"Take me to the Troubles... and fast"

8 May 2007
Only in en
Edinburgh Review looks back at Northern Ireland's Troubles; Osteuropa backs the power of the buck in Belarus; Esprit returns to the memory of France's treatment of French Jews; Revista Crítica looks beyond the heteronorm; Glänta thinks that sex might not be such a bad idea after all; Mittelweg 36 injects some clinical good sense into the trauma debate; Kritika & Kontext toasts liberal democracy; Host tracks the breaks and continuities in a Czech literary career; Passage takes Kirsten Thorup out of the margins of Danish literary histories; Reset explores the everyday state of emergency through art; Sodobnost finds art and culture a form of punishment; and du searches for the secret to Madonna's eternal success.

Edinburgh Review 120 (2007)

“According to Lonely Planet, Northern Ireland is one of the ‘must-see’ places of 2007,” writes Eleanor Burnhill in the Edinburgh Review. Quoting the guidebook: “Freed from the spectre of the gun by cease-fires and political agreement, it’s abuzz with life: the cities are pulsating, the economy is thriving, and the people are in good spirits.”

However, tourists come to Belfast for more than the nightlife. Tourist interest in disaster and atrocity is a growing phenomenon, dating back to the late twentieth century, writes Burnhill. “Unique for a European city is that taxi drivers adapted their business to take tourists on political tours of Belfast.” During the Troubles (the period of violence in Northern Ireland until 1998), it was mostly journalists who would jump into a taxi and ask to be taken to where the fighting was going on. The political tours done by taxis today seem to be a natural evolution from shuttling journalists around the city.

The short story of the Troubles: How does art, and in particular literature, respond to conflict? asks Matthew McGuire in an inspiring article entitled “Terrible beauty”. “Northern Irish poetry can be seen as fulfilling the Yeatsian promise, a ‘terrible beauty’ born out of a bloody union between politics and violence,” he writes. However, it is neither poetry nor the novel, but the supposedly dead short-story genre that he argues for.

“With its condensation and tendency to focus on a single event, the short story bears remarkable likeness to our own everyday forms of communication. It is its elliptical nature that makes the short story fundamental to any understanding of the lived reality of the Northern Irish Troubles. […] In Northern Ireland, the most normal activity can suddenly and terrifyingly be interrupted. Then, just as quickly, normality can resume. This pattern is familiar to many who experienced the violence of the Troubles first hand.”

The full table of contents of Edinburgh Review (120) 2007.

Osteuropa 4/2007

“Economics matter!” proclaims Andrej Dynko, editor of Belarusian weekly Nasha Niva, in Osteuropa. Dynko is sharply critical of the Belarusian opposition of the 1990s for turning its nose up at business: “It was a period of permanent daydreaming,” he writes. “Projects, countless projects, that often had no firm ground under their feet. Ideas, as delightful as balloons, amusing mystifications instead of more detailed, and more demanding, ‘organic work’.”

At the beginning of the 1990s, writes Dynko, “The Belarusian People’s Front was unable to offer any arguments to those for whom the economy mattered most and who had the biggest influence in the country: the managers and business leaders.” For guidance, he looks to Ukraine, where “the industrial magnates and Ukrainian capital have understood that it is in their political and economic interest to secure the independence of Ukraine and to open the Ukrainian market to the EU.”

Artur Klinau, author of Minsk: Sun City of Dreams and editor of art magazine pARTisan, is also thinking big: he wants to market Minsk as a tourist destination. “It probably won’t be possible to make Minsk as popular as Venice. But if it can reach even 10 or 15 per cent of Venice’s popularity, that would mean billions of dollars. […] I’m sure that the Sun City of Dreams will lift itself out of the swamp.”

Also to look out for: Lilia Shevtsova on Russia’s will to power. After the fallout over the US missile defence shield in central eastern Europe, relations between Russia and the West have sunk to an all-time low. Until now, the two powers have been imitating “strategic partnership”, but to create a genuinely stable partnership, the US must reverse its drive for hegemony based on military strength. For its part, Russia must make the transition to fully democratic standards.

The full table of contents of Osteuropa 4/2007.

Esprit 5/2007

“The Jews, the righteous, and national memory”: Esprit features an article by philosopher Paul Thibaud on the memory of abandonment of Jews in France. Thibaud, President of the Amitié Judéo-Chrétienne (Jewish-Christian Friendship), sets out to help overcome the uneasy relationship between France and French Jews, which, he writes, has been one of repeated crisis since 1967. Taking as a point of departure the official ceremony at the Paris Pantheon in January honouring the “righteous among the nations” who helped save French Jews during WWII, he asks what role an event like this can play in the formulation of a common future.

Jürgen Habermas writes on the links between faith and reason (in an article first published in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung). How is modern-day rationality, having freed itself from all shackles, to understand the way it relates to religion? This issue, overlooked or cast off as it is in secular societies, keeps returning, forcing us to revisit our notion of the Enlightenment with a critical eye.

And Céline Spector, philosopher in Bordeaux, sees a sort of contemporary political Spinozism in Toni Negri, Etienne Balibar, and others: “Spinoza is back and making a significant imprint on contemporary political philosophy, even to the point of being held as a benchmark where Marx used to stand tall, in a bid to stem the tide of neoliberalism.” But what exactly is this view of power, she asks, where “multitudes” substitute the people and stand as a political subject open to pluralism and differences?

Also: Nathalie Heinich, writing on Bruno Latour’s latest book, Changing society, overhauling sociology, asks how sociology can broaden the scope of its inquiries into society without disrupting its own sense of identity; Thierry Quinqueton looks into an alternative type of globalization at work in publishing; and Arjun Appadurai talks about violence and anger in a global age.

The full table of contents of Esprit 5/2007.

Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais 76 (2006)

Sociologists must decentre the family and the heterosexual couple in our intellectual imaginations, writes Sasha Roseneil in an issue of Portuguese journal Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais dedicated to queer theory. The organization of personal relationships over the past thirty years has changed and sociologists must recognize this in their work, argues Roseneil. “The heterosexual couple, and particularly the married, co-resident heterosexual couple with children, no longer occupies the centre ground of Western societies, and cannot be taken for granted as the basic unit in society.”

Roseneil criticizes sociology for looking at personal relationships only in terms of the heteronormative framework and proposes a queer approach to studying intimacy. “The discipline is failing to register the ways in which the relationships at the heart of many people’s intimate lives cannot be understood in terms of ‘the family’. Casting a queer lens on intimacy and care demands that sociologists study those who are not part of conventional families or couples. As more and more people are spending significant parts of their lives outside these forms of relationship, this offers us a perspective on those who are living at the cutting edge of social change.”

Similarly, Gabriela Moita analyzes the attitudes of mental health practitioners towards homosexuality. The levels of homophobia and heterosexism that continue to subsist in the Portuguese clinical context, writes Moita, reveal adherence to unquestioned models of training. They are also responsible for the difficulty that gays and lesbians face in a process that perpetuates – and may even increase – the social discrimination that affects them.

Based on a study in Barcelona, Miguel Vale de Almeida finds that the public debate on same-sex marriage exposes social tensions in general around issues of gender, sexuality, marriage, procreation, and parenthood. The symbolic representations and ideological discourses on these subjects, says de Almeida, show their constructed character when a single variable – the sex of the spouses – is changed.

Also to look out for: Michael O’Rourke uses Derrida’s theoretical language to envision a queer theory of the future; António Fernando Cascais outlines the effect Portuguese social formation has had on the development of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) associations in the country; and Ana Cristina Santos suggests a cooperation between activism and academia that could create what she calls “public queer studies”.

The full table of contents of Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais 76 (2006).

Glänta 1/2007

“Is a sex something you have or something you are? Is sex biologically determined or a cultural construction? Is the female sex located in the womb and the male sex in the penis? Or does one put on the female sex when one puts on a dress and applies lipstick, and the male sex when one knots the tie? Is sex dictated by the body’s hormones? Or rather by its form? […] Do you arrive at ‘the human’ by disregarding the categories ‘man’ and ‘woman’? Or can one only become human by becoming ‘man’ or ‘woman’? Is sex a burden or a possibility?”

In an article entitled “Is sex a good idea?”, literary scholar Lilian Munk Rösing addresses most of the sex- and gender-related questions that have occupied more than just feminism for a long time. And yes, she says, sex is a good idea. Instead of the usual alternatives – the utterly sexless or the battle of the sexes – she argues for an exchange that would give the man a sex he does not have (since he is regarded to be universal), and turn the female sex into something other than a burden.

(Anything but) bare life: A part of this issue of Glänta is dedicated to one of the themes of Documenta 12 – “bare life” – even though, as the editors notice in their introduction, many of the contributions are about the exact opposite. Michael Azar writes about “The measure of man” and Maria Johansen about “The paradox of human rights”. Irina Sandormirskaya tells the fascinating story of “O”, or Olga Ivanovna Skorokhodova, a deaf and blind professor of psychology who was presented as the model Soviet citizen. Here O’s fate turns into an “allegory about human subjectivity: blind, deaf, dumb, lonely, and telling stories…”

Also in this issue: Vancouver-based performance artist Judy Radul on how sophisticated technology for recording and reproducing sound and images is altering the traditional theatrical and literary element of the courtroom. Is it possible, she asks, “to imagine a court, guided by justice and law, taking into account the new ‘politics of representation'”?

The full table of contents of Glänta 1/2007.

Mittelweg 36 2/2007

Picking up a longstanding discussion in Mittelweg 36, Harald Weilnböck examines the treatment of the term “trauma” in poststructuralist and subsequent theory. “Many interpretations and uses […] are not only confusing and contradictory,” he writes, “they also turn central aspects of […] pyschological damage, as well as their clinical-therapeutic implications, on their head.”

Weilnböck channels his critique through a fictional persona: the young psycho-trauma clinician Dr. Gutherz (Goodheart). The device may seem quaint, but its form is appropriate to Weilnböck’s defence of narration against the poststructuralist critique of the self.

Reading poststructuralist trauma theories, Gutherz is baffled by statements like, “The trauma is always already inscribed in the human psyche as its permanent implication and must remain inaccessible to memory.” Gutherz suspects this inaccessibility represents no problem whatsoever to the author, which offends Gutherz’s clinical good sense: enabling patients to access their memory is essential to a successful therapy.

Reading his way through the literature, Gutherz begins to conclude that clinical trauma discourse, while lending interdisciplinary cachet, repeats patterns of self-protection and transference. When he reaches W.G. Sebald’s distinction between “memory” (Gedächtnis) and “remembering” (Erinnerung), the former elevated to “sublime” status, the latter reduced to “frivolous narrative”, he is reminded of trauma patients’ resistance to verbalization. “What, with the best intentions, may have been meant as a theory of cultural processing […] in the discourse of the humanities unwittingly becomes a strategy of defence and repression.”

Also to look out for: Wolfang Kraushaar on the 1973 Oscar ceremony, when Marlon Brando sent the Apache Indian Sasheen Littlefeather to pick up his award for The Godfather. Brando’s speech, read by his stand-in, condemning the misrepresentation of Native Americans by Hollywood, is cited in full.

The full table of contents of Mittelweg 36 2/2007.

Kritika & Kontext 33 (2007)

Introducing the tenth-anniversary issue of Slovak journal Kritika & Kontext, editor Samuel Abrahám comments, “Reflecting on ten years of publishing, we seem barely to have dented this immense world of intellectual discourse. Nevertheless, what we have published may not have been in vain, for it provided readers with food for thought unique to the period and place where it was born: in Bratislava, after the fall of the Communist regime and the break-up of Czechoslovakia.”

Appropriately for the anniversary issue of a journal for whom liberalism has been the guiding light, the lead article is by Richard Rorty and entitled “Liberalism and philosophy”. Rorty points out that for most contemporary Western intellectuals, “Thinking that political proposals reflect philosophical convictions is like thinking that the tail wags the dog.” And if that’s true for intellectuals, then it is doubly so for the average Republican voter. But all is not lost, thanks to democracy’s redemptive force. Considering his nation’s history of injustice, Rorty writes:

“One reason the US became a much better, fairer, more decent, more generous country in the course of two centuries was that democratic freedoms – in particular freedom of the press and freedom of speech – made it possible for public opinion to force the white males of European ancestry to consider what they had done, and were doing, to the Indians, the women, and the blacks.”

On translation: George Blecher divulges the translator’s dirty secrets: “No translator can translate every author equally well. The problem is that you don’t know whom you can and can’t translate until you try, and by then it’s too late.” Erica Johnson Debeljak searches for the true point of literary translation, since it’s clearly not remuneration. And António Sousa Ribeiro asks how translation affects and changes our notions of multiculturalism and cultural identity.

The full table of contents of Kritika & Kontext 33 (2007).

Host 4/2007

Czech playwright and novelist Daniela Fischerova talks to Host about the atmosphere of suspicion that accompanied the beginning of her literary career. When she first met famous director Lubos Pistorius, who premiered her play The hour between dog and wolf in 1978, Fischerova had a hard time convincing him that it was her work: “Had there been a new playwright emerging, he would have known about it – we lived in a terribly small pond. […] He later told me he thought I was a secretary.”

“I was a typical grey-zone author. My plays didn’t reach the stage, I was summoned to a police interrogation from time to time, my husband was fired because of me, but nothing worse. All of a sudden, I was in the midst of completely different people. We used to have secret meetings at the Vysehrad gate, with Vaclav Havel and other theatre outcasts. A few years later, a decree was issued that my works could be staged, but only outside Prague.”

Fischerova, who recently received the Bozena Nemcova Prize, has taken to writing fairy tales. Isn’t that a desire for a return to the period when good and evil were clearly discernable and allegory the only way to make a statement? “Czech drama was strong because it was metaphorical. Censorship made us code our works, but that benefited dramatic language greatly. Today, the wearisome, boring imitation of the trivialities of life has been adopted by television dramas. […] Metaphor is an efficient shortcut: it doesn’t overload you with a ballast of banalities.”

Also to look out for: László G. Kovács reports on a discussion between Péter Esterházy and Jirí Menzel about legendary Brno writer Bohumil Hrabal; and an interview with poet, writer, and jazzman Jan Stolba.

The full table of contents of Host 4/2007.

Passage 56 (2006-2007)

“You don’t necessarily become a writer because you write well,” says Danish author Kirsten Thorup, interviewed in the new issue of Passage. “For me it was much more of an existential thing, […] an acute feeling of homelessness. […] If you don’t think that you belong to the world, writing is a way of entering it. A way to find a place where you are. Even today, I feel that to write means to have a home, a place where I go every day.”

This long and enlightening interview is part of Passage’s wide-ranging take on one of Denmark’s most famous writers. Kirsten Thorup, born in 1942, is appreciated by critics and readers alike; but, as Anne-Marie Mai notes in her article “Inside, outside”, she has been confined to the margins of several recent Danish literary histories. This is probably partly because there are few major works of criticism that really engage with her oeuvre.

Passage does what it can to correct this: Jeppe Brixvold reads the early poetry and short prose and finds that it is still highly relevant; Louise Zeuthen focuses on body and gender in the big novels published in the 1970s and 1980s; and Erik Skyum-Nielsen revisits his own review of the novel Bonsai from 2000.

The full table of contents of Passage 56 (2006-2007).

Reset 100 (2007)

“Emergencies. Not afraid of the dark” is the title of a series of exhibitions, shows, and artistic projects currently taking place in Milan and aimed at increasing public awareness of current humanitarian and social crises. The latest Reset acts as an enhanced guide to these events, filled with works by the artists involved and background texts.

“In a society in which the state of emergency has become the norm and where humanitarian and social crises no longer affect just ‘the other’, art and culture must play an important role in raising awareness and reflection, engagement and responsibility,” writes Bartolomeo Pietromarchi in the introduction to the issue. Conceptual artist Jenny Holzer’s work does just this.

Holzer uses text in a variety of ways (projections onto buildings, tickers, printed T-shirts, posters, stickers) in public spaces. According to Marie-Laure Bernadac of the Louvre, “In a world bombarded by images, [Holzer’s] unique and repetitive use of language is a way of affirming that, despite the predominance of technology in our lives, writing still holds its subversive power and capacity to communicate.”

The issue also features Spanish artist Santiago Sierra, whose works often involve him paying people to perform controversial – and often pointless – activities (such as blocking the entrance to a museum opening, or having a straight line tattooed onto their backs). “Faced with the impossibility of art to change the inequality of the globalized world”, writes Bartolomeo Pietromarchi, “Santiago Sierra enacts politics in its real mode of operation. For example, the silent bodies of all the people who take part in his works function only as bodies for pointless work.”

The full table of contents of Reset 100 (2007).

Sodobnost 4/2007

Everything that has to do with art and culture has been turned into a form of punishment, rather than a source of delight, claims Tibor Mihelic in the Slovene journal Sodobnost. To blame for this are the “economy of culture” – seeing cultural needs through the prism of neoliberal values – and the educational system, he writes. “While only lip service is paid to artistic innovation and creativity, cultural heritage is presided over by bureaucrats who regard living artists as parasites and will do everything in their power to deny them the opportunity to get involved in cultural decision making.” This, it seems, not only goes for the “haughty capital Ljubljana”.

The issue also features the second part of the essay “The limits of Western freedom” by Iztok Simoniti, personal advisor to the Slovenian president. He explores the antagonism between science and religion and the role of reason in their arguments. Ultimate personal freedom can only be found, he claims, in a sensible synthesis of religion, art, philosophy, science, and mythology. These five approaches to life should be regarded as independent yet complementary ways of making sense of our existence.

Also to look out for: A focus on contemporary Irish Gaelic literature, including contributions by Tina Mahkota, Micheál Ó Conghaile, and Dáithi Ó Muirí; a short story by award-winning Slovene novelist Miha Mazzini, “The night Clark Gable and Carol Lombard made love for the last time”; and an interview with Slovene poet Meta Kusar.

The full table of contents of Sodobnost 4/2007.

du 4/2007

“Actually, there was a lot she didn’t achieve”, writes du editor Jacqueline Schärli. “She wanted to be a dancer, but she abandoned that career. She wanted to be an actress, but her film and theatre performances didn’t impress the critics. She wanted to be a singer, but only took singing lessons when it was necessary for her leading role in Evita.” So what is it about Madonna that fascinates us and has made her one of the richest women in the world (estimated net worth: USD 325 million)?

Madonna is a living example of the American Dream, writes Ursula März. “Madonna became a world star because she (like millions of other girls) dreamt from early childhood of becoming a world star. For her, there was no gap between the dream and its realization. She became a world star because she was convinced that it is possible in America, through sheer willpower and the willingness to be brutal with oneself.”

The secret to Madonna’s continued success, writes März, is her ability “to design a new look and a new identity from hit to hit and tour to tour. The path from the ‘Material Girl’ to the Marilyn Monroe look-alike, to the British upper-class lady, to the Kabbala believer is quite long, but also logical in the vagrant identity of the self-made woman.” Madonna does not allow herself to be placed into typical roles, either male or female. Her suggestion to feminism, concludes März, is: “Don’t let yourselves be defined! A permanently defined woman will quickly reach the limits of her power. The rags-to-riches story is only possible if you always stay volatile.”

Also to look out for: “Business partners have said that negotiating with Madonna is like sitting across from General Motors”, writes Peter Haffner in an article about Madonna’s success as a businesswoman; and sole dissenter Manfred Papst doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about: “What is annoying about Madonna is that her voice has no personality, no individual timbre, no tone colour of its own – nothing that could differentiate it from other voices. Paradoxically, you could say: When you hear a voice that doesn’t remind you of anything and sounds as if it came from a computer, then you know it’s probably Madonna’s.”

The full table of contents of du 4/2007.

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Published 8 May 2007

Original in English
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