It wasn't, it didn't, and it won't

20 April 2011
Only in en
Soundings finds privatized solutions bad for care and carers; Reset issues a moral reprimand from a bishop and a socialist; Edinburgh Review talks to the poet cum editor Alan Gillis; The Hungarian Quarterly distinguishes a sense of injustice from false patriotism; Vikerkaar puts a damper on revolutionary idealism; Le Monde diplomatique says the energy debate is about more than nuclear power; Fronesis renegotiates the boundaries of man and nature; Studija critiques art criticism; and A Prior proclaims the narrative turn in performance art.

Care work continues to be left substantially to migrant women in the “adult worker” model of the welfare state, writes Fiona Williams in Soundings. The decline of the male breadwinner model typical of the post-war British welfare state, where female migrants from the colonies were employed as carers so that British women could remain at home, together with increased mobility of women seeking earning opportunities, has merely shifted gender inequalities.

The replacement of state care provision with tax breaks or cash handouts for employers makes families the consumers of care, writes Williams. Even in countries like Sweden, where state care provision is more substantial than elsewhere, the search goes on for cheaper solutions to work-life balance issues in the private market. “When the market provides care, its costs can only rise as wages rise. And in order to make care affordable […], care workers’ wages are always being forced down by strategies such as employing those with least bargaining power. Not only is this exploitative but it jeopardises good quality care.”

Sport: The key factor in analysing sports is no longer the national question and issues of “imagined communities” but the role of sports in the global entertainment industry, writes Andrew Blake. Looking at the commercialization of cricket, rugby and above all football in England – be it through the sale of rights to private satellite channels or, in football’s case, through the bankrolling of sporting success – he examines how sport is becoming dislodged from its national and cultural context.

The FA Premier League is a glowing example of the failed New Labour vision of a post-industrial economy, […] whose task was the creation and sale of advice and services, rights and experiences rather than material goods – the rights in this case being match tickets and broadcast rights. Such a mode of production was going to transform the UK economy for the better. […] It wasn’t, it didn’t, and it won’t.

Eurocrisis: Germany, wary of resource transfers after its experience of reunification, is blocking the idea of a federal European budget. Given Germany’s highly competitive economic behaviour in recent decades, this position is “rather one-sided”, writes John Grahl. “Angela Merkel has chosen to reflect, rather than to challenge, German reluctance to contemplate major institutional developments in the EU”.

The full table of contents of Soundings 47 (2011)

The new issue of Reset is devoted to the revolutionary events in Egypt and the other Arab countries, which, as Silvia Fagiolo writes, have shaken up three fundamental western commonplaces: 1) Islam contains no liberating impulse; 2) democracy and the Arab world are irreconcilable; 3) the West has no choice other than to support the Arab potentates.

Fagiolo points to Turkey and its Islamic governing party as a model for the democratic movements in North Africa; however just as the EU has exercised a positive influence on the way Turkey has developed in recent years, so the influence of the West needs to make itself felt in the Arab countries.

Sergio Romano, on the other hand, appeals for caution: in conversation with Emma Bonino he says that it is a delusion to claim that Arab societies are predestined for democracy. Bonino also talks about an open-ended process however rejects the notion of an “Arab exception”: the striving towards freedom is universal, she says.

Karim Mezran provides an insight into the neo-patriarchal structures of the Arab world. The equation of nation and family encourages a habit of passive submission, something that has been challenged by the uprisings.

Moral slide: Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Conference of Bishops of Umbria decries the collapse of public morality in Italy and, in conversation with the socialist, secularist and former prime minister Giuliano Amato, advocates a return to the historical association of Christianity and humanism in public discourse. Amato notes that liberation from heteronomous rules has led to extreme individualism marked by lack of responsibility towards others. While secularism can’t be blamed for this, it still needs to recall its own values and principles, he says. Keyword: the categorical imperative.

Also: Alberto Ferrigolo shows in his article on the “infernal weapon of the opinion poll” how Silvio Berlusconi has transposed the golden rules of business onto politics, with enduring success.

The full table of contents of Reset 124 (2011)

Edinburgh Review brings out the first issue under its new editor, poet and critic Alan Gillis. In interview, Gillis talks about his route into poetry (Joyce, the pub), his literary influences (Paul Muldoon, Ciaran Carson, among others) and the discipline of the sonnet: “Anyone who’s written a sonnet in the last three hundred years has felt both the pressure and the enticement of the marvellous things already done with it. And that’s part of the point.”

Gillis was born in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and his poetry is deeply connected to the particular experience that involved: “The place where I was brought up was overwhelmingly Protestant and loyalist,” he recalls. “So I lived in an estate populated by lots of policemen. And it’s obvious now that these people were having strangely pressured lives. All kinds of pathological activity, but through the eyes of a child […] so I think one thing ‘of benefit’ about coming from the North is that you tend to assume there is no such thing as normal.”

Matt McGuire has written in Eurozine how Gillis’ poem “The Ulster Way”, “can be read in terms of a disavowal of the rustic imperative that belies so much Northern Irish poetry of the past,” writes McGuire. “Gillis’ poem is celebratory as it reveals the contingency of ideological boundaries. It seeks to tear up many of the allusions/illusions that define comfortable constructions of Northern Irish experience.” Gillis has the following to say about the schism between the media portrayal of Northern Ireland and the lived experience:

The representation of the culture of the peace process came in tandem with a sense of economic boom: house prices going through the roof, and all that. The Troubles were always entwined with socio-economic inequalities, and, unfortunately, where it counted, it was clear the Troubles were still going on.

And his plans for Edinburgh Review? “I guess I go with the sense of Britain as an archipelago, and this will guide things. The natural flow would be Scotland… the ‘North’… Britain and Ireland… the world. But not always in that order.”

Also: Rodge Glass on “faction” as a hybrid form reinvigorating the English language novel, focusing on David Peace’s The Damned United; and poetry and fiction from Michael Longley, Sinéad Morrissey and Alan Warner.

The full table of contents of Edinburgh Review 131 (2011)

The terms “peace treaty” and “peace dictate” are still used interchangeably in Hungarian when referring to the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, says historian Miklós Zeidler in interview with András Schweitzer. Knowing they had no choice but to ratify, Hungarian parliamentarians agreed in advance on a show of unanimity, thus expressing the duress under which they had been placed. However this plan was sabotaged when MPs opposed to signing sang the national anthem during Prime Minister Pál Teleki’s speech accepting the treaty.

At that moment the sound of singing filtered into the chamber: the other representatives joined in and sang the national anthem right through – not a few of them sobbing. As far as I am concerned, this was one of the most harrowing moments in Hungarian history because it demonstrates that at the very moment of collapse, when the supreme requirement would have been for a rallying of forces, not for the first time in Hungarian politics, dissension emerged triumphant.

The “raw historical fact”, says Zeidler, is that Hungary signed the treaty; subsequent dreams about the restoration of lost Hungarian territories were of “minor importance”. That Trianon would from now on be all about national pride rather than political reality is an observation made by a British diplomatic observer of the Hungarian ratification:

The main fact remains they have accepted their defeat and its consequences, and if a little eloquence will help them to retain some shred of self-respect, it would be both unchivalrous and unwise to reproach them for a few passionate words uttered from the abyss of their humiliation and the sacrifice of their nation.

Liszt: Marking the Liszt bicentenary, an interview with Weimar Kunstfest director Nike Wagner, great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner and great-great-granddaughter of Liszt. Liszt “never kept to boundaries – in the best sense of the word,” she says. “Geographically, he is very European, changing countries, changing languages, and in an age of increasing nationalism, he remained a European. This is extraordinary – especially when you compare Liszt with Wagner”.

Also: The first part of the memoirs of pre-eminent Liszt biographer Alan Walker.

The full table of contents of The Hungarian Quarterly 201 (2011)

Leif Kalev joins the debate in Vikerkaar begun by Rein Müllerson on the present state of the French revolutionary trinity. While the balance between liberty, equality and fraternity is delicate, writes Kalev, the result has nevertheless been remarkably successful: “The internal tensions of liberal democratic statehood should not be overestimated. […] In the final analysis, the modern liberal democratic state can easily be described as being based on extensive liberty, noteworthy equality, and in certain aspects also fraternity.”

The latter plays a peculiar role: “As the value answering the demand for identity, fraternity shapes the current form of the compromise. In classical liberalism it appeared indirectly, as in the assumption that men are basically good and cooperate voluntarily. In democracy and statehood, fraternity is clearly visible as the shaper of the common space of the political community.” Thus, while the measures might change, the basic ingredients in the “cocktail of values” supporting modern statehood remain the same: “The symbiosis of liberty, equality and fraternity has proven extraordinarily viable in the twentieth century in the West, emerging with renewed vigour from various crises,” writes Kalev.

Hegemony: Raivo Vetik places the revolutionary trinity in the context of the reproduction of political hegemony. Liberty, equality and fraternity are “not just ideals but also a means of establishing a social hierarchy serving party political struggles”, he notes. Vetik is critical of Müllerson’s suggestion that politicians could find the “right balance” if only they were clever enough. It is often politically clever – though perhaps not nice – to persist with an ideal even when it becomes counter-productive to social development.

Also: Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves on the political values reflected in the prose of Vladimir Nabokov; and an obituary of Jüri Kaarma, the artist and long-term designer of Vikerkaar and other Estonian cultural journals and books, including a number of Kaarma’s drawings from the series “Deaths and entrances”.

The full table of contents of Vikerkaar 3/2011

Praful Bidwai points out in Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) that even before the catastrophe at Fukushima, the inhabitants of Maharashtra in India were fiercely protesting the imposed arrival of the world’s largest nuclear complex. At stake are not only the profits for Areva, the French company behind the plant, but global leadership in the nuclear power sector. If the people of Maharashtra win through, the nuclear industry faces a major setback, claims Bidwai.

The threat of a meltdown at Fukushima is rocking people’s confidence in the government in Japan, writes Harry Harootunian. When the director of Tepco burst into tears on national TV, he also gave the impression that the company was ill-informed about what they were doing at the power plant. In spite of the Japanese government’s many statements encouraging collective calm, people are evacuating from the north in droves. Harootunian also claims that the Japanese government is an outdated model, which through its appeal to the loyalty and calm of the people also refutes its own responsibility for the disaster.

Reducing consumption: Despite the general consensus that there is no future in nuclear energy, little effort has gone into introducing ecologically sustainable alternatives, writes Remi Nilsen. Even if a major expansion of nuclear energy were able to lead to a lowering of CO2 values, the climate debate is tied to the greater question of use and abuse of natural resources. “When mankind is already consuming more than the planet is able to produce, anything that does not reduce energy consumption is a direct threat to our existence.”

Also: Truls Lie on how art has a tendency to aestheticize refugees and by doing so depriving them of political significance; Steffen Moestrup on Michelangelo Frammartino, whose essayistic film Le Quattro Volte throws dramaturgical conventions overboard; and Morten Harper on the newspaper satirist Sherif Arafa, who has published a comic strip about Hosni Mubarak.

The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) 4/2011

“When it comes to descriptions of human nature, it has become increasingly difficult to cling to an idea of the biological as the stable and given domain, and the social as the domain of change,” write the editors of a Fronesis issue on neuroscience, evolutionary biology and human nature. Problems that were formerly dealt with in the separate spheres of science and policy-making are now becoming intertwined. Climate change is probably the prime example of how the collective wellbeing of the human species has become inseparable from the planet’s condition as a whole.

Introducing a section on the new boundaries of man and nature, historian of ideas Sverker Sörlin sees the contours of policies that might be applied by generations to come in two recent articles by Michel Serres and Donna Haraway (both appearing in translation in Fronesis). Serres and Haraway describe the current renegotiation of basic concepts such as man, nature and environment, pointing to the need to give political and legal status to non-human actors in a future political landscape. It took some time for the classic phrase formulated by Ortega y Gasset in 1914 – “I am I and my circumstance” – or the term coined by Vladimir Vernadsky in 1926 – “the biosphere” – to influence the UN Declaration of Human Rights (1949) and the Kyoto protocol (1997). It might take just as long for Serres’ and Haraway’s views to shape the future of society, writes Sörlin, but they do have the potential to do so. “Tomorrow also needs politics.”

Biology and the Left: Zoologist Erik Svensson and sociologist Johan Örestig argue that the Left’s angst about “biologism” is based on false and narrow-minded assumptions: “Evolutionary biology has critical potential and can be used as a tool to analyse the negative effects of capitalism on social organization. To understand how unequal class societies generate feelings of inferiority and health problems, why monotonous work is perceived as soul-destroying, or why people revolt against hierarchical structures they consider illegitimate, we need well-founded scientific theories on what needs are embedded in the biological heritage of mankind and shared by everyone.”

The full table of contents of Fronesis 35 (2011)

In a review of electronic artist Martins Ratniks’ work Projections, Janis Borgs recalls how, in the 1960s, when he surfed western European music channels on the radio, reception “was interrupted by lengthy immersions in the diverse crackling, croaking, squeaking and farting that ‘normal’ people called radio noises and static. I received and enjoyed these amusing oddities as a kind of alternative music. […] In the 1970s, this bizarre experience helped me to transcend, enthusiastically and effortlessly, cultural barriers and to dive into the world of avant-garde music in which ‘squelches and crackling’ was considered assets. […] I was even more thrilled when the ‘weavers’ of ‘net’ art emerged at E-LAB in present-day Latvia. Art based in science has today become much more widespread and has gained recognition and acclaim. This was demonstrated, for example, by the nomination of electronic artist Martins Ratniks for the Vilhelms Purvitis Prize.”

Criticizing criticism: In a round-table discussion, artist Liga Marcinkevica, critic Aiga Dzalbe, student Selda Pukite and art historian Alise Tifentale critique art criticism itself. Who is it for? asks Tifentale. “I tend to agree with the view that it is not that critics are lacking something, but that there isn’t a niche or a need for critics,” she says. Dzalbe finds that the art of the present moment doesn’t offer much to write about. However the participants reach the consensus that, often, it is the quality of the critique itself that is the problem. Knowledge of the subject is part of an art critic’s task; but how does a young critic learn to write? Tifentale suggests that critics should take creative writing courses to learn how to write something worth reading.

The full table of contents of Studija 2/2011

A Prior Magazine explores current tendencies and practices in performance art, presenting artists Danai Anesiadou, Gabriel Lester and Luis Jacob. “All employ techniques involving association, collage, assemblage and particularly linking, which is so intrinsic to the Internet medium, where endless referencing and mixing is done with all sorts of visual material in order to construct new stories and generate meanings”, writes editor Els Roelandt.

The increasing role of the viewer is linked to these techniques, Roelandt writes, as is “the need for one unique experience, which is not virtual and not capable of being substituted by an elaborately documented story or by some ersatz filmed via smartphone and posted on YouTube. The need to ‘experience it’.”

Performing martyrdom: Donatien Grau observes how rooted performance art is in religion, specifically Christian medieval mysteries: “The 1960s and early 1970s was the time of reinterpretation of Christianity in the frame of contemporary art. […] The performers were actually, in a certain way, transforming acting into religion: they were doing it for real. Pain, blood, semen were real. […] So the fact that their acts follow the clear rules of religion – what happens is real, even if it is a miracle, especially if it is a miracle – makes their own art something disturbing, unique, and miraculous in its own way. Hence, there would be a connection to identify between the dualism mind/body and the actual reality of things happening.”

The younger generation of performance artists, according to Grau, are contradicting this heritage and adopting “a less provocative stance: instead of using the body to provoke physical discomfort, they prefer the magic of narrative discourse. […] When nakedness is everywhere, discourse appears to be the current form of resistance. From a certain point of view, this reinvention of speech as the expression and the vivacity of art-making could be interpreted as a way out of the body/mind dualism.”

Also: Defne Ayas relates how the biennial Performa festival brought a real sense of collaboration into New York’s arts scene; and John Menick tells the disturbing story of a trip to Mexico to see Consuelo’s Medusa.

The full table of contents of A Prior 21 (2011)

Published 20 April 2011

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


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