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Literary perspectives: Northern Ireland

Shaking the hand of history

Critic Matt McGuire continues Eurozine’s Literary Perspectives series with a focus on Northern Ireland. While the Northern Irish literary tradition is closely bound up with the experience of sectarian violence, he writes, contemporary poets and prose writers defy the assumption that “the troubles” are all there is to the country’s literature. The attempt to deal in literary form with the ideological baggage of Northern Ireland’s past is combined with an exploration of identity in the twenty-first century.

“Jefferson and Kant would have been bewildered at the changes that have taken place in the Western democracies in the last two hundred years. For they did not think of equal treatment for blacks and whites, or of female suffrage, as deducible from the philosophical principles they enunciated. Their hypothetical astonishment illustrates the anti-foundationalist point that moral insight is not, like mathematics, a product of rational reflection. It is instead a matter of imagining a better future, and observing the results of attempts to bring that future into existence.” Richard Rorty, who died last month, outlines in the tenth anniversary edition of Kritika&Kontext the anti-foundationalist premise of his philosophy.

Living and loving beyond the heteronorm

A queer analysis of personal relationships in the twenty-first century

The organization of personal life and “the family” has transformed significantly over the past thirty years. Sociologists must start to decentre the family and the heterosexual couple in our intellectual imaginations. Sasha Roseneil argues for casting a queer lens on intimacy and care, demanding that sociologists study those who are not part of conventional families or couples.

Cover for: The Soviet occupation of Austria, 1945-1955

The Soviet occupation of Austria, 1945-1955

Recent research and perspectives

While Austria was not included in the Soviet sphere of influence cutting across most of central and eastern Europe, the country was earmarked for heavy economic exploitation. The Soviet Union expropriated over 450 formerly German-owned businesses; by 1955, the majority of these companies were close to bankruptcy. For the Soviets, Austria had become an economic and political liability. Austrian diplomats seized on the opportunity to build alliances with Western governments, and the ground was prepared for Austria’s reintegration into western Europe. Siegfried Beer summarizes the new perspectives on this history gained after the opening up of Russian state archives.

In this excerpt from the novel of the same name, a Hungarian-Israeli mother addresses her daughter in Europe in a letter she never sends. Her monologue, covering a span of several years, alternates between family news and reports of daily life in postwar Israel. Forgách brilliantly captures the complexity of her attitudes towards the new Jewish immigrants, with whom she sympathizes but to whom she feels, as prewar settler, socially superior. While she realizes the newcomers are victims of an experience too hellish for her to imagine, her distaste for the burgeoning Zionist movement confuses her moral sense. Meanwhile, her faith in Stalin and the “cause” has an absolutism that sits uncomfortably alongside her sentimentality. This excerpt, the first time this major Hungarian author has been published in English, has been translated by Tim Wilkinson.

The impact of immigration on American society

Looking backward to the future

Charles Hirschman surveys the history of immigration in America in an attempt to understand current attitudes and the future. “While it is not possible to predict the role of immigration in America’s future, it is instructive to study the past. The current debates and hostility to immigrants echo throughout American history. What is most surprising is that almost all popular fears about immigration and even the judgements of ‘experts’ about the negative impact of immigrants have been proven false by history.”

The controversy around the statue of the Soviet soldier in Tallinn in April 2007 provided a striking demonstration that Russia remains both an external and an internal factor in the national narratives of the post-Soviet space. Here, history is used to lay claim to European identity and as a means of emancipation from Moscow. In the former socialist satellite states, meanwhile, nationalists are using their opponents’ communist pasts for political capital. Tatiana Zhurzhenko suggests that before we talk about European solidarity, we need to trace the emergent fault lines running through eastern European memory.

In November 2006, Eurozine published an article by Thomas von Ahn analyzing the causes of the demonstrations in Hungary the previous month. Among other things, von Ahn argued that Hungarian opposition (Fidesz) leader Viktor Orbán was operating a populist strategy that sought to undercut parliamentary procedures. Here, György Schöpflin, MEP for Hungary (Fidesz-EPP) responds that von Ahn has uncritically reproduced the spin-doctoring of the Hungarian Left, part of whose tactic is to exaggerate the involvement of the far-Right in the opposition. And in his critique of political instrumentalization of history, Von Ahn is mistaken, argues Schöpflin, in seeking to distinguish between a history that is instrumentalized and a history that is not.

The Islamist identity

Islam, European public space, and civility

It is not distance from but proximity to modern life that triggers a return to religious identity among migrant Muslims in Europe, says Nilüfer Göle. What we are witnessing today is a shift from a Muslim to an Islamist identity. The religious self for individual Muslims is being shifted from the private to the public realm.

Old Europe

A look ahead to the twenty-first century

With rising life expectancy, stagnating working-age populations, and low birth rates, Europe faces a demographic challenge in the next fifty years the likes of which it has never known. For the economy, this will mean a shortage of local workers, a lack of skilled workers, and shifts in sectoral demand. One solution – to raise the age of retirement – presupposes a functioning labour market for older potential employees that in large parts of Europe does not exist. An overview of the problems of and solutions to an ageing Europe.

The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) gave us the tools to understand the media society and counteract the total assimilation into capitalist overproduction. Truls Lie finds a previously unpublished interview he made when Baudrillard visited Oslo in 2000. “Disappearing”, says Baudrillard, “should be an art form, a seductive way of leaving the world. I believe that part of disappearing is to disappear before you die, to disappear before you have run dry, while you still have something to say…”

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