"The bloody bond of sympathy"

30 October 2007
Only in en
Merkur rakes over the embers of the Deutsche Herbst; Mittelweg 36 compares two wars without fronts; Arena talks about free speech fundamentalism; Glänta is on drugs; The New Presence reviews the history of the UN; dérive examines the changing place of industry in the city; and Springerin takes stock of the documenta 12 magazines project.

Merkur 11/2007

“Whoever wishes to speak of German terrorism shouldn’t keep quiet about the ’68 movement”. Re-phrasing Max Horkheimer’s dictum (“Whoever wishes to speak of capitalism shouldn’t keep quiet about fascism”), Friedrich Pohlmann argues that Critical Theory was the first step on the road to German leftwing terrorism. Because Adorno’s philosophy “didn’t aim at particular social grievances, but revolved around a nebulous theory of the false whole, it contributed to the radical de-ratification of the existing social order, and precisely that was a basic condition of terrorism”.

“The bloke in the uniform is a pig, not a person. […] That means we don’t have to talk to him, […] and of course it’s alright to shoot.” Ulrike Meinhof’s 1970 comment marked the start of a spate of violence that reached its nadir seven years later with the Deutsche Herbst [German Autumn]. Pohlmann stops short at arguing that leftwing terrorism was a direct extension of Critical Theory. Rather, Critical Theory established the “bloody bond of sympathy” for terrorism’s “noble core”. Sympathy was then exploited by peer pressure: the cooperation of sympathizers, above all that of RAF lawyers, was ensured on the pain of excommunication from the radical group.

Imperial temptations: Even if the majority of French people still consider Europe to be America’s antithesis, some French and American political traditions are very similar, writes Thomas Speckmann. Like the US, France makes a global missionary claim that can be traced back to the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. What’s more, both countries are characterized by a political culture unaccustomed to the pluralistic decision-making processes of the EU or the UN. And both find it hard to resist imperial temptations…

Also to look out for: Michael Rutschky describes “the panic of crashing” (Absturzpanik) that has plagued Germans for two centuries; and Siegmar Faust portrays the life and work of fellow East German author Wolfgang Hilbig, who died earlier this year.

The full table of contents of Merkur 11/2007.

Mittelweg 36 5/2007

Iraq as repeat of Vietnam? Chris Hedges’s and Laila Al-Arian’s article “The other war”, drawn from interviews with fifty Iraq combat veterans (first published in The Nation on 30 July 2007 and reproduced in German translation in Mittelweg 36) suggests as much. Soldiers, expecting to be greeted as liberators, find themselves fighting a war without fronts; unable to encounter the enemy directly, morale quickly disintegrates; fear leads to aggression that leads to criminal acts of war tolerated right the way up.

Bernd Greiner takes the Nation article as a starting point for a comparison of the Iraq and Vietnam wars at the level of government. The Bush administration, he writes, views the system of checks and balances written into the US constitution as “the antiquated ballast of the eighteenth century”. For Cheney and Rumsfeld, the unrestricted privileging of the White House represents “a return to the golden age of their political ascendancy in the early 1970s and an overdue revocation of all the controls on the executive introduced after Nixon’s resignation.”

Like Nixon before him, Bush has fallen into the trap of being “unable to stop” (as Greiner has discussed in a previous article); the US public re-elected the Bush administration, like it did Nixon’s, despite its unconcealed hunger for power; like with Vietnam, the military has fallen political prey to “ideological warriors” in civilian dress; and, like with Vietnam, there is protest: “However, given that the constant production of fear continues to bring the highest political dividends, […] criticism remains medial and politically non-situated.”

Also to look out for: Matthias Christen and Anton Holzer on the 60 year history of the legendary Magnum photo agency; and Michael Wildt on Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg (1926-2007).

The full table of contents of Mittelweg 36 5/2007.

Arena 5/2007

With the turbulence around the drawings by artist Lars Vilks, Sweden got its own cartoon controversy. Vilks’s drawings depicted Mohammed as a “roundabout dog” (a form of street installation in Sweden) and sparked off protests from Muslims in Sweden and abroad. The affair culminated in September, when an Islamist group placed a bounty of at least 100 000 dollars on the head of Vilks and on an editor of a local newspaper that published one of the drawings.

A result of this conflict has been that the debate on religion and free speech has gained momentum in the Swedish public sphere. In Arena, two representatives of the different camps discuss the future of post-secular society.

Lena Andersson, novelist and board member of the atheist association Humanisterna, is concerned about what she sees as a threat to “the secular social contract”. She takes the reaction of the European Council for Fatwa and Research to the death threats against Lars Vilks as an example: “They did not condemn the death threats because it is wrong to kill a man who made a drawing, but because such a murder would be against Islam. […] One needs other guidelines than religious rules.”

Peter Weirud from the Christian social democratic movement thinks that such a definition of secularism is too narrow; religion is not solely a private experience, parts of it are clearly political: “Religion is the carrier of a form of radical ethics, which is about the relation to other people, to society, and to the future. Furthermore, religion is about identity. Both these issues are political and cannot be confined to the private sphere.” There have to be limits on freedom of speech, says Weirud, criticizing what he calls “free speech fundamentalism”: “Both religious and secular forms of fundamentalism can be the result of thinking that one has access to the one and only truth.”

You are what you eat: A themed section on eating disorders asks why the politicization of anorexia and bulimia has come no further than to beauty contests and H&M advertisments: despite all the theory and activism, feminism has not yet managed to wipe the shame from the shelves of the private refrigerator.

The full table of contents of Arena 5/2007.

Glänta 2-3/2007

Normally, the yellow press wouldn’t pay any attention to the release of a high-brow cultural journal, but when the autumn issue of Swedish Glänta recently hit the counters, hacks started filing copy. The reason: the issue is on drugs and includes a survey in which thirty more or less famous Swedish writers speak about their experience with drugs. In puritan Sweden, this has all the makings of scandal.

The answers to the survey are astonishingly frank and outspoken, ranging from scepticism and lack of experience to enthusiasm. “I would never have started to write at all without first having taken drugs. The drugs made me a writer. And it was a specific drug, LSD, that made me want to become a philosopher. LSD made me realize how genuinely relative ‘the world’ is”, says pop star, music producer, and philosopher Alexander Bard.

Novelist and critic Gabriella Håkansson is, at least to start with, enthusiastic about amphetamines: “Imagine a sluggish, somewhat slow-witted writer like me, who carefully considers every word and re-works a sentence a thousand times – suddenly I’m a manic genius who can produce in an hour the same number of pages that would normally take weeks to squeeze out. It’s a miracle!” However, afterwards it might look different: “Most of what I wrote under the influence was unreadable. […] Building a novel is very much about thought, about finding new ways of thinking, about exploring one’s fantasies unbound by rules and the restraints of coherency. The drug prevented me from thinking, or rather, it altered my thinking and gave it a different structure. One could say that it limited me.”

More on drugs: The survey on drugs and writing is only a small part of Glänta’s varied take on drugs. The issue includes articles on “Cosmetic neurology”; “Narco-phenomenology” from Sartre to Merleau-Ponty; psychedelic revolutions in the art world; Walter Benjamin’s crock experiments; and a sober comparison of drug policies in different countries.

The full table of contents of Glänta 2-3/2007.

The New Presence 3/2007

In his article “The power of the powerless”, Ian S. Lamb looks at the position of the UN, using its historical starting point, the League of Nations, to clarify both its power and its weaknesses. “The founding of the League of Nations would probably not have been possible […] were it not for the shared tragedy of World War I.” But the failure to prevent WWII left the League of Nations “dead” and also paved the way for a new and improved organization, the United Nations, to take up the baton in the race for peace and human rights.

Lamb has both negative and positive things to say about the giant bureaucracy in his historical analyses, stating: “Despite some catastrophic failings […] there remains a deeply held desire to help those who cannot otherwise be helped.”

Yahoo and censorship: The world’s main search engines have agreed to self-censorship in order to operate in China. William A. Cohn uses the case of the arrest of two Chinese journalists as a direct result of information supplied to the Chinese government by Yahoo as his starting point. He warns against accepting human rights abuses simply for the opportunity to invest in potentially lucrative markets. (See also: Martin Hala, “From ‘big character posters’ to blogs, Facets of independent self-expression in China”.)

Kundera’s central Europe: Milan Kundera, who left Czechoslovakia in 1975, retains a strong interest in central and eastern Europe, claims Jiri Musil in the article “Central Europe and the modern age”. Kundera objects to the lumping of former Czechoslovakia, Poland, Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary into one Slav culture, and points out that the histories of these nations are “entirely Western”.

Also to look out for: Jacek Kochanowicz looks at the Polish turn toward the Right since 2000; and “How do Czechs compare?”, Martin Zika’s assessment of the Czech economic status in a global context.

The full table of contents of The New Presence 3/2007.

dérive 29 (2007)

The relationship between the city and its industries is undergoing some change, writes Erik Meinharter in the Austrian journal for urban research dérive in a focus on the changing role of industry and its effects on the city. Today, cities have to deal with the legacy of industrialization and the need for urban change in the wake of the new spatial demands of a globalized economy – as well as with the deserted industrial terrains left behind.

Mariusz Czepcynski analyzes the fate of Gdansk, “an iconic city”, as he writes, “supercharged with traditions and connotations, but just as much a vital economic centre in the midst of Europe.” The flagship of the Polish and socialist ship-building industry is a representative case of industrial transformation, he says.

In an article on industrial buildings, Berthold Hub examines the idealistic connection of urban development and industrial growth. Architects such as Peter Behrens, who designed the first monumental industrial buildings at the turn of the last century, reacted to social conditions as well as technical demands.

And Susanne Hauser looks into the conversion of former sites of production of steel and coal. Projects for the development of abandoned factory premises and storage areas are numerous: they range from artists’ studios and museums to spaces for the development of new industries. Such a conversion, she claims, demands very sensitive interaction with regional development and one’s own economic history.

Also to look out for: Hilary Tsui in “The demolition of Star Ferry Pier” on urban renewal in Hong Kong and the resistance it faces; Manfred Russo’s series on the history of urbanism, this time featuring the utopia of Protestantism in the US; and the first part of a new series by Daniel Kalt on art in urban space, featuring an interview with artists Angelo Stagno and Andrea van der Straeten.

The full table of contents of dérive 29 (2007).

Springerin 4/2007

Georg Schöllhammer, editor in chief of the Austrian art journal Springerin, was the brains behind the documenta 12 magazines project. Springerin now takes stock of this communicative networking project which set out to link up art journals from all over the world.

Keiko Sei, one of the editors of the project, discusses the situation of online media in Southeast Asia. In cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, or Jakarta, she writes, people make use of the possibilities of the Internet. This also goes for Rangoon in one of the most repressive countries in the region. They “get a feeling of independence and individuality on the web which stands in contrast to what is presented in the mass media.” This virtual public space is approaching Habermas’s idea of the public space, she finds. However, just as democracy in these regions is very young, so is this sphere of independent information and debate, with everyday dangers lurking, such as personal attacks and repression of those who think differently.

Journals are the powers, writes Süreyyya Evren, that come closest to creating an independent perspective and a public sphere not under control. Many new ideas one would not find in public discussions are voiced in a cultural magazine; some of these ideas even emerge there.

Evren undertakes an excursion into the world of Turkish cultural magazines and his own experience in publishing journals. Having founded the anarchistic collective Karasin and published a photocopied journal, the group found that publishing online was much more effective: “It guaranteed that the texts reached many places and had a long life span.” However, he concedes, what you create online you can neither smell nor touch. If you are dealing with emotionally laden topics, this can be a problem. “Since we began publishing our journal we have always savoured the privilege of breathing in the smell of each new issue.”

The full table of contents of Springerin 4/2007.

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Published 30 October 2007

Original in English
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