Article of the month: "Proust is important for everyone"

In conversation with the sociologist Gilles Lipovetsky, novelist and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa discusses the relative merits of "high" and "mass" culture in contemporary society, and defends the ideas explored in his recent book La civilización del espectáculo.

Though Lipovetsky and Vargas Llosa broadly agree on the inherent value of high culture, they are divided as to how to proceed in a "disorientated society that no longer has the points of reference it once did". While Lipovetsky concedes that in the society of the spectacle, "culture becomes a unit of consumption," he is determined to see the best in this development. It is consumer society and the increase in the degree of autonomy it affords the individual that spells the end for "the grand political ideologies that confined individuals within a tight set of rules, and has replaced them with leisure, with cultural hedonism." After all, "societies in which the spectacle dominates are generally consensual societies founded on the democractic contract."

Vargas Llosa does not dispute these positive aspects, but does express concern over the collapse of aesthetic hierarchies: "At present we have infinite freedom in the field of culture, but within that freedom we can also be the victims of the worst tomfoolery." He continues: "The old canon that enabled us to distinguish between the excellent, the mundane and the execrable is no longer available: today, it depends on the customer's fancy."

This is why he believes so strongly that Proust, among others, is important to everyone: "If we don't want to reach the point towards which contemporary society is moving -- a spiritual void in which all those negative aspects of industrial society, all the dehumanization it brings with it, are becoming more apparent by the day -- I firmly believe that the best way of counteracting that egoism, that solitude, that terrible competition which reaches extremes of dehumanization, is an extremely rich cultural life, in the loftiest sense of the word 'culture'."

Gilles Lipovetsky, Mario Vargas Llosa
"Proust is important for everyone"

This article is available in English

Arno Schmidt: A finer Europe

Opening the 24th European Meeting of Cultural Journals in Hamburg in September, Jan Philipp Reemtsma recited a text by Arno Schmidt, one of the most important authors of post-war Germany, recalling "Europe's first great collaborative intellectual achievement": the observation of the transit of Venus in 1769, which provided the basis for the first precise calculation of the earth's distance from the sun. The last in the series of conference texts, Schmidt's essay is now published in the focal point "Arrivals / Departures: European harbour cities", in English translation by John Woods, together with Reemtsma's introduction.

All articles in the focal point: Arrivals / Departures: European harbour cities

Arche facing closure by the Belarusian authorities

On 14 November, Arche editor Valery Bulhakau announced that he has temporarily left Belarus, where he faces criminal charges of extremism and illegal financial activities that could land him a prison sentence of up to seven years. The charges relate to an incident in September, when Bulhakau was temporarily arrested at a book launch on the grounds of "illegal business activities" (selling copies without invoices).

Bulhakau's personal library numbering 6000 books was subsequently confiscated, financial documents were seized and Arche's bank account was frozen, making it impossible for the journal to pay printers costs for the new issue. On 23 and 27 October, Belarusian TV covered the case, denouncing the books as "extremist".

The Belarusian Association of Journalists is providing information on how best to voice support for Arche. Eurozine will be petitioning the Belarusian authorities on behalf of its partners and readers; updates to follow on the Eurozine website.

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New articles

Jan Philipp Reemtsma
A finer Europe
Opening the 24th European Meeting of Cultural Journals, Jan Philipp Reemtsma recited a text by post-war German writer Arno Schmidt, recalling Europe's "first great cooperative achievement": the observation of the transit of Venus in 1769.

This article is available in English

Ciril Oberstar
Epistolary government
Leaked communications are revealing how power works like never before; revelations of political deal-making beyond the public view make assumptions about democratization look like wishful thinking, writes Slovene sociologist Ciril Oberstar.

This article is available in English

Joshua Farley, Almantas Samalavicius
Against growth
A conversation with economist Joshua Farley
Given the relation between economic production and ecological degradation, Joshua Farley is convinced that economic growth must stop. It is just a question of when. And whether cooperation will displace competition as the dominant concept in the economic paradigm.

This article is available in English

Stephen Holmes
Goodbye future?
Structural problems in conventional democracies are alienating citizens worldwide, writes Stephen Holmes. Political marketing, cross-party compromise and elite withdrawal threaten to rob democracy of its original role as instrument of justice.

This article is available in English

Eurozine Review
Art is a pleasure technology
"Kritika & Kontext" asks why we bother with art; "Sodobnost" enumerates the deadly sins of Slovene politics; "Blätter" finds democracy in bad shape everywhere; "Il Mulino" sides with Draghi; "Schweizer Monat" gets tax advice from Peter Sloterdijk; "Dilema veche" finds Mircea Cartarescu in a good mood; "Res Publica Nowa" says urban politics must step up a level; "Ord&Bild" experiments with animals and humans; and "Dziejaslou" remembers the many names of Minsk's Savieckaia.

This article is available in English

Christopher J. Voparil
Rorty and the democratic power of the novel
Moral progress depends upon hearing voices that say things never heard before, including claims about injustices that may not be perceived as such. Christopher Voparil explains the reasons for Richard Rorty's definition of the novel as "characteristic genre of democracy".

This article is available in English

Ladislav Kovac
Art in the final period
We express our understanding in concepts, but each of our concepts is an extreme simplification consisting of unrelated entities. The fact that we include them in one concept does not clarify our view of the world, but rather obscures it. This also applies to the concept of "art".

This article is available in English

Jan-Werner Müller
The failure of European intellectuals?
Intellectuals have been accused of failing to restore a European confidence undermined by crisis. Yet calls for legitimating European narratives reflect the logic of nineteenth-century nation building, argues intellectual historian Jan-Werner Müller.

This article is now available in English and Slovenian

Valeriu Nicolae
Euro-Narnia and the Queen of Roma
Roma activist Valeriu Nicolae departs for Euro-Narnia, a parallel world ruled over by the mighty Baroslan whose inhabitants discuss in strange and wonderful terms remedies for the Roma problem. But what is the role of the Queen in all of this?

This article is available in English

Knut Olav Åmås
The Norwegian public sphere after Breivik
A more exacting and cosmopolitan public debate has emerged in Norway since the terror attacks of 2011, writes the cultural editor of "Aftenposten". Yet, despite assurances, the renaissance of critical journalism has not translated into greater political transparency.

This article is available in English

Claus Leggewie
Germany's 9/11
On 9 November 1918, the first German Republic was declared; exactly four years later, Hitler staged a putsch. The Reichskristallnacht on 9 November 1938 was linked to both; on 9 November 1989 the division of Germany came to an end. How should Germany commemorate this ambiguous day?

This article is available in English

Charles Postel
Occupy: A populist response to the crisis of inequality
The Occupy movement resembles nineteenth-century American populism in its anger at the avarice of bankers and financiers and in its notions of majoritarian democracy. Where it differs from the old Populists is in its attitude to the state, writes Charles Postel.

This article is available in English

Eurozine Review
A place with no present
"Wespennest" fathoms Europe's Mare nostrum; "New Humanist" takes the bigger picture on blasphemy; "Kulturos barai" talks to Norman Lillegard about the vices of others; "Merkur" can't see Germany in the role of European hegemon; "Mittelweg 36" reads Monopoly as cultural script; "La Revue Nouvelle" says no thanks to think-tanks; "New Literary Observer" charts gender politics in twentieth-century Russia; "NZ" asks what happened to Russia's liberalization; and "Esprit" takes a recce of urban public space.

This article is available in English

Paul Sims
Right to offend?
Controversy around the film "Innocence of Muslims" has prompted a return to a hard line on the question of blasphemy legislation from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Paul Sims warns against the trap of censorship while encouraging criticism of the motives of offenders.

This article is available in English

Norman Lillegard, Almantas Samalavicius
Ideology or truth?
A conversation with Norman Lillegard
In a wide-ranging discussion, Almantas Samalavicius and the philsopher Norman Lillegard consider the dangers of relativism, the crisis of education, pleonexia and the economic crisis, and whether literature should provide moral instruction.

This article is available in English

Jurica Pavicic
The Mediterranean: Room without a view
The mythical Mediterranean of the tourist imagination masks a reality of debt, stagnation and social decline. Yet the region colludes in its own downfall, writes Jurica Pavicic, trading in former glories while acquiescing to political and economic exploitation.

This article is available in English and German

Franco Rizzi
After the revolutions: Europe and the Arab world
Europe's view of the revolutions in the Arab world is bedevilled by archaic, post-colonial attitudes. If we cannot shed these, argues Franco Rizzi, we shall remain on the sidelines and watch the Arab awakening turn into a twilight of renewed discontent.

This article is now available in English, German and Italian

Slavenka Drakulic
The tune of the future
Italy: old Europe, new Europe, changing Europe
Venice versus Lampedusa: travelling around Italy, Slavenka Drakulic observes one kind of Europe being replaced by another. Instead of attempting to conserve the cultural past, we should accept that migration will adapt much of what we consider "European" to its own image.

This article is now available in Croatian, English, German, and Italian

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Eurozine Newsletter: 12/2012