"A guide to possible futures"

6 September 2005
Only in en
Sodobnost argues the case for translation; Ord&Bild maps Lebanon's possible futures; Mittelweg 36 comes to the defence of the welfare state; du embarks on a gastrosophic trip through Bordeaux; Nova Istra pays a visit to James Joyce in Pula; and Neprikosnovennij Zapas opens up perspectives on the Russian state.

Sodobnost 7-8/2005

“What can literature do today?” asks Ciril Zlobec, renowned Slovene poet and former editor-in-chief of Sodobnost, in his commemorative editorial for this double issue. National and global changes in the last decade have forced Slovene literature to secure a new position for itself. Zlobec argues that in today’s climate of all-embracing plurality, poets and writers can no longer make themselves heard by simply raising their voices against political and social injustice. Every form of protest is turned into a marketable commodity, where attention is gained only by overstepping boundaries of good taste and social acceptability. Reduced to mere entertainment, literature is deprived of its voice, and its rightful place. Zlobec finds that culture, above all literature, must fill the spaces still available in the contemporary pandemonium of trivialities.

“Traduttori traditori” (Translators traitors) are at the heart of this issue, in a section on problems of literary translation. In her article “Gained in translation”, Erica Johnson Debeljak, an American translator and writer living in Slovenia, criticizes the Anglo-American domination of the global publishing channels:

By not even bothering to translate, much less assimilate, foreign works, American cultural interests conquer foreign literature simply by ignoring it. A steep price is paid on both sides of this cultural equation. Smaller cultures suffer because their literature does not circulate, but ironically the conqueror may pay the even higher price: stuffiness and parochialism in the sphere of domestic literary creation, and the deprivation of the potential stimulus needed to trigger a great age of literature.

This section is rounded off with an article on the precarious economic position of the translator in neo-liberal society by Andreja Bajt; a roundtable discussion of eminent Slovene literary translators; and an interview with translation theorist and historian Lawrence Venuti.

The full table of contents of Sodobnost 7-8/2005.

Ord&Bild 1/2005

Swedish intellectual shooting star Michael Azar continues his encounter with Beirut and Lebanese politics in the new issue of Ord&Bild. The first part of “A barbarian in Beirut” (published in Ord&Bild 6/2004, and featured in the Eurozine Review 12 May) was an essayistic portrait of the Lebanese capital, double exposing a gloriously tragic history and a chaotic present. In this second part, Azar leaves most of his literary ambitions aside, and instead writes a sober and useful guide to Lebanon’s possible futures. He presents and analyzes most of the protagonists that could, or at least want to, influence Lebanese politics after the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri: from Syria, the US, and Israel, to Hezbollah and the divided opposition. Azar describes a situation that goes way beyond the simplified antagonism displayed in popular polarizations such as “Syria vs. Lebanon”, “freedom vs. tyranny”, or “civilization vs. barbarism”.

Further contributions of note: María do Mar Castro Varela celebrates the “under-theorized” concept of utopia as a potential means of resistance; political scientist Sonia Kruks writes about Simone de Beauvoir and the politics of privilege; and a Swedish translation of Péter Esterházy’s brilliant speech from last year’s Peace Prize ceremony in Frankfurt.

The full table of contents of Ord&Bild 1/2005.

MIttelweg 36 4/2005

The welfare state is an emotive issue in Germany today. On one hand, broad sections of the media and political and financial elites declare it the highest duty of all productive and freedom-loving citizens to oppose “social bureaucracy”. On the other hand, status anxieties instrumentalize the welfare state as a bulwark against global capitalism, European enlargement, and labour migration. But where, asks Berthold Vogel of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research, is the intellectual debate?

Vogel reviews two recent studies by French social scientists that go towards supplying this deficit: Robert Castel (2005), who analyzes the “re-collectivization of social insecurity”; and Franz-Xavier Kaufmann (2003), who describes the limitations of a view of the welfare state based on financial contributions alone. Both argue for “social alignment” through legal reform: “the only solution with which to overcome the philanthropic or paternalistic practices of the authorities or social workers, who regard the fate of the needy with a mixture of benevolence and suspicion” (Castel).

Jörn Leonhard, professor of western European history, looks at the permeation of aggression into the societies of continental Europe, Great Britain, and the US. National aggression, he writes, “cannot be understood without the element of civil society’s self-organization”. In the twentieth century, the rhetoric of the “total war” surpassed arguments of “national interest” that had legitimized war since the French Revolution; as Ludendorff wrote in 1935, at stake in modern war was the existence of the nation itself. Only after the double shock of two total wars did an opposition between violence and civil society develop.

In the literary supplement, Mittelweg continues its focus on Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Katharina Niemeyer, professor of romance philology at the University of Cologne, illuminates the comic-poetic dimensions of Cervantes’ novel and the ways in which it came to be perceived throughout Europe as a response to a specifically Spanish comic tradition.

Also in this issue: Andreas Willisch on integration and superfluity; Gerd Hankel on definitions of genocide; Birthe Kundrus on genocide in the German colony of Southwest Africa; and photographs of urban dereliction by Wolfgang Kil, from the book The luxury of emptiness.

The full table of contents of Mittelweg 36 4/2005.

du 8/2005

The September issue of Swiss journal “du” visits Bordeaux, the most beautiful city in France according to Stendhal, and the surrounding wine region, the Bordelais.

“Gastrosopher” Luigi Wanner, stepping down into the famous Bordeaux wine cellars, writes: “When opening a bottle of Bordeaux, the whole Bordelais region opens up: the landscape, the people, the products, the language.” The cellars, he thinks, should be full of cobwebs keeping away the midges, and old vintages overgrown with black, musty dust; in the middle, a naked bulb casts light onto a granite table and benches. What a pity one cannot stroke a wine, he concludes with Tucholsky.

Celebrated for its excellent wines, the wine trade made Bordeaux tremendously rich in the late Middle Ages. One of the most beautiful cities was built in the eighteenth century after razing the medieval town. Today, the modern harbour town accommodates an ostentatiously international population, an important university, and a football club in the A series, where in 1992 a young and very talented player was nicknamed Zizou: Zinédine Zidane. Erwin Messmer, poet, organist, writer, and editor, travels in time through the gardens of Bordeaux into the suburbs and the surrounding winelands, tracing the history of the region, its castles, and its people.

Two famous sons of Bordeaux, Michel de Montaigne and Charles de Montesquieu, both loved Paris more than their homeland, claims Bordeaux-born Jean Lacouture, noted for his biographies of Ho Chi Minh, Charles de Gaulle, and the two philosophers. Ulrich Johannes Schneider records the reflections of the cultural historian Lacouture on the genius loci. The openness of the seaport city towards the world and foreigners, for instance, is legendary: The English General Talbot was honoured with a monument in Bordeaux in 1453, after the English had been vanquished and left France at the end of the Hundred Years War; and Wellington was warmly welcomed here in 1814 after his victory over Napoleon.

The excellent essays in this issue are complemented by a photo reportage by Rip Hopkins, depicting castles and vicomtesses, fishermen, cooks, and palombières (strange-looking observation posts for fowling). It seems as if Stendhal was right.

The full table of contents of du 8/2005.

Nova Istra 3/2005

Croatian “Nova Istra” has pinpointed the city of Pula for the main focus of this issue, celebrating James Joyce’s time spent in Pula and looking at last year’s Second International Pula Essay Days.

From 1902 onwards, James Joyce lived a nomadic existence. During his time spent in the Croatian city of Pula from October 1904 to March 1905, Joyce taught English at the Austro-Hungarian naval base. His subsequent travels between Trieste, Pula, and Zurich had a great influence on his future works. On the centenary of his stay in Pula, “Nova Istra” features works by and about Joyce.

A section on last year’s Pula Essay Days features both self-reflective “Essays on Essays” and urban “Town Essays”. Gabriele Reiterer, writer and architectural historian in Vienna, looks at the city as narrative in “Imagines et loci”. She argues that memories inhere in a city and its sites. This year’s Pula Essay Days, “How do we read Europe?”, will be held 21-22 October.

Also to look out for: for the first time in Croatian, an anthology of Kurdish poetry along with cultural-historical commentary; and an illustrated section on modern and postmodern architecture.

The full table of contents of Nova Istra 3/2005.

Neprikosnovennij Zapas (NZ) 42 (4/2005)

In the latest issue of the Moscow journal NZ, the editors reject a monolithic view of the state, proposing instead the multivalent picture of “a set of social practices that conflict or converge on different levels”.

The section “Liberal heritage” focuses on western Europe under the Old Regime. Simona Cerutti, historian at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, outlines a new approach to the history of judicial institutions; and Claude Michaud traces the emergence of a “police” in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France.

“Culture of politics” shifts to Russia, with Susanne Schattenberg, author of the book Stalin’s engineers, looking at nineteenth- and twentieth-century criticisms of nepotism in Russian bureaucracy; while in “Morals and mores”, Vadim Volkov of the European University in St. Petersburg describes the “privatization” of the Russian state in the 1990s by groups linked to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the secret services.

In “The knights of the planned economy”, historian Tamara Kondratieva analyzes the privileges awarded under socialism to “materially responsible persons” that also led many to prison; and political scientist Gilles Favarel-Garrigues writes about “The Soviet police and their struggle against economic crime before perestroika”.

Arriving at the present, regular NZ columnist Alexei Levinson deals a blow to the stereotype that Russians overwhelmingly expect a paternalistic state. The data he draws on show that although paternalistic values are still widespread superficially, Russians are less prepared to let the state encroach upon their property and constitutional rights.

Elsewhere in the issue: Igor Rushchenko on police brutality in Ukraine; Mikhail Sokolov on the “Cult of the special services in contemporary Russia”; and a presentation of the Public Verdict Foundation, a new NGO seeking to increase social control over the Russian law enforcement apparatus.

The full table of contents of Neprikosnovennij Zapas (NZ) 4/2005.

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Published 6 September 2005

Original in English
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