God plus printing

6 April 2011
Only in en
Merkur snorts at the notion of intellectual popularity; Host hails the return of the real in new Flemish literature; Dziejaslou discusses Belarusian authors’ favourite postmodern game; Blätter says beware the pseudo-consensus on renewables; Du leads the exodus offline; Sarajevo Notebook hears of an immigrant’s double life; NAQD redefines female migration; Arena detects Nordic racism behind politically correct code words; and Kulturos barai demands historical crimes be treated equally.

In Merkur, Georg Franck explains why Bourdieu’s theory of social and cultural capital is ill-equipped to describe the celebrity-driven media culture of today. No longer is information exchanged for money. In the new media, the hard currency is “attention”: Google et al. give away information and services in return for clicks and ratings. Today’s media, argues Franck, capitalize on attention in the same way that assets generate profit: the wealth of attention begins to pay off only when possessed in sufficient quantities.

Who is the new cultural elite? Celebrities. Yet, ranked according to market value, theirs is not a life of sublime indifference: “Their biggest worry is looking after the value of their own capital. They are not even granted the sovereignty of the old elites, who could be secure in the longevity of their status. They are hounded by the idea that their market value could diminish; the minutest dip and they start thinking about the big comeback.”

The capitalist economy of attention is established in “ideal-typical manner” in academia, argues Franck, a market system in which producers deliver prefabricated information to other producers, fresh attention producing new knowledge and so on. “Academics throw information at an interested public in order to gain its attention. They maximise citations like media managers ratings.”

In fact, the cultural sector as a whole is in thrall to the economy of attention: “The time has passed when intellectual discourse was primarily an exchange of arguments; it has since become a market upon which information is offered in order to gain maximum attention.” Does this surge towards the mass media signal the democratization of high culture? A hopelessly naive idea, says Franck. “It is more accurate to talk of a kind of re-feudalization. As the sole ‘player’ in the cultural sector, the media have the power to appoint celebrity.”

The full table of contents of Merkur 4/2011

In the new issue of Czech journal Host, Tom Van Imschoot introduces new Flemish literature, which in the last decade has stepped out of the shadow of its Dutch “older sister”. “What these writers have in common”, writes Van Imschoot, “is precisely that they have nothing in common, except perhaps their ‘Flemishness’, the latter understood not as a territorial given or even as a nationality (for it is not: they are all Belgian), but as a historical and political condition that has generated a common sensitivity toward language and identity.”

Despite their individuality, trends can be discerned. The most prominent is the turn from “metafictional narcissim” towards various forms of realism, be it the regional, the semi-autobiographical or the “virtual”. In the latter, “the play between fiction and reality, as we conventionally know it, is doubled and turned inside out by the way the virtual encroaches on our sense of reality via technological mediations”.

Works of virtual realism include Jan van Loy’s The Fence, about a couple whose sense of security is undermined after moving to a CCTV-monitored gated community, and Peter Terrin’s The Guard, about two increasingly deluded security guards in an underground car park convinced the outside world has been struck by disaster. David Van Reybrouck‘s The Plague, on the other hand, sets the standard for the new docu-fiction: a suspected case of plagiarism in the work of Maurice Maeterlinck ends up as an investigative journey to South Africa in the tracks of Eugène Marais. And in Tom Naegels’ Loss, a newspaper journalist’s belief in multicultural society is shaken after reporting on “immigrant riots” in Antwerp.

Also: Fiction by Elvis Peters, Erik Vlaminck and Peter Terrin, and an interview with Peter Holvoet-Hanssen, the city poet of Antwerp.

The full table of contents of Host 3/2011

The Belarusian journal Dziejaslou appears for the first time since the “elections” last December. With contributions from established writers such as Ryhor Baradulin, Ales Arkus and Slavamir Adamovich, as well as the strong young voices of Andrej Chadanovich, Maks Scur and Volha Hapieyeva, it shows that it remains a central medium for the most important authors and intellectuals in Belarus.

Belarusian postmodern: The literary critic Marharyta Aliaskievich discusses whether there is such a thing as a Belarusian postmodern. She criticizes fellow critics who all to happily call a work postmodern without revealing just what they mean by it. “Like Chinese manufacturers who stick a D&G label on their goods, many critics label a work postmodern for precisely one reason: to increase sales. Postmodern means trendy, controversial, exotic, abstruse, with an unmistakable western touch; the label helps to sell a book, to get it talked about.”

If one feature of the postmodern is the playful, then postmodern Belarusian authors’ favourite game is inventing Belarus. The work of the Bum-Bam-Lit group around Zmicier Visniou, Alhierd Bacharevic and Valancin Akudovic is especially noteworthy for its ludic seriousness, finds Aliaskievich.

Poetry: Andrei Maskvin talks to Uladzimier Arlou about the “grey heron of eternity” in Arlou’s poem “Niznepakrouskaia Street in Polatsk” and about Polatsk itself, Arlou’s hometown, which the author describes as “the sacred place of my cosmos”. At the beginning was the heron, recalls Arlou:

The poem was written ten years ago, not just the other day. I can’t remember all the movements of the soul and consciousness from which it arose. But I can say for sure that at the beginning of the poem there was a pair of grey herons. I saw them on my beloved Lake Luchava.

Lake Luchava has been a mythical place for Arlou since childhood. Its eco-sytem was destroyed by petro-chemical giants, however at the beginning of the twenty-first century the lake woke up again with the return of the herons. Polatsk itself, with its new museums, monuments and strong literary scene, is full of life, finds Arlou. Dziejaslou will not be running out of authors anytime soon.

The full table of contents of Dzieaslou 1/2011

Because it has been conclusively proven that energy demand can in principle be met solely via renewable energy sources, the impression exists that a broad energy consensus has been reached – and that all that needs to be settled is the “when” and “how”. Not true, warns the late Hermann Scheer: corporate interest in renewable energy technologies should not obscure the fact that more and more is being spent worldwide on conventional energy. Nowhere is this pseudo-consensus exposed more clearly than in ongoing investment in nuclear power.

Conventional energy providers are willing to co-exist with alternative energy providers so long the latter are channelled into existing structures, writes Scheer. At stake is not the pros and cons of renewable energies but the same old question of who controls the energy sector. “The emphasis on fossil energy sources and later atomic energy created the system as it exists today. The re-orientation towards renewable energies endangers its structure. […] Hence the traditional energy economy is increasing its efforts to influence political decision-making, the media and public opinion.”

We are currently in a hybrid energy phase, writes Scheer. The fronts between supporters and opponents of alternative energy, once clearly defined, have become blurred: energy companies and their political friends meet environmentalists half-way. “For many advocates of renewable energies, used to playing the role of the outsider, this seems to be major progress. And because consensus is always more pleasant than conflict, practical willingness to cooperate is the result. Often, however, the invisible border between cooperation and compromise is unwittingly exceeded.”

Everyone’s a winner? The changeover to renewables can be presented as a win-win scenario, writes Reinhard Loske: clean, no-risk and decentralized energies create jobs and reduce energy imports. However there are still questions open: the necessary intrusions into the landscape would not be conflict-free and the investment needed would possibly result in higher energy prices. “That’s why it’s of the utmost political relevance that the energy question and the social question be considered in tandem. Nothing would be more socially disastrous than implementing an energy policy that excluded the weakest and pushed them into energy poverty.”

The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche un internationale Politik 4/2011

While the role of Facebook and Twitter in the Arab revolutions is celebrated, writes Du editor Stefan Kaiser, pioneers and avant-gardists are turning their backs on the highly commercialized digital media, knowing that “utopian hopes have lost the battle for real control of the Internet”.

Initial aspirations towards unlimited freedom and boundary-breaking, of a systematically different social and political cyberspace, have not disappeared altogether but changed radically, writes Florian Rötzer. “Mobile Internet, smartphones, the principle of always-on and the Evernet” are changing and interconnecting the ways we interact in real as well as in virtually shared spaces, Rötzer suggests; we are “increasingly monitored and controlled, localized and identified”. A social division will again arise between the self-determined and the other-directed:

Digital aristocrats will stand out through being able to decide when, where and under what conditions they are on- and offline, on archipelagos of rich, protected and closely linked islands of wealth […] Inhabiting the digital slums, the black holes of insular poverty, will be people who stand under observation but who lack the means to genuinely participate in the data space or to switch off.

Breaking out: Net pioneer, pop musician, writer and performance artist Momus has meanwhile left behind the Internet (almost) altogether, a medium he had regarded as a liberation:

I increasingly began to notice the limits of this liberation. Only artists notice the borders. ‘The medium is the message’ said Marshall McLuhan. And what is the medium? Frames, windows. A way of placing borders on the world. I looked at the world through these windows. In the 1990s everything seemed clear to me, I saw the world in a good way, like in Jorge Luis Borges’ short story about Aleph, the small hole through which one sees the whole world. Every era believes its medium is the Aleph. Once it was the printed book, above all the Bible, since there you had God plus printing. Later it was television, now it is the Internet. Artists know this process of framing from first hand. They know that every Aleph is merely a result of conventions that are just as limiting as they are liberating.

The full table of contents of Du 4/2011

In the latest issue of trans-Balkan journal Sarajevo Notebook, on “melancholy and nostalgia”, Omer Hadziselimovic writes on his experience as an immigrant in the US. For the Chicago-based Bosnian Professor of American Studies, leaving his home country behind and starting out again in another has entailed a series of losses and gains:

In the new country and in your new life, you are always behind; you want to catch up with things and events, to come up to the time level of everybody else because so much had happened when you weren’t here. You badly need all kinds of practical information, for example, so that you constantly ask questions, and that tends to make you feel outdated, lagging behind, and awkward. […] Strangely, this condition of ignorance in which you find yourself also makes you feel younger, like a young person asking basic questions, and gives you a sense of a new beginning, of learning, and exploring, of being initiated.

Rejuvenation is one of the rewards of life as an immigrant. Citing Edward Said, Hadziselimovic remarks that marginality lets one “see more than those in the centre, that is, the inhabitants and original practitioners of that culture,” and offers new “possibilities for self-discovery”. Constantly translating between his old and new lives, he nevertheless finds that at some deeper level the differences start to disappear.

What, or who, has changed? I? My memory of the old country? The new country? All of the above? What seems to be true is that human nature and the nature of things show through the superficial differences: as time passes and as the newness and the romance of America fade, I see and experience here more of what reminds me of the old life. The two countries are becoming alike in a deep, universalizing sense – cause for both consolation and disappointment.

Also: Tvrtko Kulenovic on “the melancholy of small-time crookery”; Midhat Ajanovic on Swedish director Roy Andersson; Gasper Troha on Slovenian drama in transition; Janos Banjai and Kornelija Farago on Hungarian literature from Vojvodina; and the best melancholics of world poetry.

The full table of contents of Sarajevo Notebook 29-30 (2010)

NAQD, the Algerian journal of social criticism, examines migrant women as a growing social group, and the connections between female migration and the broader politics of gender and identity. Introducing the issue, Aissa Kadri and Adelina Miranda ask whether current migrations can be considered “a process of emancipation from community and nation”: “Developing the image of the migrant as an ‘assertive woman’ challenges its opposite, the ‘submissive woman’, the stereotype for women migrating in a family group.” Among these assertive women they include Algerian migrants to France, who made a major contribution to the Algerian struggle for independence.

Omitting gender: Latefa Narriman Abid argues that the experiences of female migrants must be understood in the context of their social identity – an identity they often reject. Patriarchal societies assign to women “the role of bearer and transmitter of values to future generations”, and police this role with violence. “Women who transgress these rules often flee their community, seek international protection and, therefore, become refugees.”

International law, however, denies such women a claim to refugee status. The Geneva Refugee Convention defines refugees as those fleeing persecution based on “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion,” omitting mention of sex or gender. “Persecutions committed within the private sphere such as the family or community are not considered political but part of a ‘private culture’, and therefore undeserving of international protection.”

Internal migration: Dalila Iamarene-Djerbal describes the migration of single women who leave (or are forced away from) their homes. “In the past forty years, numbers of such migrants have risen to the point that they can no longer be overlooked. Working as rural midwives, nurses, or trainers in the department of health and social protection, they took up jobs far away from their families.”

Interviewing women who have migrated within Algeria, Iamarene-Djerbal finds that “their reasons for leaving were diverse, but all related to their status as women and victims of discrimination: marital or familial violence, repudiation, divorce, inheritance contested with brothers after the death of parents, prolonged failure to marry.”

More about NAQD

In a themed section on immigration, Ylva Habel notes that when the label “immigrant background” is attached to dark-haired, yellow, brown and black people, or to women wearing hijabs, it becomes almost impossible to think of them as Swedes. She interprets the seemingly harmless notion as an expression of a Swedish angst about talking about skin colour: “immigrant background” becomes “a code word for the unspeakable darkness”.

This notion is part of an established cluster of keywords – multiculturalism, diversity, tolerance – that, embedded in a eurocentric system of thought, serve to deal with difference without seeking the tangible and reciprocal in the relation to the Other.

At the same time, there is the presumption that the Nordic countries can be less concerned about racism than other nations. This idea even has its own term: Nordic exceptionalism. Sweden holds on to an image of itself as being neutral, innocent and a model for the rest of the world, vaccinated against “real” racism by education and enlightenment. But this innocence was never there, writes Habel. “We have no special, less problematic relation to the postcolonial than other countries. Sweden is not, and never has been, a sheltered zone. The racism that ‘immigrants’ meet here is not an inexplicable evil or an inevitable consequence of immigration as such, but the repercussion of global colonial history in the present.”

Clothes don’t make the woman: Lisa Magnusson is struck by how involved women have been in the Arab revolutions. “Media reproduce women all the time, but not like this. Not as active and energetic women shouting their lungs out, their eyes glowing with engagement and their hands raised in triumph. And the most interesting lesson for us westerners: with their hair covered by Muslim hijabs.”

In Europe, writes Magnusson, the headscarf has been said to show that Islam is incompatible with the majority culture. But the revolutions have now demystified the hijab. “It is just a piece of cloth that is no more and no less oppressive than, for example, my own red lipstick, deep cleavage and high heels.”

The full table of contents of Arena 2/2011

Since spring 2009, when Eurozine held its yearly conference in Vilnius, Kulturos barai has published articles dealing with the historical divide between eastern and western Europe under the heading “European histories” (also the title of the 2009 conference). In the new issue, Egle Wittig-Marcinkeviciute sets forth this series, arguing that communist crimes must be treated in the same way as those committed by the Nazi regime.

If Europe does not commit to equal acknowledgment and evaluation of crimes of both Communism and Nazism and the suffering they caused, it will remain a two-class society, writes Wittig-Marcinkeviciute: some citizens will be more protected by law than others. Even if equality is assured in other political, social and economic spheres, eastern Europeans will still feel like second-class citizens, whose historical experiences, from a moral point of view, count less than those of their fellow Europeans in the west.

Russian democracy: In conversation with Tomas Kavaliauskas, Yale philosopher Boris Kapustin talks about Russian democracy. “In Russia, democracy has become widely perceived as a toy and a tool in the hands of the country’s new masters. Furthermore, as a toy that has been crudely crafted and is unskilfully implemented. Apart from the fetishists of democracy, who treat it as a value-in-itself, rather than a ‘method’ to attain certain goals, who can deem this attitude ‘irrational’, or pre- or anti-modern, or even as a residue from the Soviet past? Instead, it seems an accurate and incisive view of the instrumentalization of democracy by capitalism, accomplished in post-communist Russia in particularly grotesque and unsophisticated forms.”

Putin’s authoritarianism, says Kapustin, “is but a method to prolong the life of the awkward creature we know as post-communist Russian capitalism”.

Also: Ruta Gaidamaviciute asks if Lithuanians will start to appreciate their sutartines, a form of polyphonic folk song, now the United Nations has placed them on the UNESCO world heritage list.

The full table of contents of Kulturos barai 3/2011

Published 6 April 2011

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


recommended articles