The race for the newest news

10 April 2013
Only in en
Merkur recognizes that timing is not everything, it’s also the way you tell it; Free Speech Debate tracks the Chinese censors’ changes; L’Espill searches for another kind of political realism; Blätter analyses Germany’s energy transition 2.0; Arena reports from the battle over the Swedish model; Osteuropa celebrates a century of research on eastern Europe; RozRazil cringes at a toxic cocktail of crisis and circus; Sodobnost brands Slovenia a nation at risk; A Prior goes with the ebb and flow of the art world; Springerin considers the emancipatory potential of a creative anti-humanism; and Revista Crítica examines the destiny of women in war.


In a short “history of timeliness”, Lothar Müller explores the origins of “the original medium in which topicality as a modern form of experiencing time was born: the printed newspaper”.

When in 1605 Johannes Carolus produced what is officially recognized as the first printed newspaper – 150 years after Gutenberg – he initiated the second media revolution of the early modern period. Much more than the printed book, the newspaper, owing to its relatively fast production and distribution (thanks to the new postal service), contributed to the cultural appreciation of the new:

“The periodical press, with its pulsating centre, the newspaper, was the key medium in the production of and reflection on the present from the seventeenth until far into the twentieth century. Thus the present became an epochal concept that made contemporaries conscious of belonging to that epoch.”

And what of the Internet? Although it has – after radio and TV – further accelerated the influx and distribution of news and turned media consumers into media actors, Müller states that the end of the race for the “newest news” has already begun:
“The number of visitors to a given online portal is no longer decisive. What is increasingly decisive is how long visitors spend on the site, as measured by the number of clicks. Instead of competing for hard, time-based topicality, it is now a question of competing over ‘soft topicality’. The formula: ‘to acquire within a certain time the best story, such that it is recommended, sent and linked to’. Thus online journalism resembles the shift from news per se to the constant development of new forms of narrative and reflection in the newspapers and magazines of the early modern period.”

Arendt in the movies: Helmut König recommends Margarethe von Trotta’s film Hannah Arendt and shows how Arendt, against all odds, advocated pluralism and promoted “the political” – especially in the Eichmann controversy (see also Arendt’s correspondence with Leni Yahil, published in Eurozine).

The full table of contents of Merkur 4/2013


The first week of 2013 saw a standoff between editors of the Chinese newspaper Southern Weekly and state propaganda authorities over a drastically rewritten new year’s editorial. Timothy Garton Ash introduces English translations of both the original and the published versions, revealing how the tone was “changed from liberal reformist to party propagandist”, and how new life was breathed into classic phrases via online networks:

“Note that the penultimate sentence of the original – ‘One word of truth outweighs the whole world’ – is an unacknowledged quotation of the Russian proverb which was central to Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel Prize Lecture, entitled ‘One word of truth’. This sentence was also subsequently tweeted on Sina Weibo by actress Yao Chen, together with the Southern Weekly logo. She has over 38 million Sina Weibo followers.”

Chinese public sphere: Rogier Creemers, a regular commentator on Chinese media issues, explains how, during a long century of “internal and external turmoil”, from the mid-nineteenth century onward, the Chinese government took a close interest in citizen’s private lives. Though this began to change with the dawning of the Deng era, Creemers maintains that the “political monism” of Chinese governance means pluralism of any kind will remain a distant prospect for the foreseeable future. However, the Chinese elite’s fear of “rights-defence lawyers, underground religions, dissidents, Internet leaders and the powerless masses” is not without parallels:

“Their existence, which cannot be explained through the scientific framework the Chinese Communist Party claims to master, can only point to malice towards the ‘broadest masses’ and ulterior motives. A similar cognitive dissonance that is present in economic leaders worldwide who cannot comprehend how their scientific solutions fail to restore economies and rebuild popular support.”

Also: Cristobal Cobo and Dominic Burbridge tackle the question of how the advent of open access will affect scholarly publications and knowledge production.

More about Free Speech Debate


“We are asked for realism […] a vague and highly anthropomorphic concept”, writes Antoni Defez in L’Espill (Valencia), in an article that reflects philosophically on the impact of austerity in Spain and other southern EU countries. The reactions of those affected have often been inspired by a similarly vague sense of the “simplicity of good”, a feeling that 50 per cent youth unemployment, sweeping welfare cuts and mass impoverishment are simply wrong – and unacceptable. Spain’s indignados or “angry ones” only tried to form a political ideology after their protests had begun.

Defez considers the Spanish situation in the light of Karl Jaspers’ four categories of guilt, formulated in The Question of German Guilt: metaphysical, moral, political and criminal. Criminal and political guilt have largely disappeared from view in Spain. Scarcely anyone has been penalized for corruption and there has been no real acceptance of moral responsibility for the crisis on the part of leaders in business or politics, whose individual decisions contributed to the financial mismanagement.

Instead, the steady focus has been on the “metaphysical” guilt of society as a whole, the idea that “everyone is responsible, because we were all living beyond our means”. And, since “we’re all equally guilty”, it follows that “we have to socialize the losses and the debts”. Hence the evictions of those who cannot keep up their mortgage payments, whose names are entered in the lists of the permanently indebted and who are sentenced to a form of “civil death, or death in life”.

Away from the protests, Defez believes, “a profound pessimism” has installed itself among ordinary people. To avoid further social disintegration, he advocates “taking the ideas of moral, political and criminal responsibility seriously”, and establishing “another kind of realism”.

Also: In a wide-ranging dossier on contemporary thinkers including Richard Dawkins, Slavoj Zizek, Nancy Fraser and Timothy Garton Ash, Justo Serna discusses the complex role of childhood memories of Switzerland as an image of unchanging safety in the last works of the late historian Tony Judt, such as Ill Fares the Land and The Memory Chalet.

The full table of contents of L’Espill 42 (2012/13)


Were it not for the engineers, observes Claus Leggewie in Blätter, “one of the biggest infrastructure projects of our times”, the German Energiewende (or energy transition), would have remained a “green dream”.

After the 1970s, when great importance was attached to engineers in searching ways out of the “ecological crisis”, green technologies were lost to “the euphoria surrounding globalization and the belief in markets”. Today, however, the transformation of industrial society goes hand in hand with a new appreciation of the engineer: he or she is not only seen as an expert but also a crucial player on the political scene: “Interdisciplinary networks consisting of civilians, scientists and civil society pioneers recognize and embrace transdisciplinary problems as challenges for which they are jointly responsible. […] It is therefore all the more important never to conceive the Energiewende only as a technological challenge but rather as a political experiment as well.”

Green carrots: Reinhard Loske, a scholar of sustainability and former senator for environment in Bremen, writes in favour of the implementation of an “EcoBonus” that will reward those who save energy. He also outlines grounds for combining the EcoBonus and the ecotax in a way that deals with current criticisms of the latter for favouring wealthier taxpayers.

Fatal embrace: Daniel Leisegang assesses the damage done to Amazon’s reputation in the wake of the broadcast in mid-February of an ARD documentary on the precarious working conditions of pickers and packers at Amazon’s “fulfilment centres”, many of whom are migrant workers. While low or non-existent job security and radical-right security forces were features of the “system of exploitation” in which they found themselves, Amazon’s competitors are no better off: Leisegang credits Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos with a “strategy of the fatal embrace”, that binds “competitors extremely tight so that they simply cannot breathe anymore”.

The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 4/2013


Earlier this year, The Economist featured a cover story entitled “The Nordic countries: the next super model”. It’s been a while, but the Swedish Way, upgraded to a Nordic Model, is finally back in fashion – even with the flagship publication of global capitalism. But in Sweden, the model’s homeland, a bitter feud over the origin – and ownership – of this blueprint for successful social organization rocks the otherwise consensus-oriented political establishment.

In Arena, Per Svensson reports from this “battle over history”, in which the Social Democratic Party has filed an application with the Swedish Patent and Registration Office for the copyright of the concept “The Nordic Model”, a “re-launched synonym for ‘The Swedish Model’, which in turn stands for a social system characterized by consensus and trust between business and politics, the state and its citizens”. As if this was not absurd enough, the application was actually successful!

Svensson interprets this rather desperate move by the social democrats as a response to the image change that the conservative party has gone through during the reign of prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt: the former neoliberals are now praising the welfare state and branding themselves as the “new worker’s party”. No wonder that the social democrats are pissed off, writes Svensson: “First they stole our policy, then our rhetoric, and now our history. And the journalists are no help. Enough is enough!”

Cultural radicalism: In an engaging essay on Swedish newspaperman Herbert Tingsten (1896-1973), Per Wirtén identifies Europe as one of the main challenges for anyone claiming to follow the Swedish (or Nordic) tradition of cultural radicalism staked out by intellectuals such as Tingsten, August Strindberg and Ellen Key. “The eurocrisis is the proof that the previous decision-making procedure has fallen through. Now the time has come for a democratic breakthrough.”

The full table of contents of arena 1/2013


When in 1913 Otto Hoetzsch founded the body that later became the German Society for Eastern European Studies, the publisher of Osteuropa, it was to make amends for the lack of knowledge of Russia available to Germans, write editors Manfred Sapper and Volker Weichsel. Today, following the closure of departments during the post-Soviet era, a decline in the standard of analysis of matters eastern European has to be reckoned with: “Sisyphus must roll his stone up the hill once again.”

Battle of the faculties: Seven scholars discuss the relation between area studies in an age of globalization and their disciplines, which range across the humanities and social sciences. Despite initial reservations about area studies as an “unsystematic Landeskunde“, the need for expert knowledge of a region is acknowledged, particularly if, as political scientist Florian Grotz points out, international comparative work is to produce outcomes consistent with reality. Moreover, historian Matthias Middell notes the emergence of a “new, post-disciplinary formation” – at the same time as warning against its instrumentalization in the justification of cost cutting.

Literary scholar Georg Witte goes further still, pointing out that processes of trans-regionalization demand a new definition of space itself. This will be particularly helpful for eastern European studies in “grasping the true complexity of a situation in which globalization coincides with the fall of an empire”.

Strategic partnerships: The reality of the blurring of borders in the diplomatic sphere is thrown into sharp relief in Sapper’s interview with the German diplomat Manfred Huterer – who sees an urgent need to address the decline in regional expertise. Huterer also covers the success story of trilateral relations between Germany, Poland and Russia, along with Germany’s interest in expanding the area of European stability eastward without shutting out Russia. Or, as the then President of Germany Richard von Weizsäcker expressed it in 1990: “The western border of the Soviet Union must not be allowed to become the eastern border of Europe”.

The full table of contents of Osteuropa 2-3/2013


With the second round of the Czech presidential election in full swing, the latest issue of RozRazil focuses on two key themes: crisis and circus.
An early harbinger of the Velvet Revolution, the political theatre spectacular RozRazil: On Democracy, staged in Brno in 1988, kick-started a tradition that is still alive to this day. In January 2013, as several Brno theatres pooled resources in producing RozRazil: On Our Present-Day Crisis, the fifth show of its kind, the magazine invited the writers and directors involved to a roundtable discussion on the current moral, political and economic crisis in the Czech Republic.

Two generations of theatre professionals discuss issues ranging from the failure of elites, through the inadequacy of the legal system and rampant corruption, to the diminishing role of the citizen in politics. Director Bretislav Rychlik traces the roots of the current moral crisis to the 1992 break-up of Czechoslovakia: “Without asking the citizens what they thought, two groups of people took it upon themselves to divide the country. Since then no one has ever asked our views on anything”. He feels the ideals of the Velvet Revolution have been betrayed as “the party that sprang from a forum of citizens repudiated citizens as useless insects”.

Political circus: Classicist Lubor Kysucan charts the antique origins of circus as a global cultural phenomenon while veteran commentator Karel Hvizdala detects striking parallels between circus and contemporary Czech politics: “an open air circus […] performed, instead of artists, by amateurs fiercely defending the specificity and sovereignty of their shows”. Hvizdala rails against “the persuasive power of charismatic shamans who function via cheap clichés or utterly mendacious arguments that allow them to impose an easier, albeit often baffling and confusing, direction upon society”. He continues:

“Our ever accelerating society is under constant time pressure and while the media ensure the rapid supply of information they also make us forget it very quickly. We live under the diktat of a banal present. And it is this lack of freedom and the triumph of charisma over information that turns even the most impressive performances of the Czech circus into a toxic cocktail.”

The full table of contents of RozRazil 45-46 (2012)


Long before it won independence from Yugoslavia, Slovenia wished to become a nation. Now it is a nation at risk, argues Tone Persak in Sodobnost. But can Slovenia’s institutional framework provide for a positive resolution to multiple crises in the financial, economic, political and social sectors? The recent ousting of prime minister Janez Jansa, after he was unable to explain the untaxed portion of his income, does not seem promising in this regard.

The road from catharsis, reconciliation and consensus to a disintegrating society proved short indeed. Persak recounts how, throughout the modern period, Slovenians were hindered from emerging as a nation by their own inferiority complexes and the Catholic church, which tried to persuade them “that to be a Slovene meant nothing other than being a Catholic, or that one cannot be Slovene if one is not Catholic”.

However, after independence in 1991, national ideals were quickly erased as corruption set in and ethics were ignored. Proceeds from what was once public property flowed out of the country, a few individuals grew very rich and select politicians benefitted to the detriment of the nation and its people. So far, the response has been what Persak describes as “nonsensical austerity measures”. Meanwhile, a cry for the preservation of the social state, cultural identity, and even human dignity can be heard far and wide.

A precious gift: One of America’s leading poets, Charles Simic, contributes a short essay on the Serbian poet, teacher and children’s book editor Aleksander Ristovic (1933-1994). Simic, who is of Serbian descent, credits Ristovic with teaching him how to view the world in a new way – a precious gift. And yet Ristovic, who never adhered to any particular literary movement, was largely overlooked during his lifetime.

Also: Ewa Hess and Hennric Jokeit herald the arrival of neurocapitalism. In a performance-driven society that confronts the self with its own shortcomings, neuroscience serves an expanding market.

The full table of contents of Sodobnost 1-2/2013


In the final issue of A Prior (Belgium) in its current format, recollections of dOCUMENTA (13) and associated happenings, some real, some not, mingle with fictional interviews with the likes of Walter Benjamin and Brad Pitt, which in turn punctuate real correspondence and interviews with real artists.

The star of the show is, as Nat Muller describes him in her piece, that “unequivocal master of ‘constructed situations'” Tino Sehgal. Dancers and interpreters from his work in the darkness of the Hugenotte house at dOCUMENTA (13) enjoy a sustained presence: their “humming and whooping” echoes throughout the magazine. About halfway through the issue, the Thames itself flows on in ahead of Sehgal’s other key work of 2012:

“The Thames rises in a field known as Trewsbury Mead and is guarded by an ash tree. Focusing on what happens when nothing happens, Anne Daems and Kenneth Andrew Mroczek travelled along the Thames in the spring of 2012. They passed idealized images of English life: thatched cottages, village greens, duckponds and hedged fields, they saw the river as a source of daily English life. Like Joseph Conrad in the nineteenth century they looked at the foreboding side of this fascinating river. Conrad had a working knowledge of the river, for him the river was also the guardian of older secrets on which stood the ‘largest city on the face of the earth’.”

Mention of the Sehgal work and subsequent comments about it then merge with the full-page colour images and other recollections:

“Today, along the bankside of the Thames stands Tate Modern, based in the former Bankside Power Station. These Associations, a work made by Tino Sehgal for the Turbine Hall addresses the industrialization that finds its origins in this river. Participants hum and whisper, almost chant-like, words like ‘electricity’ or ‘evolution’. By means of conversations they have with visitors, they try to reconnect our souls.”

More about
A Prior Magazine 23 (2012)


Springerin (Austria) launches its first new-look issue for a decade. Between the covers, which have a slightly waxy feel, are three sections: shorts (printed vertically), interviews and features and, finally, reviews. Headlines, intros and bodies each have their own new, complementary, but distinctive fonts, which will be rotated and selectively exchanged for others in future issues.

As for content, the issue explores anti-humanism, not as “a school of thought that wishes to spread inhumanity, but rather one that is grasped as an emancipatory project”.

Subsequent to the decentring of subjectivity effected through structuralism and poststructuralism, anti-humanism puts anthropocentrism per se firmly to one side – opening the way for alternative and often paradoxical lines of inquiry. Those explored in Springerin draw upon conceptual apparatus such as animism or Guattari’s “assembly line of subjectivity”.

Ideology of the new: However, the first short by Timothy Druckrey already introduces a deeply ambivalent tone to the endeavour. The media scholar and curator concludes his obituary for critical thinking in the age of mobile devices in a distinctly minor key: “The new is anti-humanism’s triumphant gesture of tautology and the evisceration of imagination, reflection or time.”

One of many nodal points: An interview with queer theorist Jasbir K. Puar turns to the subject of post-humanism, which she says “seeks to destabilize the centrality of human bodies and their purported organic boundedness, foregrounding the technological productions of bodies and the indeterminate and often unacknowledged co-development of consciousness, tools, bodies and culture. Within such webs the human becomes one of many nodes, certainly not the originator of categories, matter or meaning.”

Also: Julia Gwendolyn Schneider on simulating sustainability in the World Game at the Richard Buckminster Fuller Institute in Vienna; and the rise of speculative realism, which Rahma Khazam explores in interviews with three artists – and Ridvan Askin reflects upon in conversation with Pascal Jurt.

The full table of contents of Springerin 1/2013


Articles in a themed issue of Revista Crítica (Portugal) on “Women and wars” have one explicit aim in common: to bring to light previously little known or unknown reports of physical and emotional “torture” of women. Associated geographical locations and theoretical underpinnings are, by contrast, diverse.

Mozambique, East Timor, El Salvador: Between 2008 and 2009, Teresa Cunha interviewed women in Mozambique and East Timor with a view to documenting their suffering in wars during the last half century. Drawing on theory from postcolonial and women’s studies, Cunha stresses that these narratives of suffering have a political value and should not be interpreted as unproductive and disposable.

Silvia Roque focuses on El Salvador, one of the most violent countries in the world. Gang wars over the last two decades conceal various acts of sexualized violence against female members. Roque examines the role of these women as victims and perpetrators who are generally “viewed as abnormal or perverse” and therefore ignored.

Sexual violence: Based on a previously published article “Blood, sperm and tears”, Gaby Zipfel examines the relationship between sexual identity, violence and sexuality in and around war: “Armed conflicts function as a kind of magnifying glass, making visible definitions of sexual identity constructed through the legitimization of violence. Wartime crimes of sexual violence, viewed until now as phenomena characteristic only of a state of exception, thus point to regularities whose form and function may vary but whose reference points are rooted in the social expression of power.”

The full table of contents of Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais 96 (2012)

Published 10 April 2013

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