"Water and oil, friend and foe"

21 June 2005
Only in en
Wespennest follows the traces of oil in Russia, the UK, and Austria; Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) exposes the ongoing privatization of the water industry; Glänta finds a concealed opportunity in the crisis of the humanities; Springerin looks at images of friend and foe; Esprit readdresses the questions of 1905, the separation of church and state in France.

Wespennest 139 (2005)

“ÖL!” (“Oil!”) – the title of the latest issue of Wespennest – unequivocally declares this quarter’s editorial focus. In “Rainbow puddles on Park Lane”, Robert Rotifer (Falter, Berliner Zeitung) follows the trail of oil that runs through London’s streets. Oil rears its head everywhere: in commerce (the e-revolution’s failure to deliver on its promise of an “immaterial economy”); in civil society (the lorry drivers’ strike in 2000, against the high price of petrol; the anti-war demonstration in 2003, against a war over oil); in transport (the uprooting in the 1950s of the London tram network, beloved of the working classes, to make way for petroleum-fuelled transport); in architecture (the “Speer-like” headquarters of oil multinational Shell; the central mosque, lavish symbol of Arab affluence); and, of course, in football (league victors Chelsea FC and their patron, Russian oil oligarch Roman Abramovich).

Abramovich seems to enjoy the favour of the Kremlin – unlike Michail Khordokovsky. Anthony Robinson (Financial Times) argues that the former Yukos chief was arrested eighteen months ago when the Kremlin became alarmed at his proximity to the American oil giants. Putin’s solution – to renationalize the Russian oil industry and make life difficult for foreign investors – does not augur well for western Europe. Now, plans to pipe oil directly from Russia seem premature. But could the Kremlin’s heavy-handed politics ignite civic discontent in Russia?

A century ago, Austria had no need to import oil: the Galician oilfields made it the world’s third largest oil producer (after the US and Russia). During World War II, oil fields in Lower Austria fuelled the German war machine. Today, Austria imports the majority of its oil from Libya, though domestic reserves are expected to last another twenty years. Gerhard A. Stadler (Technische Universität, Vienna) recounts the social economic history of Austria’s today little-known natural resource.

Also to look out for: Franz Schuh on civic and class identity in Vienna; Thomas Frahm on how authors make and cause history; Karl Riha in conversation with the deceased Ernst Jandl (1925-2000); Zakes Mda on South African theatre in the era of reconciliation; Jörg Auberg on intellectuals and racketeers; and Uwe Schütte on Genesis P. Orridge and Brian Jones. The issue also includes graphics by Josef Schützenhöfer and photographs by KollektivRetina.

The full table of contents of Wespennest 139 (2005).

Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 6/2005

Water has become a “tradable commodity”; or, to quote the president of a water multinational, “God delivers water, but not the pipelines”. While the majority of water is still provided by the public sector, western industrial nations have been doing all they can to open up the market to private investors. Geographer Philippe Rakecewicz describes how private interests are disproportionately represented in global associations. These describe themselves as “places of discussion and exchange between private and public partners”, but are effectively lobby groups for the construction and water industries. Goals for the provision of clean drinking water may appear praiseworthy, but they disguise the aim to make the developing world reliant on US infrastructure.

Saad Hariri will soon assume the Lebanese presidency. But little remains of the revolutionary mood of the “cedar revolution” that followed the murder of his father, Rafik, in March. As Alain Gresh explains in “Lebanon’s democracy without democrats”, mutual distrust has, if anything, increased after the assassination. Instead of holding the Hariri family to account for the social and economic problems in the country, all blame is placed on Syria. No calls have been made to reform the old system based on loyalty to clans and religious confessions; meanwhile, fears grow that sectarianism is just what US foreign policy desires.

Elsewhere in the issue: Claus Leggewie, “Schönen Dank”; Ignacio Ramonet, “EU in hope”; Ian Draper, “Muslims in Great Britain”; Mathieu Rigouste, “Immigrant, but successful”; and Denis Duclos and Valérie Jacq, “The truth never reaches the camera”.

The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 6/2005.

Glänta 1-2/2005

The humanities are in a crisis – in recent decades a phrase that has been repeated so often that it has become a truism. But what, exactly, constitutes the crisis? Is it really only a matter of diminishing economic resources? Is it all about the declining impact of human sciences outside the academic world?

The new issue of the Swedish journal Glänta focuses on the humanities. In his introduction, guest-editor and literary scholar Anders Johansson draws attention not to the causes of the current crisis, but to its symptoms. Faced with criticism, or lack of interest, human sciences tend to become even more hermetic, or to submit to “market demands”. But perhaps marginalization conceals an opportunity, writes Johansson. At the margins, the humanities do not have to take into consideration “national needs”, nor do they have to bother about preserving tradition or contributing to economic growth. From this position of real independence, the humanities could perhaps start to have a real impact on both politics and society.

Together with ethnologist Mikael Vallström, Johansson files an application for research funding with the fictional foundation “The Administration of Humanism”, subverting all the obligatory concepts of the application form: “purpose”, “preliminary results”, “significance”, “theory, method, realization”. In doing so, Johansson and Vallström make visible an alternative to the disengaged, static, and self-confirming form of human science endorsed by the real equivalents of the authors’ fictional foundation. However, to make this alternative a reality would require that the humanities dare to realize their political potential.

In an article entitled “Traffic jam”, literary scholar and Eurozine contributor Frederik Stjernfelt claims that “increasing interdisciplinarity seems to cause a traffic jam in the humanities”. Instead of regarding this as an administrative problem, Stjernfelt goes on to answer the basic humanist question of what a “traffic jam” is in scientific terms. Having mustered all sorts of theories and analytical tools, from both the human and the natural sciences, he concludes: “We must get used to the idea that the humanities must use all tools available to understand and integrate as many aspects of ourselves as possible. We must get used to scientific traffic jams and enjoy (… the) conclusion that they are only a sign that the present road system is used to the optimum of its possible efficiency.”

Also in this double issue: Malene Busk, Danish historian of ideas, separates specialists from generalists in “The humanities after humanity”; in “Scenes from a marriage”, art theorist Fredrik Svensk looks at the relations between art and human sciences in general, and research in art in particular; and Mattias Martinsson traces the effects of natural and man-made disasters on theology – from the Lisbon earthquake in 1755, over Auschwitz, to last year’s tsunami in southeast Asia.

The full table of contents of Glänta 1-2/2005.

Springerin 2/2005

The Austrian magazine for contemporary art and theory Springerin explores the way art practice deals with the concepts of “friend” and “foe”.

Sociologist and art historian Jens Kastner investigates mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion in the new Europe, and the role a “Europe-friendly” art plays in the integration process. Former “eastern European” art has to struggle both with patriarchal ascriptions from the West and with obstacles from inside. Berlin artist Ariane Müller asks about the projections and paternalistic attitudes that art scenes standing at the threshold of this new Europe, such as the Turkish, encounter.

A special focus deals with Beirut’s art scene. A reportage from Beirut and images by Beirut artist Akram Zaatari ask what alternatives and what exit scenarios art and culture in general can offer. How resistant are images of friend and foe – especially images one has thought of as overcome?

Further articles: Hamburg-based art critic Jan Verwoert investigates the multi-part international art project on “Populism”; and Gislind Nabakowski, founder of the international avant-garde journal “heute-kunst” in the 1970s, identifies traces of friend and foe in Bruno Latour’s and Peter Weibel’s exhibition, “Making Things Public. Atmospheres of Democracy”, at the ZKM in Karlsruhe.

The full table of contents of Springerin 2/2005.

Esprit 6/2005

The idea of laicité is one of the core principles of the French republic. While President Jacques Chirac tries to protect this republican principle of laicité, political and intellectual circles in France have begun – rather cautiously – to debate whether the legislation of 1905, which most famously regulates the division of church and state, is still timely. The debate takes place against a backdrop of Islamic extremism, a growing problem among the second and third generations of French Muslims.

“Esprit” editors Olivier Mongin and Jean-Louis Schlegel argue that, if religion is returning to the forefront (as is the case with Islam – the Muslim society in France is the largest in Europe), the French governmental institutions must accommodate the changes that have resulted from a century of social development and evolving religious practices. Emile Poulat, sociologist at the EHESS (École des hautes etudes en sciences sociales), proposes recognizing the dated nature of the much revered law of 1905, as it is hardly familiar to anyone in France today and has gone through a string of amendments. Paris philosopher Olivier Abel looks into the new book on secularism and the relation between political power and confessions by Nicolas Sarkozy, former minister of the interior.

Also to look out for: Sabina Loriga, historian at the EHESS, re-reads Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”, and finds it a meditation on history and on the limitations of historical narrative. Jean-Claude Monod, CNRS, looks into Hans Blumenberg’s concept of metaphor and its meaning for contemporary philosophy.

The full table of contents of Esprit 6/2005.

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Published 21 June 2005

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