The Battle of Trafalgar in cyberspace

30 April 2014
Only in en
Mittelweg 36 observes Edward Snowden following in the footsteps of Gandhi and Martin Luther King; Esprit discovers in nihilism a valuable resource; Glänta watches TV; Belgrade Journal confronts the ultimate European crisis; Blätter urges Europe to take the next exit on the road to post-democracy; Polar refuses to be got down by the visual politics of heaviness; Lettera internazionale stresses the encounter with, over the inclusion of, the other; Arena calls for racism to be kicked out of political life once and for all; Akadeemia celebrates its 25th; Syn og Segn wants to give Margit Sandemo a literature prize; Dziejaslou prefers Belarusian classics to the country’s young unruly writers; and Schweizer Monat emphasizes the importance of an extremely rich cultural life.

Mittelweg 36 2/2014

Yesterday it was disclosed that Edward Snowden will likely not be allowed to travel to Germany for questioning by the Bundestag. A videoconference will have to suffice, though the option for German officials to travel to Moscow lies open.

The latest issue of Mittelweg 36 (Germany) features key articles on the NSA scandal. Political scientist William E. Scheuerman contextualizes Edward Snowden’s actions in the tradition of great civil disobedients such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. But, “if earlier civil disobedients hinted at our increasingly global condition, Snowden takes it as a given”, writes Scheuerman:

“As Snowden obviously understands, he has no real chance of effectively validating the legality of his position given the massive power inequalities plaguing the existing global order. We still lack a sufficiently independent global legal system in which Snowden and others could freely and openly defend their legal claims, and where they and other vulnerable global political actors might have a reasonable chance of defeating major global players in a court of law.”

Digital Trafalgar: Wolfgang Schivelbusch compares the US position in the NSA scandal to that of the UK at the height of the British Empire. Substitute the marine sphere for cyberspace and you sense an affinity between the apparently incontrovertible “freedom of the seas” and the later American slogan of “freedom and democracy”, the cultural historian argues.

The text of Schivelbusch’s February 2012 speech in acceptance of the prestigious Lessing Prize from the City of Hamburg, now published in Mittelweg 36, is devoted to the subject:

“The US enjoys a lead extending well beyond the purely technological, in view of which, it may be that a digital Trafalgar awaits Europe. By way of reminder: it was during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 that the English effortlessly destroyed (without losing a single ship) the French fleet that Napoleon had in previous years invested great effort building from scratch.”

Schivelbusch therefore predicts it will take an “oceanic know-how”, one that incorporates not least an intuitive understanding of the power to convince, if continental Europe is to have any chance when up against both the NSA and GCHQ.

The full table of contents of Mittelweg 36 2/2014

Esprit 3-4/2014

In the editorial in a double issue of Esprit (France), Michal Fssel and Olivier Mongin ask whether the long twentieth century can also be considered a nihilist century: “whereas this time of violence seems to have changed the face of Europe, one should not forget that World War I was also a stimulus for radical interrogations from the side of writers and philosophers coming from different backgrounds.”

Foessel and Mongin turn to Nietzsche as the precursor of the century’s “masters of suspicion” and the philosopher who predicted the century’s cycles of violence, cycles that continue to run their course today:

“Should we consider ourselves to be living the hour of nihilism, we, who resumed war and its barbarism in everyday life in 2001 (terrorism) and 2003 (Iraq/Syria/Central Africa…), we, who witnessed the recurring storms of financial capitalism that have destroyed the sense of the real, we who know the consumerist delirium fuelled by the new technologies, we who languish under the pressure of ecological sorrows and growing inequalities of our planet? What nihilism are we talking about? And most of all, how should we face it?” ask the editors.

Not crisis but nihilism: In his lead article, Michal Fssel makes the case for using the term “nihilism” in intellectual debate in lieu of “crisis”. The notion of “nihilism” may enable us, he argues, to step out of the present and constructively analyse the destruction of “meaning” that characterizes our times and dispatch with the all too predictable response to this state of affairs: a tired appeal to “values”.

In search of a meaningful world: Philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy returns to the pages of Esprit, to which he was a regular contributor in the 1960s. In interview, he relates back to the coherent world of ancient Rome, whose meaning he says Christianity destroyed. Nancy proceeds to argue that we, despite today’s democracies, have yet to overcome the resulting “crisis of meaning”.

The full table of contents of Esprit 3-4/2014

Belgrade Journal of Media and Communications 4 (2013)

In the second of two recent issues of Belgrade Journal of Media and Communications (Serbia) on the European crisis, Obrad Savic focuses in his editorial on what he terms “a new form of affective politics, which has yet to show itself capable of a new critical thinking and productive actions.” As such, Savic proposes “the categorical creation of European Memory” as the catalyst.

Contributions from Belgrade-based and international scholars follow, among them Etienne Balibar on “Europe: Final crisis?” and Tanja Petrovic on “Europe’s new colonialisms.” Linguist and anthropologist Petrovic provides trenchant critique of the EU accession process for the countries of the “Western Balkans”.

A European world people: The issue concludes with Obrad Savic’s own article, where he outlines how “a self-critical appropriation of the conflicted history of Europe, a history organized around its colonial and racist past”, has yielded a somewhat suspect “culture of apology.”

“We can dream of a cosmopolitan Europe to come only if we accept the unique orientation, and more, the common conviction, that we must share the same history, the same past, and the same future with ‘others’, outside of Europe. Democratic solidarity among us, and especially, international solidarity with others can exist only for a people of Europe already transformed into a European world people.”

Thus, “the true transgression of old Europe”, Savic argues “is not only what it did in the turbulent past, but what it is not doing today. Europe’s ‘politics of shame’ is not proof of western masochism, but the confirmation that we are ready to learn from our painful past. As a European idea, democracy is something that has never existed in a satisfactory way, and therefore, remains to come. Since the time of Enlightenment, Europe has undertaken a perpetual self-critique, and in this perfectible legacy is a chance for a new beginning, for another, different, European future.”

The full table of contents of Belgrade Journal of Media and Communications 4 (2013)

Glänta 4/2013

Everyone seems to think that no one is watching television anymore, note the editors of Glänta (Sweden) in the introduction to an issue focussing on the small screen. But the reports of the death of TV are greatly exaggerated; and Glänta has the figures to prove it: “There are an estimated one and a half billion TV-sets in use in the world, more than the number of cars and about the same as computers.” And: Sveriges Television, the Swedish national broadcasting company, together with Sveriges Radio, “inspires significantly higher public confidence than any other company or public institution in Sweden. TV-sofa producer IKEA ends up third.”

TV business in the Arab Spring: The emergence of new private, transnational Arab TV channels in the 1990s raised hopes that, having shrugged off state control, Arab media would provide the kind of coverage that critical issues in Arab nations deserved. Ouidyane Elouardaoui investigates what went wrong, for “in spite of the unifying role of contemporary Arab satellite channels, allowing widespread access of regional news and imported TV shows within the Arab world, this new regime of accessibility has had very limited effects on the critical issues of democratization and social development.”

As the main reasons Elouardaoui sites the cosy relations between the media industry’s owners and Arab leaders and the extent of Arab state officials’ control over satellite TV content. Hence “the clearly biased agenda that Arab satellite TV channels adopted during the recent pro-democracy protests that spread across the Arab world”.

Art and technology: In 1969, some 600 million viewers around the world watched the first manned moon landing on television. But game shows, talk shows and reality TV became “the enduring indigenous TV forms”, writes artist Judy Radul.

The television’s “lunar glow” plays an ambivalent role in Radul’s latest video installation. In the work, entitled This is Television, she plays upon the ubiquity of the flat screen, which seems to harbour so many unexpected dimensions:

“I’m not really sure what television was. It started small and ended big. Like many technologies it was a collection of parts, a way of viewing and a habit, as much as a being. Television seems to be a point of reception inside me but also an external point of transmission very far away, perhaps bouncing from a satellite in space.”

Also: Johan Grimonprez writes the history of zapping and Axel Andersson revisits Jacques Lacan’s brief career in television.

The full table of contents of Glänta 4/2013

Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 4/2014

The relation between the upcoming European elections and democracy is not as clear as it should be. Indeed, Karin Priester considers a Europe firmly on the road to post-democracy:

“The low turnout in EU elections, the difficulties ratifying the Maastricht Treaty in the 1990s, the resignation of the Santer Commission in 1999 in the wake of corruption allegations, the ‘no’ to the 2005 European constitution in certain countries and the growing distance between Europeans and Brussels have all highlighted […] the necessity of reformulating the EU’s understanding of democracy independently of member states.”

That is, if a situation is to be avoided in which democracy continues to look like “governance of organizations, by organizations, for organizations”.

Japan: Not only the EU needs to redefine its relationship to democracy, but also Japan and its current government. Thus Siegfried Knittel on how prime minister Shinzo Abe is pressing ahead with his agenda:

“He plans to modify the rights of individuals as set out in the constitution, which recognizes the irrevocable and supreme right of the individual to protection against claims made by the state. In the future, the individual will continue to enjoy rights and duties but as part of a community that accords with Japanese tradition. However”, concludes Knittel, “this would be to undermine the protection of the individual before the power of the state.”

Also: Articles on the Krim by Reinhard Mutz and Andreas Kappeler.

The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 4/2014

Polar 16 (2014)

Polar (Germany), the journal of politics, theory and the everyday, delves into the Kunst der Drastik, an art or aesthetics intimately engaged with sites otherwise hard to look at: whether the twilight zone in which the line between life and death hovers (scenes from a zombie film? or a biomedical laboratory?) or the earthquake-struck slums of Haiti.

Life sciences and the undead: Ethics and history of medicine scholar Oliver Müller outlines certain contact points between the zombie in popular culture and modern medicine. After all, the first zombie film, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) came out the same year that Harvard Medical School established brain death as the official moment of death – a crucial discovery, not least where organ transplantation is concerned.

The picture Müller paints of the zombie is complicated, not only through its associations with “labour slaves lacking any will of their own, passive consumers or individuals without rights”, but also as a “by-product of advances in medicine and technology.” Ultimately, life itself becomes monetized. Müller quotes Petra Gehring’s Was ist Biomacht? (“What is biopower?”): “The surplus value of life is siphoned off ­– and wants to be siphoned off: from ‘good genes’ […] to assisted death services, what is understood as biotechnical life is attractive as a consumer good.”

One house after another: Carolin Emcke reflects on the limits of representation after her experience of travelling in crisis-hit areas, including in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake:

“Perhaps most honest of all would be to send a camera through a single street, which would then capture the forbearance of the horror, a journey during which one house after the other would come into view, and another, and another. The houses themselves wouldn’t have to be special in any way, the presence of a tear-stained face of a woman or a decomposing corpse before the rubble wouldn’t be necessary, but simply one house after another…”

Also: Martin Saar provides a no-holds-barred account of the usefulness of drasticness for critical thinking.

The full table of contents of Polar 16 (2014)

Lettera internazionale 118 (2014)

Writing in Lettera internazionale (Italy), Rachid Boutayeb attempts to help the “politics of hospitality” out of the Procustean bed by tirelessly consulting Derrida, for whom “hospitality is not so much conceived as one field of ethics but as ethics itself”, and Levinas, whose philosophical oeuvre could be read as a single, “immense treaty on hospitality”.

However, Boutayeb dissociates himself from the Derridean dichotomy of conditional and unconditional hospitality and, instead, introduces “dialogic hospitality” into the discourse:

“The dialogue represents not only a casual attribute of the subject, but its identity, the knot of a critical solidarity – a dialogic hospitality that says yes (an unconditional ‘yes’) to the foreignness of the other, without even remotely wishing to assimilate the other, but which nonetheless says yes to the form of foreignness that is open to allowing itself to be respected without trying to belong to itself, to claim ownership. (‘I don’t belong to myself’, Gabriel Marcel would say). Hospitality is the gift of the encounter.”

Indeed, Boutayeb concludes by emphasizing the “encounter with and not an inclusion of the other”: a self-contained political culture is simply not an option.

Women in the streets: “Baraccopoli, slums, vincedades, favelas” are the result of inescapable undercurrents in the megacities writes Rita El Khayat in an article focussing on the violence that women have to face in their everyday lives.

However, this violence is not only the consequence of poverty. The act of trying to hide female bodies and the male control of urban territories in Arab-Islamic cities can also be seen as a form of violence against women: “The female body was seen as a disturbing factor in public spaces and services. As if women’s bodies were too visible, too obscene and could create disorder and discord.” This opinion, conludes El Khayat, still prevails today.

Also: Peter Marcuse on the future of re-designed cities.

The full table of contents of Lettera internazionale 118 (2014)

Arena 2/2014

Is the darkest chapter of Europe’s twentieth-century history repeating itself? asks Henrik Arnstad in Arena (Sweden). And are we simply refusing to recognize the fascist traits in today’s racist parties?

After 1968, Arnstad writes, the French political thinker Alain de Benoist and the Nouvelle Droite (ND) returned fascist ideology to the mainstream. Multiculturalism, rather than “inferior races”, became the enemy. The influence of such fascist thinkers can be seen, argues Arnstad, in the person of mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik:

“Breivik manifests the bridge between fascist ideology and the racist rightwing populism that has developed in Europe since the 1970s. Fascism is influenced by the methods of populism and has normalized racism in the traditional political public sphere, while populism finds ideological inspiration in fascism.”

The full table of contents of Arena 2/2014

Akadeemia 4/2014

Akadeemia (Estonia) celebrates 25 years of continuous publishing. As editor-in-chief Toomas Kiho remarks, when initially launched in May 1937, the journal had been “one of the carriers of a democratic mentality.” However, the Soviets closed it down in 1940. Its restoration in 1989, Kiho continues, “was a logical step in the new period of national awakening.”

Five words, six millennia: The current issue reiterates concerns as to the prospects of the Estonian language’s survival. However, in an article on the formation of dialects, expert on spoken and computer-mediated language Tiit Hennoste remarks that every language simultaneously contains the past, the present and the future:

“I can take the English borrowing läptop, the medieval Low German borrowing arst and the 6000-year-old Uralic stem ema (‘mother’) and use them in the sentence Arsti läptopis oli emakeelne programm (‘The doctor had a mother-tongue program on her laptop’).”

Hennoste concludes by exhorting the reader “to recreate the language again and again, every day”.

National culture: Mart Orav remembers playwright Hugo Raudsepp (1883-1952), imprisoned in Tallinn in 1951 as an “Estonian bourgeois nationalist”. Raudsepp was sentenced to ten years in a “corrective labour camp”, where he died the following year. He was one of ten writers to lose their lives following arrest in the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic between 1940 and 1953, and one of almost eighty arrested in total – this being one among several measures taken to destroy the Estonian national culture.

The full table of contents of Akadeemia 4/2014

Syn og Segn 1/2014

This year’s first issue of Syn og Segn (Norway) is also the first of new editor Knut Aastad Bråten, who takes over the helm at Norway’s oldest and most influential journal published in Nynorsk (New Norwegian) after Bente Riise.

Aastad Bråten opens his first editorial with a provocative proposal: give best-seller writer Margit Sandemo the Brage Prize! That the author of the 47-volume novel series about The Legend of the Ice People should receive one of the most prestigious literature prizes awarded in Norway is far from self-evident. Sandemo, who celebrated her ninetieth birthday last week, has been much criticized, not least by what Aastad Bråten calls “the established writers milieu”, which has branded her books “cloddish low-culture and naive storytelling”. Even the Church has criticized Sandemo for “undermining established religious truths and playing the Prince of Darkness”.

Critics might not like Sandemo, notes Aastad Bråten, but readers do. “They are fascinated and thrilled by Sandemo’s tales of the underworld, of paranormal forces, of the Church’s abuse of power, of every-day life, relations and the battle between good and evil, of loneliness, of being hated by the rest of the world – and of the great and dark force of Love. These are universal themes – presented within a fictional, historical frame, but at the same time relevant and topical for our times.”

Instead of looking for rigid markers of literary quality, we should ask what these works have meant to many people, concludes Aastad Bråten. And he provides the answer himself: “Margit Sandemo has been an important door-opener into the world of literature for many new readers; people who might never have cared for literature at all. In Sandemo’s world, these people have discovered both meaning and the joy of reading. Perhaps it was indeed her books that led them to look further into the wealth of books.”

Also: A themed section on what it means to be a Christian in Norway today; Pål Veiden on integration in Vienna; and Mariann Schjeide on the librarian of the future.

The full table of contents of Syn og Segn 1/2014

Dziejaslou 67 (2013)

Politician and linguist Piotra Sadouski asks whether it is not absurd that Valentin Akudovich, in his essay “The code of absence” (published in German Suhrkamp as Der Abwesenheitscode in 2013), states that Belarus does not exist at all. Meanwhile, Belarusian historians and cultural scientists are trying to establish a new concept of the national history.

Sadouski associates Akudovich’s “peculiar ‘philosophical poetry'” with “the banal wish to be original and noticed. The aesthetics and ethics of such humiliating, distasteful ‘art’ result from the lack of any values relating to the homeland”.

Alhierd Baharevich’s “Hamburg accounts”, a collection of none too orthodox essays on Belarusian literary classics that created a stir when first published online by Radio Svaboda in 2013, also come in for criticism. These Sadouski considers an expression of the “phenomenon of a traumatized Belarusian national consciousness, trying to fit into the European context” – more or less accusing Baharevich of spitting on the grave of great twentieth-century writer Janka Kupala (1882-1942). At the end of his polemic, Sadouski states that fortunately, more Belarusian citizens still read the literary classics than “The code of absence”.

Literature is the voice of the people: Sadouski’s tone resonates with that of the interlocutors in a previously unpublished interview from 1990 between writer Barys Sachanka (1936-1995) and Zinovij Pryhodzich. Sachanka is convinced that “literature can be the voice of the people, it can be its conscience if it dares to tell the truth”. An attitude that he counterposes to those who “still want the Belarusians to have no history, no past – that is, no sanctuaries. Therefore, they look for any reason to cut off the link between past and present. But can you really judge the present without a past?”

Sachanka’s words were first uttered as Perestroika lifted restrictions on speaking about Belarusian authors of the interwar period. But in presenting the interview, Pryhodzich points to what he sees as the timeliness of Sachanka’s remarks, not least as tensions continue to spiral across the border in Ukraine.

The full table of contents of Dziejaslou 67 (2013)

Schweizer Monat 4/2014

Schweizer Monat editor-in-chief René Scheu delivers a withering editorial ahead of Switzerland’s May referendum on proposals for a minimum wage. Likely to be the world’s highest minimum wage if introduced, Scheu interprets the campaign in favour as proof that “Karl Marx lives on among us.”

But when prices rise, sales drop and firms lay off staff, outsource jobs or invest in automation: what then? Scheu is unequivocal. “Those who want to press a button to achieve justice, create more and more injustice. It’s just they don’t notice it. But hopefully all the rest do.”

An extremely rich cultural life: Novelist and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa discusses with French sociologist Gilles Lipovetsky how, in Lipovetsky’s words, “nobody can possibly believe that high culture is going to change the world. In fact”, Lipovetsky continues, “on that score it’s the society of entertainment, of the spectacle, that’s won. What we expect from culture is entertainment, a slightly elevated form of amusement; but what changes life today is basically capitalism, technology. And culture turns out to be the crowning glory of all this.”

Vargas Llosa responds that though he is in favour of capitalism, he recognizes that “the great theorists have always said that capitalism is a cold-blooded system, one that creates wealth but also selfishness. This has to be offset by an extremely rich spiritual life. Many theorists of capitalism thought that this spiritual path was religion; others, who were not religious, thought it was culture.”

Vargas Llosa’s conclusion: “If we don’t want to reach the point towards which contemporary society is moving – a spiritual void in which all those negative aspects of industrial society, all the dehumanization it brings with it, are becoming more apparent by the day – I firmly believe that the best way of counteracting that egoism, that solitude, that terrible competition which reaches extremes of dehumanization, is an extremely rich cultural life, in the loftiest sense of the word ‘culture’.”

The full table of contents of Schweizer Monat 4/2014

Published 30 April 2014

Original in English
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