"The sisterhood trap"

13 March 2007
Only in en
Lettre Internationale (Denmark) takes the pulse of the European elites; Arena warns against the sisterhood trap; Merkur asks why Germans don't like to talk about class; Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) questions Chinese protesters' failure to unite; NZ covers the spectrum of Putin's Russia; Multitudes launches an institutional critique of art; Akadeemia surveys the artificial languages of three Estonians; and du reads the writings of Scheherazade's daughters.

Lettre Internationale (Denmark) 14 (2007)

In a brilliant article, Abdul-Rehman Malik, editor at the London-based Muslim magazine Q-News, addresses the problem of professionalized faith. Issues such as integration, cohesion, and multiculturalism have become closely linked to the “war on terror” and concerned governments now look for representatives with whom they can talk. This type of “take me to your leader” approach blocks out the experiences and identities of many European Muslims, writes Malik.

An army of consultants, journalists, commentators, and activists has suddenly discovered that one stands to gain both money and fame if one can deliver solutions to the “Islamic problem”. Malik also places Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Salman Rushdie, and Tariq Ali in this “Islam industry”. They have almost no connection to Islam as a faith, but their Muslim “heritage” and “experience” make their commentaries seem legitimate.

The Muslim community is itself looking for leadership and innovative ideas, writes Malik. Muslims are longing for democratic mechanisms through which they can participate in their societies and in their communities of faith. If the emerging Islam industry cannot offer that, it is simply not fit to cope with the challenges of our times.

Abdul-Rehman Malik’s article is based on a contribution to last year’s Eurozine conference “Friend and foe. Shared space, divided society”; a longer version will soon be published in Eurozine.

European elites: The European Union is often described as an elitist project, implemented over the heads of “ordinary citizens”. In an interesting and multi-faceted interview, former Danish foreign minister Uffe Elleman-Jensen compares it to walking in front, constantly having to look over one’s shoulder to make sure that the others are following. Sometimes, however, the elites rush ahead and forget to look back. That is asking for trouble.

The focus on European elites also features Jadwiga Staniszkis‘s account of the Polish populists’ pyrrhic victory: “Revolutionary elites, pragmatic masses”. The new Polish elite feels it has no control over the processes for which it bears political responsibility. Only now is it understanding that European integration and globalization have put limits on its power.

The full table of contents of Lettre Internationale (Denmark) 14 (2007).

Arena 1/2007

A recent documentary about the Swedish political party Feminist Initiative (Fi) shows an internal debate between two of the party’s founders. In the film, queer feminist Tiina Rosenberg advocates an anti-family policy and describes the heterosexual nuclear family as an anti-feminist project. Ebba Witt Brattström, professor of literature and married to the secretary of the Swedish Academy, counters that arguing this in public would mean the death of the Fi.

Referring to this conflict, Arena editor Karolina Ramqvist establishes that Witt Brattström was right: to question heterosexuality and family is – still – political suicide. In fact, following internal crises and bad press partly generated by Rosenberg’s controversial image, the Fi received only 0.68 per cent of the vote in the 2006 general elections, compared to the 10 per cent indicated by the polls a year earlier.

“It should really not be too controversial to claim that the family – in the form we find it in our dreams, in politics, or in the playground – is anti-feminist”, writes Ramqvist. “But when the critique comes from lesbians, it suddenly becomes offensive, also to feminists. For if the heterosexual nuclear family is anti-feminist, then what are the feminists who live in this family?”

The case of the Feminist Initiative illustrates how difficult an intersectional approach is. Feminists seem to be longing for togetherness and mutual understanding. But queer and anti-racist intersectional perspectives do create conflicts. When power issues that are not covered by the gender perspective pop up, consensus is no longer possible. That’s reality, says Ramqvist, and “those who still cling to the image of an unproblematic sisterhood will have to face the same problems as those who once claimed that the only rightful struggle was the class struggle.”

Manipulative media: Jesús Alcalá accuses investigative journalists at Swedish public television of sacrificing good journalism for marketable media drama. Last year, a documentary scrutinizing the Ministry of Justice’s reports on children refugees suffering from apathy syndrome had a huge impact on public debate. Now Jesús Alcalá sets out to show that it was based on manipulation and over-simplification.

The full table of contents of Arena 1/2007.

Merkur 3/2007

Why do the French and English have no problem describing themselves as class societies, while talk of class and stratum is taboo in Germany? In the March issue of Merkur, Berlin sociologist Hans-Peter Müller traces the political history of the idea of class and analyzes whether social inequality can still be discussed in terms of class, stratum, and mobility, or whether this classification has become obsolete.

Few ideas have sparked so much anger and resentment in Germany as the historically significant ideas of class struggle and class society put forward by the two German revolutionaries Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In wealthy societies the character of social inequality has changed considerably since early industrialization. Classical poverty in Germany has become rare; sociologists today prefer to talk of relative deprivation.

But is this the end of class society? In the twenty-first century, Müller writes, austerity, social inequality, precarity, and poverty are on the agenda again. For Germany, this means a strange and unique sort of Klassengesellschaftlichkeit (“class societyness”).

Pop expressionism: Until now, nobody has composed a satisfactory history of the resistance that painting faced in the 1960s and 1970s, notes Munich art historian Walter Grasskamp. At that time, “painting was assigned a place at the margins of modernity, where, just as from the edges of a flat earth, it would in time fall down of its own accord.” The spirit changed at the outset of the 1980s. Grasskamp tracks the story of the “Junge Wilde” movement in Germany, which included artists such as Jiri Georg Dokoupil, Rainer Fetting, Albert Oehlen, and Martin Kippenberger.

Critique: Wolfgang Ullrich condemns Jed Perl’s book New Art City (“how Perl missed the rise of New York City to an art metropole”), and Christoph Mäckler points to architects’ craving for recognition that takes no account of existing city structures.

The full table of contents of Merkur 3/2007.

Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 3/2007

Protests are becoming more and more frequent and courageous in China. According to official statistics, public protests rose from 8700 in 1993 to 87 000 in 2005. At the same time, leaders in Beijing are reacting more flexibly – at least as long as the Communist Party’s monopoly on power is not threatened, writes Sven Hansen in the German edition of Le Monde diplomatique.

Protesters are mostly farmers fighting against the seizure of their land by local authorities and workers demonstrating against squalid conditions. But the wave of protest has also reached the middle classes and even owners of luxurious villas venting their dissatisfaction with real estate firms.

“Observers agree that the protests are larger as well as more frequent, widespread, persistent, and violent than a few years ago,” says Hansen. “However, they are still fixated on local incidents. Thus farmers do not seem to seek contact with farmers protesting in other areas, nor do they cooperate with workers or with students. And protesting workers from the public sector do not cooperate with migrant workers.”

“The government still reserves the right to decide which protests to tolerate. But it now reacts more flexibly to demonstrations and does not resort solely to repression,” writes Hansen. In order to maintain the Communist Party’s monopoly on power, China’s leaders are “trying to make the government and administration more efficient – without basic political reforms.”

Letter from India: Hardnews columnist Rupa Gulab on India’s change of fortune: “Well, what do you know! The world is now saying the most encouraging things about India. I have to confess that it certainly feels good to be recognized as an economic superpower, especially after years of being pitied as a pan-handling Third World country with a socialist game plan.”

The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 3/2007.

Neprikosnovennij Zapas 50 (6/2006)

Perry Anderson, writing in the London Review of Books in January, described NLO, the publishers of Russian journal Neprikosnovennij Zapas (NZ), as: “The most coherent attempt to create something like the equivalent of the Silver Age milieu at the turn of the last century. The NLO project,” he went on, “can be regarded as a modest oasis of reflection in an increasingly philistine scene.” In its landmark fiftieth issue, entitled “Nouveau régime: Russia 1998-2006”, NZ covers the political, cultural, and economic spectrum of Putin’s Russia.

In a section on nation building, Irina and Svyatoslav Kaspe analyze attempts to formulate a national idea in post-Soviet society, while Boris Dubin concentrates on the way these attempts are perceived in the public consciousness. Vyacheslav Morozov critiques the idea of “sovereign democracy” – the combination of presidential accountability and national independence – as “reactionary” and “restorational” and Aleksandr Kynev points out the radical changes to the electoral system and the effects these have on regional politics.

Fedor Lukyanov rejects the idea that Putin’s “imperialism” differs substantially from Yeltsin’s foreign policy in the 1990s, while Sergei Markedonov calls Russia’s aim to become a CIS superpower “a mission without a purpose”. In a section on economics, Yevgeny Saburov ridicules young economists who take the free market for granted and simultaneously idealize the Soviet regime. They have no idea, he writes, of the defining feature of the Soviet economy: shortage. Meanwhile, Leonid Kosals insists that when discussing the economic scene in contemporary Russia, the continuity with the clan capitalism of the 1990s cannot be overlooked.

Writing on cultural issues, Dmitri Travin traces the rise of the media commentator in post-Soviet Russia while Andrei Levkin comes to some surprising conclusions about the origins of “internal censorship” in the Russian press. And Mikhail Gabovich, fomer NZ editor, replies to Dina Khapaeva’s critique that a special NZ issue on WWII subconsciously reproduced the myth of the Great Patriotic War.

The full table of contents of Neprikosnovennij Zapas (NZ) 50 (6/2006).

Multitudes 28 (2007)

In Multitudes, Claire Pentacost compares two artists working with biotech: the Brazilian Eduardo Kac, who caused a scandal in 2000 when he commissioned the creation of a genetically modified, glow-in-the-dark rabbit; and the American Steve Kurtz, who in 2004 was taken in for questioning by the FBI on suspicion of bioterrorism. Police investigating the death of Kurtz’s wife had found scientific equipment lying around his house; though Kurtz’s wife died of natural causes, the artist was charged with illegally running a biotech lab (the charges were dropped in 2006 for lack of evidence).

On the one hand there is Kac, the artist-showman who lends allure to biotech; on the other is Kurtz, the artist-researcher who critiques its effects. In the context of the privatization of knowledge and increasingly strict control over laboratories, the artist-researcher can make public the research process and the consequences of the commercialization of science, writes Pentacost. But to do so, he or she must interrupt the normal functioning of the neoliberal art world, where institutions supported by private sponsorship retain exclusive rights over fetishized art products.

Continuing the “new institutional critique”, Suely Rolnik writes on Brazilian conceptual artist Lygia Clark. Clark’s work of the 1960s, ephemeral and fabricated from cheap, renewable materials, represented a withdrawal from the art business; in 1976, Clark gave up art for psychoanalysis. Rolnik’s filmed interviews on the impact of Clark’s theoretical work during her “exile” from art continue Clark’s critique by “contaminating the territory of art, the museum”.

Noise music: Yoshihiko Ichida considers noise to be the place where that which politics leaves unthought of emerges; and Boyan Manchev redefines noise as raucous “ritornello” rooted in African-American work songs.

The full table of contents of Multitudes 28 (2007).

Akadeemia 3/2007

Dissatisfied with Esperanto, Estonian Edgar de Wahl came up with his own artificial language in 1922: Occidental. Occidental was meant to be easily recognizable for western Europeans (unlike Esperanto, which is designed for a broader readership). It enjoyed a rise in popularity in the 1930s and 1940s, but faded into obscurity with the appearance of other artificial languages, such as Interlingua, in the 1950s.

Estonians seem to have a knack for artificial languages, evident in Jacob Linzbach’s creation of Transcendent Algebra in 1921 (an early forerunner of information theory), and the lesser-known J. Sarv’s unpublished language in 1943. Ülo Lumiste and Leo Vohandu describe the lives of these three scholars and their languages.

Post-Soviet purchasing power: In the 1990s, huge divergences in purchasing power emerged between former Soviet republics and other countries. Jaanus Raim uses this as a starting point for his comparison of the price of urban flats in Estonia and Finland. He finds that the price of flats has risen much more quickly in Estonia than the price of other goods and of wage levels. Thus the purchasing power of Estonian wage earners has not increased as significantly as previously assumed, and is in fact comparable to Finnish rates.

The full table of contents of Akadeemia 3/2007.

du 2/2007

“I know I should not have let him/ uncover my breasts./ I only wanted to show him/ that I am a woman./ I know I should not have let him undress./ He only wanted to show me/ that he is a man.” This poem by Syrian female poet Maram al-Masri is a challenge to Arab society, writes Suleman Taufiq in the new issue of du. In its radicality, he says, it marks the new position of the young poet.

Only men used to be able to write about a lover and her body – or, even, to write at all. Today, women take up Scheherazade’s verbal heritage, writing about love among other things. In doing so, notes Taufiq, they growingly distance themselves from the traditional norms of society, linguistically as well as in content.

What in Western societies is an evening at the theatre or a visit to a museum is in the Arab world a poetry reading. Arab literature as a rule is picturesque and laden with symbols. It is a game of words, music to the ears of listeners and readers: verse is actually often sung. With the collection of women writers presented in du, this rule is deconstructed, as is the stereotype of the subdued Arab woman. The essays and writings are congenially complemented by Randa Mirza’s photographs of “my friends in Beirut”.

“The insistence on individual expression is already part of what in Arab societies constitutes modernity”, writes Taufiq. “That individual female writers insist on their female individuality, that they accentuate their peculiarity also outside the group, is new. Their poetry is like their lives: rebellion and passion. Their language is direct, emphatically simple. They have become more self-confident, but also self-critical. Their writing no longer laments the situation of women, but demands that desires and dreams be cashed in.”

Also to look out for: An interview with American author Richard Powers and a feature on the career of “street fiction” in New York.

The full table of contents of du 2/2007.

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Published 13 March 2007

Original in English
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