Not a Prospero in sight

18 April 2012
Only in en
Soundings is disenchanted by the London Olympics; Ny Tid seeks its way out of the European labyrinth; Blätter says that Europe is democratic, just that no one knows it; GAM predicts that the urban future will be dense; Multitudes explores political counter-fictions; Cogito explains why queer friendship upsets the state; Critique & Humanism gets sentimental about politics; Revista Crítica joins up social vulnerability and natural risk; and Host pays its respects to Josef Skvorecky.

Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises / Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not: the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics – theme: “The Isle of Wonders” – will take its lead from Caliban’s famous speech in The Tempest. The 27 million pound bonanza, writes Phil Cohen in Soundings, “seeks to conjure up a vision of Britain as just such an enchanted island, a latter day Illyria, where the descendants of Caliban energetically disport themselves, demonstrating a can-do attitude that enables them to defy gravity, become authors of their own lives, and above all ‘live the dream’. And not a Prospero in sight to spoil their fun.”

A narrative about “place not race”, the island theme decolonizes Britain’s history while invoking the principle of concordia discors: “This is the essential formula of English multiculturalism,” writes Cohen, “which draws a continuous line – of first tolerance and then celebration of difference – through the fraught circumstances of what came to be known as ‘community relations’. Yet the need to sustain a political and social order based on an organic sense of the nation and its imagined community […] has increasingly come up against the need to create a space of representation that is open to the not always harmonious ‘confusion’ of the world.”

“Whatever the exact details of its final content, The Isle of Wonders promises to offer us a mirror of collective self regard, a paradigm of British identity, that, in its very mode of enchantment, cannot be other than a beautifying lie.”

A European welfare state: The German-French response to the euro crisis mistakes public debt for the root cause of recession, argues Engelbert Stockhammer: “The debt brake will not eliminate government deficits; it will further hamper a much needed countercyclical economic policy.” Even if the EU fails as a state building project, it will have to learn how to cooperate and coordinate more effectively across Europe: “A progressive European project must make economic and political sense, in that it has to inspire people to want to create a European civil society”.

Stockhammer’s suggestions: a system of trans-nationally coordinated wage bargaining; “speed bumps” on national as well as international financial transactions; and a mechanism of redistribution across regions that does not rely on generosity and bail outs. “These measures would amount to the creation of a European welfare state. This could give a new life to the project of European integration. And it would make economic sense.”

Also: Doreen Massey learns from Latin America; Aditya Chakrabortty envisages a de-industrial revolution; and Jeremy Gilbert and Guy Aitcheson reflect on the student movement.

The full table of contents of Soundings 50 (2012)

Introducing an issue of Ny Tid (Helsinki) on the European crisis, Fredrik Sonck compares today’s situation with that faced by Theseus, the mythical founder-king of Athens: killing the Minotaur was difficult enough, but the real challenge was finding the way out of the Labyrinth. It was only with the help of Ariadne’s thread that he could return to daylight.

The problem, writes Sonck, is that we have lost Ariadne’s thread. “This thread stands for everything that is important to us, what we really want: that everyone has a job, that old people get some rest, that our children receive an education. […] In short: we want Europe to be a fairly agreeable home. If we can’t get everything we want right now, we at least have to be able to believe that the thread is there, that we’ll be able to get hold of it again and find the way out of the labyrinth. In Athens, the hometown of Theseus, that faith is now fading.”

Suicidal tendencies: The suicide of a pensioner outside the Greek parliament, the most spectacular in a series, sums up the mood of a population confronted with the steady erosion of its rights – the latest outrage being the introduction of a fee for crime victims, writes Victor Tsilonis. Upping and leaving is also a popular option: if the situation doesn’t improve, in ten years time Thessaloniki’s population will be a third of what it is today. Will people seize the opportunity of the upcoming elections to repudiate the propaganda of “inevitability”, Tsilonis wonders, or will tomorrow be just another “groundhog day” in Greece’s predestined future?

Human rights: In interview, Thomas Hammarberg looks back at six years as Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights (his term ends this month). In the last decade, he says, the human rights situation in Europe has not improved. On the contrary. Hammarberg is especially critical of the handling of the current crisis: austerity measures have led to increasing unemployment while in hospitals and other institutions for the elderly the situation has become unsustainable due to lack of personnel.

“When implementing austerity measures – which in some cases might be necessary – one has to take great care to protect the most vulnerable groups,” says Hammarberg. That is now not the case: the current cuts infringe on both social and economic rights.

More about Ny Tid

Contrary to opinion, Europe’s democratic deficit is not an inherent fault of its constitutional definition, writes Hauke Brunkhorst in Blätter. “All one has to do is, via immanent critique, remove Europe from its current legal order, make it explicit and get it to speak. But that’s precisely the problem: Europe is already democratically constituted, just that no one knows it.”

The fault is “the reduction of politics to technique, while evading, disabling and manipulating public debate and the formation of public will.” The original sin, argues Brunkhorst, was committed in the EEC treaty of 1957, when ordoliberals succeeded in establishing free market rules. Ordoliberalism’s successor – neoliberalism – turned out to be much better equipped to deal with globalization than Keynesianism or socialism. Economics went global, while politics remained restricted to the nation state.

“Under the auspices of the de-nationalized economic order, both in Europe and globally (GATT, WTO, IMF, World Bank), the nationalized political constitution’s power over markets turned into impotence, and the state-embedded markets of the Keynesian era became market-embedded states. […] All that’s needed for an economic constitution is a technocratic elite, not a democratic citizenry.”

“Regulating, dismembering, nationalizing, stimulating, joining up, siphoning off – at the scale of a functionally differentiated and systematically closed global economy, all this can only be done through continental, globally coordinated, cooperative action.” The current crisis is therefore also a chance for Europe, concludes Brunkhorst: in order to stabilize and strengthen Europe, steps need to be taken in the direction of political union.

Also: Elmar Altvater finds the roots of a socialism for the twenty-first century in the good old cooperative; and Werner Rgemer tells how first companies and then states gave in to rating agencies.

The full table of contents of Blätter fÜr deutsche und internationale Politik 4/2012

Is the historic old town really an unusable relic, divested of its functions, useful only as an open air museum? On the contrary, argues Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani in architectural journal GAM (Austria): “created at a time when urbs were still a reflection of their civitas“, the old city centre “was not a system of functions but rather an organic entity” promoting “individual, personal relations within that organism”. This integrative function, writes Lampugnani, “has become all the more important as more cultures are thrown together due to surges of migration […]. And coincidental encounters, which can by all means provoke irritation, are the best way of averting fragmentation and extremism.”

Future historicism: “A functional mix like the one we find in mediaeval towns necessitates coming to terms with the potential for social conflict”, writes Rob Krier. “With a fatal cult of modernism, urban planning that practices functional separation promotes social disintegration.” His “horror” at the way German cities were rebuilt after WWII “sparked in me the desire to search for solutions that could compare with those represented by old models”. Sure enough, Krier’s design for Brandevoort in the Netherlands – built along the lines of a “classical Brabantian town” – has proved popular with residents. “Making use of the experiences of history does not brand one as an epigone or an eclectic,” he argues. “A profound knowledge of history enables us to confront emanations of the times critically and to hold alternatives up to the modern city.”

Re-evaluating modernism: Instead of being condemned, the large-scale housing structures of the 1960s to 1980s need to be subjected to renewed analysis, writes Vesta Nele Zareh. “If the twenty-first century is to be saved from disintegration into many small private parcels, it is crucial that we deliberate on public space, especially in areas of high density, where urban society can meet and where issues affecting the public can be negotiated on a daily basis.” In the post-Kyoto city, “densification, municipal facilities, public participative areas, and easy access to local public transport appear to be aspects that are just as pertinent today as they were fifty years ago”.

Grnderzeit city 2.1: The monumental apartment buildings of nineteenth century residential districts, originally the product of expansionist pressure and profit maximalization, are today considered worthy of preservation and even emulation, writes Ida Pirstinger. In the Herz-Jesu district of Graz, Austria, building was determined by bourgeois residents rather than miscreant speculators, leading to the creation of courtyard-gardens; for today, Pirstinger proposes a model of “vertical densification” that preserves these green courtyard spaces while retaining the uniform facades of the founders’ designs.

The full table of contents of GAM 8 (2012)

Multitudes (France) thematizes the fine line between fiction’s positive and negative aspects, moving on from the fiction vs. reality divide to examine the potential of political “counter-fictions”. Pierangelo Di Vittorio observes the emergence of a hybrid téléréalité, in which old concepts of fiction and reality merge. A new type of politician – as embodied by Berlusconi over the last twenty years – appears with it: a “perfect and disturbing fusion of superman and everyman”.

Fascism, notoriously enamoured of fiction, is losing its conceptual hold as the depiction of reality broadens to encompass the rules of “enhanced reality”. Reality becomes the “reality of the spectacle”, in which boundaries are blurred in favour of mediagenic effects – everyone can pretend to be another person: actors as art historians, writers as history professors, and everybody as politicians. A new cultural practice of dilettantism is born from the logic of media spectacle.

Counter-fictions: Frdric Claisse revisits William Burroughs, seeking the “tools of counter-fiction that Burroughs has bequeathed to us in order to address control”. Claisse demonstrates how the author deconstructs the notion of depicting reality – everything is an illusion, it is only a question of scale. “By introducing a world that is seemingly hopeless and without exit, control appears retrospectively as a great way to fictionalize its political and social environment.” Yves Citton, meanwhile, develops the concept of counter-fiction in relation to documentary film. Referring to Bruno Latour, he argues that there is no such thing as common ground and that everything is necessarily composed. Strategies of counter-fiction are well suited to avoiding the charms of the “fictionality inherent to our society of spectacle”.

Also: Daniel Cohn-Bendit is alarmed when he thinks of how European heads of state react to the multiple aspects of the economic crisis: nations are trapped in isolation, he argues, and their inactivity will destroy the Union from within.

The full table of contents of Multitudes 48 (2012)

Can queer friendship be integrated into the heteropatriarchal culture in which we live? In Turkish journal Cogito, Berfu Seker turns to art and cinema for illustrations of the utopian queer future expounded by Jos Estaban Munoz, author of Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. Applying the theories of Judith Butler and Michel Foucault to the 1990 film Paris is Burning (a documentary about the New York drag ball subculture), Seker argues that queer relationships are a threat to a state order founded on the nuclear family.

By Hook or By Crook (2001), meanwhile, features two transexual petty criminals whose queer friendship and lifestyle “sabotage sexual categories and heterosexist, capitalist and cultural/moral rules”. The queer friendships, social networks and families in the films “point to subversive and transformative practices and fantasies reconfiguring time and place”, argues Seker, thereby destroying internalized heteropatriarchal, capitalist relationships.

Etymology of friendship: A supporter, well-wisher, equal, neighbour, relative, spouse, God, lover? Savas Kilic seeks the origins of the words arkadas and dost, which both roughly translate as “friend”, to answer the question: “Who is a friend?” Kilic records the semantics of friendship through Ottoman Turkish, Koranic Arabic, Iranian, Celtic, Latin and Sanskrit to modern Germanic and Indo-European languages.

What’s it all about? Psychoanalyst, psychologist and physiologist Saffet Murat Tura is the author of several works on psychoanalysis – so how did he come to be interested in the philosophical ideas that are the subject of his latest book, a dialectical examination of the subject-object paradox? For two reasons, he tells Dogan Sahin: early exposure to his father’s discussions with friends – on cybernetics, robotics, genetics, existence, the brain, Marxism, psychoanalysis, mathematical philosophy – and the idea of death. This heady combination led Tura to constant questioning: What is it all about? How and why do things happen?

Asked to choose the discipline that is the book’s sine qua non, Tura opts for biology, seeing a significant relationship between dialectical and biological thought: in the book, Tura elaborates beyond the Cartesian mind-body dualism to a theory centred on substance versus meaning. Philosophy has waned because it does not contribute to productivity, he says, but will have the last word: “A good philosophy is the only known way to reach a holistic world understanding”.

The full table of contents of Cogito 68-69 (2011-2012)

Emotions, once seen as individual and idiosyncratic, are now produced, distributed and consumed via the mass media, becoming part of the social construct of contemporary democracies, writes Ivaylo Ditchev in Critique & Humanism (Bulgaria). If, in the past, the masses were subject to the shifting moods of the leader, today, with the rapid development of new media, the public has a variety of “emotional scenarios to pick from” and changes its preferences constantly. “Emotions are, so to speak, offered on the market.”

Topics that provoke emotions and polarize opinion can be divided into three groups: the secret, the body and the image. Operating with these categories, the media create conflicting individual emotions. Throughout one’s lifetime one might change one’s “momentary emotional adherences” a multitude of times, observes Ditchev. So how to solve this paradox of ever-shifting political positions, sparked by different emotions? Emotions might be able to reignite interest in public affairs, even if it is motivated by the “ephemeral and fragmented”; a new “political sentimentalism” could be an alternative to ideologies and rationalism.

Shortsighted radicalism: Today’s radical critique defines democracy as “political legitimization of capitalism” that “the people” must reject in order to bring about change, writes Boyan Znepolski. But who are “the people” without democracy? Zizek, Badiou and Laclau all see “the people” as “a central figure of social change” and at the same time share a wish to eliminate capitalist society and its political form (democracy), “regardless of what kind of society will take its place”. Unlike Marxism, which involves a new project, “the people” are only an embodiment of the “destructive rage” that must punish and demolish the unjust social order. Radical critique paradoxically remains within the limits of liberal democracy.

Also: Boyan Manchev reflects on the possibility for resistance through the Aristotelian idea of dunamis (or potentia).

The full table of contents of Critique & Humanism 38 (2011)

The current issue of Revista Crítica de CiÊncias Sociais (Portugal) highlights the importance of analysing physical and social vulnerability when developing public policies for territorial management and planning. International scientists and engineers discuss tools and methods for measuring and mapping exposure to disasters, proposing risk-reduction through prevention strategies, warning systems and civil protection resources.

What is vulnerability? As Susan Cutter defines it, vulnerability is the potential for loss, including “both elements of exposure (what circumstances place people and localities at risk from a hazard), and sensitivity (those circumstances that enhance or reduce the ability of the population, infrastructure, or physical systems to respond and recover from environmental threats).” Investigating the natural systems and processes that give rise to hazards is important, Cutter argues, but a full understanding of their impact can only be achieved by examining how such systems interact with society.

Risk and sustainability: “Since the late 1970s there has been a gradual realization that natural, technological, social and intentional (i.e. terrorism) hazards are merely the trigger of a set of complex reactions governed by the social, economic, cultural and physical vulnerability of society,” writes David Alexander. Since disasters can set back development, disaster risk reduction is part of the sustainable development agenda; this involves investigating hazards, protecting local populations, wise use of resources and incident management.

Tsunami warning: Focusing on the Cadiz region of Spain, Jrn Birkmann, Korinna von Teichman, Torsten Welle, Mauricio Gonzlez and Maitane Olabarrieta call attention to the fact that “the Mediterranean and adjacent areas rank among the most seismically active regions in the world […] and are among the largest generators of tsunamis around the globe.” However, lack of awareness about the possibility of this type of event occurring means there is an “absence of any kind of tsunami warning system such as the one that exists in the Pacific or the one currently being put in place in the Indian Ocean.”

The full table of contents of Revista Crítica de CiÊncias Sociais 93 (2011)

“All I really wanted was to be an entertainer and I hope I have succeeded in that in at least some of my books”, said Josef Skvorecky in 2008. In its March issue, Host pays tribute to the Czech writer, translator, jazz aficionado and exile publisher, who died in Toronto on 3 January 2012 aged 87.

An introductory essay by literary historian Alena Pribnova, the editor of Skvorecky’s collected works, charts his literary career from the series of novels featuring the author’s alter ego Danny Smiricky through historical writing set in America to detective stories he co-authored with his wife Zdena Salivarova. Pribanova highlights Skvorecky’s courage to be guided by his convictions and concludes that his original style and voice had the effect of creating “an intimacy of communication, an assumed rapport of the kind we have with our friends that made his books and their author so attractive to readers. […] Skvorecky just had a way of writing that made you want to thank him for his books in person.”

Tribute from Kundera: In a text written in 1989 for the 200th publication of Sixty-Eight Publishers, the publishing house Skvorecky ran with his wife, Milan Kundera pays tribute to this heroic endeavour: “For nearly twenty years Zdena Salivarova and Josef Skvorecky have single-handedly, in boy scout conditions that professional editors would regard as impossible, enabled us to remain writers in the sense in which this is understood in European modern age: as book authors. […] Dear Zdena and Pepik: over the past twenty years nobody has done more for the Czech Lands than you two have.”

Partisan Review: Edith Kurzweil, editor of the legendary journal Partisan Review, talks to Magdalena Platzov about her childhood in Vienna, escape from Nazism, difficult beginnings in the US and her marriages, including her last, to PR co-founder and editor William Phillips. Partisan Review became influential because Phillips and his colleague Philip Rahve “supported only two ‘isms’: modernism and Marxism. But that didn’t mean that their contributors had to support them too. […] William didn’t want people to agree with each other. He wanted to know what was happening in society. And the best way to find out is by bringing together people who don’t agree with one another.”

The full table of contents of Host 3/2012

Published 18 April 2012

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


recommended articles