Long live the people!

13 February 2013
Only in en
Esprit advocates “mariage pour tous!”; L’Homme examines the subversive nature of gender; Genero asks whether feminism has made any kind of difference; Rigas Laiks approves of restraining the powers that be; Kulturos barai looks forward to the new world system; Critique & Humanism cries long live the people!; dérive stresses the street is good for more than just driving; Magyar Lettre provides a wealth of perspectives on Europe; and Merkur seeks a wider readership for Bulgarian literature.

Yesterday the French Assembly approved a bill to reform marriage and adoption. The bill paves the way, if passed by the Senate, for same-sex marriage. “To marry means honouring the couple, and not giving homosexual couples the right to tie the knot equates to “sending them to the non-noble part of our common house,” says sociologist Irène Théry in Esprit (France).

At the end of a brief history of French marriage law starting with the French Revolution and proceeding to the recent public debate on “marriage for all”, she notes that: “Marriage has changed a lot during the last century. It’s now a free choice, equal and it can be dissolved by the common will of the parties, it’s not a symbol of a macho and hypocritical family system anymore. […] Marriage has become desirable.”

Central to the whole discourse is the subject of parenthood and, more particularly, gay parenthood. Théry calls for a change of law in order to provide a legal framework for adoptions and assisted reproductive technologies: “It’s time for our legal system to open up to pluralism and stop hindering today’s true family life, which is multiple, diverse and inventive.”

Legal consequences: Marc-Olivier Padis ventures into the legal consequences that a redefinition of marriage may entail. The law, particularly as it relates to adoptions, must be changed if citizens are not to “place themselves in legally precarious situations”. He continues: “It is not new that family situations are shaped by hidden stories, private arrangements, family secrets. […] Our community is divided, whether alarmingly or reassuringly, regarding the way children and adults, women and men ‘negotiate’ the reconfiguration of the family.” Above all: “It is not in the collective interest to weaken individual ties through normative tinkering.”

Padis also considers the role of the French Catholic Church in the discussion although the “outcome of its contribution can be regarded as weak”. Instead of pursuing juridical, anthropological or psychoanalytical arguments, it concentrates on defending its fortress and reinforcing the “discourse of a counter-society”, that is, the kind of society that the French Catholic Church would consider acceptable if it were at all possible.

Also: An interview with Timothy Snyder complements philosopher Jean-Claude Monod‘s review of Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, now out in French translation.

The full table of contents of Esprit 2/2013

The conservative backlash has reached the core of the gender debate: not as a subject of discussion but merely as an intruder. Antifeminist theory and pro-masculinity approaches that pay special attention to the figure of the simplified male victim have arrived.
This development is accompanied by the espousal of a reversed offender-victim relationship that, in L’Homme (Austria), strikes Christa Hämmerle as strangely familiar: “In the first place, it is the victim discourse that is vexing, a victim discourse that is growing noticeably louder and typically covers all men, which ironically reminds one of the one-dimensional perspective of the victim in early women studies.” Hämmerle describes in more detail the protagonists and theoretical background of the new opponents of feminist theory and ends her article by posing numerous questions for discussion in future issues: Is it incidental that the movement emerges parallel to an economic crisis? Is a turn towards a more inclusive discussion a necessity, especially where debates on gender relations increasingly concern male inequality?

Machiavelli does gender: Anna Becker rereads Niccolò Machiavelli and the analytical literature on gender relations in Il Principe. She discovers that Machiavelli had pronounced opinions about what is male and female, virtù and fortuna, but did not perceive these characteristics as being necessarily attached to men and women. Becker questions if Machiavelli has been somewhat misunderstood in feminist theory and argues that he was “open to the idea of women acting politically – as long as they act like vigorous men they do not have to negate their womanhood. Subversiveness is a central feature of Machiavellian political theory.”

Also: Merry Wiesner-Hanks and Angelika Epple tackle the issues of feminist theory and global history; and Claudia Ulbrich interviews Hanna Hacker.

The full table of contents of L’Homme 2/2012

Have the goals of feminism really been fulfilled? Are women now “free to choose” how to combine career, family, and the expression of femininity? Not according to Selma Veseljevic Jerkovic in Genero (Serbia).

Her deconstruction of the “Superwoman” cliché lays bare the internal contradictions of the postfeminist concept. As such, representations of women in film, television, “chick lit” and magazines speak volumes. The “empowered” woman is in fact intimately linked with consumerism and the demands of capitalism: “Women’s magazines recommend ongoing beauty regimes and recourse to expensive cosmetic surgeries, without ever addressing questions of finance.” The upshot: “Feminist successes are accepted, but in a manner that renders feminist thought unnecessary.”

Meanwhile, blatant inequalities persist and women remain under pressure as the attractive objects of the male gaze. This leaves Veseljevic Jerkovic questioning just how much progress has actually been made, given that the ideal of womanhood celebrated in popular television series emphasizes youth and attractiveness at the same time as portraying women as “other”, including “in the form of demons and vampires who must be destroyed.”

Mosaic logic: Andrew Hodges compares and contrasts the application of concepts of culture in Anglo-American and southeast European anthropological traditions. His fieldwork in Belgrade and Zagreb, and analysis of the exclusionary discourse of interlocutors, prompts a reassessment of the “mosaic logic” that promotes a “world of bounded cultures happily co-existing”. Hodges argues that, “in focusing on difference, we contribute to its consolidation and further production […] The reification of traditions as culture furthermore creates a space for the production of hierarchies between ‘cultures’ and the dehumanization of cultural others associated with war.”

Also: Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) is remembered. An article by Natasa Tucev and Milena Kostic takes the American poet’s seminal essay “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision”, first published in 1971, as its point of departure.

The full table of contents for Genero 16 (2012)

Aryeh Neier has headed up Human Rights Watch (of which he is also a founder), the American Civil Liberties Union and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. While in Riga for the twentieth anniversary of Soros Foundation Latvia, he spoke to Rigas Laiks editor Ieva Lesinska about revolutionary transformation and the struggles that ensue once the revolutionary moment passes.

Meanwhile, eastern Europe strikes Neier as “a partial success story […] By and large, individual liberties and rights are respected in eastern European countries. But they are very seriously threatened today in a country like Hungary. Aside from a populist government that threatens constitutional rights you have a sort of neo-fascist political party that preaches ethnic hatred, that is a significant force.” Nonetheless: “There’s no comparison between the eastern Europe of today, and the eastern Europe during the period of Soviet control. These are essentially free societies today.”

Not that there is no room for improvement: Neier expects to begin work this year that may lead to establishing “a sort of European civil liberties union.”

Quality of life: In a polemic on the millions of EU workers protesting in Spain, Portugal and Greece in the wake of austerity measures, Kiril Kobrin offers a concise history of conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie during the course of the last two centuries.

The full table of contents for Rigas Laiks 1/2013

In an interview with Almantas Samalavicius, Immanuel Wallerstein stands by the verdict he gave in Geopolitics and Geoculture (1991) on the limited success of post-Soviet economies: “The crucial point is that, at any given time, there is room only for a few countries […] to improve their world-economic position. Eastern Europe (and particularly the trio of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in the 1990s) thought they could be this ‘few’. They were wrong.” He then goes on to explain why he considers both the end of the Cold War and the Arab Spring as continuations of the world revolution of 1968.

Wallerstein asserts that the existing system cannot survive and envisages one of two alternatives emerging within the next 20 to 40 years: “On the one side, there are those who wish to replace capitalism with a non-capitalist system that will retain all of capitalism’s worst features – hierarchy, exploitation and polarization; and on the other, those who seek to create a historical system that has never yet existed, one based on relative democracy and relative equality.”

“The crisis in the structures of knowledge is part and parcel of the structural crisis of the modern world-system.” However, “whereas in the period 1850-1950, the social sciences were torn apart by the battle between science and the humanities, both science and the humanities are turning in the direction of each other towards what I am calling the ‘social-scientization’ of all knowledge.” This is a process that Wallerstein perceives as being far from complete, though he is encouraged by the course it has taken thus far.

Selective memory: Tomas Kavaliauskas talks to Zygmunt Bauman about dissidence in eastern central Europe before the fall of the Iron Curtain. As for regional identity thereafter, Bauman says this is “changing at different speeds but inexorably, into what Hannah Arendt called ‘bands of mixed populations’.”

Also: Virgilijus Cepaitis recalls how Lithuania’s participation in the European Security and Cooperation conference in 1990 marked a pivotal moment in the birth of the new state.

The full table of contents of Kulturos barai 1/2013

Critique and Humanism (Bulgaria) dedicates an English language special issue to the challenges surrounding representative democracy.

Long live the people! Boyan Znepolski remains far from convinced by recent attempts on the part of contemporary philosophers to get to grips with the relation between “democracy as a political regime and the people.” The trend is clear: “Today, a more radical critique is gaining momentum, a critique which unambiguously defines contemporary democracy as the political legitimation of capitalism and as an excuse for the capitalist exploitation of the people, thereby calling into question both capitalism and democracy.”

However, making reference to works by Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou and Ernesto Laclau, Znepolski finds that “the people is not the carrier of a new project for the world, it is an embodiment of a destructive rage that must punish an unjust social order by destroying it.” His conclusion is unequivocal. “This radical political philosophy attests to a two-fold deficit of creativity: to the impossibility of the present-day political model to respond productively to the growing social discontent in the world, on the one hand; to the inability of the critical imagination to transcend productively the set limits of liberal democracy, on the other.”

Copycat tactics: Adrian Guelke and Tom Junes compare processes of regime change during the demise of communism in Poland and apartheid in South Africa. They describe how “the diffusion of a mediatized ‘myth of 1989’ […] inspired part of the South African opposition in the early 1990s – when armed struggle had been abandoned and the opposition was already negotiating with the apartheid regime – to press for a so-called ‘Leipzig Way’ to end apartheid.” In the end though, Guelke and Junes caution against “any presumptuous generalization of transnational dimensions in processes of regime change.”

The full table of contents of Critique & Humanism 40 (2012)

In celebration of its fiftieth issue, dérive dedicates a jubilee edition to the street and the variety of uses to which it is put – beyond cars. From the demands that aspirations to be a global city place on street-life in India to those placed on the layout of the Opernkreuzung in Vienna as the routes of cars and pedestrians cross, there are disruptions and connections in equal measure along the way.

Traffic: Josef Schopf and Günter Emberger contemplate the future of urban mobility, arguing that the availability of different forms of traffic and their respective speeds have determined the course of urban development. Once walking was surpassed as the primary form of mobility, concepts of time and distance altered. The uses, both public and private, to which streets were put during the course of the twentieth century changed as speeds increased. Many public functions of the street were lost to cars. This leads Schopf and Emberger to call for the reassignment of public space for uses other than motor traffic. For it is not only environmental pollution but first and foremost the one-dimensional use of streets that reduces the attractiveness of cities.

Real spaces return: By way of contrast, Roman Horak embraces the renaissance of the street in both political and metaphorical senses: “It seems that, after years of absence, the street (above all as both space and place) has re-entered public debate. Whereas at the turn of the millennium discussions centred on space, with a focus on diverse aspects of virtual space, a completely different picture has emerged in the interim. Real spaces – and the street is one of these – have attracted renewed attention, whether in journalism or in the social and cultural sciences.” Horak is particularly interested in the street as an arena for the political expression of the masses, as a place of repression exercised by the powers that be, and as a natural habitat for youth culture. Carnivals, free parties and love parades also enter the fray.

The full table of contents for dérive 50 (2013)

A carefully chosen sample of Eurozine articles and interviews from 2012 accounts for a substantial portion of the content in Magyar Lettre (Hungary), interspersed by a conversation with Timothy Garton Ash, and literary excerpts from the likes of Stefano Benni, Ákos Doma and Endre Kukorelly.

Diversity: Lviv is the location for a discussion between the Brussels-based author David Van Reybrouck and the Ukranian journalist and politician Andriy Shevchenko, part of Eurozine’s “Europe talks to Europe” series. The subject of their conversation is the re-nationalization of Europe; and yet, according to Schevchenko, it is the location that reflects what “Europe is really about”:

“It’s about finding something different next door. In Lviv you can walk from the Mickiewicz monument to Serbian Street or from an Armenian church to a Roman cathedral, on two different street corners you can hear a Polish or a Russian song and you can laugh at a Jewish joke. When you stop for dinner you can eat a Budapest-style goulash or a Munich-style Eisbein, you can drink a shot of Czech Becherovka or Austrian Marillenschnaps. This shows not only that this city is at the crossroads of cultures but that this whole country belongs to Europe.”

European identity: Georges Prévélakis traces the history behind the collapse of Greece: “The creation of the modern Greek state in the nineteenth century […] needs to be understood first and foremost as a large-scale European identity project. Regardless of the climate of antagonism between France, Britain and Russia that accompanied Greek independence, it was one of the most important affirmations of a European identity.”

The full table of contents of Magyar Lettre Internationale 86 (2012)

We had to wait a long time before finally laying our hands on a copy of Chris Ware’s Building Stories last week, a 14-piece graphic novel in a box that looks more like a tabletop game than the narrative innovation it actually is. Building Stories is one of the most talked about fictional works to appear in recent years. So is Mad Men, Matthew Weiner’s TV series that will soon – on 7 April – enter its sixth season. What do they have in common?

Building Stories and Mad Men both belong to the genre that the editors of Passage (Denmark) call “pictorial novels” (billedromaner). A highly readable issue pins down a trend in contemporary narratives – the pictorial turn – and at the same time critically evaluates its individual works, from literary media hybrids by W G Sebald and Alexander Kluge through graphic novels to television series such as The Sopranos, The Wire and Mad Men.

It’s not TV, it’s a new novel: By now, most western countries have had their “the-TV-series-is-the-new-novel” debate. So has Denmark. But Jakob Isak Nielsen takes the discussion one step further by showing that while there are good reasons to treat Breaking Bad or The Wire as the grand narratives of our times there are also limits to what the TV series can do. This genre, he writes, “doesn’t have the same range as films or novels – not even if you include European series such as Heimat, Berlin Alexanderplatz or The Singing Detective. The TV series has no Jealousy (Robbe-Grillet) or Tropisms (Nathalie Sarraute); it has no Naked Lunch (Burroughs) or Infinite Jest (David foster Wallace). Most American TV series still centre on the good old conflict between work and private life, the two constitutive tracks in The Sopranos, Mad Men and Homeland, just to mention a few examples. The novel simply digs deeper.”

Also: Lasse Gammelgard on Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, a graphic memoir about Bechdel’s own coming-out story and her father’s homosexuality and (probable) suicide. An article as complex as the work itself.

The full table of contents of Passage 68 (2012)

Developments in Bulgarian literature prompt no less than two Merkur (Germany) pieces. Thomas Frahm, renowned for his translations of authors like Vladimir Zarev, provides a critical overview of the Bulgarian literary landscape that ranges from a post-WWII “epoch of total frustration” up until today – along with his translation of a short story by Kristin Dimitrova.

Frahm resists the temptation to dismiss everything published under communism. Dmitri Dimoff’s Tabak (1951), a kind of Bulgarian Buddenbrooks (1901), and the novels of Dimitar Talev documenting the emergence of the Bulgarian nation from one of Europe’s last feudal empires feature among those works that he would prefer not to lose – to say nothing of Blaga Dimitrova’s oeuvre. At the same time, Frahm draws on the writings of Georgi Markov (1929-1978) in providing a frank account of a truly bleak period, during which “every last Bulgarian lost any hope that the West would help.”

That said, Bulgaria’s return to the international scene was all but ignored. Being guest of honour at the 1999 Leipzig book fair yielded next to nothing, the most cursory of feuilleton summaries excepted. Nonetheless, Frahm finds in Vladimir Zarov an underrated contemporary novelist, “who does not try to write for Bulgaria alone, like those who continue to weld together literature and national destiny. Rather, he traces in the controversies of his culture the contemporary questions that affect everyone on this earth.” However, aside from Dimitré Dinev’s German language novel “Angels’ tongues” (2006), it is with Dimitrova’s short story “The Border Crossing” that the journey out into the world truly begins: “The coach lurched along on the road, full of potholes, on the way to the border at Kalotina, leaving behind everything that Dimitar knew.”

The media of politics: Philip Manow considers it high time that someone wrote a study on “the media of politics”. And not least in the wake of European Central Bank president Mario Draghi’s announcement in July 2012, that the ECB would purchase an unlimited quantity of eurozone members’ bonds on the secondary market – a speech of a little over 1,000 words that is estimated to have added value to the markets to the tune of between four and six billion euros.

The full table of contents of Merkur 2/2013

Published 13 February 2013

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


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