"Sex, lies, and history books"
Mittelweg 36 5/2005
The latest edition of Hamburg journal Mittelweg 36 looks awry at issues of memory, guilt, and victimhood. In the leading article, Jackie Feldmann of Ben Gurion University in Israel demonstrates the limits of the “cosmopolitan” theory of the memory of the Holocaust, according to which the Holocaust provides a universal “moral touchstone in an age of uncertainty”.
Feldmann analyzes how an Israeli “enclave” is formed in commemorative tours to Poland, during which strenuous efforts are made to keep the teenaged tourists from coming into contact with Polish everyday life. “The tours stage a past which Israeli teenagers organize around national goals […] The tour may well emphasize tales of individual suffering, but it frames these within a scenario that combines the suffering with the strengthening of national borders and the continuing military-political war.”
Continuing the theme of truth and memory, Carlo Ginzburg, author of numerous titles including “The Witches’ Sabbath” and “The Cheese and the Worms”, in interview with Norwegian journalist Trygve Riiser Gundersen, rails against historical relativism:
The fact that historical writing sometimes devolves into fiction and that it often relies on literary models should not surprise us. A much more challenging approach […] is to start out from the fact that both disciplines share an obligation to the truth […] I consider literary modernism first of all as an attempt to discover new forms of truthfulness, not least on a formal plane. In that respect it is highly relevant to me as an historian.
In 1988, author Martin Walser said publicly that, “For me, it is not possible to inform my memories with the help of knowledge gained later […] Knowledge gained about the murderous dictatorship is one thing, my memory is another.” Looking at a little-known sub-genre of post-war German literature – accounts of life in Allied internment camps – Gregor Streim of the Berlin Freie Universität shows that discussion of “German suffering” was by no means a “private discourse” in the young Federal Republic, and that it contained very similar arguments and conflicts that mark the debate sparked off by Walser’s comments.
Also in this issue: Mittelweg 36 continues its Don Quixote focus with a review of illustrated editions of Cervantes’ novel by Hans Andree of the Hamburg College of Fine Arts; Reinhard Müller and Erdmut Wizisla on the Walter Benjamin manuscripts in the Moscow “Special archive”; and Wolfgang Kraushaar on unruly Hamburg theology students back in ’68.
The full table of contents of Mittelweg 36 5/2005.
Index on Censorship 3/2005
“Big Brother goes global”, announces the autumn issue of UK journal Index on Censorship. In the post-9/11 era of “international cooperation”, systems for ensuring democratic accountability at national levels are bypassed by the new phenomenon of international “policy laundering”. This is the process whereby governments are able to introduce unpopular domestic policies by having them ratified by international bodies. It has made massive inroads into daily life, above all in surveillance.
Guest-editor Gus Hosein, visiting fellow in Information Systems at the London School of Economics and senior fellow at civil liberties watchdog Privacy International, provides an overview of the new political landscape. “We must be wary of claims justified by ‘international obligations’, the need for ‘international cooperation’ and ‘harmonization,'” he writes. “As long as governments fail to show the same eagerness for more progressive regulatory regimes – on global debt and the environment, for instance – we must question their zeal for collaboration in other areas.”
Simon Davies, also of Privacy International, discusses the British government’s proposals for a national identity card. Many see the card as inimical to the British way of life, and point out that in many countries, identity card systems were inherited from authoritarian regimes. But the fact that a country has an ID card system does not mean its populace supports the far-reaching biometric system proposed in the UK.
Tony Bunyan, editor of news organization Statewatch, argues that three significant pieces of legislation suggest Europe is “sleepwalking into a surveillance society”. The Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) will soon be introduced to vet air travellers; the EU biometric identity card will be introduced for use within the Schengen space; and communications service providers will soon have to retain data for a minimum of twelve months. Meanwhile, technology multinationals are set to make a huge profit. Civil society has yet to respond to this massive shift in power.
Elsewhere in this issue: “Gay and Arab” – despite homosexuality’s historical place in Arab culture, it is criminalized and discriminated throughout the Arab world: reports from the Middle East, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, and Morocco. Also: “Faces from Isfahan” – photographs portraits from Iran between 1920 and 1950; and “The sound of the slums” – Argentine rap in English translation.
The full table of contents of Index on Censorship 3/2005.
“What happened to social democracy?” was the name of one of this year’s most interesting exhibitions at the Rooseum in Malmö. In the new issue of Austrian art journal springerin, curator Miguel von Hafe Pérez talks to three Brazilian artists about social democracy in Brazil and the artist’s potential for reaction and resistance.
The political change in Brazil, which saw a leftwing government under Lula da Silva in power for the first time in more than forty years, has had no great echo in Brazilian art, von Hafe Pérez insinuates. How can the alienation from the pressing social and political questions of a country that still shows marked social inequalities be explained?
Lúcia Koch, whose works are currently being shown at the Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art, concedes that Brazil’s global standing has not shifted with the political change, even if everything looks new from the outside. Ricardo Basbaum, to whom an extra article in the issue is devoted, says that even though younger artists have a more critical and less deferential attitude, the Brazilian art scene is too dependent upon the paternalistic initiatives of art collectors and patrons who see themselves as doing the artists a favour. In such an environment, he says, it is more difficult for artists to be independent and maintain a critical standpoint. And Rio de Janeiro artist Lívia Flores holds that in a class society that is heir to a slave system, and whose government is mixed up in large-scale corruption scandals, art is a question of caste, produced among equals in an ivory tower.
A second focus of the issue, entitled “South America: The new hope?”, falls on Brazilian cinema: Austrian artist Peter Friedl rediscovers the Brazilian filmmaker Glauber Rocha, who began to write about film and make films himself in the 1950s. Well known in Brazil in the 1960s and 1970s, Glauber Rocha, who always seemed to be misplaced in time, was somewhat forgotten by the time he died in 1981.
A series of observations is devoted to current developments in net-art, which show that South America has not only brought forth significant political-artistic programmes in the past. Among the interesting articles are Ricardo Rosas on the situation in Brazil, and Alessandro Ludovico on Brian Mackern from Uruguay.
The full table of contents of springerin 3/2005.
Lateral 130 (2005)
The Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize is at the centre of debate in this month’s issue of Spanish cultural journal Lateral. Controversy surrounded the announcement of this year’s winner, Spanish novelist Isaac Rosa, whose book El Vano Ayer (Vain Yesterday) was said to have been chosen only as a result of the “leftist leaning” of the jury. In a continuation of the debate, Lateral publishes excerpts of opinions and comments of writers and intellectuals from “El País”, Literarias.org, and other journals in the Spanish-speaking world, including Rosa’s response. In the end, director of Lateral Mihály Dés searches for political and literary answers to the controversy.
In “Cracks in the empire. Cultural reasons of a tragedy”, Juan Carlos Castillón asks “Why did the dam burst between New Orleans and chaos?” He looks to the past thirty years for the answer: “Since the 1980s, the history of the US is also the history of how the Right has undermined the state, of how the laws have hardened, worsening prisons, hospitals, and public facilities.” Instead of just blaming President Bush for the lack of infrastructure, Castillón points his finger at the “millions who with their votes and their inaction have destroyed the work achieved during Roosevelt’s presidency and by his successors, giving the richest country in the world an infrastructure to be ashamed of even among Third World countries.” And who will reconstruct the dam? “Roosevelt is dead. And even worse, so are his successors.”
Also to look out for: Constantino Bértolo looks at the relevance of social realism; photographs by Japanese photographer Shoji Ueda (1913-2000), entitled “Haiku buried in the sand”; “The masterpiece” and other short stories by Juan Pedro Aparicio.
The full table of contents of Lateral 130 (2005).
Magyar Lettre Internationale 58 (2005)
Opening the latest issue of Magyar Lettre Internationale is an interview with novelist and playwright György Spiró about his new novel Captivity, a historical epic set in Rome, Alexandria, and Jerusalem at the time of Christ. In a wide-ranging discussion, Spiro considers how history can be thematized in literary works; what role belief, religion, and ideology have in history and everyday life; and the difficulties people face in making sense of the world around them.
Razvan Paraianu, historian at the Central European University in Budapest, recalls “The history textbook controversy in Romania”. Five years ago, a debate took place on the version of Romanian history presented in schoolbooks. Establishment historians held that history had indeed been distorted during Stalinism, but that since the 1970s Romanian historiography had rediscovered the national culture. Reformers claimed that this nationalism was itself a distortion that had gone unchallenged after 1989. Rather than glorifying the “miracle of the Romanian nation”, they argued, history should deal with “the horrors of recent history”. Five years on, Paraianu reflects on why it was not possible to debate the issue with professional objectivity.
Christoph Conrad, professor of history at the University of Geneva, writes about the “cultural turn” in German historiography in the 1990s. In the 1980s, if one wanted to read about the history of emotions, for example, one had to go to a French theologian; today, a topic like boredom in the nineteenth century is treated from within the discipline. This shift has received heavy opposition from social historians, whose methodology draws on the icons of the 1960s and 1970s: Marx and Weber. Historians today, Conrad argues, must avoid a defensive reaction to the loss of methodological certainties, and practise history in a way that is both critical and absolutely contemporary.
Elsewhere in the issue, author Noemi Kiss describes her journey to Chernivitsi in the Ukraine, which Habsburgian cartographers declared at the turn of the twentieth century to be the centre of Europe. Passing through the enchanting Tisa valley reveals the landscapes and peoples of the past.
Also to look out for: Norwegian journalist Thomas Hylland Eriksen on reciprocal stereotypes in Scandinavia; Halil Berktay on the late Ottoman Empire and modern Turkish nationalism; Attila Balazs on Hungarian historical novels; and Dubravka Ugresic on writers from the former Yugoslavia.
The full table of contents of Magyar Lettre Internationale 58 (2005).
Inspiration for the latest issue of Esprit, entitled “The architecture and spirit of European urbanism”, is the figure of Françoise Choay (b.1925), professor of architecture and urbanism at the University of Paris. In interview, the seminal theorist talks about European urban planning from the Renaissance to modernism. Choay’s success is in seeing physical architecture alongside its founding treatises. In her article “Utopia and the anthropological status of constructed space”, she traces back the history of urban planning to Thomas More’s “Utopia” and his idea that a specific construction model could become universal.
In the section “Recreating political communities”, Esprit editor Olivier Mongin discusses “place struggle”. The phrase highlights that in post-industrial societies, “struggle” has more and more to do with the recovery of a democratic space. In a post-urban world where global technical flows devour conventional urban space, globalization must be tackled “bottom up”. The modernist experiments of Italian architects Magnaghi and Secchi anticipate this need, Mongin argues.
Also in this section, Josep Ramoneda talks in interview about the Barcelona Centre for Contemporary Culture, of which he is director. The centre is a catalyst for exhibitions and activities based on the idea that urbanity is a driving force of contemporary cultural life. And Jacques Donzelot, political scientist at the University of Nanterre, suggests that an urban policy be envisaged that empowers and motivates the population to achieve a unified urban polity.
Elsewhere, historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet shares his surprise as he reads the recently re-published wartime editions of Esprit. Although uneasy with the thought that publication continued during Nazi occupation, he argues that this can be re-considered in light of the peculiar circumstances of the time.
Also to look out for: Pierre Hassner on “The ambiguities of the international order”; Cédric Philbert on the future of the Kyoto Protocol; and Jean-Pierre Lavaud on the popular revolt in Bolivia.
The full table of contents of Esprit 10/2005.
Neprikosnovennij Zapas (NZ) 43 (4/2005)
The latest issue of Moscow-based NZ brings together the opinions of leading political scientists, historians, and analysts to debate the reflections of theories of international relations in contemporary Russia.
In his article “On the West’s perfidy and its unmaskers: Russian foreign political thought and Russia’s self-isolation”, Viatcheslav Morozov argues that Russian debate about international politics is currently dominated by a kind of “Romantic realism” which erects an opposition between a liberal and democratic West on one hand, and “Russian peculiarities” on the other. By couching this opposition in metaphysical terms, political reality becomes more opaque.
Fedor Lukyanov, political analyst and editor-in-chief of the Russian quarterly “Russia in Global Policy”, finds that, although Morozov’s argument is correct, this opposition has little impact on the actual policies of the Russian Foreign Ministry, which is more pragmatic and pro-Western than it may appear. However, Lukyanov argues, this disconnectedness between ideology and practice leads to a dangerous lack of strategic thought and to serious blunders whenever the Kremlin takes the reins of foreign policy.
Elsewhere in the issue: professor of history Elena Osokina composes “A farewell ode to the Soviet queue”, looking at the social practices resulting from the permanent queues in the USSR. And sociologists Pavel Romanov and Yelena Yarskaya-Smirnova look into the world of spivs, or black-marketeers, from the late 1950s to the 1980s, showing the crucial role they played in the distribution of goods in the USSR.
Also of note: a section on cultures of sex and alcohol, contrasting Ancient Greece with present-day Russia. Olga Chepurnaya and Larisa Shpakovskaya look at the sociological side of this in their “Notes about the cultural contexts of drunkenness”, finding out when it’s socially acceptable to mix sex and drinking.
The full table of contents of Neprikosnovennij Zapas (NZ) 43 (4/2005).
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