Age defiers

Cultural journalism plans for eternity: current events do inspire, but do not define our kind of publishing. In Eurozine’s archives, older articles rarely go forgotten, covered in the online equivalent of dust. Here’s a selection of the most read pieces in Eurozine over the past five years.

In the middle of a financially dire 2022, Eurozine had to hastily relocate to a more affordable and functional office in Vienna. Packing one’s memories and few personal objects is no big deal compared to a huge print archive of cultural journals to sort through (and carry). Spearheaded by its relentless women, the Eurozine team kept the workflow going and big, heavy boxes moving

For geographical reasons, I was spared the travails of moving. I’ve always been more involved with the online archive anyway: over two decades of articles published in more than thirty languages.

While far less physically demanding, this virtual archive requires some maintenance too. From time to time, a reader reaches out asking to fix a bug or update a broken link. It is no thankless task: older articles rarely go forgotten, covered in the online equivalent of dust. 

It’s the upside of cultural journalism. It can hardly compete in the algorithm-driven, search-engine-optimized attention market, but it ages well. It is often inspired by current affairs, but its lifespan defies the logic of news cycles, widening the context of ongoing debates. 

What follows is a selection of the most-read articles in Eurozine over the past five years.

Rethinking how humans could live together

Is inequality really the inevitable result of living in any large, urban society? Drawing from anthropological and archaeological research, David Graeber and David Wengrow argue we have been telling ourselves the wrong version of world history.

In Wengrow and Graeber’s view, the dominant narrative of inequality as the inevitable consequence of agriculture and sedentism restricts our sense of political possibilities for the present. By tightly structuring their argument in response to the ‘conventional story’, however, they end up replicating its knowledge, its preoccupations, and its blind spots, argues Emily Kern.

 

‘Rather than idling in some primordial innocence, until the genie of inequality was somehow uncorked, our prehistoric ancestors seem to have successfully opened and shut the bottle on a regular basis, confining inequality to ritual costume dramas, constructing gods and kingdoms as they did their monuments, then cheerfully disassembling them once again.’ 

How did we get so stuck?

Ukraine before and after 24 February

The narrative of Ukraine as a failed state in the hands of nationalists predates the ongoing full-scale invasion, as historian Timothy Snyder highlighted addressing the Bundestag in 2017.

The conquest of Ukraine was at the core of Hitler’s ideological colonialism and played a decisive role in the Holocaust. As a result, more Ukrainians fought and died on the Allied side than French, British and Americans put together. Why do we not see this?

‘It is Russian foreign policy to divide the history of the Soviet Union into two parts. There’s the good part, which is the Russian part, and there is the bad part, which is the Ukrainian part. I can sum this up for you faster than the official memo of the Russian foreign policy does it: liberation – Russian; collaboration – Ukrainian.’

Faced with the Kremlin’s ‘war of liberation’ rhetoric, Ukrainians retained their sense of humour. But when it comes to Russians, absurdity played in the hands of aggression and denial.

‘Putin has confronted both the military and the civilian population with a sadistic question: what are you going to do when a huge, seemingly unbelievable crime is already being perpetrated, either in your name or by your hands? We already know how the majority of civilians have answered: deny the crime exists.’ 

Natalija Jakubova on war in the age of relativism and postmodernism.

Quantum gravity is just a social and linguistic construct, Alan Sokal argued in a nonsensical paper used to expose the deleterious influx of postmodernism in the academia.

A relativism metamorphosed into dogmatic absolutism is obviously logically incoherent, but the most significant danger is that anyone can play the game.’ 

Renewed ideas of objectivity can enhance public trust, but honestly needs to be preserved, Sokal said in conversation with Péter Krekó.

Feminism, sex work, violence

Secular feminists often find themselves at odds with ‘Islamic feminism’, a relatively recent current of thought aimed at a form of religious exegesis that deconstructs the patriarchal settlement while preserving a form of religious reference. Islamic feminists reveal how the trope of ‘saving Muslim women’ is produced by the colonial nature of power, yet their ‘need to “justify” Islam acts as a brake on their ambitions to reform it’. 

Ghaliya Djelloul suggests a way past restrictive dichotomies, proposing a truly de-colonial understanding of Islamic feminism.

A vicious cycle of destitution locks large numbers of Eastern European women into sex work, feeding the soaring demand for sex tourism. The laws in place to regulate prostituìtion are often used against sex workers, and those who move abroad to avoid prosecution face isolation and exploitation.

Eurozine’s editor-in-chief Réka Kinga Papp on the harsh life of Hungarian sex workers.

During the worst phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, confinement at home fuelled a wave of domestic violence – a ‘shadow pandemic’, as the United Nations Women defined it. 

In India, domestic violence took the biggest toll on migrant women labourers: ‘they are either restricted to undersized urban housing with abusive husbands or suffer sexual attacks while returning to be quarantined in their village homes’, writes Atreyee Sen. With pro-women policies largely unable to reach female workers at the lowest rung of society, small-scale gendered solidarities were often the only shield against lockdown violence.

Lives of revolutionaries

The lives of revolutionaries are often presented as the coherent outcomes of unbeding will.  Trinidad-born Claudia Jones was the prototype of uncompromising determination: expelled from the US for adhering to the Communist Party, she became a key figure in the movement for racial justice in Britain. 

Yet this romanticizing approach overlooks the ‘bureaucracy of living’, and ends up failing to grasp multifaceted characters.  

In introducing a biography of Claudia Jones, Lola Olufemi sketches a different mission: ‘perhaps the task is to understand how the political promise she dedicated her life to lives on through others’.

Unlike Claudia Jones, who died in isolation, Georgi Markov’s James-Bond-style assassination remained in the news for months. Yet also in the case of the Bulgarian dissident, a striking episode – his death – ended up obscuring ‘the twists and turns of the everyday’.

After basking in the ephemeral glory reserved for regime intellectuals, Markov emigrated to the UK and gained the code-name ‘Wanderer’ in Bulgaria’s state security files through his In Absentia Reports on Radio Free Europe. 

‘By exposing the regime’s ideological fraudulence and moral hypocrisy, by showing its pedestrian, everyday character, the banality of its evil, he undermined the grand project of mythmaking that every political system relies on for its legitimacy and survival’. 

Dimiter Kenarov on a life that deserves to be remembered. 

Online cancel culture replaced the traditional celebrity media, where the production of scandals and successive comebacks was the very core of the business model. Yet waves of public outrage ‘are never spontaneous and only “go viral” when they trigger values that already exist and are embedded’, Geert Lovink argues. 

‘We’re talking about clouds of sentiments that can blow over very quickly and even have reverse consequences. In times when multiple crises are being “stacked” up, we should not be surprised that a strong anti-racism movement erupts alongside increasingly strict immigration laws and structural violence.’

The only way out is to reclaim the power we gave to algorithms and databases.

The exploitation of football as a (geo)political tool – much to the detriment of human rights – has reached previously untouched heights with the recently concluded World Cup in Qatar. Yet sports events and infrastructure have long been a tool to pursue political agendas.

‘Behind the glittering facade of the multicultural football industry, the most popular sport in the world also acts as a handy instrument of power. Football provides an almost perfect showcase for autocrats, nationalists and separatists,’ wrote Ronny Blaschke ahead of Euro 2020. 

This is a review of the past five years’ articles, but you can also check the favourites of 2022 here.

Published 30 December 2022
Original in English

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