"Maps and worlds"

6 December 2005
Only in en
Esprit discusses the geography of rioting; du finds as many worlds as maps; Critique & Humanism campaigns for the Bulgarian cultural journal; Reset reads the freebies; Sodobnost weighs up the pros and cons of cultural subsidies; Kulturos barai gives Lithuanian theatre mixed reviews.

Esprit 12/2005

The latest issue of Parisian journal Esprit responds to the rioting in the French suburbs with a discussion panel on urban geography and violence with sociologists and geographers Jacques Donzelot, Philippe Estèbe, Marie-Christine Jaillet, and Hugues Lagrange. What were the reasons for the series of urban riots in France since 27 October, they ask, and what distinguishes these outbreaks of violence from those of 1990? How have these “quartiers” become isolated, and what political action is needed to prevent these communities closing in on themselves?

In a series of related articles, political scientists Catherine Wihtol de Wenden, Olivier Roy, Alexix Tadié, Marie Mendras, Kahlid Hamdani, and Antoine Garapon analyze the explanations in France and abroad for the riots. The issue of discrimination, they say, is now one that cannot be oversimplified or ignored. Tying in with the discussion, Jacques Donzelot reviews Olivier Mongin’s book “The urban condition”, an examination of the role of architecture in satisfying city-dwellers’ simultaneous needs for “shelter” and “exteriority”.

In a thematic section entitled “Ethics, public health, and individual responsibility”, Mélanie Heard discusses the implications of the conviction in 2004 of a man who knowingly infected his partners with HIV, a development that caused concern among actors in the fight against Aids. And in “Programmed births? Genetics, assisted procreation, and the accident of being oneself”, ethical philosopher Richard M. Zaner reads science fiction to shed light on the possibilities and limitations of human cloning, emphasizing the part that accident and contingency play in all human life.

Also to look out for: “In the eye of the American storm” – Jean Joseph Goux on how this year’s hurricanes have weakened President Bush; and “For a doctrine of liberty” – Julien Cantegreil on reconciling civil rights with anti-terror legislation.

The full table of contents of Esprit 12/2005.

du 11-12/2005

“World maps don’t imitate what really is, but instead they interpret it; they collect the unheard-of and visualize the hidden. They give scale to the imponderable, grasping it without controlling it”, writes Daniel Schwarz in the latest issue of du. “World maps allow us to imagine the world, they locate us in time and space.”

du leads us through the many worlds charted in different maps. From maps drawn as early as 100 BC showing the world as four equal parts divided by a cruciform body of water, to the first map showing North and South America to the west and Asia to the east (drawn by Martin Waldseemüller in 1507). Further into modern times, an anamorphic map shows the size of each country based on its gross national product – Japan is larger than Germany and South Africa is by far the largest country in Africa.

For those who love maps more than travelling, Austrian novelist Daniel Kehlmann describes the so-called “finger-traveller”, the “conquistador of fantasy”:

The finger-traveller usually wears glasses, and after nightfall is easily frightened; he’s often occupied with his shoelaces, tends to sniffle, cherishes the comfort of knit pullovers, is dreamy, reads a lot, and has a drawer full of unpublished poetry. His longing for the foreign, for jungles, deserts, and wide expanses, for exotic cities, is closely tied to his aversion to travelling – he loves to dream of far away places, but does not want to visit them.

It’s true for most of us that the further away from a place we are, the more poetic and romantic it seems. This holds even truer for the finger-traveller, whose technical dreams have come true with Google Earth. Simply download a program from the Internet, type in a location, and Google Earth gives you a bird’s-eye view of wherever you’d like to be. Just don’t mistake what you see for reality: the pictures are up to three years old and have been digitally touched up. But this doesn’t bother the finger-traveller, who sees little difference between atlases from the Middle Ages and simulated satellite panoramas.

Whether you’re a finger-traveller or not, the latest du shows the beauty and political impact of cartography through the ages, and helps us to answer the eternal question, “Where are we?”

The full table of contents of du 11-12/2005.

Critique & Humanism 19 (1/2005)

The latest issue of Bulgarian journal Critique & Humanism addresses the state of cultural periodicals in Bulgaria today. Articles deal with aspects of cultural publishing ranging from circulation and financing to private and public cultural policy. Blagovest Zlatanov, the former director of the now defunct “New Publicity” project, run by the Soros Centre in Sofia, explains the thinking behind the initiative: after 1989, cultural periodicals and the media at large were to play a crucial role in creating an alternative concept of the public sphere in Bulgaria.

This aim has been forgotten, says Zlatanov, who guest-edits and contributes to the issue. In his English-language article, “The changes of policy making in the sphere of cultural periodicals in Bulgaria after 1989”, he laments that, “In Bulgaria, the space for independent media discussion is almost non-existent. It is forced to exist merged with the media market of dailies, TV channels, and commercial radio, where both news and commentary and the language of the press itself are commodities following the laws of supply and demand.” Instead of freedom of expression and diversity, the prevailing values of the Bulgarian media are intolerance, intrusiveness, linguistic poverty, and political expedience.

Zlatanov calls this a “wasted opportunity”; we understand the extent of that on reading his second contribution (in German) on mass media and the cultural press in Bulgaria under communism. “The media, who are able, and structurally defined by the ability, to mediate the diversity of reality, dispense with this structural characteristic in favour of a totalizing repetition of the eschatology of history born in the heads of Lenin, Stalin, and so on. Precisely because of its totalization, this ideology did away with any difference between the mass media and the cultural press, over which it had command.”

Language, as the means to achieve the permanent deferral of “what is” to “what should be”, was communism’s most effective tool: control over language meant control over reality. Now, when these conditions have been removed, diversity is being smothered by commerciality. What must be done if cultural journals in Bulgaria are to have a future? Zlatanov appeals for the following: public cultural policies must cease to be merely words on paper; cultural journals must seek funding from abroad; an association of cultural journals must be formed; and civil society must campaign on behalf of the cultural sector.

The full table of contents of Critique & Humanism 19 (1/2005).

Reset 92 (2005)

We see them every morning, lying on the floor or between the seats of the underground, where people have discarded them after a quick read on the way to work. The latest issue of Reset looks at “free press”, an idea born in Sweden with Metro and now ubiquitous worldwide. Reset‘s take on this oft-criticized segment of the media is surprisingly positive. According to journalist and author Daniele Castellani Perelli, the “freebies” are “not only a reality, but the final frontier of the world print market”.

His article begins with a quote from Forbes: “There may still be no such thing as a free lunch, but in most major cities, a free newspaper is easy to find. The most widely read papers in Manhattan, London, Paris, Stockholm, and Toronto don’t cost a cent.” But do these free papers poach readers from the regular press?

Poaching, otherwise known as cannibalism, in most cases causes no major threat to the dailies. Most readers of free papers are people who either do not subscribe to a daily newspaper anyway, or people who subscribe in addition, notes Castellani Perelli, citing an important study by Piet Bakker, professor at the Amsterdam School of Communications Research. The bottom line is that more people are reading papers.

In Italy, this is a major step, where until recently, reading papers took a back seat to watching television. Journalist Francesca Guinand describes the success of free papers among an ever-growing Italian readership:

The free press unites the present and the future. On one hand, it brings back memories of the first printed papers and the magazines circulating at the beginning of the seventeenth century (small format, concise information). On the other hand, it looks to the future: the graphics and contents bring to mind television and web pages. Three elements make the free press a successful medium: it’s free; it’s on the move, adjusting to the lifestyle of its readers; and it transmits information quickly. Is this just the thing Italy has been needing? Most likely yes.

Also to look out for, a focus on religion and politics: Princeton professor Michael Walzer on the liberal line in America between Church and State; historian Paolo Pombeni on the differences between the US and Europe; author and political scientist Fred Dallmayr on the possibilities for Islam; and Georgetown professor Michael Kazin on evangelism and politics in the US.

The full table of contents of Reset 92 (2005).

Sodobnost 11-12/2005

Slovenia is currently in the throes of a debate on the pros and cons of state-supported art. Neo-liberal reformist economists describe cultural subsidies as money wasted on useless endeavours by self-important “artists” who refuse to realize that their output is of no interest to anyone. Suppporters of subsidized culture claim, in turn, that economists have no right to an absolute privilege in deciding the priorities of the nation or, indeed, the fate of those for whom literature and art have been guarantors of national survival and ultimate statehood.

In Sodobnost, the debate is illustrated by film critic Samo Rugelj’s thoughts on the Slovenian film industry. While admitting that the Slovenian market is far too small to enable indigenous film production to survive without government subsidies – which applies to most European countries – and that sporadic guerilla actions by independent producers cannot produce a comparable output to that expected from subsidized companies, he argues that film subsidies in Europe are mostly counterproductive and even harmful. This is largely because they tend to create phantom audiences.

The system of government subsidies facilitates the production of films while doing next to nothing for their subsequent promotion and distribution. As a result, even excellent films gather dust far too soon and hardly ever reach wider audiences on DVD, says Rugelj – a view that will raise violent opposition in the Slovenian film industry, say the editors.

Also to look out for: a lengthy section on the rich and vibrant contemporary literature of Bangladesh, little known in Europe and elsewhere; an interview with Drago Jancar, one of the best known and most widely translated contemporary Slovenian writers; and three short stories by writers of the younger generation.

The full table of contents of Sodobnost 11-12/2005.

Kulturos barai 11/2005

Theatre, and the Vilnius international theatre festival “Sirens”, is one of the focuses of the latest issue of Kulturos barai. Tadeusz Kornas, editor-in-chief of the Polish journal didascalia, discusses the Lithuanian productions shown at the festival and acknowledges their versatility, liveliness, and imagination.

Taking an opposite view, renowned Polish theatre critic Lukasz Drewniak deplores falling standards asking “What happened to Lithuanian theatre?”. He describes the most urgent problems of Lithuanian theatre, which was once well-known in Europe for its originality, vision, and linguistic magic. The issue also features a discussion held at the festival focusing on the question of whether theatre festivals are at all the right place to generate new ideas.

Further articles deal with Lithuanian history and identity. Medieval historian Darius Baronas looks into the claim that Lithuania was Christianized too late because of the fierce politics of the Teutonic Order. And Rüdiger Ritter, cultural historian in Bremen, discusses the impact of Lithuanian composer M.K. Ciurlionis on Lithuanian culture.

Also to look out for: Tamás Berkes on the grotesque in central and eastern European literature of the 1970s; and ironic notes on “The autumn of the patriarch”, the first Lithuanian picaresque novel, by Krescencija Surkute.

The full table of contents of Kulturos barai 11/2005.

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Published 6 December 2005

Original in English
First published in

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