondent out of Chechnya: “What are we getting from Chechnya now that Estemirova is dead? Nothing at all. We have no idea of what is going on there. But we shan’t be risking lives. To me, Chechen independence isn’t worth a single hair on a colleague’s head.”

The full table of contents of Index on Censorship 4/2009

Glänta 4/2009

Glänta‘s new issue on “Nature” – produced before but published after the Copenhagen summit – goes way beyond the current discussions on climate change. Thus, Michael Azar asks if man’s home is in nature or in culture (answer: we are homeless); Stefan Foconi presents a brief philosophy of gardening, suggesting that the fascination of yardwork comes from its futility; and in a “musical swoon”, Trinh T Minh-ha listens to the sound of “nature” (the word): “The natural lies at the edge of nature and culture.”

Art and climate change: It is, however, difficult to discuss nature without also touching on the issue of climate change. In a conversation between curators and art critics, Danish cultural theorist Mikkel Bolt notes that the recent boom of art exhibitions dealing with nature clearly has to do with the public attention the climate crisis has received. The problem, says Bolt, is that these exhibitions tend to move within “the world of consensus-oriented ideology”. The politics of contemporary art “is unfortunately not unreasonable” enough: “The micro-utopia of relational aesthetics [represented by for example Nicolas Bourriaud] is a paradigmatic example of how small ambitions are and how humble the demands.”

Ecological materialism: What is natural is good; what is unnatural is bad – this simple dichotomy still dominates much of the debate on environmental issues. But such a fundamentalist justification for ecological politics is outdated, writes leading German Green MP Jürgen Trittin. The ecological reform of the global economy must bring on board those with no interest in preserving nature per se. The more radical, “nature-oriented” and naive a demand is, the less likely it is to be realized and the more catastrophic the consequences will be.

Also: Camilla Flodin looks at the swine flu and Lars von Trier’s Antichrist through the lens of Adorno; and photographer Tyrone Martinsson juxtaposes his own pictures of the Antarctic with those taken during Salomon August Andrée’s polar expedition in 1896 – a project which is more than just another example of the effects of global warming.

The full table of contents of Glänta 4/2009

Revue Internationale des Livres et des Idées 15 (2010)

In RiLi, Aude Vidal tackles a report on “The aeroplane: the dream, the potential and the uncertainty”. Contributors from the aviation industry are disparaging of the “hysterical bias of eco-purists”, frankly admitting the aim of ensuring that supply continues to meet demand. Preferable to this brutal assessment, writes Vidal, are philosophical approaches such as that of Xavier Guchet, who cites Orwell and Arendt on the dehumanizing powers of machines (e.g. biometric technology). The eighties thesis of air travel causing the ultimate extinction of humans remains a potent image: unmanned Afghan bomber drones remotely operated by humans whose reaction times still cannot be matched by robots.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is another important consideration, as is the finite nature of petrol resources and its impact on the cost of flying. Some contributors distinguish between “worthwhile” and “frivolous” travel, remarking on the modern tendency to pick the cheapest destination available. Philippe Ayoun asks whether “long-distance tourism impacts negatively on our own tourist industry”, driving up property prices and increasing pollution. We must drop the middle-class western notion of “hyper-mobility”, writes Ayoun, which causes global fuel prices to soar to the detriment of living standards in poorer countries.

The climate of history: While freedom has been the most important motif of accounts of human history since the Enlightenment, writes Dipesh Chakrabarty, there has never been an awareness of the geological agency human beings were gaining through processes linked to their acquisition of freedom. Whatever the rights we wish to celebrate, we cannot destabilize conditions that work like boundary parameters of human existence.

Also: Yves Citton explores how the Left can turn its traditional tolerance and awkwardness (mal-à-droite) – as contrasted with the certainties and self-possession of the Right – to its advantage; and Partha Chatterjee discusses post-colonial India.

The full table of contents of Revue Internationale des Livres et des Idées 15 (2010)

Multitudes 39 (2010)

Last year’s strikes in French universities, the longest-ever, were mirrored in many other European countries. Running through the latest issue of Multitudes, devoted to the crisis in education, is the thesis that while French and European government policies are to be blamed in the short term, the ultimate cause is the rise of a “knowledge economy”. “Universities”, writes Yves Citton in his introduction, “are for cognitive capitalism what factories were for industrial capitalism: crucial locations for the production and concentration of wealth”.

Yet this also makes them the natural site for resistance to encroaching capitalism, and for the development of alternatives. One method is to publish under group pseudonyms, as proposed in an article signed “Bourfouka”. This sidesteps the competitive evaluation of researchers by the number of papers they have published.

Perma-temps and cognitarians: Christopher Newfield explores the stratification of the knowledge economy, as it has developed in the US. Only a small “creative class” achieves the independence, creativity and freedom attributed by stereotype to all knowledge workers. Below this elite exist far more numerous insecure and poorly-rewarded “perma-temps”. Their skills have been commodified, and so they become interchangeable and exploitable.

Beyond the Ivy League and other elite universities, most American higher education is devoted to training students in commodity skills, preparing them for a working life at the mercy of the corporations employing them, writes Newfield. Those teaching them are in an even more precarious system: young researchers can expect to spend much of their academic career on short-term contracts with little job security.

Like the proletariat of an earlier era, the “cognitariat” powers economic growth while receiving little in return. Davy Cottet, Jon Bernat Zubiri-Rey and Patrick Sauvel see the university protests of 2009 as a marker of the increasing self-awareness of this group. “The academic cognitariat is engaged in collective reflection on the role it plays, or should play, in our society.”

The full table of contents of Multitudes 39 (2010)

L’Homme 2/2009

As the wave of memoirs and publications on ’68 ebbs, European journal for feminist history L’Homme reflects on a conspicuous gap in the academic and media debate: “Gender dimensions and relations ranged from being underexposed to being blanked out altogether, or were dealt with by simple reference to the New Women’s Movement”, writes editor Ingrid Bauer.

Analyses of the treatment of ’68 in the press, TV and radio in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands can be summed up by Hedy d’Ancona’s question: “Where is women’s emancipation in articles recalling May 1968?”

Feminism as security risk: How were feminists and female terrorists perceived in the security discourse of the 1970s? asks Irene Bandhauer-Schöffmann. “Witches, Amazons, gun-toting molls, perverted feminists, brutal terror girls” – these are the fear-loaded, aggressive and distinctly sexualized images of women purveyed by German-language media in their coverage of the Red Army Faction and the Bewegung 2. Juni. Mainstream media and official reports clearly linked female terrorism with a perverted, excessive feminism and were intended to discredit the aims and actors of the feminist movement: “The medial conjunction of feminism and terrorism and the representation of murderous women framed the entire feminist movement as a security risk; it was aimed at women who did not conform to hegemonic standardization.”

This dramatically changed in the security discourse after 9/11, “which did not dwell upon menacing women, but portrayed menaced women who had to be protected by Western men against backward, Islamic men. Legitimation strategies for the war against terror and against so called ‘rogue states’ were essentially based on the representation of the female and the defence of (western) women’s rights.”

Also: Claudia Kraft on the role of the category “gender” in the democratization processes in eastern and western Europe since 1968.

The full table of contents of L’Homme 2/2009

Edinburgh Review 128 (2010)

How has it come about that Prague, “this most history-ridden of cities” should be “the closest Europe can offer to history-less Las Vegas”? For James Hawes, writing in Edinburgh Review, it can be explained in one word: repression. The Czech capital’s architectural debt to greater Germany; its authoritarian past during the Habsburg era; the fact that it was the Czechs, not the Germans, who were the anti-Semites in Prague – these unwelcome truths are bad for business, writes Hawes.

This repression extends to the reputation of Prague’s most famous son. In his biography Excavating Kafka (2008), Hawes controversially attested to a blindness in Kafka studies, specifically towards the fact that Kafka’s first publisher, Franz Blei, had a sideline as a pornographer, and that Kafka was an avid subscriber. Also repressed, according to Hawes, is Kafka’s pro-German sympathies: he invested large sums of money in the Austro-German war effort and founded a sanatorium for German speaking soldiers. “The good soldier Schweyk, no matter how shell-shocked, would simply not have made Kafka’s linguistic cut.”

“The fate of the truth about Kafka makes it seem […] vaguely proper, if endlessly sad, that Prague has become what it is: a place of booze, brothels and endless tourist shops selling babushka dolls to overnight trippers unable to distinguish between Czech and Russian culture. The facts will be efficiently repressed in the name of business, locked away in some lumber-room of the mind, like Josef K.’s sado-masochistic vision in The Trial, wiped clean by the kerosene wake of the Ryanair flight home.”

Czech literature: Jan Culik on how the arts react to the “political kitsch” in Czech politics post-89; Ritchie Robinson on Kafka as an international writer and his first English language translators, the Scottish couple Willa and Edwin Muir; fiction by Jáchym Topol, Milos Urban and Hana Sklenková; and photographs by Michal Maku.

Po-mo RIP: Novelist Ewan Morrison on the dilemmas of a post-postmodernist: “I find myself in an impasse: there can be no going back to old certainties. […] My voice is just another in the shopping mall. Yet I don’t want my work to add to the stockpile of the already endlessly recycled.”

The full table of contents of Edinburgh Review 128 (2010)

Neprikosnovennij Zapas (NZ) (6/2009)

The latest issue of NZ offers fresh insights into writing and book-production in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. Yuri Senokosov, head of the publishing programme at the Moscow School of Political Research, argues that if liberalization is to be encouraged, Russia’s political lexicon needs serious revision and analysis.

Whereas, for example, the English language offers three words to denote the political sphere (“politics”, “policy” and “polity”), Russian has only one word – which can inhibit clarity of expression. Equally, a paucity of language, as well as fear of potential political chaos, may explain the current attraction of neo-Slavophile and communalist thinking, and the popularity of traditional (monarchist or religious) ideas.

Vadim Kostrov, the former head of publications of the CPSU Central Committee, points out to Nikolai Mitrokhin the remarkable success of the mass production of cheap state newspapers and books, particularly during glasnost and perestroika, when “half of the party’s budget came from the publishing sector”. And Andrei Zakharov discusses the prospects for the survival of the printed word with philosopher and literary critic Leonid Karasaev. “Books are the best tools for concentrating and transmitting meaning,” remarks Karasaev.

Falsifying history: Galina Mikhaleva considers the impact of largely populist and uncritical attempts to re-evaluate the Soviet past in Russia. The recent creation of a presidential commission to monitor attempts to “falsify history” in a way “detrimental to Russia’s prestige abroad” is an example of how the country is seeking to establish an ideological base for its aspirations to become an “energy empire”.

Also: As Auschwitz draws attention away from the still greater horrors of Treblinka, the Gulag distracts us from the Soviet policies that killed people directly and purposefully, by starvation and bullets, writes historian Timothy Snyder.

The full table of contents of Neprikosnovennij Zapas (NZ) 68 (6/2009)

Osteuropa 12/2009

The idea that all Slavs or Slavophones are united across space and time comes in many forms, writes Stefan Troebst in an issue of Osteuropa on “The Slavic idea after pan-Slavism”. “Slavicity” periodically acts as an instrument of political mobilization and remains a highly productive myth in art and literature. Nevertheless, the emergence of an “all-Slavic” movement, as envisioned by writers, artists and political activists since the first half of the nineteenth century, is no more likely than the Bulgarians deciding, for pragmatic reasons, to give up the Cyrillic script – a genuinely Bulgarian “invention” – in favour of the Latin one.

“Judging from the many, frequently successful revivals of the ‘Slavic’ idea in the twentieth century, a ‘renaissance’ […] in the twenty-first century is likely to be a political and cultural option; yet […] at the most in a part-Slavic, i.e. bi-lateral or regional form”, writes Troebst. “In the age of nationhood, the end of which is not foreseeable despite European integration and accelerated globalization, the asymmetry between Russia – as the ‘(eastern) Slavic’ empire – and the western and southern Slavic national movements, or rather medium-size, small and micro Slavophone states, is too dominant – not to mention the differences in political system, economic structure and legal culture. This, and not the EU/non-EU border, is currently the real division between the Slavophone nations.”

Also: Georg von Rauch documents Soviet pan-Slavism as a tactical weapon; Frank Hadler suggests “rational state historicism” over the evocation of the “Slavic”; and Agnieszka Gasior depicts Alfons Mucha’s monumental “Slav Epic” as a call to overcome narrow nationalism and to redeem humanity.

The full table of contents of Osteuropa 12/2009

Mehr Licht! 35 (2009)

Mira Meksi, editor-in-chief of Albanian journal Mehr Licht, regrets the state of philosophy publishing in her country: secondary literature abounds but the original works themselves remain untranslated. Publishers operate a scattergun approach, lacking any sense of historical development in the field and responding entirely to intellectual fashion. Hence the predominance of the “scandalous” Nietzsche, whose works are read with “something between half-comprehension and incomprehension”. This leads to scepticism and indifference, with readers concluding that philosophy is “a waste of time or an unattainable luxury”.

Philosophy in Albania peaked in the 1930s, “when for the first time Albanians could read distinguished thinkers of both the western and eastern worlds in their mother tongue”. Under communism, philosophy suffered as ideological factors and cultural politics meant publications followed “a predefined programme set by the politically empowered caste”. Like in revolutionary China, in Albania the political leadership, wholly ignorant of philosophy, promoted the thought of its ideologues as “trailblazing”. This tactic differed from other communist satellite states, writes Meksi, where the elites preferred to denigrate prohibited thinkers as the best proof against their eventual emergence.

So “do we really need philosophy?” asks Meksi. Undoubtedly, since “it greatly assists not only the formation of individual life perspectives, but also of society and the emancipation of its mindset”. To change the attitudes and worldview of society, “changing the mindset of an individual or group of individuals is not sufficient. What is required is change of at least the majority of society, and that would be greatly facilitated by the ongoing presence of philosophy and philosophical editions at highest level.”

The full table of contents of Mehr Licht! 35 (2009)

Vikerkaar 12/2009

Cheap entertainment might seem to be a feature peculiar to the modern world. Yet reading Kadri Novikov’s article “Soap operas the Ancient Greek way”, it once again appears that there is nothing new under the sun. A survey of the Greek novel from the first century BC to the fourth century AD reveals a mix of romance and adventure packed with forced separations, kidnappings, supposed deaths, robberies and other calamities, putting the love of the young protagonists to the test and straining the reader’s credulity in much the same way as modern telenovelas.

Yet when it comes to the audiences, there are important differences. The authors of the Greek novels expected much greater erudition from their audience than the authors of today’s TV-dramas – or perhaps it would be fairer to say that the ancient Greek reader expected more from a novel than modern audiences expect from their entertainment…

The origins of theatre: Mardi Valgemäe turns his attention to the much earlier evolution of Greek theatre, approaching it via other artforms – dance and architecture. He discusses Homer’s reference to the dancefloor in the Cretian city of Cnosus, which “Daedalus fashioned of old for fair-tressed Ariadne”, and which, according to the later testimony of Pausanias, was covered in white marble. Here, suggests Valgemäe, we see a shift from the earlier, more casual dancing places towards a structured theatrical space.

“Although it is the text that elevates a play into literature”, writes Valgemäe “the theatrical experience remains primarily visual”. It is true that the complexities of Sophocles or Shakespeare can hardly be appreciated by just one visit to the theatre – such texts must be read. But when the very rare theatrical miracle happens, it is due to the visual aspect – Aristotle’s opsis. “And one aspect of it is theatre as architecture, and its beginnings lie – if not elsewhere and even further back in time – in the dance-floor of Cnosus.”

The full table of contents of Vikerkaar 12/2009

Published 27 January 2010

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


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