Making the negligible considerable

16 January 2013
Only in en
Blätter foresees the avoidable yet certain end to the crises; Il Mulino can’t see the nation state making an exit any time soon;Index on Censorship surveys the world’s digital frontiers; Dialogi comes face to face with direct democracy; New Humanist takes on the miracle mongers; Gegenworte pleads for a universal science; Mittelweg 36 revisits the interwar period; Lettera internazionale dwells upon the threshold between nature and culture; Revolver Revue realizes that fame might be more easily won at home than abroad; and Studija visits the ruins of postwar avant-garde art.


Claus Offe paints a very dark picture of crisis-ridden Europe and sees all exits blocked. He argues that political dynamics, amplified by populist parties, deny voters the insight that the only solution to the eurocrisis, for both the EU and the member states, lies in solidarity. And yet: “At the moment there is a dominant misunderstanding, such that when solidarity […] enters into negotiations it is mistaken for charity, for selfless gifts that the recipient can scarcely be said to have earned.” Offe argues for political action on all levels to effect a thorough overhaul of the system. It is up to governments to regulate the banking system on a national level. But to avoid the implosion of national economies in the southern Eurozone, the EU must actively engage in their restructuring.

Re-deprivatisation: Siegfried Broß and Tim Engartner comment on “The renaissance of local authorities” in Germany. From the 1980s onward, privatisation was considered the key to efficiency and prosperity. On a local level it has since been proven a fatal error, with the cost of services spiralling out of control and the quality deteriorating. Broß and Engartner illustrate the process by looking at the sale of state property under private public partnerships, where the “favoured targets” were “hospital buildings, prisons, town and county council buildings, finance and justice departments, as well as leisure centres and educational institutions. […] This development has, in the interim, began to affect parts of the penal system, hospital treatment orders and psychiatric services, sometimes in institutions where, by default, state force is exercised.” Now that garbage collection, energy supply, water supply and other services are beginning to be returned to public hands, Broß and Engartner perceive that the damage done is finally beginning to be remedied.

Also: Daniel Leisegang argues for the “return of journalism” – because cutting journalists’ wages and dismissing foreign correspondents leaves newspapers with no original content and no product to sell.

The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 1/2013


It is wrong to think that growing global interdependence has led to the “evaporation of the nation state”, argues Alberto Martinelli in the lead article in Il Mulino (Italy). Indeed, “idiosyncratic nationalist ideologies and stereotypical pictures of the national character of ‘other’ Europeans are very persistent” per se. Moreover, they hinder the forming of a European identity.

Martinelli defines “nationalism” not only as a political doctrine or activity but as a fundamental way of thinking, speaking and acting. In the twenty-first century the nation state “continues to be the institutional incarnation of the political authority and the key actor in international relations”.

Yet Martinelli blames, inter alia, the “top down decisional processes” of the European Union for the strengthening of nation states. By involving the “Paneuropean electorate” in the legitimation process of the European Commission, the “democratic deficit” could be alleviated. Martinelli optimistically underlines the affirmation of common values as key for the development of a European identity that reaches beyond national frontiers. This should be supported by the assertion of common European lieux de mémoire along with an emphasis of symbolic elements like common “origin myths”, writes Martinelli.

Solidarity: Marcello Flores provides more on the connection between the growth of “anti-European populism, that for the first time also includes leftist movements, and the absence of democratic legitimation”. He considers the lack of confidence of the population in the EU as its most pressing problem, exacerbated by the EU introducing more and more distance between itself and the populace. Therefore: “If we want to rebuild a European vision for the future, we must have the courage to re-launch a culture based on solidarity […] solidarity understood as a value and a good whose realization doesn’t depend on single states. Instead of nourishing all kind of populist movements, it should constitute the heart of a real and always expansive supranational, thus, European politics.”

The full table of contents of Il Mulino 6/2012


Editor Natasha Schmidt surveys the world’s digital frontiers in the last issue of Index on Censorship (UK) before the launch of its new-look magazine in March under incoming editorial director Miren Gutiérrez.

For all the virtues of the Internet in providing a sphere of “openness and freedom”, the question as to the need for regulation resonates throughout the issue. Here, the posting in September 2012 on YouTube of the video The Innocence of Muslims is a case in point, which also reignites “one of the most contentious issues today: whether individuals or groups have the right not to be offended”. Fittingly, trolling – the posting of “abusive, off-topic comments on websites with the intention of hijacking a discussion” – is also up for discussion, as is the role of bloggers and activists, the impact of spyware used to gather intelligence, and the ongoing clash between religion and free speech.

Damage control: Civil liberties expert Jennifer Granick
provides a bracing, global overview of the legal and regulatory landscape surrounding the Internet. She expresses concern over how “today, our global network is evolving into a parochial one. […] As companies block or are blocked in compliance with international assertions of sovereignty from countries around the world, we are in danger of fragmenting the network along national borders.” Granick’s recommendation: “Policy should encourage provider diversity and network neutrality, or else deviation from the Internet’s original design as a global open network will threaten economic growth, creativity and political activism.”

Portrait of a movement: Gabriella Coleman provides a riveting account of the hacker activist group Anonymous. From “Operation Payback” in December 2010 onward, she traces the development of the movement behind the almost instant icon of the Anonymous Guy Fawkes mask. While Coleman expresses some doubts as to the permanence of Anonymous’s presence on the world stage, she sees no end in sight for “irreverent political protest on the internet”.

The full table of contents of Index on Censorship 4/2012


Protests at the end of 2012 in Slovenia caught the attention of international media. Boris Vezjak asks what the goal of this “uprising” – suddenly a universally popular concept – is, and whether it might signal the beginning of something more than an isolated incident.

Though Vezjak detects a plurality of grievances and motivations, he does not recoil from making more general statements about the protests that spread throughout the country: “Many perceive the protests as a struggle for social justice and equality, and against poverty and unemployment. In opposing the interests of capital and corrupt cliques, the uprisings should be understood primarily as a political act.” He continues: “The fascinating, historical nature of the moment stems from the rarely seen manifestation of spontaneous democracy on the part of the people – it may be that we haven’t seen this in such a clear and passionate form in Slovenia since the plebiscite moments of independence.”

Tourism: Guest editors Mitja Velikonja, culturologist, and Dejan Krizaj, sociologist, offer a set of themed articles devoted to the role of tourism in contemporary society. Questions as to the “new emancipatory potential” of tourism on the one hand, and its tendency to become “just another means of capitalist hegemony” on the other are explored from different perspectives. These include taking as a case study Bohinj in Triglav National Park, where local residents blocked the construction of a hotel in a protected area through the use of a referendum.

The full table of contents of Dialogi 9/2012


The Church of England’s decision not to allow female bishops makes for a bemusing show from the point of view of the New Humanist (UK): “We must merely watch from the sidelines as one faction cites the Bible’s injunction that a bishop is like a father so only men can do it, to be answered by the other that Jesus said he was ‘beyond male and female.'”

Transcendental: Whether making diagnoses as a trainee clinician or directing plays and operas, Britain’s leading public intellectual Jonathan Miller had a single, guiding principle: “To make the negligible considerable.” In an interview with Laurie Taylor, Miller reflects upon his part in the 1960s British comedy stage revue Beyond the Fringe – not as a “wonderful, revolutionary moment in humour”, but rather “part of a wider readjustment of sensibility at the end of the Second World War”. He also discusses his 2004 television documentary series A Rough History of Disbelief, which includes tributes to figures from the early days of the Rationalist Association who faced court proceedings or being ostracized for their lack of belief.

Blasphemy charges: President of the Indian Rationalist Society Sanal Edamaruku faces three years in prison under an article of India’s penal code introduced by the British in 1860. This follows three Catholic organisations filing police complaints in response to Edamaruku tracing, at the invitation of Mumbai’s TV9 channel, the source of water dripping from a crucifix in the grounds of a church in Mumbai. Edamaruku has fled the country to avoid arrest and imprisonment but would like to return and see his case all the way to its Supreme Court because, he remarks, “explaining these miracles […] is so important for India, to come out of fear.” Indeed, he sees this as a further chapter in the struggle of “modern progressive India” with “the India controlled by holy men, astrologers and tantrics, underpinned by the caste system. The modern India has to win,” Edamaruku continues, “because an India with a prominent role on the world stage must not be controlled by the forces of reaction”.

The full table of contents of New Humanist 1/2013


“There was a time when a professor could, without risking his reputation, comment philosophically, literarily and in a popularizing or didactic way, on the broad spectrum of academic questions in many discplines”, writes editor Wolfert von Rahden in the introduction to an issue of Gegenworte on “inter-, multi- and transdisciplinarity”.

Over the centuries, scientists have turned into absolute specialists to the extent that there are fewer and fewer with the ability to master anything outside the specific detail of their specialisms. This is how philosopher Jürgen Mittelstraß describes the current situation, in which getting to grips with the multipolar, complex world of the twentyfirst century becomes increasingly problematic: “The greater the degree of specialization, the more necessary it becomes for specialist knowledge to come together, for without that only specialized problems can be solved and not the problems that are really of interest to academia.”

Yet there is still a long way to go: “We need spaces, structures and, above all, processes that allow for knowledge from diverse disciplines to be transformed into interdisciplinary knowledge, in order to provide answers oriented toward problems”, concludes physiologist Günter Stock: “In Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s model of the academy, interdisciplinarity was a central category […]. The challenge and the art of the academy is to formulate answers that extend beyond disciplinary boundaries, answers tailored to the problems but also the understanding of people.”

The last great universal genius: German writer Mathias Gatza chose “the last great universal genius” Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz as his role model – at least for a while: in order to write a novel in the baroque style, he spent two years researching, reading, and acquiring knowledge:

“Then it happened: I became a universal genius! Me! At last! At first, a wonderful feeling. Everything began to make sense. Alchemy celebrated the triumph of interdisciplinarity in me. An all powerful interdisciplinary child or, better, a inter- and undisciplined all-knowing child. How should I cope? I groaned under the burden of being a baroque, universal genius. In short, it is not much fun being a genius.”

The full table of contents of Gegenworte 28 (2012)


Mittelweg 36 (Germany) revisits the interwar period. Guest editors Jens Hacke and Tim B Mueller show how social, political and historical dynamics of the 1920s and ’30s resemble those of today – with the caveat that the phrase “interwar period” does not imply a teleological interpretation that would mean perceiving WWII as the inevitable consequence of WWI. In fact, the period framed by total and global war was also “a phase of experiment” for modern societies. Moreover: “Much that the period contributed to the development of social democracy, the welfare state and the international system was, in new ways and different forms taken up again after 1945 in Western Europe and elsewhere too.”

Laboratory of modernity: Lutz Raphael looks at how imperial violence and national mobilization shaped the era. The effect was to intensify the “polarization of competing models of order that made Europe a sphere of experimentation with alternative models of society and social engineering in the first half of the twentieth century.” Raphael examines the politicization of consumption, everyday culture and lifestyles; how crises prompted various forms of social engineering, and how fascist, Nazi and Stalinist dictatorships sought to implement radical change in domestic and foreign policy with unprecedented violence.

“Bonn is not Weimar”: Perceptions that the Weimar Republic had been an outright political failure were particularly prevalent around 1956, when the Swiss publicist Fritz René Allemann published a book with the slogan “Bonn is not Weimar” as its title. In 1950s West Germany, Bonn was perceived to have succeeded where Weimar had failed. Anselm Doering-Manteuffel takes the same slogan as his point of departure for reassessing the political career of the Weimar Republic – focussing on its social policies and labour law. He contends that it was these that “became key elements of a model ‘social welfare state based on the rule of law’, a model that was adopted by the Federal Republic after 1949, corrected in some respects, and systematically revised and updated”.

The full table of contents of Mittelweg 36 6/2012


The wood on the threshold between nature and culture inspires the authors of Lettera internazionale (Italy). The philosopher Jean-Marc Besse discusses a new anthropology of nature. For him it’s time to reconsider the opposition between culture – artificiality, inconstancy, convention, rules and values – and nature – authenticity, stability, reliability. “For human beings, the relation between nature and culture is marked by a constitutive ambiguity. […] Everything is constructed and everything is natural. […] Nowadays the crucial point when it comes to describing the relationship between culture and nature is not the accord or discord between two fundamentally different worlds but much more the delimitation and articulation, within the ambit of one’s own culture, of what can be described, thought or lived as ‘nature’.”

Painting trees: “This oak or that chestnut, whose individuality is so surprising, doesn’t give the impression of an uneasy conscience always yearning to overcome one’s own limits, something that characterizes the individual of the human species.” Yves Bonnefoy dedicates a poetical essay to the inspiration that trees have provided for paintings and sees the attraction of this motif in the parallels between tree and human being: they depend upon earth and water, they “spread in the air and can suffer from fire. […] A history of the painted tree would be the history of our most vivid disquiet.”

Also: An interview from 1982 with Joseph Beuys on the occasion of his intervention during documenta 7 in Kassel, where he planted 7000 oaks throughout the city, each accompanied by a basalt pillar. The pillars stand as symbols of Beuys’ “ecological idea of the reorganization of our life and our society”.

The full table of contents of Lettera internazionale 113 (2012)


Children’s writer Olga Cerna, a distant relative of Miroslav Sasek (1916-1980), inherited a suitcase of his letters, telegrams and photographs. These form the basis of her profile piece on the Czech painter, illustrator and cartoonist, which lends a global dimension to Revolver Revue (Czech Republic).

After leaving Czechoslovakia in 1947, Sasek won worldwide acclaim for his 1960s series of 16 illustrated children’s travel books set mostly on capital cities (This is London, This is Paris). The books sold hundreds of thousands of copies and were translated into ten languages, yet in the Czech Republic their author remains virtually unknown.

Sasek’s illustrations for books by other authors, paintings, and writing for Radio Free Europe all feature in Cerna’s article. She also recounts how in the 1990s she set out to find a Czech publisher for the “This is…” series without success. In the interim, publishers in New York and Paris started to reissue it. The series was endorsed by Oprah Winfrey, posters and calendars were printed and several Sasek fan websites sprung up. Amidst renewed global interest, Cerna happily reports, the first “This is…” book in Czech will appear soon.

Underground: When Vit Kremlicka, poet and member of underground bands Narodni trida and His Boys and one of Revolver Revue‘s co-founders, started writing in the 1980s, his poetry appeared only in samizdat. Extracts from his correspondence (1982-1989) reproduced in facsimile and in transcription in the booklet supplementing this issue offer a glimpse of the Bohemian lifestyle of underground artists under communism. The poetry ranges from light-hearted limericks through political satire to heart-rending lyric and the letters offer candid snippets of his everyday life, from outings with friends, drinking bouts, sexual encounters to stays in psychiatric hospitals. “I am tired of contact with friends. I don’t seem to get on with anyone these days – it’s as if we were speaking different languages. I shall seek solitude.”

The full table of contents of Revolver Revue 89 (2012)


In Studija (Latvia), Alise Tifentale does a somewhat belated hatchet job on last year’s Guggenheim exhibition “Art of another kind: International abstraction and the Guggenheim, 1949-1960”.

She views the show as the product of two things. Firstly, a self-righteous American attitude that celebrates the heroism and individualism of their leaders – in this case James Johnson Sweeney, director of Guggenheim in the 1950s – “without the slightest irony or scepticism.” And secondly, the formalism of the curators, which results in the strict separation of art from life and “a harmless parade of rectangular multicoloured canvases”.

Tifentale’s take on Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic museum building itself is similarly unforgiving. This “authoritarian construction demands that the works of art are to be placed along the walls of a spiral ramp, and directs the flow of the public in an unrelenting one-way mass procession (going up or down the ramp). Thus the viewer has no other option but to obediently follow the narrative designed by the museum through the sequence of works. What’s more, from the second floor upwards, Wright has designed the lower part of the wall slanting slightly outwards, keeping visitors at an ever increasing distance.”

Wright, concludes Tifentale, “will always command the parade at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and, most probably, this museum – although physically intact and well-preserved – will turn into the metaphorical ruins of postwar avant-garde art. This coil of concrete will always loom at the end of Fifth Avenue as a monument to American idealism of the 1950s and the successful attempts of instrumentalizing art as a weapon for political struggle, as a monument to an outdated and unwholesome attitude towards art and the glorification of social, economic, gender and other inequalities. This is exactly what ruins and other historic monuments do – testify, by their physical presence, to the values and dreams of a bygone epoch.”

Also: In an article entitled “Revolutions per minute”, Kaspars Grosevs writes the history of punk – and the cover unfolds to become a poster by Ieva Rubeze.

The full table of contents of Studija 6/2012

Published 16 January 2013

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


recommended articles