Rituals of outrage

12 May 2010
Only in en
Sarajevo Notebook sees no end to the post-socialist beginning; Polar responds to critics of the kleptocratic state; Blätter tells social democrats where to go; Host talks to Slovak novelist Pavol Rankov; Springerin considers opera’s strictures to be just the ticket; Merkur discovers Schopenhauer’s cuddly side; Critique & Humanism clarifies what analytic philosophy isn’t; and Dilema veche finds family values alive and well in Romania.

Sarajevo Notebook devotes an issue to “transition and culture”, asking how “the process of transition in this part of the world has cut off its peoples spiritually from the country they once shared”. Ozren Pupovac sees “post-socialism” as a floating historical state between negation and anticipation: “It is not simply the past that haunts the beginning of post-socialism,” he writes. “It is also the future. For there seems to be no end to the beginning of this situation.”

The sole constant in post-socialist societies is the “rapid decline of all the social and political manifestations of equality”, writes Pupovac. Transitologists provided the scientific basis for a neoliberal ideology that “works like a poor man’s eschatology: stranded between the projected horrors of the past and the glorious promises of the future, the present […] is a nullity in itself. Its worth is only measured against the expectation of a promised goal, the inevitable parousia of ‘freedom’ inherent to liberal democracy.”

Fundamentalism: Religious and political radicalism among European Muslims is less an import from the cultures and conflicts of the Middle East than a consequence of the globalization and westernization of Islam, writes Olivier Roy.

“What we today label ‘re-Islamization’ is happening not only in the western world, but also in a lot of Islamic countries, under the same conditions as the revival of religious belief in Christianity, be it Protestant or Catholic. Therefore, far from witnessing an expansion of Middle Eastern and traditional Islam, which would assert itself against an equally traditional Christianity, what we are seeing is the globalization and westernization of Islam from within, including in its most fundamentalist forms.”

Alienation: Beqe Cufaj notes that people in the former Yugoslavia are better acquainted with western literature and culture than with that of their neighbours. The tendency to see the “other” as a minority, in stereotypical terms, is a reaction to recent political events, he argues.

The full table of contents of Sarajevo Notebook 27-28 (2010)

The concept of Leistung (“performance”, “achievement”, “productivity”) has received a new lease of life as Germany’s liberals, together with their conservative coalition partners, promise tax cuts for society’s “high achievers” under the premise that “performance must pay”. Polar responds to the intellectual cheerleaders of the newly respectable politics of inequality with an issue dismantling the myths of the “achieving society”.

In the current debate about the “disenfranchisement of the productive” by the tax system, “performance” is equated with economic success, write Kai Dröge and Sighard Neckel. The penetration of market systems into the interior of organizations turns employees into “entrepreneurs”, loading them with risk and leading to a bonus culture that compensates for a sense of uncertainty and “biographical drift”. Where self-realization, authenticity and creativity become ideals, claims for workplace security, fair pay and holiday entitlements “seem like a relic from the world of the ‘outward-directed’ character. Modern, intrinsically motivated working subjects are happy to exploit themselves.”

As the introduction of “soft factors” makes the concept of “performance” more diffuse than ever, the need for objective measurability grows, write Dröge and Neckel. An “armada of consulting companies, controllers and software specialists” is happy to oblige. “The enormous effort that goes into calculating the very last detail of organisational processes points to the fact that the apparently objective reality of figures is always also socially constructed.”

Rituals of outrage: “The eternal castigation of the ‘better off’ is barely less vapid than the discourse of the ‘high achievers'”, writes Ralph Obermauer. “The sterile game of rightwing provocation and leftwing rituals of outrage belong together.” That leftwing parties and organizations no longer question the rules of distribution is demonstrated by their focus on equality of opportunity, and particularly education, argues Obermauer. “While redistributive approaches immediately generate opposition, no one dares openly argue against equal opportunities in education. This shows at least the fatalism, if not the approval, of the vast majority with the relations of property and distribution.”

Dead money: Diminishing political support for inheritance tax risks forfeiting an essential mechanism of social equality. Polar editor Bertram Keller proposes ten adjustments to inheritance law to ensure fairer redistribution.

The full table of contents of Polar 8 (2010)

“What is living and what is dead in social democracy?” asks Tony Judt in his New York Review of Books article, now published in German translation in Blätter. Going back to Keynes’ conclusions on the disintegration of late Victorian Europe, he cautions: “If there was a lesson to be drawn from depression, fascism, and war, it was this: uncertainty – elevated to the level of insecurity and collective fear – was the corrosive force that had threatened and might again threaten the liberal world.”

Keynes’ solution – a greater role for the welfare state – was adopted after 1945 by most governments in the western world. Yet a gradual return to early capitalism from the late 1970s, writes Judt, has brought us to where we are now: growing inequality, privatization, social disintegration – and economic and cultural uncertainty. In order to cope with these challenges and threats, he urges social democracy to regain lost ground:

“If social democracy has a future, it will be as a social democracy of fear. Rather than seeking to restore a language of optimistic progress, we should begin by reacquainting ourselves with the recent past. […] It is the Right that has inherited the ambitious modernist urge to destroy and innovate in the name of a universal project. Social democrats, characteristically modest in style and ambition, need to speak more assertively of past gains. The rise of the social service state, the century-long construction of a public sector whose goods and services illustrate and promote our collective identity and common purposes, the institution of welfare as a matter of right and its provision as a social duty: these were no mean accomplishments.”

Stony broke wonderland: Interest in Iceland’s economic condition has recently been overshadowed by volcanic ash and the Greek crisis. Nonetheless, the situation after the March referendum has not changed for the better, writes Sarah Ernst. By way of punishment for the Icelandic “insubordination”, the 2.1 million dollar aid package has not yet found its way up north, and Iceland cannot count on much help from Brussels in its further negotiations with the IMF.

The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 5/2010

The novel It happened on 1st September (Or Some Other Time) by Slovak author Pavol Rankov was a literary event when published in 2008. Unlike much contemporary Slovak literature, which tends to be introspective and immersed in formal experimentation, the main subject matter of Rankov’s novel is the nation’s recent history.

Through the biographies of three male characters (one Jewish, one Czech, one Hungarian, all residents of a small town in southern Slovakia) and one female character (a Slovak girl that all three men court), the author examines the milestones of twentieth-century Slovak history: the break-up of Czechoslovakia in 1938-39, the persecution of Slovak Jews during WWII, the post-war resurrection of Czechoslovakia as a communist country, the Stalinist purges of the early 1950s, Hungary in 1956, and the Prague Spring and Soviet invasion in 1968. Received positively by many, others criticized the novel for its “loose” handling of historic facts.

In interview with Jiri Travnicek, Rankov discusses reasons for the novel’s mixed reception, attributing negative reactions to the discomfort caused by its historical subject matter. Comparing contemporary Czech and Slovak literatures, he finds the Czech literary scene “mature and confident”, while the main feature of Slovak literary debuts, he says, is “disdain towards the intellect, literature and readers” (judgments strongly contested by Travnicek, a Czech). Musing on the development of the Czech-Slovak relationship after 1993, Rankov comments that the “real brotherly bond between the two countries has only now been forged, after the split”.

Reappraising the ’90s: Literary historian Petr Hrtanek introduces a dossier of texts dedicated to the ’90s with an essay on postmodernism, entitled “Loved and hated”. The decade was surely exceptional, writes Hrtanek, at least in those countries that had just got rid of communism. “We can’t but sigh over the fact that from today’s point of view, those months and years were uncommon, hectic, free and inspirational.”

Also: A survey of contemporary Polish prose and Czech-Polish cultural relationships.

The full table of contents of Host 4/2010

In an issue entitled “Intermedia 2.0”, Springerin analyses recent developments in cross-disciplinary approaches in art, stating in the editorial that “a surge of activity, rooted in new ideas about creativity and ways of conveying content, has recently become apparent in this type of ‘intermediality’. [Š] ‘Intercreativity’, a paradigm for work and working methods situated between various individual disciplines, has begun to take over from traditional models of creativity specific to each individual discipline.”

Pop theorist Diedrich Diederichsen analyses why visual artists, writers and even pop musicians have recently been showing an interest in opera – generally viewed as the sanctuary of bourgeois culture – and has so far resisted cross-disciplinary interference with the original score. What is it that could attract critical artists in the untouched conventionality of the opera?

“It could be the particular formal character of opera, its high degree of definition,” writes Diederichsen. “There is a good and relevant historical reason to value the qualities of definition, which does indeed have to do with the increasingly questionable nature of certain participatory and mobilization reflexes. […] It’s all about handling visible and available material – the contemporary, subculturally developed, refined social knowledge, the sublimity of the immense accessibility of archives and data masses, the variety of non-European-white-heteromasculine perspectives – in a way that uses and builds on the defined elements of opera.”

Also: Jasper Sharp records collaborations between artists and practitioners of other disciplines to show the fragility and ephemerality of such projects. And Anne Hilde Neset asks why institutions specialized in the visual arts still have such difficulty dealing with music-related art-forms.

The full table of contents of Springerin 2/2010

In Merkur, Henning Ritter pays overdue tribute to Schopenhauer as forerunner of the twentieth century’s radical new foundation of morality. Regarding the Kantian primacy of duty as “the apotheosis of lovelessness” and instead seeing pity as the sole effective antidote to evil, Schopenhauer went to extremes to illustrate the human capacity for cruelty. So avidly did he collect gruesome stories from the press that “one might suspect him of being positively fascinated by cruelty,” writes Ritter. Yet what his contemporaries considered hyperbole became an “accurate description” of reality after Auschwitz.

Schopenhauer’s emphasis on cruelty aligns the nineteenth-century philosopher with the moral consciousness of his time, writes Ritter. He thought that cruelty to animals was especially evil, and the growing support in Britain for the Society for the Protection of Animals was proof to him of the nation’s refinement. The philanthropic enterprises of the time, even if they chose not to share Schopenhauer’s attitude of negation, took a secular approach to “dealing with the facts of suffering that had elicited the philosopher’s pessimism. […] Without the moment of pity, [they] would merely have been social-technical measures.”

Rehearsing Nitsch: Alfred Gulden recalls directing Hermann Nitsch’s 24-hour long “action”, “The theatre of orgies and mysteries”, in 1975: “Unlike in [a previous action] in Munich in 1970, when the police sealed off the block to prevent a public event, and unlike [the six-day action] in 1998, when the police had to protect our rehearsals from animal rights activists, religious fundamentalists, curiosity seekers and genuine nutcases, the rehearsals for the 24-hour action in summer 1975 took place in a tranquil, almost monastic atmosphere. The only minor upsets were the numerous wasp stings, which could easily be treated with freshly-peeled onions.”

And if you liked that… Kathrin Passig considers questions such as whether recommendation technology boosts mainstream sales, the long tail, or both, and whether friends necessarily share the same taste in films, not to mention an interest in each other’s virtual water melons.

The full table of contents of Merkur 5/2010

In Critique & Humanism, Pierre Wagner corrects some common misconceptions about analytic philosophy. The first is that Wittgenstein’s philosophical method in the Tractatus or the early works of Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore are representative of a uniformly anti-metaphysical stance. “Russell’s theory of the proposition and his logical atomism, as well as his philosophy of logic, clearly had metaphysical implications”, writes Wagner.

What about the view that analytic philosophers disregard the history of philosophy? While this was true for a long time, writes Wagner, an historical turn took place in the 1980s and ’90s, as analytic philosophers became interested in the origins of the movement and in the parting of the ways with other traditions in the twentieth century. As for analytic philosophy’s alleged allegiance to scientific method, Wagner finds it sufficient to quote Wittgenstein: “The word ‘philosophy’ must mean something whose place is above or below the natural sciences, not beside them.”

Not so easy to refute is that analytic philosophers are essentially linguistic philosophers. “There is little doubt that the idea of dispelling confusions that result from our use of language played a fundamental role in the history of analytic philosophy,” writes Wagner. “But it is very doubtful that such a vague idea can usefully characterize the whole movement. […] In contemporary analytic philosophy, the idea of a linguistic turn is more rightly seen as an important phase of the past history which has long been digested, integrated, and aufgehoben.”

The continental divide: Alexander Kanev sees the origins of the analytic-continental divide in post-Kantian differences between scientific and non-scientific philosophy on the one hand, and naturalist and non-naturalist philosophy on the other. The two divides became one with the hermeneutic turn in German philosophy, pitting Heideggerian anti-naturalist anti-scientism against the analytic view that only scientific and naturalist philosophy is good philosophy.

The full table of contents of Critique & Humanism 31 (2010)

Dilema Veche analyses the state of public debate in Romania (issue 324), where uniform opinions predominate and slander has replaced civilized exchange. While the excess of chatter can be seen as compensation for the decades of silence during communism, and as a product of Romanians’ innate loquacity, contributors prefer to blame television and the Internet for the superficiality of public debate.

Television is responsible for turning offensive language into media material and for depicting politics as a scandalous show, writes historian Zoe Petre, while the fact that Romanian schools are “devoid of ideas” also contributes to the disappearance of genuine debate.

Film critic Alex Leo Serban argues that the anonymity and unaccountability of the Internet encourages the proliferation of violent and unfounded views. Arguments forwarded by specialists using their real names, on the other hand, are exposed to constant attack. Anthropologist Bogdan Iancu notes the same marginalization of specialists in television programmes: having been invited as studio guests, they are given no space to express themselves, with most of the time taken up by people whose only expertise consists in having opinions.

Family values: Under assault in many parts of the world, the family continues to be the most important element in Romanians’ lives, observes sociologist Raluca Popescu (issue 322). Marriage rates in Romania are among the highest in Europe, and divorce rates have remained steady since the 1960s. In a relatively conservative society, a mere five per cent of couples prefer a form of civil union. Economic hardship has not eroded the institution of marriage, even though it has reduced the number of children born into Romanian families.

Arts: Cartoonist Dan Perjovschi describes his latest exhibition as “an artistic statement that escapes the economic” (issue 323); rock singer Adrian Despot calls his band’s recent album a “fight for ideals” in “an era of depersonalization” (322); and theatre director Theo Herghelegiu sees her play as “an act of artistic terrorism” sparking the flame of debate about the “consumerism eating into life” (322).

The full table of contents of Dilema veche 320-324 (2010)

Published 12 May 2010

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


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