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Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Rebelling against the neoliberal university by Andrew Stones

In education, Europe, society, universities on March 24, 2015 at 19:28

From: Rebelling against the neoliberal university by Andrew Stones, ‘cafébabel’, http://www.cafebabel.co.uk

Higher education across Europe is becoming increasingly marketised. Universities are becoming centres for profit rather than education. Recent events at universities in England and the Netherlands have shown that students are trying to push back against this tide of bureaucracy and unaccountability.

Two scenes of student activism in the UK – in 2012, at the height of Occupy Wall Street, a group of students at the University of Warwick in England stage their own occupy protest on the lawn of the university’s Senate House. A tent is erected and several academics from almost every department agree to speak on subjects ranging from Marxism to poetry.

The response from the university’s security staff is a mixture of a strange paternalism and bafflement – they drink tea in their polyester uniforms, unsure of what is really happening or what their job supposedly is. Fast-forward two years – a similar group of students are sitting in the foyer of the same building, quietly discussing a national demonstration held earlier that day. The same security staff arrive in specially modified vehicles with sirens and hi-vis paint jobs; they explain the police have been called for a separate incident so no one is that alarmed. Seconds later the police do come – only it’s unclear what they want as they immediately start pushing the students, spraying OC gas in their faces and holding tasers above their heads.

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Reposted with permission from: ‘cafébabel’

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Architecture & the merits of being a generalist

In architecture, Europe, society on May 3, 2014 at 01:10

From: Architecture & the merits of being a generalist: “Very few people connect the dots” by Lars Mensel with Reinier de Graaf, The European, http://www.theeuropean-magazine.com

de Graaf: Architecture is a very hermetic profession. So subjects that are very marginal in the world of architecture are often mainstream in the real world. Architecture is excellent at ignoring things that are important and instead focuses on things that are ultimately footnotes. We aggressively try to do the opposite.

The European: For instance?
de Graaf: In the 1970s, Rem Koolhaas focused on New York City. At the time, “metropolis” was a dirty word in the European architectural debate. We looked at the emergence of cities in China – which was a very unfashionable thing to do– or the expansion of shopping. The amount of square meters of shopping spaces that are being constructed throughout the world exceeds almost everything else. They are constructed without any architectural attention – and yet a whole lot gets built. Architecture, by focussing on things that might be small, beautiful and culturally accepted, contributes less and less to the built environment and instead retreats into a voluntary marginalization.

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Reposted with permission from: The European

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova Letters to Slavoj Žižek

In Europe, performing arts, philosophy, politics, society on May 3, 2014 at 00:57

From: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot’s Prison Letters to Slavoj Žižek by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Slavoj Žižek, Common Dreams, https://www.commondreams.org

Dear Nadezhda,

I was so pleasantly surprised when your letter arrived – the delay made me fear that the authorities would prevent our communication. I was deeply honoured, flattered even, by my appearance in your dream.

You are right to question the idea that the “experts” close to power are competent to make decisions. Experts are, by definition, servants of those in power: they don’t really think, they just apply their knowledge to the problems defined by those in power (how to bring back stability? how to squash protests?). So are today’s capitalists, the so-called financial wizards, really experts? Are they not just stupid babies playing with our money and our fate? I remember a cruel joke from Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not to Be. When asked about the German concentration camps in occupied Poland, the Nazi officer snaps back: “We do the concentrating, and the Poles do the camping.” Does the same not hold for the Enron bankruptcy in 2002? The thousands of employees who lost their jobs were certainly exposed to risk, but with no true choice – for them the risk was like blind fate. But those who did have insight into the risks, and the ability to intervene (the top managers), minimised their risks by cashing in their stocks before the bankruptcy. So it is true that we live in a society of risky choices, but some people (the managers) do the choosing, while others (the common people) do the risking.

For me, the true task of radical emancipatory movements is not just to shake things out of their complacent inertia, but to change the very co-ordinates of social reality so that, when things return to normal, there will be a new, more satisfying, “apollonian statics”. And, even more crucially, how does today’s global capitalism enter this scheme?

The Deleuzian philosopher Brian Massumi tells how capitalism has already overcome the logic of totalising normality and adopted the logic of erratic excess: “The more varied, and even erratic, the better. Normality starts to lose its hold. The regularities start to loosen. This loosening is part of capitalism’s dynamic.”

But I feel guilty writing this: who am I to explode in such narcissistic theoretical outbursts when you are exposed to very real deprivations? So please, if you can and want, do let me know about your situation in prison: about your daily rhythm, about the little private rituals that make it easier to survive, about how much time you have to read and write, about how other prisoners and guards treat you, about your contact with your child … true heroism resides in these seemingly small ways of organising one’s life in order to survive in crazy times without losing dignity.

With love, respect and admiration, my thoughts are with you!

Slavoj

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Reposted with permission from: Common Dreams

The Bachelor Century by Jon Rich

In civilisation, ethics, Europe, government, history, North America, politics, religion, society, war, world on March 2, 2014 at 21:07

From: The Bachelor Century: Single Sinners Seeking God’s Job by Jon Rich, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Since the sixteenth century, writing has aspired towards permanence. That horrific century brought a succession of powers, churches, popes, writers, politicians, and artists who made attempts at immortality by making their marks on the rocks of time. The Catholic Church has remained tenaciously faithful, in a sense, to the fifteenth century. The Church’s guards, popes, teachings, sermons, and its Bible have been the center of attention since Michelangelo finished his marvelous works at the Sistine Chapel. As is the case with other holy books, the Bible is a hymnal. Its hymns are recited and sung in the same fashion as the hymns found in other holy books. The fact that the Bible is a hymnal means that there’s a strong tendency, which has remained strong for centuries, to convert it from the written to the oral realm. In the latter realm, it is no longer simply a book, a physical artifact that will fall victim to the deleterious effects of light and humidity, but an invocation that unites all, regardless of their faith. The recitation and the sound of bells are meant to be familiar even to heretics and infidels. This phenomenon finds a perfect match in other holy books like the Torah and the Quran. Religions have, since the beginning, sought to make the word of God familiar and approachable. People who treated divine texts as primarily written words became priests, irrespective of their vocational inclination: infidels, heretics, atheists, priests, or theologians. Voltaire is no less priestly than St. Augustine.

Let’s go back briefly to Nietzsche to remind ourselves that collective human memory—what makes us human—is activated by pain and suffering. To oversimplify Nietzsche, we could say that our collective memory has privileged reactive thinking as a tool of evolution. A man who likes a woman for purely physical reasons is ready to reproduce with her but calls this attraction love. This reactive thinking extends to food, sleep, comfort, sport, work, and achievement. In fact, this sense of urgency to react is directly connected to scarcity. When we read Joseph’s story in the Torah, or the Quran, or The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe, we are taken by the pain and joy of very specific people. For these people to invest so much effort into finding their better halves elevates love to a universal human value.

With the supremacy of television and the ubiquity of the internet, this elevation of love becomes nearly impossible. No woman is a man’s better half and no death is pure and final on TV. Television recycles better halves infinitely, giving them new names, new bodies, and new faces. It also portrays death and suffering in myriad ways, creating a variety that impels us to admire and be entertained by it. This bombardment by images of horror leaves little room in one’s heart for a tinge of discomfort, like the one Lionel Messi might feel upon missing a shot on goal.

All of this was impossible to predict before the events of the Arab Spring. It has become clear, with the abundance of images of death and bloodshed coming out of Syria in the past two years, that death itself has become incapable of pushing us, even for a tiny moment, to think about the death of an individual. More deaths will follow, and staying up to date with them will mean having no time for sorrow, and certainly no time to mourn.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

Social Covenants… by Seth Kaplan

In Africa, Asia, culture, ethics, Europe, human rights, political science, religion on January 12, 2014 at 00:57

From: Social Covenants Must Precede Social Contracts By Seth Kaplan, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

The differences between the two ideas are stark. Social contracts are written agreements entered into on the basis of self-interest for specific purposes. Social covenants, in contrast, are sustained not by the letter of any law or by self-interest. Instead, they depend on fidelity, trust, and loyalty. As moral philosopher and religious leader Jonathan Sacks writes,

Social contract creates a state; social covenant creates a society. Social contract is about power and how it is to be handled within a political framework. Social covenant is about how people live together despite their differences. Social contract is about government. Social covenant is about coexistence. Social contract is about laws and their enforcement. Social covenant is about the values we share. Social contract is about the use of potentially coercive force. Social covenant is about moral commitments, the values we share and the ideals that inspire us to work together for the sake of the common good.

In societies riven by divisions and lacking any organization that can be relied upon to adjudicate disagreements between competing groups effectively, such as the state, some form of agreement between important groups is crucial to ending conflict and dividing up power in a way that ensures a degree of common understanding on how the state ought to work. Such agreements—between different actors within society, not between the state and society—must occur before determining the nature of government, just as the U.S. Declaration of Independence preceded the U.S. Constitution.

The power of a social covenant flows less from its conception and implementation than, as Elazar points out, from:

The way it informs culture, especially political culture, endowing particular peoples with a particular set of political perceptions, expectations, and norms and shaping the way in which those perceptions, expectations and norms are given institutional embodiment and behavioral expression.

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

The Dangers of Totalitarianism by Agnes Heller

In classics, education, Europe, politics, society, world on December 4, 2013 at 21:00

From: The Dangers of Totalitarianism by Agnes Heller, Literal Magazine, http://www.literalmagazine.com

How did our education become so market-oriented?

It happened in the last half-century. Education became market-oriented in two senses. Educational institutions behaved as institutions of the market. They became a market. They were producing young people for certain kinds of professions and young people took a kind of profession in order to get a better salary and a better position. And that’s all wrong, and it’s wrong even from the standpoint of technology, even from the standpoint of physics, chemistry. Because if you teach young people Physics, or Chemistry, which is actually the leading branch in science, the moment they finish school, it won’t be important anymore for these branches of science. But if you learn something general, universal; if you learn higher Mathematics, higher Physics, Greek or Latin language or Logic and Philosophy; all these capacities or abilities to argue and think in abstract notions, to think logically, to concentrate and to contemplate and to memorize; you’ve learned everything that you can actually use later on. It is not specialized subject matter, but you can use it all.

How do you see the 21st century? Is it going to get better or worse?

I don’t see the 21st century, we are at the beginning of it. Think, at the beginning of the 20th century, think about 1912, whether you could have forseen what was going to happen in 1914 or 1933, or 1942. It was impossible. So I think that at the present moment, right now, 2012, one hundred years after 1912, we cannot possibly know what is going to happen in our century. We can only hope it will be better, that it will be far better than the 20th century. If you have in mind this conflict between democracy and totalitarism, especially in Europe, between republicanism and bonapartism, which is a European conflict from the beginning of modernity, in this situation, in this conflict, you have to take the position of republicanism, of democracy, against bonapartism or totalitarian government. And the danger of totalitarianism is not gone; the danger is always present in the modern world, because it is a modern political institution. It was totally wrong when people believed that totalitarianism was something from the Middle Ages, or something reactionary. It is absolutely not the case. It is as modern as democracy. And that is why, in a modern world, you have to face the danger that there can be a war. And so basically, we have to change the world in order to prevent the world from embracing again different kinds of forms of bonapartism or totalitarian movements in States.

Read the interview

Reposted with permission from: Literal Magazine

Featured: Miklós Radnóti: Letters to My Wife by Thomas Ország-Land

In Europe, Featured, history, literature, poetry, writers on October 31, 2013 at 02:07

Featured: Miklós Radnóti: Letters to My Wife; Translated from the Hungarian & Edited by Thomas Ország-Land

HOLOUCASTimage

Radnóti & his wife Fifi

THE AUTHOR of these pieces was perhaps the greatest poet of the Holocaust. His work will take centre place in a varied and energetic programme of literary and educational events in 2014 marking Hungary’s Holocaust Memorial Year.
This project just announced by the government in Budapest will commemorate the murder of hundreds of thousands of unarmed civilian captives including Radnóti – mostly Jews but also Roma, homosexuals and political dissidents – perpetrated by the Hungarian state in collaboration with Nazi Germany. This happened during the final and most intensive phase of the Holocaust at the close of WWII when an Allied victory was already obvious.
The first of the three poems below was written on the eve of Radnóti’s final arrest and deportation to a slave labour camp in occupied Serbia. The poem is quoted by the Hungarian prime minister’s office announcing the Holocaust memorial programme. It is also set in bronze at the site where the poet and 21 of his comrades were murdered by their guards.
And the following two – set out in careful, even handwriting, complete with printers’ instructions – were found on his body in a notebook recovered from their mass grave after the war. Radnóti died displaying a white armband that signified his Jewish birth and official (and totally sincere) conversion to Catholicism.
His poetry has been translated into many languages and taught at many universities. Today, Radnóti is a beloved national figure in Hungary despite the current rise of anti-semitism in his native land. These translations will be included in The Survivors: Holocaust Poetry for Our Time by Thomas Ország-Land, to be published by Smokestack Press in England in 2014.

I. FRAGMENT

I lived upon this earth in such an age
when man was so debased he sought to murder
for pleasure, not just to comply with orders,
his faith in falsehoods drove him to corruption,
his life was ruled by raving self-deceptions.

I lived upon this earth in such an age
that idolized the sly police informers,
whose heroes were the killers, spies, the thieves –
and the few who held their peace or only failed
to cheer were loathed like victims of the plague.

I lived upon this earth in such an age
when those who risked protest were wise to hide
and gnaw their fists in self-consuming shame –
the crazed folk grinned about their terrifying
doomed future, wild and drunk on blood and mire.

I lived upon this earth in such an age
when the mother of an infant was a curse,
when pregnant women were glad to abort,
the living envied the corpses in the graves
while on the table foamed their poisoned cup.
……………………….
……………………….
I lived upon this earth in such an age
when even the poet fell silent and waited in hope
for an ancient, terrible voice to rise again –
for no-one could utter a fitting curse of such horror
but the scholar of dreadful words, Isaiah the prophet.
……………………….

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When Exclusion Replaces Exploitation by Daniel Zamora

In economy, Europe, government, history, philosophy, politics, society, sociology on October 21, 2013 at 05:36

From: When Exclusion Replaces Exploitation: The Condition of the Surplus-Population under Neoliberalism by Daniel Zamora, Nonsite.org, http://nonsite.org

In 1992, 13 years after Margaret Thatcher’s “neoliberal revolution,” the Iron Lady’s chief economic advisor, Alan Budd, declared that he had his doubts that “the 1980’s policies of attacking inflation by squeezing the economy and public spending” had ever really been taken seriously by those at the helm of government. Rather, he wondered if they weren’t really a “cover to bash the workers. Raising unemployment,” he pointed out, “was a very desirable way of reducing the strength of the working class. What was engineered—in Marxist terms—was a crisis of capitalism which re-created a reserve army of labor, and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since.”1 The interest of this anecdote is in its implicit suggestion of a link between the socio-political destabilization and fragmentation of the wage-earning working class (the intensification, in other words, of the difference between the working army of labour and the unemployed reserve) and the politics pursued during the decades following the rise of neoliberalism. The central problem with which we are confronted today, in other words, may be less the conflict between labor and capital, and more, as Margaret Thatcher put it, the antagonism between a privileged “underclass” with its “dependency culture” and an “active” proletariat whose taxes pay for a system of “entitlements” and “handouts.”2

During this same period, in France, André Gorz published his Farewell to the Working Class—a book in which he argued that the “society of unemployment” would henceforth be divided into two camps: “a growing mass of the permanently unemployed” on one side, “an aristocracy of tenured workers” on the other, and, lodged between the two, “a proletariat of temporary workers.”3 Far from constituting the very motor of social change, the “traditional working class” had become little more than a “privileged minority.”4 From now on, the vanguard of the class struggle would be a “non-class” made up of the “unemployed” and “the temporary workers” for whom work would never be a “source of individual flourishing.” Gorz’s idea was that, in today’s world, class conflict is no longer between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, but rather, between the lumpenproletariat and a working class no longer at odds with the class system.

The fact that this logic—redefining the social question as a conflict between two factions of the proletariat rather than between capital and labor—can today be found on the left as well as the right, raises a number of question. On one side, it aims at limiting the social rights of the “surplus population”5 by pitting “active” workers against them; on the other side, it aims at mobilizing the “surplus population” against the privilege of the “actives.” In the end, both sides end up accepting, to the detriment of all “workers,” the centrality of the category of the “excluded.”

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Repossted with permission from: Nonsite.org

Europe’s Policies make Sense only on one Assumption by Noam Chomsky

In economy, Europe, politics, society on October 13, 2013 at 17:50

From: Europe’s Policies make Sense only on one Assumption: That the Goal is to unravel the Welfare State by Noam Chomsky, Social Europe Journal, http://www.social-europe.eu

What do you think the use of technocratic governments in Europe says about European democracy?

There are two problems with it. First of all it shouldn’t happen, at least if anybody believes in democracy. Secondly, the policies that they’re following are just driving Europe into deeper and deeper problems. The idea of imposing austerity during a recession makes no sense whatsoever. There are problems, especially in the southern European countries, but in Greece the problems are not alleviated by compelling the country to reduce its growth because the debt relative to GDP simply increases, and that’s what the policies have been doing. In the case of Spain, which is a different case, the country was actually doing quite well up until the crash: it had a budget surplus. There were problems, but they were problems caused by banks, not by the government, including German banks, who were lending in the style of their US counterparts (subprime mortgages). So the financial system crashed and then austerity was imposed on Spain, which is the worst policy. It increases unemployment, it reduces growth; it does bail out banks and investors, but that shouldn’t be the prime concern.

Europe’s policies make sense only on one assumption: that the goal is to try and undermine and unravel the welfare state. And that’s almost been said. Mario Draghi, the President of the European Central Bank, had an interview with the Wall Street Journal where he said that the social contract in Europe is dead. He wasn’t advocating it, he was describing it, but that’s essentially what the policies lead to. Perhaps not ‘dead’, that’s an exaggeration, but under attack.

Read the interview

Reposted according to copyright notice from: Social Europe Journal website

Poetics of Wonder by Alberto Ruy Sänchez

In Africa, Europe, literature, writers on September 30, 2013 at 21:40

From: Poetics of Wonder: Passage to Mogador by Alberto Ruy Sänchez, The Literal Magazine, http://www.literalmagazine.com

In 1975, the Mexican writer Alberto Ruy Sánchez was a graduate student living in Paris, where he and his wife Margarita de Orellana were pursuing doctoral studies. The fall semester ended, and with time on their hands but little money to spare, they decided to take a trip to Morocco, a place that fit their budget and offered a warm escape from the cold winter in France. At that time, Ruy Sánchez had no way of knowing that the journey to Morocco would become a rite of passage, an initiation into a culture that would forever change his life and his future literary career. Upon seeing the Sahara for the first time, his childhood memories of the Sonoran Desert came rushing back to him, and in his imagination he began to erect un puente de arena, a bridge of sand that united Morocco and his native Mexico. In the souk, the colorful ceramic plates and tiles reminded him of the Mexican Talavera pottery, and the Berber rugs and tapestries evoked the intricate textiles of the Chiapas. But of all the intense moments he experienced in Morocco, the one that would have the most profound impact on him was his visit to Essaouira, a walled city on the Atlantic coast whose ancient name was Mogador. From the moment he first laid eyes on Essouira, this city has continued to obsess and seduce him like an inaccessible woman who extends with her gaze the invitation to explore her labyrinthine streets and enter her secret gardens.

Soon after that first journey to Morocco, he began to construct a quintet of novels that take place in Mogador and explore the many facets of desire: Los nombres del aire (1987, The Names of the Air), En los labios del agua (1996), Los jardines secretos de Mogador: Voces de tierra (2001, The Secret Gardens of Mogador: Voices of the Earth, 2009), and La mano del fuego: Un Kama Sutra involuntario (2007, The Hand of Fire: An Involuntary Kama Sutra). Like the last finger of the Jamsa, a fifth book, Nueve veces el asombro: Nueve veces nueve las cosas que dicen de Mogador (2005), serves as a companion to the other four novels and offers the reader a “Poetics of Wonder,” or a primer for approaching the inaccessible “city of desire.”

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Reposted with permission from: The Literal Magazine

The Marvelous Marie Curie by Algis Valiunas

In biography, Europe, history of science, research, science, sociology on September 12, 2013 at 14:34

From: The Marvelous Marie Curie by Algis Valiunas, The New Atlantis, http://www.thenewatlantis.com

Marie Curie (1867–1934) is not only the most important woman scientist ever; she is arguably the most important scientist all told since Darwin. Einstein? In theoretical brilliance he outshone her — but her breakthroughs, by Einstein’s own account, made his possible. She took part in the discovery of radioactivity, a term she coined; she identified it as an atomic property of certain elements. When scoffers challenged these discoveries, she meticulously determined the atomic weight of the radioactive element she had revealed to the world, radium, and thereby placed her work beyond serious doubt. Yet many male scientists of her day belittled her achievement, even denied her competence. Her husband, Pierre Curie, did the real work, they insisted, while she just went along for the wifely ride. Chauvinist condescension of this order would seem to qualify Marie Curie as belle idéale of women’s studies, icon for the perennially aggrieved. But such distinction better suits an Aphra Behn or Artemisia Gentileschi than it does a Jane Austen or Marie Curie. Genuine greatness deserves only the most gracious estate, not an academic ghetto, however fashionable and well-appointed.

Yet the fact remains: much of the interest in Madame Curie stems from her having been a woman in the man’s world of physics and chemistry. The interest naturally increases as women claim their place in that world; with this interest comes anger, sometimes righteous, sometimes self-righteous, that difficulties should still stand in the way. A president of Harvard can get it in the neck for suggesting that women don’t have the almost maniacal resolve it takes to become first-rate scientific researchers — that they are prone to distraction by such career-killers as motherhood. So Marie Curie’s singularity cannot but be enveloped in the sociology of science, which is to say these days, feminist politics.

The sociology is important, as long as one remembers the singularity. For Marie Curie did have the almost maniacal resolve to do great scientific work. The work mattered as much to her as it does to most any outstanding scientist; yet can one really say it was everything? She passionately loved her husband and, after his premature death, loved another scientist of immense talent, perhaps of genius; she had the highest patriotic feeling for her native Poland and her adopted France, and risked her life in wartime; she raised two daughters, one, Irène, a Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry, the other, Ève, an accomplished writer, most notably as her mother’s biographer.

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Reposted with permission from: The New Atlantis

new year: a translation by Caroline Lemak Brickman

In Europe, poetry on September 9, 2013 at 15:45

From: new year: a translation by Caroline Lemak Brickman, Hypocrite Reader, http://hypocritereader.com

Rainer Maria Rilke and Marina Tsvetaeva never met, but they wrote to each other intensely from December 1925 until Rilke’s abrupt death the following December. His death, on the heels of this passionate, short-lived (“impossible,” says Sontag, “glorious”) correspondence, left the Russian poet wrecked. She composed an elegy to him in the form of a New Year’s greeting. A last love letter, a testament, a belated farewell to her newfound mentor, her newlost lover—and perhaps most significantly, her personal poetic deity. “Hence the intensity of Tsvetaeva’s diction in Novogodnee,” remarks Brodsky, “since she is addressing someone who, in contrast to God, has absolute pitch.”

Rilke began the Duino Elegies with the words, “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the hierarchies of angels?” Tsvetaeva intercepts this cry and takes it further, forcing his hypothetical into her concrete world, uglier than his because it is one where he is lost. As Rilke hoped to be heard, Tsvetaeva hopes to cry out. “When beginning to speak, and—if it ever comes to this—when beginning to speak of oneself,” pronounces Brodsky, “one does so as if confessing, for it is he—not a priest or God but another poet—who hears you.” Tsvetaeva calls on the voice of her poet. She calls on his forms: elegies, letters, prayers. “To hell with the native Russian tongue, with German,” she calls, “I want the tongue of an angel.”

A word on sex. Almost immediately following the most explicitly erotic part of the poem, when an imagined New Year’s toast becomes an orgy of flowing rhymes, drink, and bodies, Tsvetaeva declares:

it’s probably hard for me to see because I’m down in a hole.
it’s probably easier for you because you’re up on high.
you know, nothing ever really happened between us.

Read the essay

Reposted with permission from: Hypocrite Reader

Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein and Natasha Mitchell

In audio, Europe, North America, philosophy on August 8, 2013 at 05:45

From: Travels with Epicurus: living an authentic old age by Daniel Klein and Natasha Mitchell, Life Matters, ABC Radio National, http://www.abc.net.au

4384682-3x4-340x453For philosopher Daniel Klein the prospect of getting dental implants and maintaining his youthful smile set him thinking. Is it better to spend a precious year trying to extend the prime of his life, or to live an authentic old age, toothless grin and all? Daniel went on a journey to the Greek Island of Hydra, coupled with the teachings of Greek philosopher Epicurus, to seek out the best way to embrace his twilight years.

Daniel Klein is the author of many books and his latest is Travels with Epicurus, A journey to a Greek Island in Search of an authentic old age

Listen to the broadcast

Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

Turns of the Century by Martin Eiermann

In economy, Europe, government, history, news, North America, politics, society, South America on July 23, 2013 at 18:38

From: Turns of the Century: What the protests in Brazil and Greece tell us about world history by Martin Eiermann, The European Magazine, http://www.theeuropean-magazine.com

As I am writing this, 300,000 people are marching in Rio de Janeiro against corruption and public sector cuts ahead of next year’s soccer World Cup. It must be bad if Brazilians start anti-soccer riots. In Greece, protests have been ongoing for several years. In Spain, Italy and Portugal, popular discontent has ousted several governments and continues to cause a headache for their successors (in Greece, the government coalition is crumbling right now). In Great Britain, cuts to the National Health Service inspired regular demonstrations and a special segment during the Olympic opening ceremony in 2012, which defiantly celebrated the NHS as one of the great achievements of modern British society. Look at any newspaper front page today, and you are likely to see one or more photos of police in riot gear, shooting tear gas into crowds of protesters.

The language employed by protesters in Rio, Athens, and Madrid – against “corruption,” against “top-down politics,” against “welfare squeezes” – speaks to a commonality of experience that transcends the particularities of each context: Economic policies are broken, and politics seems unable to provide a fix. It’s thus misleading to think of the crisis of the last five years primarily as an “economic crisis.” Sure, it all started with a downward cascade in the financial and mortgage markets, but it has long since morphed into a social and political crisis. It is sure to leave its mark not only on economic history or on the history of a specific country, but on history as such.

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Reposted with permission from: The European Magazine

Self-employment, or the illusion of freedom by Monika Vykoukal

In culture, economy, Europe, society on July 23, 2013 at 18:01

From: Self-employment, or the illusion of freedom by Monika Vykoukal, http://libcom.orglibcom.org

There is a long-term trend toward being your own creative director. It pushes workers into conning themselves that they can get a better deal if they are self-employed. The whole “start-your-own-company, be-your-own-boss” racket is heavily pushed by government agencies and all kinds of employers. It was first put forth as a solution to high unemployment and then, less openly, as a route to cut costs and erode worker solidarity and class consciousness. It relies on people’s underlying hatred of work, personified by the boss, and sells the dream of autonomy by telling people that they can become their own, fake, boss. The reality is different. Companies don’t hire people full time or long term anymore. They realize that freelancers are, in reversal of the marketing image, more at the mercy of employers than regular employees. We have to compete with all the other one-person businesses and supply our own laptops, software and unpaid time to learn skills.

This scenario seems like an upgraded version of the employment structures from 100 years ago. Workers would go to a hiring hall in the morning, bringing with them their own tools and work clothes, and hope to be picked for a job. They competed with all the other workers in the hall.

The boss is away now, so there is a window of opportunity to get to know everyone a bit. I want to figure out if they can help me get a permanent contract. But even the desire for a permanent contract and the benefits that come with it—something precarious workers are organizing around at bigger companies in less “glamorous” fields—is not really part of our conversation. Still, as I talk with my colleagues I realize that most of us don’t believe in the illusions of freedom and opportunity that are supposed to come with self-employment. The more conversations we have, the more openly they talk about how our multiple insecure jobs seem to direct our lives. It feels like there is something shameful about these conversations. Shameful because the ordinariness of our jobs is something we should be above as we pursue our creative ventures.

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Reposted with permission from: libcom

 

My Little Library in Anatolia by Kaya Genc

In books, Europe, literature, war on July 12, 2013 at 19:01

From: My Little Library in Anatolia by Kaya Genc, The Millions, http://www.themillions.com

In 2009, when I was a graduate student in Istanbul, I worked full-time in a newspaper, editing the paper’s books supplement. I was a busy man with lots of editorial assignments on my plate. I had little time to concentrate on my doctoral dissertation — a study of Hegel’s influence on late-Victorian authors. Instead of writing in academic Hegelese, I spent my days behind my office desk where I commissioned, edited, fact-checked, and proofread. A week after my 28th birthday in March, while hard at work on the first draft of a book review, I received a call from the university’s student affairs department. The voice on the other end of the line said there had been a “strange problem” with my academic credits some months ago. The mistake had led to the termination of my enrollment: from this moment onwards I would be subject to the draft.

Come April 10, I had cleared my desk at the office and arrived at an Anatolian city where my six-month-long national service in a gendarme squadron officially began. I was immediately nicknamed “journo” by the commanders. After the initial month of training came to an end my fellow gendarmes were assigned to various positions related to their education. I, the academic-cum-journalist, meanwhile, was given the most intellectual post the commanders could think of.

“I have just made you the squadron’s librarian,” said our lieutenant, a muscular man whose every word was law and from whose super cool sunshades I could see the reflection of my face.

“Here are the keys to the library. Take them! From now on it will be under your responsibility. Clean the place every day! Don’t give books to everyone! Give them only to soldiers you trust! Now get lost!”

I did get lost. And when I hid myself in that room, which was hardly bigger than 100 square feet, I found myself surrounded by a series of dusty books. Although the books were old and deep in hibernation, the people who came to read them were very much alive. So in my small library in a distant Anatolian town I learned an awful lot about what young Turkish men enjoyed reading under the gun. I watched them as they read for relief. I watched them as they read for pleasure. I watched them as they read for keeping sane.

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Reposted with permission from: The Millions

Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson (a.k.a. RAX) by Philippe Theophanidis

In art, documentary, environment, Europe, photography on June 28, 2013 at 21:48

From: Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson (a.k.a. RAX) by Philippe Theophanidis, Aphelis, http://aphelis.net Ragnar Axelsson website: http://www.rax.is/

Last Days of the Arctic, Photos © Ragnar Axelsson, www.RAX.is 2010.

The (above) photo was shot in the small town of Ittoqortoormit (sometimes spelled Illoqqortoormiut), the only permanent settlement in the region of Scoresby Sund. This geographical region is a fjord system on the East coast of Greenland and is said to be the largest fjord system in the world (see Archaeology and Environment in the Scoresby Sund Fjord, p. 7). In 2012, the total population of Ittoqqortoormiit was 477 habitants (see Statistics Greenland: “Population in towns and settlements July 1.st”). The town is located on the 70th parallel north. As a mean of comparison, the Arctic Circle begins at the 66th parallel north (see Wikipedia). The farthest north I have ever lived was on the 55th parallel. Ragnar Axelsson has said of this dog: “He stood up, shook the snow off, then lay down and let the snow cover him again.” (LENS: “Showcase: Black and Very White” December 7, 2009; photo no. 9). In an email exchange with him, I asked about the context in which this photograph was taken. He provided the following, additional details (I added the link): The photograph was taken in a blizzard. The glacier storms in Greenland are called Piteraq and can be so strong that houses are sometimes blown away. It has not happened for many years. … Ragnar Axelsson, also known as RAX, is a renowned, award-winning freelance photographer born in Iceland in 1958. He has been documenting the vanishing lifestyles of various Arctic communities for the past 30 years. Here’s what he has to say about Greenland in particular: Greenland, the biggest Island in the world, is a pearl with harsh elements. Inuites have been there for more than 4.000 years living on the land. In the old days Inuites where living in igloos and small cabins made of stones. It was a struggle for food everyday; hunting birds, fish, whales, seals, walruses and polar bears. Every single part of the hunted animal was being used. Skin for clothing, meat was eaten. The old hunting tradition is fading away as new posibilities in the modern world are taking over. (source: Fotopub.com) … Born and raised near a glacier in Iceland, he has seen the effects of global warming, both at home and in his trips. “One can definitely see it when travelling to the same places, 5 or 10 years later. The landscape is constantly changing. I did not realize the effects at first, I just wanted to go and shoot beautiful photos. I wanted to go where nobody had gone, challenging the cold, the distances and the weather. So many photographers just want to sit around in Africa, naked in the sun,” he joked. Read the post Reposted with permission from: Philippe Theophanidis

Featured: The Holocaust & Reconciliation: An Interview with Thomas Orszag-Land

In Europe, Featured, human rights, interview, poetry, writers on June 28, 2013 at 21:28

Thomas Orszag-Land is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent writing from London and his native Budapest. His reviews and polemics have been published by the London Magazine and The Times Literary Supplement, and his poetry by Ambit and BBC World Service.

Enjoy the interview and feel free to comment.

HG

Featured: The Holocaust & Reconciliation: Poetry may salve the wounds that have refused to heal, An Interview with Thomas Orszag-Land

The wounds inflicted by the Holocaust are still refusing to heal – but they are not the only burden of human rights abuse inherited by the 21st century. DAVID CUSCÓ I ESCUDERO, editor of the Catalan cultural magazine “El funàmbu”l (The Tightrope Walker) serving a country that endured unspeakable atrocities during the Spanish Civil War, questions THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND, a Jewish-Hungarian poet, translator and foreign correspondent, on his attempt to look beyond the Holocaust.

David: We are about to publish some of your Holocaust poetry in Catalan translation. We are also very interested in your English translations of outstanding Hungarian Holocaust poetry. Did you write them because you thought that the Holocaust could be fathomed only through literature since the basic facts of that crime were so huge and its premises so horrible that they could be described comprehensibly only in fiction? That would be just the opposite of Theodor Adorno’s dictum that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” – although he later qualified that, after reading Paul Celan’s poetry.

Thomas: Adorno looked at Auschwitz and despaired. But humanity must look to its future, and cannot afford to despair. I recently attended a meeting of Holocaust survivors, old people who had looked evil in the face as young adults, somehow survived and dedicated their lives to warning the world against attempting such madness ever again. They agitate, they write, they lecture, especially to the young.

But they see that the very occurrence of the Holocaust is vociferously being denied by people who would like to repeat it. These aging witnesses know that they will be silenced soon by illness and death. They fear that, when they are gone, no-one will be left to defend the world against such renewed barbarity.

I do not fear that. I believe that, as Odysseus will sail the seven seas of imagination in Homer’s hexameters for the rest of history, so the passionate warnings of the Holocaust survivors will resound through the ages in the voices of the poets of our own time.

David: In your poem “Caution,” a child summons humanity from Auschwitz. He reminds me of Hurbinek, that unforgettable child in Primo Levi’s “The Truce” who mumbles instead of talking. Despite the pain conveyed by your poem, I sense a spark of optimism here, in the dignity of the child’s response to his own suffering… Is there, to you, room for optimism after the Holocaust?

Thomas: Probably the most important thought in that poem is “hold up your head… while you’ve got it.” It radiates optimism even beyond death. I did not invent that. I found it in a surviving poetic fragment from a slave-labour camp. I’ve just managed to identify its author as Jaroslav Ježek (not the composer of that name), to whom the poem is now dedicated.

Primo Levi and Paul Celan both committed suicide after the Holocaust, perhaps because they saw no room left for decency, let alone optimism, after Auschwitz. Both turned to poetry to shout out their astounded grief and rage at their incomprehensible humiliation and abuse at the hands of the Nazis, for which they had been totally unprepared. But the subsequent generations are not unprepared. They are all survivors, and their enduring capacity for love and decency originates from within. Read the rest of this entry »

On the composition of lasagna by Prolapsarian

In economy, Europe, history, politics, sociology, theory on June 19, 2013 at 19:33

From: On the composition of lasagna: A caprice on horses, abstraction, and the division of labour by Prolapsarian, http://prolapsarian.tumblr.com

The article was shared by Philippe Theophanidis (http://aphelis.net/) – Thank you!

“It is impossible to remain in a large German city where hunger forces the most wretched to live on the banknotes with which passers-by seek to cover an exposure that wounds them.” – Walter Benjamin[1]

“I could eat a horse.” A phrase once expressing hunger has recently been transformed into a contemplation you may mumble to yourself while considering what to pick up from the supermarket for dinner. Such a thought resounds with disgust, yet that disgust has, over the last weeks, remained unanalysed, or perhaps unsynthesised. It has remained merely an outburst. Where it has been thought about, the usual conclusion has been that it has something to do with the domestication of horses, the fact that they are the sort of animals we give names to, and that under the conditions of their domestication they are often treated by their owners as if they offer some kind of emotionally reciprocal relationship. Against this, I would like to suggest that the disgust that is felt at eating horses actually has rather less to do with the fact that they are pets than it has to do with feelings about the history of class, the production of food, and the experience of contemporary conditions of labour. In this sense, the feeling of disgust must be retained in its material specificity, but its texture must be understood as nebulous as it is abstracted through the history of concepts, only to find them insufficient, breaking apart, spiritually refracting, to return once again to whatever material they do not capture.

Hunger

From hour to hour the sting of hunger was increasing, and horse-flesh had become a delicacy. Dogs, cats, and rats were eagerly devoured. The women waited for hours in the cold and mud for a starvation allowance. For bread they got black grout, that tortured the stomach. Children died on their mothers’ empty breasts. […] At the end of December their privations began to open the eyes of the people.[2]

Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray’s stomach-churning words, written only a few years after his first-hand experience of the events, describe the conditions of life in Paris during the siege of 1870. The government, he tells us, had, “far from evacuating the superfluous mouths, crowded the 200,000 inhabitants of the suburbs into the town” before the whole of Paris was to be cut off by Bismarck’s troops.

The passage, in its images of misery and horror, expresses the proximity of hunger to the historic eating of horse. It is with the word “delicacy” that we shudder most, for it poses an unusual question: what can we find beautiful under the duress of starvation? Today, hunger remains proximate to this feeling of disgust, about which we have read so often in the last weeks. Horse has been found only in in frozen and processed meats. It has been discovered in food used to feed prisoners, and in school dinners produced for a pittance and available free to poorer families, in hospital food but also in value-ranges in supermarkets. Horse is held at once in opposition to hunger and to choice of eating something else which is unaffordable; horse has come to occupy that narrow ground of necessity.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: Prolapsarian (Please share it! – https://twitter.com/Prolapsarian/status/305689879604498432)

Breaking the Social Contract by Pelin Tan and Simon Critchley

In Asia, Europe, government, interview, North America, politics, religion on June 3, 2013 at 21:12

From: Breaking the Social Contract by Pelin Tan and Simon Critchley, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Pelin Tan: In Infinitely Demanding, you describe a distinction between active and passive nihilism. As I understand it, this description has a theological basis. You offer Al-Qaeda as an example of active nihilism. However, I have my doubts about this distinction. I think active nihilism cannot be explained in terms of local and specific conditions, since its meaning is based in Western epistemology. Do you think Western thought is capable of explaining oppositional radical movements such as Al-Qaeda by way of nihilism?

Simon Critchley: It is a question of the political uses of religion, or civil religion in the way Rousseau talks about it in The Social Contract. We could think of religion as ideology. My view is that things like class, ethnicity, and the rest are hugely important, but the question concerns how a polity such as a state acquires legitimacy and is able to motivate citizens to act on its behalf. And the answer to that question requires some understanding of civil religion. In The Social Contract Rousseau comes to the conclusion that politics requires a quasi-religious apparatus of rituals, including flags, national anthem, pledges of religions, and all the rest. Turkey is a very good example. Ataturk basically tried to invent a kind of civil religion using nationalism. So for me, all political units, especially states, justify themselves and try to motivate citizens by appealing to a form of civil religion. Here in the US, that works through the Constitution and the way constitutionality begins with an appeal to God—”In God We Trust.” And this becomes the basis for a political fight, the question of how the civic creed of the United States is to be interpreted. Does it justify a Republican or Democratic governmental order? Analogous situations exist elsewhere. The French elections took place last Sunday and France also has a civil religion, even though the country is purportedly secular.

PT: What is your opinion on the relationship between secularism and liberal democracy nowadays?

SC: I think that all political units make an appeal to something like the sacred, some conception of the sacred. And to me, the history of political forms is a history of different forms of sacralization — from Mesopotamia through Sumeria to the ancient world, and to where we are now. So in my opinion the secular is another expression of the sacral. Of course, secularists usually insist that God has no role in the political realm, that we cannot appeal to God. This is usually based on some progressivist idea of history, which is also religious. Secularism takes over the providential narrative of Christianity, changes some key elements, and comes up with the idea that liberal democracy is the completion of history. The idea is that one is either on the right side of history or the wrong side of history—as Saint Obama has said. So for me, secularism is another appeal to something sacred, the sacredness of human rights, the universality of human rights. This is ideology. I come out of a Gramsician leftist tradition that took a very particular form in England in the ‘70s and ‘80s, where thinkers like Ernesto Laclau, who was very influential for many years, tried to follow Gramsci’s insistence that ideology is important. Ideology isn’t just superstructure. Marxism is about socioeconomic conditions, class, and all the rest—of course that’s true. But ideology, and therefore politics, is that field where social groups are articulated. So for me, ideology has huge importance. And it’s in relation to that notion of ideology that religion takes on this particular importance. So it is not religion, ethnicity, or class inequalities that are important, but the way in which the articulation of each of those terms also appeals to notions of the sacred.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

Norway and the Prisoners of Peace by F. J. Riopelle

In Europe, government, human rights, law, politics, writers on May 27, 2013 at 18:16

From: Norway and the Prisoners of Peace by F. J. Riopelle, AGNI Online, http://www.bu.edu/agni/index.html

Imagine a country, I used to tell my students of Norwegian at Harvard, of beautiful fjords and impressive coastal scenery, of extensive petroleum reserves, natural gas, minerals, lumber, seafood and fresh water, with universal health care, subsidized higher education, a comprehensive social security system and very low unemployment rate. Imagine the world’s most well-functioning and stable country, where parents have forty-seven weeks of paid parental leave and prison cells look like budget hotel rooms. And—as a final flight of Lennonesque imagination—imagine all the people, or at least some, living life in peace in these cells—because they are pacifists.

That broke the spell, didn’t it? Norway’s great international reputation is well deserved, but a student of its language and culture should also learn about the embarrassments lurking behind this utopian image of Norway. There is, for instance, a curious lack of statistics for the number of convicted pacifists in Norway—the country that administers the Nobel Peace Prize, presumably because Alfred Nobel found it even more peaceful than Sweden—a curious lack of information, on Wikipedia and elsewhere, but I know, as John Lennon says in one of his protest songs, that I’m not the only one.

According to European Bureau for Conscientious Objection’s 2011 report, Norway is one of three European countries that “prosecute conscientious objectors repeatedly for their continued refusal to serve in the army” (the other countries are Greece and Turkey). “Each year, between one-hundred and two-hundred conscripts refuse to perform both military and substitute service,” and they are thereby penalized.

I am one of them—a conscientious objector, not only to the military service, but also to the substitute civilian service. In a report of 2002, researchers in Norway’s Ministry of Defense acknowledged that the civilian service, which is labor typically performed in healthcare institutions, retirement homes, kindergartens and schools, is little more than a “sanction of men who refuse to perform military service.” It “costs about 230 million Norwegian kroner per year,” and is “obviously unprofitable based on socio-economic considerations.”

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Reposted with permission from: AGNI Online

Alternative to Wikileaks Arises in Iceland by Lowana Veal

In Europe, information, internet, media, politics on May 13, 2013 at 21:16

From: Alternative to Wikileaks Arises in Iceland by Lowana Veal, Common Dreams, https://www.commondreams.org

With the imprisonment of Bradley Manning and detainment of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks is effectively on hold. But that does not mean that leaks and whistleblowing activities have stopped.

The Associated Whistle-blowing Press (AWP) seeks to provide impartial news based on wikileaks’ raw data. Credit: Bradley Manning Support Network/CC-BY-SA-2.0 GlobaLeaks lists a large number of leak sites, which are active to different degrees. Soon The Associated Whistleblowing Press (AWP) will be added to the list.

Iceland may seem a strange place to house a whistleblowing service, but Noel says one of the main reasons for the decision is the Iceland Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) parliamentary resolution that was passed unanimously in 2010 by the Icelandic Althingi (parliament) with the aim of giving safe space to whistleblowers and investigative journalists.

The resolution also wants the Althingi to introduce a new legislative regime to protect and strengthen freedom of expression, allowing Iceland to become an international transparency haven.

Initiated by activist and parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, the IMMI resolution pulls together the best sections of transparency legislation from all over the world. To become law, it now has to be put through the legislative process. This has suffered some setbacks, but is progressing slowly.

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Reposted with permission from: Common Dreams

Bananas! Kafka’s Ape by Justin E. H. Smith

In animals, biology, Europe, nature, science on April 27, 2013 at 20:20

From: Bananas! Kafka’s Ape by Justin E. H. Smith, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

In his 1917 short story, “Report to an Academy,” Kafka tells the story of Red Peter, a chimpanzee captured in Africa and brought back to Europe to be studied by the members of an institution very much like the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. Red Peter, by some unusual transformation that is never fully explained, develops after his capture into a cultivated, language-endowed gentleman, and the titular report is in fact his narration of his own autobiography, beginning shortly after his first encounter with humans while still in his merely animal stage.

Peter recounts how, early in his captivity, he had been subjected to various experiments in which, for example, scientists hung a banana from the ceiling in order to see whether he had the requisite intelligence to stack blocks together and climb up to reach his reward. This sort of experiment, of course, takes a number of things for granted. Among other things, although it purports to be testing for something human-like, it does not allow for the possibility of individual whim; it does not allow for the possibility of a response such as that of Zira, the fictional chimpanzee in Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), who cannot help but exclaim, when the human scientists try a similar experiment on her, “but I simply loathe bananas!”

The fact that experiments such as these require a certain course of action in order for an animal to be deemed intelligent suggests that what is being tested for is not really intelligence in any meaningful, human sense –since humans are permitted to have arbitrary whims and individual tastes– but rather a certain automatism that reproduces the kind of action of which a human being is capable, e.g., stacking blocks, but in the pursuit of a species-specific goal, a goal that a creature is supposed to have simply in view of the kind of creature it is, and that for that reason is not the result of a human-like willing, e.g., the will to obtain a banana. If ‘being intelligent’ is defined as ‘being like us’, we may anticipate in advance that non-human animals are doomed to fail any possible intelligence test.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

Video: The Last Bookshop

In books, culture, Europe, society, video on April 27, 2013 at 20:07

Video: The Last Bookshop, https://thelastbookshop.wordpress.com/

joe-halls-bookshop

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The Last Bookshop imagines a future where physical books have died out. One day, a small boy’s holographic entertainment fails, so he heads out to explore the streets of abandoned shops outside. Down a forgotten alley he discovers the last ever bookshop. And inside, an ancient shopkeeper has been waiting over 25 years for a customer…
Produced by The Bakery in the South-East of England, filming took place in 2011, with post-production completed in 2012. The music was composed by Owen Hewson and performed by Arlet. Veteran actor Alfred Hoffman stars alongside youthful co-star Joe Holgate. It is written by Richard Dadd, who also co-directs alongside Dan Fryer.
We love bookshops. But we saw that many are going through tough times. We wanted to contribute to the cultural debate with our own celebration in support of these glorious independents and their shelves of treasures. So with the help of some remarkable independent bookshops, and a lot of talented friends, we have been able to make our idea for The Last Bookshop into a reality. We hope you enjoy this film and share it with your friends…

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A Citizen as a Slave of the State? by Melina Tamiolaki

In Europe, government, history, philosophy, politics, society on April 24, 2013 at 07:24

From: A Citizen as a Slave of the State? Oligarchic Perceptions of Democracy in Xenophon by Melina Tamiolaki, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, http://grbs.library.duke.edu/index

One of the criticisms leveled at the Athenian democratic constitution, though not so prominent in comparison with other criticisms, was that it imposed
burdensome obligations to its wealthy citizens. The most important among these obligations were the liturgies—the choregia and the trierarchia—and the eisphora. The attitude of the wealthy towards these obligations was ambivalent: on the one hand, these services constituted a source of prestige and glory and confirmed their high status (especially the choregia, which had a strong public and performative aspect). On the other, they also aroused complaints, since they fostered the impression that the city exploited its wealthy citizens financially. These complaints were institutionalized in ancient Athens: Attic oratory provides rich evidence about the procedure of the antidosis, by which a wealthy citizen could avoid a liturgy by indicating a wealthier one, and hence more suitable, to undertake it.

… Charmides, a wealthy Athenian citizen, explains why, in his opinion, being poor secures a more peaceful life than being rich. More provocatively, he claims that by being poor, he resembles a tyrant, because he is absolutely free, whereas before he was clearly a slave:
“Your turn, Charmides,” said Callias, “to say why you take pride in poverty.” “Well,” he said, “there is agreement as fol lows, that it is better to be brave than fearful, to be free than a slave, to receive attentions than give them, and to be trusted by one’s country than distrusted. Now when I was a rich man inthis town, first of all I was fearful that people might break into my house and take my property and do me some personal hurt..”

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Reposted with permission from: Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies

A Bat in a Jar by Elke Weesjes

In aesthetics, biology, Europe, history, medicine, North America, religion, science on April 24, 2013 at 07:06

From: A Bat in a Jar – Wet Specimen and the History of the Curiosity Cabinet by Elke Weesjes, United Academics, http://www.united-academics.org

Jeiven teaches taxidermy classes at the Brooklyn Observatory. She followed in Walter Potter’s footsteps and specialized in anthropomorphic taxidermy. This means attributing human characteristics to taxidermied animals. Jeiven’s animals wear clothes, are usually posed in tableaux, and often represent a parable or a story. In last week’s workshop, Jeiven went outside of her comfort zone and taught a group of enthusiasts the arcane art of wet specimens. These stunning artifacts fill natural history, medical, and anatomy museums. They are deceptively simple to the eye, but in fact, demand special skills to do properly. And Jeiven’s students were lucky; these skills are generally taught only in professional apprenticeships rather than classes for the general public. I was fortunate to be among her students; this blog post describes my experience.

Ewen and Ewen note that the practice of creating curiosity cabinets goes back to the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church assembled relics of saint’s artifacts associated with Jesus and the Madonna to provide believers with concrete evidence and firsthand access to stories from the Old and New Testament. Myriad religious souvenirs were brought back from the Holy Land as part of the crusades and people viewed them with a fervent sense of awe. “In sealed cases, some ornately crafted a panoply of sacred remnants could be found, including such items as a drop of the Virgin’s milk, a pot that figured at the miracle at Cana, a scrap of a martyr’s shroud, nails, or a fragment of wood from the true cross or the comb of Mary Magdalene.”[2] Human remains were also brought into Europe; for example, the arm of the apostle James and parts of the skeleton of John the Baptist. Interestingly, alongside these sacrosanct objects ‘legendary’ artifacts like griffin’s eggs, tortoise shells, and unicorn’s horns were also part of the same collection.

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Reposted with permission from: United Academics

From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism by Slavoj Žižek

In Asia, economics, Europe, government, politics, religion, society on February 24, 2013 at 00:39

From: From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism by Slavoj Žižek, Cabinet, http://cabinetmagazine.org

The ultimate postmodern irony of today is the strange exchange between Europe and Asia: at the very moment when “European” technology and capitalism are triumphing worldwide at the level of the “economic infrastructure, the Judeo-Christian legacy is threatened at the level of “ideological superstructure” in the European space itself by New Age “Asiatic” thought, which, in its different guises ranging from “Western Buddhism” to different “Taos,” is establishing itself as the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. Therein resides the highest speculative identity of opposites in today’s global civilization: although “Western Buddhism” presents itself as the remedy against the stressful tension of capitalist dynamics, allowing us to uncouple and retain inner peace and Gelassenheit, it actually functions as its perfect ideological supplement. One should mention here the well-known concept of “future shock” that describes how people are no longer psychologically able to cope with the dazzling rhythm of technological development and the social changes that accompany it. Things simply move too fast, and before one can accustom oneself to an invention, it has already been supplanted by a new one, so that one more and more lacks the most elementary “cognitive mapping.” The recourse to Taoism or Buddhism offers a way out of this predicament that definitely works better than the desperate escape into old traditions. Instead of trying to cope with the accelerating rhythm of techno-logical progress and social changes, one should rather renounce the very endeavor to retain control over what goes on, rejecting it as the expression of the modern logic of domination. One should, instead, “let oneself go,” drift along, while retaining an inner distance and indifference toward the mad dance of accelerated process, a distance based on the insight that all this social and technological upheaval is ultimately just a non-substantial proliferation of semblances that do not really concern the innermost kernel of our being. One is almost tempted to resuscitate the old infamous Marxist cliché of religion as the “opium of the people,” as the imaginary supplement to terrestrial misery. The “Western Buddhist” meditative stance is arguably the most efficient way for us to fully participate in capitalist dynamics while retaining the appearance of mental sanity. If Max Weber were alive today, he would definitely write a second, supplementary, volume to his Protestant Ethic, entitled The Taoist Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capitalism.

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet

The Last Idealist? by Leemon McHenry

In Europe, humanities, nature, philosophy, science, theory on February 10, 2013 at 18:12

From: Timothy L. S. Sprigge – The Last Idealist? by Leemon McHenry, The Philosopher, http://www.the-philosopher.co.uk

Idealism is much less an option today than it was in the nineteenth century because of its association with universal, absolute religious principles and totalitarian, imperialistic political ideas. The decline of such thinking, especially in England, was also marked by the skepticism generated after the senseless carnage of World War I. For Sprigge, all of this was irrelevant to his quest for a satisfactory metaphysics.

Today, the idealistic doctrines are generally regarded as historically interesting but philosophically inconsequential. Idealism is largely viewed as implausible because of its disregard for the physical and biological sciences. Sprigge could rightly be accused of sidestepping science in his attempt to arrive at first principles, and he was well aware that his ignorance of science was a shortcoming of his philosophy. How far metaphysical thinking could get at first principles without the aid of detailed empirical studies was a great source of concern. He admired Spinoza and Whitehead for their scientifically informed metaphysics.

Moreover, while Sprigge followed Bradley and Royce in defending the sharp distinction between appearance and reality, or between the investigations of structural phenomena undertaken by physical science and those of introspective psychology, it is unlikely that physicists, chemists and biologists see themselves as engaged in anything less than a quest to know reality. Scientists do not see themselves as investigating what is merely abstract or phenomenal but rather an underlying reality. As far as the critiques of Russell, Moore and Ayer are concerned, the charge that metaphysical construction is a sort of Hegelian megalomania has not quite the force it had in the first half of the 1900s. The anti-metaphysical, linguistic methodologies ran their course and eventually faced fatigue, but the idea that idealism could serve as a metaphysical foundation for any system adequate for the sciences is upheld by relatively few.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: The Philosopher

Romanticism by Jane O’Grady

In art, culture, Europe, literature, writers on February 4, 2013 at 19:23

From: Romanticism; a piece composed for a concert of German Romantic Music by Jane O’Grady, openDemocracy, www.opendemocracy.net

Romanticism – lightning flashes, storms, ruined castles, the forest, hunting-horns, knights and ghosts from ancient legends; wild love and wilder despair, rugged mountains, waterfalls, the elusive, tantalising blue flower, tremulous nightingales, death.

Romanticism is a reaction against the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment had emerged in cosmopolitan Paris and London, Romanticism from the small states in Germany. It was impatient with urbanity, doubtful that the clear light of reason would enable all humans universally to converge on a common truth. Surely reason is too rigid a structure for the rich amorphousness of reality, and universalism too monolithic!    Romanticism trumpets emotion as against reason, it lauds what is natural and untamed above the constructed and artificial; relishes embodied particularity, mystery, the dark. And sings the wonders of the wild.

Where we all went wrong, said Rousseau, was when someone first enclosed a plot of ground, asserted ‘this is mine’, and persuaded others that it belonged to him (the encloser) rather than to everyone. That was the start of civilisation, yet civilisation, rather than being the nurturer of virtue, stifles it — humans began to be competitive, conformist, cunning, sham. The original sin was obedience, not disobedience. But now — out of the garden into the forest!

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Reposted with permission from: openDemocracy

Young European directors by Amélie Mougey

In Europe, film, interview, media, visual arts on January 12, 2013 at 22:52

From: Young European directors: ‘You can spot a French film a mile off’ by Amélie Mougey, Cafebabel, http://www.cafebabel.co.uk/

They are aged 24, 26 or 31, hail from Croatia, England, Belgium or Germany, and they all have one thing in common: a desire to create magic with a camera, and to transform their passion into a job. At film school, these budding directors create stories for film. Freshly graduated, they are now throwing themselves at the mercy of the festivals to at last compete with the big boys.

They all dream of making a film with universal appeal. But the public is quick to catch on and their audiences can surprise them. In Volume, the 27-minute short film she is presenting at the rencontres Henri Langlois festival between 30 November and 9 December 2012, English director Mahalia Belo transports her viewers to a prim suburb that is indifferent (or almost) to the disappearance of one of its inhabitants. ‘Here in Poitiers, my film was perceived as being very profound, whilst in Munich, the audience laughed,’ she says, confounded. For the directors, the public’s expectations often remain more obscure than the work of their colleagues.

‘You can spot French films a mile off,’ teases Croatian director Sonja Tarokic, 24. ‘They are usually set in pretty, upper middle class interiors. The singer or pianist who’s in the corner of the bar while the characters are having a drink: that would be completely incongruous in Croatia.’ Mahalia Belo has also developed this radar for detecting different nationalities. ‘After trawling the festival circuit, I can now recognise the very black Finnish sense of humour,’ says the London-based director, who says she is often pigeonholed herself. So all is fair in love and war. ‘At the end of a screening, some audience members tell me my films have nothing to do with English cinema, while others say that they are terribly British,’ she smiles.

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Reposted with permission from: Cafebabel

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