Showing posts from February, 2012

What kind of a man was Shakespeare?

I've always thought," says Simon Callow ruminatively, "that Shakespeare was the kind of guy who goes to a party, nurses one glass, says nothing, and goes home with the prettiest girl in the room." I imagine 1,000 biographers keeling over in horror. But Callow isn't joking. His new one-man show, which debuted last year in Edinburgh and is about to open at Trafalgar Studios in London, brings audiences face to face with the middle-class Midlands boy who grew up to be the world's most famous writer. The title is serious enough: it's called Being Shakespeare. There is, however, a rival Bard in town. At the Young Vic, Patrick Stewart is reviving his performance as the playwright in Edward Bond's 1973 play Bingo – a revival that one critic praised for its "truly Shakespearian greatness". The Bardic battle is on: if they feel so inclined, Londoners will be able to do a direct compare-and-contrast. Fictional representations of Shakespeare aren'

How Gogol* Explains the Post-Soviet World (*And Chekhov and Dostoyevsky.) The case for (re)reading Russia's greatest literary classics.

BY THOMAS DE WAAL Twenty years ago, 15 new states emerged from the wreck of the Soviet Union, uneven shards from a broken monolith. One story turned into 15. Most Soviet watchers have been struggling to keep up ever since. How to tell these multiple stories? In retrospect, it is evident that Western commentators failed to predict or explain what has happened to these countries: their lurches from one crisis to another, weird hybrid political systems, unstable stability. Commentators have long tried to project models from the rest of the world ("transition to a market economy," "evolution of a party system") onto countries that have very different histories and cultural assumptions from the West and often from each other. I have read about Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's "ethnocentric patriotism," his "delegative democracy trap," and his building of a "neo-patrimonial state" -- all very intelligent stuff. What I take away f

Occupy London camp evicted

Police and bailiffs have evicted anti-capitalist protesters and removed tents from the Occupy London camp at St Paul's Cathedral The operation, which began just after midnight, was mostly peaceful but there were 20 arrests. A St Paul's spokesman said: "We regret the camp had to be removed by bailiffs." The City of London Corporation said it "regretted" that it had become necessary to evict the protesters. Occupy London, which campaigns against corporate greed, set up the camp on 15 October. The campaigners were refused permission to appeal against a High Court decision to allow their eviction to proceedThe Rev Giles Fraser, who resigned as canon chancellor of St Paul's in support of the protesters, said: "This is a sad day for the Church.  "Riot police clearing the steps of St Paul's Cathedral was a terrible sight." T he St Paul's spokesman said: "In the past few months, we have all been made to re-examine important issues ab

The myth of the eight-hour sleep

In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks. His book At Day's Close: Night in Times Past, published four years later, unearths more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern - in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer's Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria. Much like the experience of Wehr's subjects, these references describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep. "It's not just the number of references - it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge," Ekirch says. During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wro

Book Review - David Kennedy’s Of War and Law

David Kennedy, Of War and Law (2006) In an age when global conflicts have evolved into low intensity asymmetric affairs and taken center stage, modern conceptions of both law and war are of paramount importance to our ability to make informed decisions regarding our role in these conflicts. David Kennedy’s assertions in Of War and Law are a clear description of what occurs at the modern nexus of law and war. However, in the midst of a culture awash in images of casualties piped directly into modern living rooms (something he calls the “CNN effect”) Kennedy takes on the task of providing the realignment that seems all the more vital for the reeducation of both professionals and the wider public audience alike. Of War and Law, starts out assaulting the traditional definition of war with the various phenomena upon which the label has been bestowed. Traditional wars of combat are contrasted with metaphorical wars, the cold war, international interventions, the 9/11 attacks, and even the

The Emperor Uncrowned, The rise of Narendra Modi

Modi has turned the act of investing in what has long been one of India’s most business-friendly and industrialised states into a high-profile spectacle—and amplified the disclosure of annual investment inflows into singular triumphant announcements. In other words, Modi has successfully deployed the ancient mercantile and entrepreneurial energy of Gujarat to overhaul his own image. Ten years after the anti-Muslim pogroms that killed more than 1,200 Gujaratis, Modi has managed to bury the past and resurrect his own extinct prospects for political advancement , replacing epithets like “fascist”, “mass murderer” and “Hindutva fanatic” with a title of his own choosing: Vikaas Purush, or Development Man. For the first families of Indian business, Modi is “the next leader of India”, “a visionary”, “the unstoppable horse”, and “the CEO who can lead the country”, to quote just a sampling of the effusive endorsements from men named Tata, Ambani and Mittal.. Read more: http://www.caravanmagaz

Climate change will shake the Earth

A changing climate isn't just about floods, droughts and heatwaves. It brings erupting volcanoes and catastrophic earthquakes too. The idea that a changing climate can persuade the ground to shake, volcanoes to rumble and tsunamis to crash on to unsuspecting coastlines seems, at first, to be bordering on the insane. How can what happens in the thin envelope of gas that shrouds and protects our world possibly influence the potentially Earth-shattering processes that operate deep beneath the surface? The fact that it does reflects a failure of our imagination and a limited understanding of the manner in which the different physical components of our planet – the atmosphere, the oceans, and the solid Earth, or geosphere – intertwine and interact. If we think about  climate change  at all, most of us do so in a very simplistic way: so, the weather might get a bit warmer; floods and droughts may become more of a problem and sea levels will slowly creep upwards. Evidence reveals, how

WikiLeaks publishes millions of emails exposing the global trade in intelligence

WikiLeaks  has begun releasing a cache of what it says are 5.5m emails obtained from the servers of Stratfor, a US-based intelligence gathering firm  with about 300,000 subscribers. The whistleblowing site has released 167 emails in its initial release. WikiLeaks says it has partnered with 25 media organisations around the world, including Rolling Stone, McClatchey, the Hindu and Russia Reporter. Unlike previous WikiLeaks releases, this latest email cache was apparently obtained through a  hacking  attack on Stratfor by Anonymous in December 2011 rather than through a whistleblower. Anonymous published contact and credit card details from Stratfor and said at the time it had also obtained a large volume of emails for which it would arrange publication. One of the largest Anonymous-linked accounts on Twitter, @AnonymousIRC, put out a series of tweets on Monday morning seemignly confirming it was the source of the WikiLeaks release. "We promised you those mails and now they'll

Book review: biographies of Joseph Roth and Stefan Zweig

Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters Translated & edited by Michael Hofmann Three Lives, a Biography of Stefan Zweig Oliver Matuschek; translated by Allan Blunden Central Europe's "dark secret": "a universe of culture was destroyed." That culture was German and Jewish, and its destruction was the work of the two "industrious mass-murderers", Hitler and Stalin. Writing in the  Spectator  in May 1989, G.M. Tamas, Hungarian philosopher, journalist, dissident, and briefly, after the collapse of Communism, a member of parliament, wrote about central Europe's "dark secret": "a universe of culture was destroyed." That culture was German and Jewish, and its destruction was the work of the two "industrious mass-murderers", Hitler and Stalin. Hitler exterminated the Jews, even though "the Jews, almost everywhere, were to all intents and purposes a peculiar German ethnic group", originally speaking Yiddish, a German dial

Romance novels as feminist documents?

For all the scoffing from various quarters at the fairy-tale messages they contain, romances largely deal with practical, everyday matters; they're more like field guides for resolving the real-life difficulties women face..   "The underlying philosophy of the novels of Mills & Boon is that love is omnipotent—it is the point of life. It is the solution to all problems, and it is peculiarly feminine. Men have to be taught how to love; women are born with the innate ability to love." Romance fiction is widely reckoned to be a very low form of literature. Maybe the lowest, if we're not counting the writing at Groupon, or on Splenda packets. Romance fiction: probably the worst! An addictive, absurd, unintellectual literature, literature for nonreaders, literature for stupid people—literature for women! Books Just For Her! Low or not, romance is by far the most popular and lucrative genre in American publishing, with over $1.35 billion in revenues estimated in 2010

Lines of Control Symposium at Cornell

Lines of Control: Also showing three films by Amar Kanwar: A Season Outside, To Remember and A Night of Prophecy at the Johnson Museum of Art Symposium: Saturday, March 3, 4:00–6:00 pm, and Sunday, March 4, 9:00 am–5:00 pm Ithaca, NY 14853 Tuesdays–Sundays, 10 am–5 pm   The Lines of Control symposium is organized with the exhibition Lines of Control: Partition as a Productive Space at Cornell University's Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. The project was initiated by Green Cardamom, a London-based nonprofit arts organization, in 2005, and is an exhibition-led inquiry into the formative and ongoing dilemmas of the nation-state in the modern and contemporary era. It investigates the notion of partition- and border-making practices, where nations are formed through forging new identities, producing new histories, reconfiguring memories, and the patrolling of physical and psychological borders. Lines of Control: Partition as a Productive Space is on view at the Johnson Museum of

Bangladesh: Coup Bid Reveals Extremism Within Army

The January coup attempt against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government has exposed lurking religious extremism within its ranks.  On Jan. 19, the army brass disclosed that it had foiled a coup attempt masterminded by some mid-ranking army officers and that several have been either confined or put under the scanner. At a rare press conference in the Dhaka cantonment, Brig. Gen. Masud Razzaque, flanked by senior officers, said: "Specific evidence has been unearthed that a group of retired and serving officers have been involved in the conspiracy to topple the democratic government through use of the armed forces."  Razzaque said two of the alleged conspirators had admitted to having connections with the outlawed political party, Hizbut-Tahrir (HuT), suggesting that religious extremists continue to maintain links within the country’s armed forces. The HuT  website  openly urges army officers to "Remove Hasina, the killer of your brothers and establish the Khilafah to

Praveen Swami on India's new theocracy

Salman Rushdie's censoring-out from the ongoing literary festival in Jaipur will be remembered as a milestone that marked the slow motion disintegration of India's secular state. Islamist clerics first pressured the state to stop Mr. Rushdie from entering India; on realising he could not stop, he was scared off with a dubious assassination threat. Fear is an effective censor: the writers Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar, who sought to read out passages from  The Satanic Verses  as a gesture of solidarity, were stopped from doing so by the festival's organisers. In a 1989 essay, Ahmad Deedat, an influential neo-fundamentalist who starred in the first phases of the anti-Rushdie campaign, hoped the writer would “die a coward's death, a hundred times a day, and eventually when death catches up with him, may he simmer in hell for all eternity.” He thanked Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi for his “sagacious” decision to ban  The Satanic Verses . Now, another Indian Prime Minister ha