Happy birthday, Mr Habermas

9 June 2009
Only in en
Host talks to a Zionist advocate of the two-state solution; Blätter celebrates Jürgen Habermas' eightieth; Ord&Bild hears voices; Esprit chastises Europe for its political cowardice; Edinburgh Review punctures some myths of Scottishness; Akadeemia fathoms Estonian identity; Osteuropa puts Moldova on the political map of Europe; Arena walks the fine line between art and crime; Merkur analyses the neurocapitalist self; and Varlik tires of jumping visa hurdles.

Host 5/2009

Interviewed in Host, the Israeli novelist Avraham B. Yehoshua echoes Barack Obama’s Cairo speech on the necessity for a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine. “I am hopeful that Barack Obama will say to Israel: enough, enough with the settlements,” he says with foresight. “The settlements are the problem.”

A contradictory figure, Yehoshua is a Zionist who claims that Judaism in the “diaspora” is an ersatz: “You can live in Prague and go to a synagogue and listen to a sermon about how great Judaism is. But then you go to Gaza and you have to decide if you are going to hit civilians in order to save the lives of your children, of your soldiers. […] These decisions make today’s Judaism because they shape our moral thinking.”

Yet Yehoshua is also an uncompromising critic of Israeli policy, going further than the US president in advocating the return of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians: “If we want a solution, we always have to remember what history has taught us, that everything is possible. I remember Moshe Dayan saying ‘I prefer to have Sharm-al-Sheikh without peace than to have peace without Sharm-al-Sheikh.’ And then he signed a peace treaty with Egypt and gave Sharm-al-Sheikh back to the Egyptians. So don’t believe declarations.”

Also: Göran Rosenberg argues that the Israeli Right nurtures the image of the nation of Israel as a bastion under eternal siege but fails to see that Israel is laying siege to the Palestinians. And George Blecher writes that western European rhetoric holds Israel to impossible standards of perfection.

Roma: Artist and writer Ceija Stoika, a Roma and a survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, describes in interview the economic predicament of Roma in Austria: “Many are on benefits or can only get inferior jobs. Door-to-door trade is quite common: the Roma sell carpets, clothes and curtains. They aren’t thieves, but they live in a kind of grey zone. If they are found trading without a license they can be penalized. So they refrain from any contact with the majority, since it only brings trouble.”

The full table of contents of Host 5/2009

Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 6/2009

Blätter celebrates Jürgen Habermas‘ eightieth birthday on 18 June with an issue dedicated to the influential social philosopher. Friends, colleagues and combatants have contributed texts, paying tribute not only to an exceptional academic, but also to an exceedingly open-minded and inquisitive interlocutor. Among the authors: Oskar Negt, Claus Offe and Axel Honneth.

Seyla Benhabib, who was a student of Habermas in the late 1970s, characterizes him as “the relevant contemporary protagonist in the tradition of cosmopolitanism”:

“To me ‘cosmopolitanism’ means to acknowledge that people are moral persons who have the right to be protected by law, on the basis of the rights owing to them not as citizens or as members of an ethnic group, but simply as human beings. Moreover, cosmopolitanism means that borders between countries are increasingly penetrable in the twenty-first century, and that justice within these borders and justice beyond these borders are interconnected, even if tensions between them can and will arise. With Jürgen Habermas, this position of human rights and cosmopolitanism produced from the very beginning the will to ‘include the Other’, regardless of national origin.”

Cosmopolitanism seems incompatible with democracy, since in democracy the constitution derives its legitimacy from the collective will of a political community – be it a state or a confederation. Referring to Kant’s concept of Weltbürgerrecht, or cosmopolitan law, Benhabib argues the contrary: agreements like the UN Declaration of Human Rights are elements of an evolving global civil society. This necessitates a discussion of “democracy in times of legal cosmopolitanism” – especially in the light of contemporary migration.

The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 6/2009

Ord&Bild 1-2/2009

Sweden’s Pirate Party has won a seat in the European Parliament. That this single-issue movement could secure 7.1 per cent of the Swedish vote was one of the big surprises in the European elections. However, the Swedish debate on the consequences of new technology for politics and social life does not come out of the blue, and is about more than just the right to download pop songs for free. The whole concept of copyright and patent law is at stake and integrity issues (for example the EU directive Ipred) dominate the Swedish discussion on democracy.

Young intellectuals have played a major role in providing a philosophical foundation for this debate (see for example Christopher Kullenberg‘s and Karl Palmås‘ recent Glänta article “Contagiontology”). In the new issue of Ord&Bild (theme: “Voices”), Rasmus Fleischer cites Tom Waits’ frequent and successful lawsuits against ad-agencies using “sound-alikes” whose voices are too similar to his bourbon-soaked rasp, moving on to a discussion on what Fleischer calls “celebrity rights”.

Commenting on the use of a “suspiciously Waitsian voice” in an Opel commercial, Tom Waits said: “I have a moral right to my voice. It’s like property – there’s a fence around it, in a way.” But Fleischer, a long-standing copyright debater responsible for one of the most intelligent blogs on the issue (copyriot.se), claims that we must abandon a moral perspective that allows us to see only two parties, one artistic and one commercial.

“Yat-Kha is probably the only Siberian throat singer who has a large international audience. Internationally, his voice is definitely unique. What would happen if Yat-Kha became even more famous, so that the broad public connected throat singing mainly with his person? Should he then have the right to sue other throat singers coming from the same tradition? These are the practical consequences of celebrity rights.”

Sound art: In addition to the printed issue (with a riveting essay on audiobooks by Jerry Määtä, and a no less readable article on Charles Bernstein and “non-expressive poetry reading” by Jörgen Gassilewski), there are several sound works on Ord&Bild‘s re-launched website, including Caroline Bergwall’s “Invocation” and MonoMono’s “Sustain”.

The full table of contents of Ord&Bild 1-2/2009

Esprit 6/2009

Recent events such as the swine flu pandemic, or the security crises in Lebanon, Iran and Afghanistan, have all required multilateral responses. This is where the European model of government is strong – but where Europe itself is weak, writes Nicole Gnesotto in Esprit. Take the financial crisis: it called for a coordinated international response, deep technical expertise and cooperation between the state and the market, and should have been the perfect showcase for the strengths of the European Union. Instead, national governments, in one of the few pan-European elements of political culture, take credit for successes and blame the EU for failures.

But at a political level, there has been little to celebrate. No institution, whether media or political, effectively explains the stakes in European elections, which are seen merely from a national perspective. Europe lacks the political courage to promote European principles at a time when China and the US are becoming increasingly sympathetic to powerful international organizations. European approaches are being transposed to the global level, even as they stagnate in Europe, writes Gnesotto.

Homo economicus? Financial-industry bonuses may shock us with their size, but they are merely an extreme case of the incentive-based management that has conquered every sector. Such performance-related pay, often unpopular with employees, has elicited various reactions, from grumbling, to selfishness, to passive resistance, though rarely those intended by managers.

“Homo economicus”, the caricature of the self-interested human implicit in many economic theories, is again to blame, argues Marc-Olivier Padis in his review of Maya Beauvallet’s book Strategies absurdes. By treating workers as interested only in money, these policies destroy their loyalty to the firm or to society. Payment robs people of the inner gratification they gain from doing a good deed – paying for blood donations, for example, may reduce the number of donors. Within companies and elsewhere, perhaps it is time to appeal less to the wallet, and more to the conscience.

The full table of contents of Esprit 6/2009

Edinburgh Review 126 (2009)

2009 has been designated Scotland’s year of “Homecoming”. “Whether you’re a Scot, of Scottish descent, or simply love Scotland”, says the official website, “join us to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth, Scottish contributions to golf and whisky, plus our great minds and innovations and rich culture and heritage.” In that order, notes Will Brady in Edinburgh Review.

Cultural tourism, or what Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond calls the “creative use of Scotland’s assets”, is aimed not only at the forty million people in the British Commonwealth claiming Scottish roots. According to a newly founded department for the study of the Scottish diaspora at Edinburgh University, Highland games and Scottish clubs are flourishing in Germany and eastern Europe.

Yet scotophiles should make no mistake: a process of mythification is at work, writes Brady, according to which, for example, Scotland was conquered by England. It was not. The union of parliaments in 1707 was born of mutual interest and ushered in two centuries of prosperity and progress in Scotland; arguably, Great Britain has its origins in the Scottish Enlightenment. As historian Colin Kidd has written, Scottish Gaeldom was an embarrassing anachronism for enlightened, Lowland Scots, and the reinvented Highland culture that emerged in the nineteenth century was but a “tame accessory to British unionism and imperialism”.

Banking meltdown: The collapse of the Halifax Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland in September and October 2008 challenges the legend that Scottish bankers are by nature “more diligent, more frugal and more committed to the virtues of thrift and prudence”, writes Kenny Kemp. He describes how a trust-based business model was pioneered by Scottish banks in the mid-eighteenth century; yet with the unprecedented profits recorded at the end of the 1990s, “old ways” were replaced by a new “retail approach” that lasted “only as long as it took to sign a deal”. Whether the Scottish banking sector can “bounce back and re-emerge with its traditional values and virtues intact remains to be seen”.

Also: A fragment by James Kelman shows the Booker Prize winner at his pessimistic best.

The full table of contents of Edinburgh Review 126 (2009)

Akadeemia 6/2009

Throughout almost one thousand years of written history, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have experienced multiple identities and membership of several empires. Now, writes Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, these countries are required to create identities that “go beyond those that history and others have foisted upon them”.

Today, one view of the region distinguishes between the Nordic and the Baltic countries; another sees “Baltoscandia” as a single space. Then there is a northern dimension in the European Union. In terms of European identity as a whole, its underlying Enlightenment values have begun to set it apart from the rest of the world, regrets Ilves. Yet Europe will not be united by a common antagonism, be it Habermas’ and Derrida’s anti-Americanism, or the Eurosceptics’ dislike of the acquis communautaire. Small nations, warns Ilves, should not fall victim to the “narcissism of small differences”, which would cause them to fail to realize their goals for a lack of concerted action.

Social structures: In an article on cultural geography, Akadeemia editor Toomas Kiho notes that the cultural pattern of a landscape evolves in two ways: first, by a centrifugal broadening of influence from central landholdings; second, from the border areas between these holdings and the lines of force that appear when they collide. Then there is a third way to create an administrative structure: the top-down imposition of imperialist rule. All these have been applied in Estonia, in harder or softer forms. Nonetheless, regional identities have been kept alive to the present day.

The full table of contents of Akadeemia 6/2009

Osteuropa 5/2009

At the beginning of April, Europe’s attention turned to Moldova after protests against alleged election fraud turned violent. The conflict escalated: police reprisals resulted in three deaths and hundreds of arrests (if we are to believe the pictures on YouTube, prisoners were tortured), while Vladimir Voronin, the Moldovan president, accused Romania of orchestrating a coup d’état and threw the Romanian ambassador out of the country. Then there was a recount, which in the absence of proof to the contrary was deemed regular by the EU and OSCE, and Moldova returned from whence it had emerged: media obscurity.

Yet the background to the crisis remains unexplained, as do the implications for Europe. In an issue of Osteuropa with a focus on Moldova, Anneli Ute Gabanyi describes how Voronin’s gradual extension of his presidential powers has petrified what, until the election of the Communist Party in 2001, could reasonably have been called the sole parliamentary democracy in the CIS. Since then, Voronin has entrenched his position by exploiting fears of a flare-up of the Transnistria conflict, bribing the electorate with populist welfare policies, and introducing legal changes giving him unfair access to TV and radio during elections.

The opposition Liberal Democratic Party has now refused to enter a coalition with the communists, by doing so passing up the chance to influence Moldova’s EU course, writes Gabanyi. Russia is supporting Voronin, seeing Moldova as a bulwark against further eastern expansion of Nato, and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has backed Transnistria’s right to succession should Moldova lose its sovereignty. By offering Romanian passports to Moldovans, Romanian president Traian Basescu has done nothing to make this prospect less likely. In Moldova, the EU will need all the diplomatic skills it has.

Eastern Partnership: Moldova could be a laboratory for the Eastern Partnership policy, writes Eckart D. Stratenschulte. Bigger players like Ukraine do not hide their hopes that the Eastern Partnership is the first rung on the EU accession process. Such hopes need to be discouraged: the less you promise the more you can deliver. Moldova might not be Brussels’ dream partner, but the country is small and the EU’s limited means could be put to good effect. Moreover, “Wine and nuts from Moldova will hardly lay low the European agricultural market.”

The full table of contents of Osteuropa 5/2009

Arena 3/2009

In Scandinavia, several young artists have recently exhibited works that have triggered heated disputes about the age-old question: “What is art?” The video piece “Territorial Pissing”, in which the artist NUG is shown trashing a Stockholm subway carriage, prompted the agitated Swedish minister of culture to draw a sharp line between graffiti and art: “Incredibly provocative! Graffiti is by nature illegal. This is not art.” Two weeks ago, the Norwegian art student Karl Edvin Endresen was arrested for producing and dealing the illegal substance GHB from an IKEA kitchen that doubled-up as an art installation. The kitchen was disassembled.

The most high-profile of these debates revolves around Anna Odell’s work “Unknown, Woman 2009-349701”. Odell, student at the Konstfack art school in Stockholm, staged a suicide attempt from the Liljeholmen bridge, which resulted in her being committed to the psychiatric wing of Saint Göran Hospital. The fact that the work re-enacts a psychotic part of the artist’s personal history adds to the complexity of the debate.

The new issue of Arena features an interview with Odell, where she comments on the fact that her project has led people to question the purpose of public art schools and to criticize artists for sponging off the taxpayer:

“Some have accused me of encouraging hatred of art. I think that this hatred always will be stronger in a recession. […] Of course people react, but I am surprised by the short-sightedness, that so many people only see the provocation. To me the potential provocation is uninteresting. I am interested in the double standards being applied in society.”

Editor Per Wirtén has on his Arena blog commented on the fact that Anna Odell now faces charges for “false alarm”, “violent resistance” and “fraudulent practice”:

“The discussions about whether she was right or wrong, whether the end justifies the ethically ambiguous Wallraff method, have been difficult. The prosecution puts these issues in a new light. Odell has not disclosed anything unsatisfactory within the system of psychiatric care. This seems to have worked the way it was supposed to: efficiently and considerately. However, she has obviously upset a milieu that can’t stand experiments. Otherwise, why would the state strike back with such an unreasonable prosecution?”

The full table of contents of Arena 3/2009

Merkur 6/2009

In Merkur, Hennric Jokeit and Ewa Hess identify neuroscience as the leading scientific discipline of the twenty-first century: “The basis, impetus and promise of its claim is the maxim that all human behaviour is determined by the principles of the activities of neurons and the way they are organized in the brain.”

Jokeit and Hess date the rise of neuroscience back to Freud, “the first neurocapitalist practitioner and thinker”, who by introducing psychoanalysis was the precursor of new contemporary markets: “a repair market for the mentally ill, and a coaching market for the optimizers of capitalist production and reproduction.”

A century after Freud, the analytical, communicative approach to psychological problems is being replaced by a pharmaceutical one; antidepressants and similar compounds generate profits of billions of dollars:

“Supply and subjective neediness in a regulated, yet hard to control environment are creating a market that turns over billions and that is going to expand wherever the post-postmodern self experiences itself deficient in performance society; at school, in training, employment, partnerships and in old age. Among the top-selling neuropsychotropics are those that modulate emotional experience or enhance attention and concentration, and which are largely independent of existing clinical dysfunctions.”

In a globalized capitalism “characterized by over-use of material and particularly human and intellectual resources”, Jokeit and Hess warn, we are losing our selves.

Art and neurobiology: Armin Schreiber, on the other hand, is not so sceptical when it comes to neurobiological findings. The mirror neuron as explanatory model for intuition – intuition being the constituent element of artistic production and reception – supports the romantic notion of Kunsterlebnis (“artistic experience”). The emotional experience of art, writes Schreiber, is being lost; and this is due to the broadening of the concept of art and the primacy of discourse.

The full table of contents of Merkur 6/2009

Varlik 6/2009

The unwillingness of the Lithuanian embassy in Ankara to issue a visa to Varlik representative Sila Okur prevented the journal from participating in the Eurozine conference in Vilnius last month. Okur was finally defeated by bureaucratic obstacles erected by an embassy clerk – starting with demands for ever more documents and ending with a summons to the embassy 450 kilometres from Varlik‘s offices in Istanbul. In response, Varlik dedicates part of its June issue to “Cultural relations in ‘visa territory'”.

In an introduction to the themed section, publisher Osman Deniztekin explains that they are not doing this just to add yet another story to “the inexhaustible fund of ‘visa adventures’ that has already bored everyone to death; we also wish to create a realistic perspective for the so-called ‘dialogue of civilizations’.”

“As the accession criteria make manifest, the European Union makes grand claims: human rights, tolerance, multiculturalism, equality, and the rule of law are among the common values that should be shared. On the other hand, the extent to which these claims are reflected in real life (ultimately of more concern to all of us), are dubious at best, due to the thousands of stories of which we have related but a couple.”

Living in visa territory: Belarusian publicist and sociologist Nelly Bekus-Goncharova reflects on her own status as a bearer of a non-EU passport:

“Citizens of western European countries have their own credit histories. Those living outside the limits of the EU have visa histories. In both cases, it is about trust. In the former case a person is given money for temporary use, in the second case the temporary right to travel. With loans it is expected that the money will return, with visas the actual person. However, while a loan may improve a person’s material wellbeing, a visa, upon expiry, always returns them to square one. ‘Freedom’ becomes reduced to the possibility of obtaining another invitation.”

Short-term memory: Carl Henrik Fredriksson in his opening address at the Vilnius conference, published in parts in Varlik, tried to trigger the Lithuanians’ short-term memory and remind them of their own pre-Schengen status only a few years ago.

The concept of the male: In a dossier on “Masculinity: the impossible power”, Hande Ögüt, Serpil Sancar, Pinar Selek and Nil Mutluer reflect on the challenged identity of men and on male dominance as a “global regime”.

The full table of contents of Varlik 6/2009

Published 9 June 2009

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


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