"So... How was I?"

25 April 2006
Only in en
Mittelweg 36 watches Germany warming to its role as host; Arena prophesies genetically designed amazons; Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) doubts the usefulness of genetically engineered plants; Arche debriefs the Belarusian opposition; Akadeemia goes back to nineteenth-century military school; Springerin catches art and theory in the act; The New Presence asks Czech film to speak up; and Dialogi brings the Slovenian Alps down to size.

Mittelweg 36 2/2006

When Angela Merkel offers to mediate between Jürgen Klinsmann and his detractors in the German Football Association, you know she’s not just doing it for the sake of the beautiful game. That said, German politics today takes a more relaxed approach to sport than it did when West Germany hosted the World Cup in 1974. The FRG’s victory that year barely compensated for the national disgrace of losing to the GDR in the qualifying rounds.

As Uta Andrea Balbier describes in Mittelweg 36, it was the GDR’s increasingly aggressive sporting policy that prodded West German politics out of its indifference to sport, which was partly inherent and partly historical. When the GDR fielded more athletes than the FRG in the combined German Olympic team in 1964, it was one humiliation too many: from then on, sport was treated in the FRG as an advertising opportunity for democracy and funded duly.

In the 1972 Munich Olympics, out went flags, national anthems, and twenty-one-gun salutes, and in came rainbow colours, folk melodies, and fireworks. With those games, writes Balbier, West Germany discovered the role of host. And while politics is back in the 2006 World Cup, “a sporting defeat […] only becomes a national disgrace in public political discourse. Here more restraint is desirable. Because playing with friends must also mean being able to lose.”

Elsewhere: “Feedback”, a term originally used in cybernetics and control theory, was introduced into the general lexicon by figurehead of postwar US applied psychology Kurt Lewin. In “So… How was I?”, Ulrich Bröckling traces the rapid progress of the concept from the group dynamics of the 1950s, through the group therapy cult of the 1960s and 1970s, to performance appraisal systems used in contemporary human resource management.

The full table of contents of Mittelweg 36 2/2006.

Arena 2/2006

Between the winter Olympics and the upcoming Football World Cup, Arena focuses on sport. But the Swedish journal’s take on the issue couldn’t be further from the usual sports pages. In a section entitled “Sport’s nightmare”, poet Aase Berg follows Nobel Laureate Elfriede Jelinek, describing sport as male agressivity, a violent expression of the patriarchy’s fear of death: “What is it that you win?”, she asks rhetorically. “Please enlighten me: what is it that you win?”

But perhaps sport could work in exactly the opposite direction, spearheading the liberation of both men and women from the shackles of sexual discrimination? In a long and highly controversial article, philosophers Torbjörn Tännsjö and Claudio M. Tamburrini argue for turning sport into a genetically manipulated arena for amazons and androgynes.

Sport is one of the few areas of society where discrimination on the basis of sex is still widely accepted or even taken for granted: men and women do not compete against each other. But if sexual discrimination is reprehensible in other fields of society, then why not in sport? ask Tännsjö and Tamburrini.

“Today, medical science and queer theory offer an escape: people can choose to develop their bodies however they please. This will certainly be the case in society in general. Our guess is that in the long run it will happen in sport as well. But in the world of sport, this development requires particularly radical reconsideration: the cult of the ‘Übermensch’ created by nature itself has to be abandoned. It has been abolished in the rest of society, and it is high time to do away with it in sport as well.”

Also of interest: Arena editor Per Wirtén searches for a theoretical framework for the cosmopolitical city. He writes against a violent background of underground bombings, burning cars, and provocative caricatures: “All group identities and political communities lie wide open, as open as the city in which the fights about them are fought. It is almost impossible to orient oneself. All simplifications come back to haunt you.” In this situation, anyone who wants to interpret what is going on, and not just aggravate the conflict, must be prepared to constantly question established boundaries and redefine concepts.

The full table of contents of Arena 2/2006.

Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 4/2006

The genetically engineered plants called upon most often by advocates of genetic engineering as justification for the contentious practice do not exist, say biologists Jacques Testart and Arnaud Apoteker. These products tend to fail: the “anti-sludge” tomato, for example, that was put on the market in 1994 but rejected by US consumers because it tasted disgusting.

Le Monde diplomatique devotes a dossier to genetic engineering in commercially useful plants and its intended and unintended consequences. In their lead article, the two biologists investigate discrepancies between the research premises and reality. “The ‘golden rice’ that was supposed to produce vitamin A was an illusion: one would have had to eat several kilos of it to reach the daily nutritional requirement. And medicinal plants that are – thanks to genetic engineering – supposed to supply the pharmaceutical industry with certain substances have never produced enough of these molecules to be put onto the market.”

The dossier includes Roger Gaillard on how farming in Mali has changed due to pressure from multinational agro-business and the use of genetically engineered organisms; Pierre-Ludovic Viollat on the booming cultivation of “genetic soya” in Argentina; and Robert Ali Bric de la Perrière on the danger of crops being contaminated by their genetically engineered relatives grown in the open air.

Elsewhere in the issue: Chris J. Bickerton of St John’s College, Oxford, pleads for more historical science and less commemorative culture: current debates in France on memorial celebrations and national heroes, he writes, point to some central questions about the role of historical research and its relationship to collective memory, the ethical dimension of history, and the State.

The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 4/2006.

Arche 4/2006

Writing in Arche, Andrew Wilson assesses the performances of both regime and opposition in the Belarusian elections. Who, he asks, best learnt from the Orange Revolution? Unlike the demonstrators on Kiev’s Maidan, the Belarusian opposition lacked the crowds who would mobilize for their right to mobilize. The Lukashenko regime, on the other hand, made effective use of “political technology” (propaganda) alongside “administrative technology” (policing) to ensure election victory.

“The opposition’s status with respect to the government reminded me of a card player who plays with an open hand,” agrees Nerijus Prekevicius. “Of course, if the cards are really good, he will win the game anyway. But the opposition had mediocre cards at best.” Crucial mistakes – lack of unanimity between Milinkevich and Kozulin on post-election strategy and hesitation over the timing of the “day X” demonstrations – were compounded by a debilitating counter-revolutionary media campaign and mass deployment of security forces. “If the Belarusian opposition had commanded a clear majority, none of its mistakes would have mattered so much.”

Also to look out for: Vital Silitski on “The beginning of a revolution of the spirit”. “This is a political drama that demands audience participation. These elections certainly won more attention from the media and from the EU than any in the past. But that attention needs to continue.” Or, as Andrew Wilson puts it: “Lukashenko may have won another victory, but he hasn’t succeeded in abolishing politics”.

The full table of contents of Arche 4/2006.

Akadeemia 4/2006

What were the chances for an Estonian to become an officer in the Russian army in the nineteenth century? asks Mati Kröönström in Akadeemia, filling a gap in historical research on military officers in Estonia. For Estonians, who were mostly of peasant origin, promotion to the rank of an officer meant a sharp rise in the social hierarchy. The fact that there were Estonians among the privileged class of officers boosted Estonian self-confidence in the period of national awakening, and whoever graduated from the cadet schools in the last part of the century was counted among the Estonian intelligentsia. However, many of the first Estonian officers Russified quickly, and only a few retained their contacts with Estonia.

Elsewhere in the issue, physicist Piret Kuusk comments on Kurt Gödel’s paper on the relationship between the theory of relativity and idealistic philosophy. And Urve Eslas interviews American philosopher John Deely on the extension of semiotics into the practical realm of human affairs – turning it into “semioethics”.

The full table of contents of Akadeemia 4/2006.

Springerin 2/2006

In recent years, art has been focusing more on subjects than on objects. Participatory projects invite their audience to be actively involved. For instance Dejan Spasovik, who for two weeks turned his gallery in Skopje into a café where he served food and drinks to his visitors. Or Tanja Ostojic, who set up an office at the Badische Kunstverein and acted as an integration agent, teaching migrants visiting her exhibition German or advising them on “successful integration”.

In her lead article in Springerin, curator and art historian Suzanna Milevska from Skopje, Macedonia, traces this paradigm change in contemporary art. Her investigation into the way in which mainstream theory enters into art projects leads the issue’s focus on the difficult relationship between the theory of art and art itself.

Konstantin Akinsha, editor of ARTnews magazine, shows how much post-war French philosophy has influenced recent art history by tracing the history of twentieth-century art as portrayed by the American art journal October. And Nicolas Siepen takes a critical look at Alain Badiou’s idea of a “French moment of philosophy” and the figure of the French “master thinkers”.

In the net section: “Lovely Scam – 419 State of Mind”, Annett Busch on the Nigerian capital Lagos, considered the world capital of Internet fraud – an important source of inspiration for the local hip hop scene; Slavo Krekovic on the activist art project “Google Will Eat Itself”, dealing with the monopoly of the most widely-used Internet search engine; and Krystian Woznicki on the Internet as graveyard for the diversity of languages.

The full table of contents of Springerin 2/2006.

The New Presence 1/2006

While in other parts of the world art is becoming more interactive, film in the Czech Republic seems to be doing just the opposite, writes editor Dominik Jun. In his critique of Prague’s FAMU film school, he finds that “despite much promise and talent, those taught at FAMU often find themselves force-fed a diet of abstract self-gratification, in which the audience simply plays no role.”

The “artistic mafia” produced by FAMU, along with the rise of commercialism, has all but eliminated what the Czech Republic craves in its films: “directness, emotional honesty, catharsis, and truth – not abstract genre interplay and obscure self-conscious artistry.” Jun finds this especially disappointing when, “For the first time in their modern history, Czechs are able to speak the truth to each other and to themselves. The irony today is that a generation that once spoke up for truth is now teaching its uncompromised younger generation how to avoid it.”

In the focus of the issue, historian Prokop Tomek looks at the methods eastern Germany and the Czech and Slovak Republics have used to deal with their Communist pasts. He finds that eastern Germany’s success has largely been aided by its “more prosperous Western brother”: “Following German reunification, East Germany’s police, judicial, and military structures were simply swept away, and ‘compromised’ personnel could be replaced with more competent staff trained in the West. In Czechoslovakia after the revolution, there were few qualified people, other than former Communists, to run things. Thus, many Communist state employees remained in their posts, a personnel phenomenon that hasn’t been fully addressed to this day.”

And in the “World” section: Karel Cerny’s account of a recent visit to the Central Asian, Buddhist, chess-playing Republic of Kalmykia, whose population was deported to Siberia by Stalin in the winter of 1943; whose second most popular sport is arm wrestling; and whose president, Kirsan Iljumzinov, recently offered $1 million for the embalmed body of Lenin.

The full table of contents of The New Presence 1/2006.

Dialogi 1-2/2006

“Why are mountains the Slovene national symbol?” asks cultural sociologist Bostjan Saver, “And why is the alpine landscape one of the dominant stereotypes of Slovenia when the Alps are characteristic only of the northern and western regions of Slovenia?” He answers these questions by tracing the construction of Slovene identity. Looking at both the positive and negative sides of Slovene nationalism, Saver finds that the Alps represent the point of intersection with the “more civilized European world”, and at the same time a contempt for everything south of the Kolpa River – associated with the Balkans.

Continuing this focus on the Alps, Saver and Tadeja Drolc look at the role of Slavic oral tradition and mythology manifested in the form of mountain pilgrimages. They contrast this with the scientific exploration of Slovenian mountains that began with the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. Aljosa Rehar reviews the 110-year history of the Slovene mountaineering magazine Planinski vestnik [Alpine Bulletin]. And Mojca Kopcavar rounds off the section with an analysis of alpine culture and globalization in the context of the Himalayas.

Also to look out for: literary editor Robert Titan Felix in interview with award-winning poet Erika Vouk, published alongside her latest poems. And a review of an exhibition by London artists Rick and Lara Ritosa Roberts in the KIBLA gallery in Maribor.

The full table of contents of Dialogi 1-2/2006.

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Published 25 April 2006

Original in English
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