"God's comeback"

5 December 2006
Only in en
Lettre Internationale (Denmark) stands up for the unpredictable cultural magazine; Ord&Bild calls capitalism a religion; Kulturos barai explains Lithuania's brain drain; Critique & Humanism contributes to the recognition debate; Merkur searches for global justice; Reset continues its quest for democracy; L'Espill counts the cost of the real estate boom in Valencia; and du sheds light on the horror and enchantment of the Pacific.

Lettre Internationale (Denmark) 13 (2006)

What is a cultural journal? “They pop up, change their look, and disappear – all the time. You never know when they will be published or who’s editing them; they are unpredictable; you rarely know the authors, who never write what you expect them to; and you can’t get hold of them.” Editor Andreas Harbsmeier uses literary critic Erik Skyum Nielsen’s classic (ironic) arguments against cultural journals to characterize the Danish edition of Lettre Internationale three years after it was founded in 2003.

Orhan Pamuk‘s opening speech at last year’s Eurozine conference in Istanbul also provides arguments for this plea for the awkward and unpredictable: “Cultural journals constitute a space where culture resists. Or should resist. […] What I’d like to see when I open one of these journals is exactly those things I can’t find anywhere else.”

In the Danish media landscape, still reeling from the cartoon controversy, this critical and alternative voice seems to be more necessary than ever. That is at least what Swedish literary critic and newspaper editor Stefan Jonsson implies after systematically reading the Danish dailies. What he encounters is a public sphere obsessed with Islam, and a cultural debate that has lost its critical stance. In Denmark one has “invented a new way of turning prejudices into journalism”, writes Jonsson. “And the cultural sections of the daily newspapers seem to silently accept this terrible transformation.”

God’s comeback? In a section on the legitimacy of religion in the political and public sphere and the religous dimension of secularism, Danish Lettre tries to find new perspectives for a discussion about “the return of religion”. Alongside Jan Philipp Reemtsma‘s “Must we respect religiosity?” (also published in Eurozine’s focal point “Post-secular Europe?”), Mona Sheikh asks, “Can secularism be religous?” And in interview French philosopher Daniel Bensaïd says that what we are witnessing is not the comeback of religion, but rather the flourishing of new identity myths.

The full table of contents of Lettre Internationale (Denmark) 13 (2006).

Ord&Bild 5/2006

Capitalism is a religion, claims Walter Benjamin in a famous text fragment from the 1920s. This claim is the point of departure for the new issue of Swedish Ord&Bild. A bulging section looks at the relationship between capitalism and religion from a multitude of perspectives: from Giorgio Agamben’s “In praise of profanation” and Lilian Munk Rösing’s “Mohammed and Moneytheism” to Ola Sigurdsson’s “Materialistic theology” and Charlotte Bydler’s analysis of “The iconography of money”.

Questioning the widespread belief in Europe’s alleged neutrality when it comes to religion, theologian Jayne Svenungsson makes a distinction between actual “secularization” and ideologically tainted “secularism”. Too much belief in its own neutrality has made Europe blind to the fact that its religious roots have led to very specific (not universal) conceptions of the individual, society, and ethics.

Translation and literary criticism: A translation is seldom evaluated on its own merits. Whether it is said to be congenial, faithful, or smooth, it is always in relation to some mystical entity lingering in the background: the original. Without the original, no translation. But what if someone loses the original?

Authors, editors, and translators Erik Andersson and Martin Engberg conducted an ingenious experiment in literary criticism that deserves to be repeated under different linguistic conditions. A short and unpublished Swedish text was translated into English. Four translators were then asked to translate this English “original” into Swedish. Finally these four translations were placed alongside the Swedish “original” and sent to four literary critics, who were asked to read and comment on the five texts.

The results, published in Ord&Bild, are astonishing. All four critics have interesting things to say about the five “translations”, but none manage to identify the original.

The full table of contents of Ord&Bild 5/2006.

Kulturos barai 11/2006

“The cultural press is an irreplaceable element of contemporary and creative society unaffected by image campaigns, backroom deals, or television celebrity culture”, writes Laurynas Katkus in Lithuanian journal Kulturos barai. “Such a press is necessary if Lithuania is to become a modern European state”, he claims, pleading for the relevance of cultural journals sixteen years after Lithuania gained independence.

Popular novelist or literary author? That’s the dilemma of novelist Romauldas Lankauskas. “In a world ruled by capital, there are fewer and fewer writers who choose the latter alternative.” Ironically enough, the warning issued by the Goncourt brothers in the late nineteenth century still holds, says Lankauskas: “Pure literature, a book that a writer writes for his own pleasure, will soon die.”

Editor Almantas Samalavicius explains the brain drain in Lithuanian higher education, which has increased dramatically since Lithuania joined the EU. Students’ disinterest in studying humanities in Lithuania has a lot to do with academic provincialism, says Samalavicius: Lithuanian scholars do not understand that to cherish national cultural mythology is to narrow the horizons of the humanities.

Plus: Evaldas Purlys on the future of the Sapiega Palace – “The Vilnius Versailles” – which has been the subject of public attention after outrage at private property development on the palace grounds; an interview with philosopher Algis Mickunas; and a review of the international Vilnius theatre festival 2006.

The full table of contents of Kulturos barai 11/2006.

Critique & Humanism 22 (2006)

Bulgarian journal Critique & Humanism dedicates a tri-lingual issue to German social philosopher Axel Honneth, torchbearer of Frankfurt School critical theory. Entitled “Justice and communicative freedom. The recognition paradigm in a post-socialist context”, the issue aims to ask whether Honneth’s criteria for social integration and individual subjectivity have universal validity, or are only relevant to modern Western societies.

“What about the eastern European societies in transition from socialism to liberal democracy, which follow, it seems, alternative paths of modernization?” ask the editors in their introduction. “Would we not be better off limiting the scope of social justice to securing equal rights to everyone, to providing fair distribution of goods and resources, and leaving ‘communitarian’ aspects outside the realm of the political?”

Interviewing Honneth, Krassimir Stojanov, professor at the University of Magdeburg, accuses parts of the European Left of suspecting the existence in eastern Europe of pre-modern social forms incapable of democracy. Honneth accepts the analysis: “When Solidarity appeared, one side supported it enthusiastically, while the other side warned of the Catholic substance of the movement. And the second side […] forms the circle of those who still regard eastern Europe with scepticism because of supposed cultural factors. Basically, they suspect social forms that are incapable of democracy.”

Further commentaries on and around Honneth include Christo Todorov on the problems in entrusting to the state responsibility for recognition; Alexander Kiossev on misrecognition of the post-communist Other; and Milena Nikolchina on the parahuman in Kleist and Rilke.

Also in this issue: a supplement on Turkish artist Kutlug Ataman’s work Küba, shown at the Haus Cannetti in the city of Rousse, on the banks of the Danube. The work consists of a room of monitors showing interviews with the politically persecuted residents of Küba, a Kurdish ghetto in Istanbul.

The full table of contents of Critique & Humanism 22 (2006).

Merkur 12/2006

Justice, Blaise Pascal said around two hundred years ago, is bounded by a river: on this side of the Rhine, justice is different than on the other side. In Merkur, philosopher Otfried Höffe discusses the considerably larger challenges that equity faces in today’s globalized world.

Transnational equity, he writes, is not only necessary with respect to economics, society, and politics. Rather, it needs an intercultural dialogue that is not confined to the West and its values, but which searches for reference in other cultures and other eras. In the West today, justice is mainly understood as social justice and the redistribution of wealth within states and between rich and poor countries. However, he says, justice seen in an intercultural perspective has more to do with “doing somebody justice” or with “abiding by the law”.

Höffe argues that the main issues of global equity – international peace, international environmental protection, and international law courts – cannot be dealt with by individual states or in bilateral cooperation. What is needed is a democratic Weltrechtsordnung, a certain degree of global rule of law and global democracy.

Billy Budd and Zinédine Zidane: Philosopher Sigbert Gebert takes Zidane’s infamous head-butt as a starting point for discussing when and under which circumstances violence can be justified. Zidane’s head-butt, he says, is similar to Billy Budd’s murder of a man who unfairly accused him. Melville’s Billy Budd had no other means of defending himself against the vicious envy of the accuser. “There are, in private and in public life, infuriating situations that call not for slow and thoughtful reactions but for the promptness of an act of violence.” He concedes that this doesn’t only get pedagogues into trouble. The danger with intuitive violence is not the act of violence itself, he says, but rather its tendency to escalate.

Also to look out for: Wolf Dieter Enkelmann on Europe’s yearning for faraway places as a mission for worldwide socialization; Bernhard Schlink on the fact that in Germany jurisprudence of the constitutional court is distancing itself evermore from the study of law; and an illumination of the difficult relationship between Peter Weiss and his publisher Siegfried Unseld.

The full table of contents of Merkur 12/2006.

Reset 98 (2006)

“Is there still a future for democracy? What are the consequences of the technological revolution?” ask researchers from Vision, an Italian thinktank dedicated to the study of transformations triggered by technologies and globalization. “Is it still useful, in a society transformed by the PC and the network, to continue to use the same democratic (parliamentary) procedures developed for a society that was not even industrialized?”

In Reset, Vision argues that democracy is an informative process, where “individual preferences are transformed into collective will”. Therefore not only the instruments of democracy (eg voting procedures) need to be open to change, but also the structures themselves: “The rigidity of parliamentary democracies, their relative inflexibility, is producing an ever more evident crisis.”

Vision’s solutions include more frequent rotation of politicians and ways to overcome the territorial restrictions that are currently an integral part of parliamentary democracy – especially for the younger generations who are becoming ever more “mobile”.

Universalism and dialogue: In interview, Seyla Benhabib imagines an “interactive universalism” that allows the Other to tell their own narrative and leads to reciprocal understanding rather than exclusion.

The full table of contents of Reset 98 (2006).

L’Espill 23 (2006)

The real estate boom in the Valencia region has been at the cost of society and the environment, writes Josep Sorribes in Catalan journal L’Espill. Not only has development altered the landscape irreversibly, the whole balance of the economy has shifted away from agriculture and industry towards tourism and construction. Rising housing prices have led to increasing levels of debt; should the speculative bubble burst, says Sorribes, the region will have nothing to fall back on.

According to Josep Lluís Barona, the increasing exclusion of the state as a regulating agency and the atrophy of political representation are nurturing a trend away from democratic control. In an essay entitled “Science, democracy, and the global market”, Barona argues that democracy is being threatened by the privatization of knowledge and the products of science. The winners in this, he says, are finance and the military.

Also to look out for: Antonio Negri shows how Antonio Gramsci, Mario Tronti, and Luisa Muraro have revitalized philosophy in Italy and sown the seeds for a new global philosophy; and Àlex Matas discerns coherence in Walter Benjamin’s fragmentary oeuvre.

The full table of contents of L’Espill 23 (2006).

du 11-12/2006

The Pacific has – since long before Gaugin – been the subject of many an enlightened mystification. The first European seafarers, who found the South Seas to be windless, christened them “Pacific”, from the Latin pace. The travelogues of explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville of 1771 provided the model for Rousseau’s noble savage, and Diderot’s free love was based on the image of the gentle people of the South Seas.

However, with its ring of underwater volcanoes responsible for many of the large earthquakes and tsunamis of the twentieth century, the Pacific is far from peaceful. And, as du shows, the Oceanic elite are not putting up with the derogatory idealization of the Pacific people any longer – be it through the tourism business, ethnological religious missionaries, or high art. A poem by Selina Tusitala Marsh, whose forefathers came from Samoa, Tuvalu, and England, is sharp as a knife: “thanks Bougainville/for desiring them young/so guys like Gauguin could dream/then take his syphilitic body downstream to the tropics/to test his artistic hypothesis/about how the uncivilized/ripen like paw paw/are best slightly raw/delectably firm […]”

In the twentieth century the majority of the islands became politically independent, which brought new hopes, but also new problems. Foreign correspondent Oswald Iten reports on the woes of the phosphate island Nauru, an island whose wealth was founded on bird shit. Now all the phosphate is gone and the island is bankrupt. Its sole source of income is a refugee camp for the boat people that the Australian government does not allow to enter the country.

New York artist and filmmaker Santi Hitorangi, born in Rapa Nui (Easter Island), which still belongs to Chile, envisions independence for his island and imagines a tiny Utopia in the Pacific. And poet and novelist Raoul Schrott tells of all the islands found and lost again in the Pacific: islands that emerged and disappeared after a while, islands that were mere cartographers’ mistakes, and islands that existed solely for shipwreck insurance.

Also to look out for: an interview with Georg Baselitz, the German artist who since 1969 has been hanging his pictures upside down.

The full table of contents of du 11-12/2006.

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Published 5 December 2006

Original in English
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