"The new facts of life"

5 September 2006
Only in en
Reset stands up for secularism; Mittelweg 36 theorizes Zinedine Zidane; Index on Censorship keeps an eye on liberal and illiberal media; Lettre Internationale (Denmark) measures the misery of the Middle East; du reports on life in the shadow of the Israeli wall; Cogito (Greece) investigates the very idea of artificial intelligence; Vikerkaar pops the corks on its twentieth anniversary; Mehr Licht! falls into literature's aesthetic daze; and Osteuropa tries to solve the enigma of Shostakovich.

Reset 96 (2006)

“Times are hard for secular culture,” writes sociologist Franco Crespi in the latest Reset. Secularism is being attacked by fundamentalists from all sides – Christian, Jewish, and Islamic. Cultural pluralism, quality of life, pursuit of happiness, individual choice, equality: these are all at the heart of secularism, which has reached its current form through a long process of evolution.

But, says Crespi, “this model of secularism, rich with elements open to development, seems very different from the reductive version with which it continues to be identified today, in an almost caricatured way – a sort of triumphal secularism that negates every kind of religious experience and which is founded solely on faith in science and in an instrumental rationalism, based on a competitive individualism centred on success and economic prosperity.”

If secularism and the dogmatic religions are to communicate, writes Crespi, they must find a relativism where they can respect each other’s beliefs and truths: “Relativism appears to be not only an irrefutable condition of democratic life, but also a more realistic way of approaching moral and legal questions that appear in political-social life. When decisions are made on the basis of beliefs that cannot be proven or religious prejudices (‘the soul of the foetus’, homosexuality as ‘against nature’), we tend to ignore, on the basis of abstract principles expressed in an authoritarian manner, concrete phenomena that should be addressed through public discussion.”

Italian football: Reset interviews the recently elected director of Gazzetta dello Sport, Carlo Verdelli, and the director of Il Romanista, Riccardo Luna, on the Italian football scandal. According to Verdelli, “Political corruption has existed since the time of ancient Rome and Greece. Of course there have also always been systems of manipulation in football, of arbitration in favour of the strongest teams. Football is, in a way, a reserve source of income for Italian capitalists. Who’s not involved in the business of football? But it’s the sheer scale of corruption in this scandal that makes it different.”

The full table of contents of Reset 96 (2006).

Mittelweg 4/2006

“Zinedine Zidane or games of belonging”: Sociologist Nikola Tietze defines the qualities that make Zidane a figurehead around which young Muslims in France and Germany form a sense of community. The footballer’s style of play, she writes, is a direct expression of the immigrant experience:

The inherited models of order and justification with which national communities legitimize their hierarchies have quite literally been thrown off balance by [Zidane’s] “dribbling skills, ball control, the feinting style, the liquid double turns, and the choreographed dummies”. The subnational and transnational ideas of community in the migrant society have […] a decisive advantage in that they have developed through critical engagement with discrimination and stigmatization: they can change their orientation and accentuation at any time […] Like Zinedine Zidane, these ideas of community act as attacking midfielders […] that understand their ball skills, the broad palette of their game, as an expression of their true selves and as existential necessity. They don’t have to defend what may be an empty goal. This generates a freedom that the national defenders of tradition, norms, institutions, and history can’t afford.

Despite the television apology, even the head-butt on Marco Materazzi had an instructive role, writes Tietze:

The football star reinserted his individual gesture into the rules of social life. The game could be taken up again. Nevertheless, Zidane followed up his serious, responsible words with the sentence: “I have children, I know what that means. I will always tell them to never let themselves be walked all over.” Zidane’s basic principle of upbringing places the individual opposite the social group as a sacred being. That this individual is inviolable is the basic conviction held by this type of community. It plays a part in deciding the way it is formed and so has an impact on its social behaviour. Whoever subscribes to it will not exclude that head-butts will be dealt out as soon as the feeling comes to dominate that one is being walked all over.

Also to look out for in this issue: Dierk Walter describes why the British military was forced to down-scale after WWII; Jan Philipp Reemtsma re-reads Alexander Mitscherlich’s theory of cruelty; and Ulrich Bröckling puts together a bricolage on criticism.

The full table of contents of Mittelweg 36 4/2006.

Index on Censorship 3/2006

Polish journalists are more concerned about Poland’s reputation abroad than the real problems facing the country, writes Irena Maryniak in Index on Censorship. And these are legion: the far-right policies of newly appointed education minister Roman Giertych, for example, or the growing role of Catholic radio station Radio Maryja as government mouthpiece; the prospect of a spate of witch-hunts against former Communists, or the government’s promise to introduce “moral censorship” to reflect the traditional Polish Catholic ethos. However:

For Poland to take the authoritarian Belarusian route […] the clampdown on the media, satellite TV, and the Internet would have to be unprecedentedly severe and brutal. What bodes most immediately and visibly, though, is an intellectually straitjacketed, isolated European province, abandoned by its brightest and best. With 18 per cent unemployment among people of working age – 40 per cent among the young – the most enterprising are voting with their feet.

Going to the other extreme: For ten years, Al-Jazeera has been infuriating governments of the Arab and Western worlds alike with its independent reporting. Responding to democratic campaigners in the Middle East who blame Al-Jazeera for not entering politics, Khaled Hroub argues that political change transcends the power of media alone and that the advances achieved by Al-Jazeera have fallen into a void created by the absence of legislative and juridical powers. And answering the Western criticism that the channel provides a platform for Islamist extremism, Hroub writes:

Any media outlet in or about the Middle East today would find it virtually impossible to convey objectively the realities of the region and the feelings on the Arab street toward Western-related policies without transmitting views and opinions that are loaded with Islamist rhetoric and propaganda. Al-Jazeera has reflected Arab anger, not created it.

The UK: Julian Petley deplores the Labour government’s kowtowing to the illiberal press on the Human Rights Act, as yet another row flares up about deporting foreign detainees to countries where they face maltreatment. Meanwhile, Conservative opposition leader David Cameron, who has referred to the European Court of Human Rights as a “foreign convention”, has been calling for a “British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities”.

The full table of contents of Index on Censorship 3/2006.

Lettre Internationale (Denmark) 12 (2006)

In the common Western imagination, the image of the veiled woman stands for oppression in the Muslim world. Western feminists who speak on behalf of “oppressed” Muslim women assume that individual desire and social convention are inherently at odds. But veiling should not be confused with a lack of agency or even traditionalism, writes anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod in the Danish edition of Lettre Internationale.

Abu-Lughod’s article is part of a multifaceted focus on the Middle East. Lebanese critic Walid Sadek sketches a “poetics of the eye”, where European reflections on the essence of vision are confronted with a Lebanese artistic tradition in which the eye is a constant theme. Liv Egholm and Jakob Feld look at Arab media and the public sphere. An article by Samir Kassir (who was killed by a car bomb last summer) painfully describes what it means to be an Arab: “Powerlessness is undoubtedly the symbol of Arab misery”.

Lettre also reprints Slavoj Zizek‘s recent attempt to “restore the dignity of atheism”. Published in the country where the notorious Mohammed caricatures first appeared, Zizek’s confrontation with the “antinomies of tolerant reason” gains new force.

Multiculturalism: Under the heading “Cultures under pressure”, Danish Lettre continues its efforts to feed the European debate on multiculturalism with refreshing perspectives. Author Jens-Martin Eriksen visits Malaysia, where the Muslim majority seems to live in peace and prosperity together with the Indian and Chinese minorities. A multicultural model? Talking to Chirita, an Indian author in Kuala Lumpur, Eriksen is forced to revise the rosy picture. For Chirita, the multicultural dogma celebrated by the “progressive world” is a tacit conspiracy against her and her family.

Here, Jens-Martin Eriksen once again proves that he is an essayist of international stature. If it was not for the fact that he writes in an obscure Nordic language, he would long ago have been a household name all over Europe.

Also in this issue: a portrait of another journalist whose reputation extended far beyond Denmark – the choleric and revolutionary reporter Jan Stage (1937-2003).

The full table of contents of Lettre Internationale (Denmark) 12 (2006).

du 8/2006

When du began to plan their September issue on the wall in Israel, the intense fighting at the Israeli-Lebanese border had not begun. There was “only” the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its growing symbol: the wall. The issue offers a look into the lives of four women, two Israelis and two Palestinians, who are affected daily by the wall.

Travelling from village to village around Ramallah, human and womens’ rights activist Hadeel Rizq-Qazzaz, spoke to women whose lives are disturbed constantly by the wall. One told her, “We’ve tried to protest. We have tried everything, but achieved nothing. For eight months we had daily arguments with the army. But the wall will continue to be built. We have lost all hope. We feel alone in a battle that surpasses our capabilities.”

Although each village protests against the wall locally, no collective national movement has developed. Women, says Rizq-Qazzaz, are the part of society most affected by the wall. “The wall restricts Palestinian women’s freedom of movement, their agricultural activities and therefore their participation in economic life. It takes away their access to medical and educational facilities and to the markets. The wall is particularly dangerous because it creates new, irrevocable facts in women’s lives.”

Also to look out for: Victor Kocher offers a chronology of decisions and events that led to the construction of the wall, beginning eighty years ago with Zeev Jabotinsky’s “The Iron Wall”. And Kai Wiedenhöfer captures the wall in his powerful photos.

The full table of contents of du 8/2006.

Cogito (Greece) 4 (2006)

The newest member of the Eurozine network is the Greek journal Cogito, a journal of philosophy based in Athens, which appears three times a year (and is not to be confused with our longstanding partner from Istanbul with the same name!). Greek Cogito‘s proclaimed goal is to bring philosophy to the lay reader without compromising or simplifying it.

The majority of the articles are by Greek authors who specialize in philosophy, but some come from other disciplines such as the arts, law, or medicine. In its latest issue, articles touching on topics of general interest include Elena Filippaki’s “On love” and Aris Koutoungos’ “What is philosophy?” – a question with a long history in the history of philosophy. Also of note is the discussion with Greek mathematician, novelist, and playwright Apostolos Doxiadis on the topic of mathematics and narrative.

AI: The main focus of the issue deals with natural and artificial intelligence. The Turing test, Searle’s Chinese room experiment, brains in a vat, and the Matrix are all dealt with. Spyros Petrounakos asks whether computers can follow rules, and Vincent C. Muller explains, after 50 years of AI, “Why we are not there yet”. In an interview, John Haugeland discusses “Intelligence and the ability to take responsibility”. Haugeland – who in his book Artificial Intelligence: The Very Idea coined the term GOFAI, meaning “Good Old-Fashioned Artificial Intelligence” – says about the difference between human intelligence and a computer:

The ability to tell the difference between what one is told to do and what one ought to do, the ability to take responsibility for what one does, is not a mere matter of following rules [Š] but rather of standing up and deciding who one is. This capacity is, I believe, the deepest essence of humanity. And I am quite confident that computational machines are incapable of it.

Also to look out for: a special section dealing with ethics and law, including an interview with Princeton professor Michael Walzer; and a second focus centring around an interview with Richard Swinbourne about the philosophy of religion. The focus also includes a feminist perspective, “Revising the rationality of religious belief”, by Denia Athanassopoulou-Kypriou.

The full table of contents of Cogito (Greece) 4 (2006).

Vikerkaar 7-8/2006

Estonian journal Vikerkaar was founded in 1986 and soon thereafter came to be known as the “banner of perestroika”. In a jubilee issue, Rein Ruutsoo, political scientist at Tallinn University, analyzes perestroika as an attempt at liberalization without democracy, and as such destined to failure. Ruutsoo also publishes notes from his 1986 diaries, which shed light on the conditions for Vikerkaar‘s birth.

Other essays in this issue review changes that have taken place in various spheres over the last twenty years. Philosopher Tonu Viik asks why the concept of “culture” has acquired such importance in the social and human sciences; Andres Kurg, historian of architecture, traces the “spatial turn” in the humanities, in particular in art theory; and Tiit Hennoste reviews the development of Estonian print-media since 1986, which has proceeded under the increasing pressure of commercialization.

Alongside its role as political mouthpiece, Vikerkaar has also been important as an organ of new Estonian writing. Mart Velsker discusses developments in Estonian literature that first found expression in Vikerkaar; and Marek Tamm writes on the changes in the writing of national history as reflected in the journal.

The full table of contents of Vikerkaar 7-8/2006.

Mehr Licht! 28 (2006)

The new issue of Albanian literary journal Mehr Licht! is full of interesting prose, poetry, essays, and studies from all times, traditions, and places. True to its aim, however, to be a forum for Albanian literature and culture, it opens with an essay by young Albanian writer Granit Zela about literature’s aesthetic daze, the myth, and the Ego. Translator and writer Arben Dedja is represented with three short stories, “The museum”, “The amputation”, and “WC”, all resounding with black humour. And Petraq Risto creates a unique rendering of the conversations of old gamblers in the casinos of Las Vegas with his “‘Für Elise’ ­ the merry grannies and the angel with the H5N1 virus”.

A section on tradition sees a translation of excerpts of Dante Alighieri’s Cantos, as well as the poem Revza [The Garden] by the Albanian poet Muhamed Kyçyku (1784-1844). Kyçyku was an Aljamiado poet, meaning he wrote his texts in a non-Semitic language but using the Arabic script. Faik Konitza, one of the more influential leaders of the Albanian community in America in the early twentieth century, is presented with two short satirical pieces first published in the 1930s in the Albanian emigré newspaper Dielli.

Mehr Licht! also gives an important place to the introduction of foreign literature and culture in Albania. In a piece on the meaning of the colour yellow in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Sidorela Risto claims that yellow symbolizes the hero Stephen Dedalus’ desire for women and his rejection of his Irish roots. Furthermore, the issue features a translation of Sigmund Freud’s essay “The poet and fantasy” [Der Dichter und das Phantasieren]; an essay by Karel Capek on literature of the world; and a larger dossier on T.S. Eliot, including an interview.

The full table of contents of Mehr Licht! 28 (2006).

Osteuropa 8/2006

With a special issue on Dmitri Shostakovich, Osteuropa celebrates the composer’s hundredth birthday. No other composer of the twentieth century has bestowed us with an oeuvre so full of breaks, the editors write. Although an exceptionally gifted pianist and musician, he was almost always also interpreted politically. For some, he is the state composer of the Soviet Union, having been awarded the Stalin Prize and the Order of Lenin. Others see him as a victim of a totalitarian system and his music as an expression of resistance against repression and suffering under Stalin.

The historical context in which Shostakovich’s music originated cannot be ignored, the editors concede. His work is rooted in the ambivalence of modernity and feeds on the spiritual awakening after the revolution, the promise of freedom which turned into bondage; and in the specific experience of violence in Russia: the horrors of the civil war, the terror of Stalinism, and the experience of destruction and annihilation in WWII.

In this issue, international musicologists, musicians, and journalists try to solve the enigma of Shostakovich. Dorothea Redepenning analyzes his middle symphonies and shows how he lived musically in a conflict between ethics and aesthetics. David Fanning asks what it is that makes his music so popular with concertgoers today, and to what extent his musical style was shaped by the Soviet communist regime. Kerstin Holm explores what Shostakovich means to Russia today; and Leonid Gakkel compares the two geniuses Shostakovich and Prokofiev, who in their lifetimes had nothing whatsoever to say to each other.

But, as the editors write, to read about music without listening to it makes no sense. The issue is thus complemented by a CD of the Sonata for Violin and Piano op. 134 interpreted by Kolja Blacher and Jascha Nemtsov.

The full table of contents of Osteuropa 8/2006.

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Published 5 September 2006

Original in English
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