A charismatic moment
This article is part of the 19/2019 Eurozine review. Click here to subscribe to our reviews, and you also can subscribe to our newsletterand get the bi-weekly updates about latest publications and news on partner journals.
Index on Censorship challenges barriers to free thought;il Mulino debates Italy’s disinformation problem; Esprit assesses Macron mid-term;
L’homme looks back on thirty years of feminist history; K24 reviews new Turkish literature;and 2000 cautions against cowardly obedience.
This article is part of the 19/2019 Eurozine review. Click here to subscribe to our reviews, and you also can subscribe to our newsletter and get the bi-weekly updates about latest publications and news on partner journals.
Index on Censorship
Index on Censorship challenges barriers to free thought
Index on Censorship looks at the increasing barriers to free thought worldwide. Reports from China, Germany, Hungary and the United States look not only at increasing restrictions on free movement, but the implicit demands that journalists self-censor and that LGBT travellers hide their identities when in countries where their very existence is illegal.
Rights: ‘The strides made in the recognition of LGBT rights have been enormous in recent years’, writes Mark Frary. But freedom of expression for LGBT people is by no means secure everywhere. Travellers on their way to one of the seventy or so countries where homosexuality is a crime might have their phones searched and social media presence scrutinized by officials. Dating apps like Tinder and Grindr have warned users travelling to Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe to conceal their identities. Not only do international advances hide what is happening within countries such as the US, where there is still no legal protection against discrimination in some states, LGBT asylum seekers also face prejudice and violence both in transit and in host countries.
China: Ryan Gallagher, investigative reporter for The Intercept, explores how Chinese companies provide surveillance and censorship equipment, including biometric and facial recognition technology, to authoritarian governments worldwide. This is not just about Huawei, writes Gallagher: there are many other Chinese tech companies specializing in surveillance and censorship equipment ‘whose names are not as well known to the public.’ Their attempts to sell their equipment globally is part of the Chinese government’s strategy ‘to export its technological and ideological framework over its own borders. As China’s influence on the global stage continues to grow, so will its authoritarian version of the internet.’
Germany: The German government is considering allowing state security services to plant spyware on private citizens’ computers and phones. Predictably, the outcry has been huge. Cathrin Schaer explains the cultural reasons for the German public’s particular sensitivity when it comes to privacy: the combination of western post-war anti-totalitarianism and the eastern experience of Stasi surveillance.
il Mulino debates Italy’s disinformation problem
The advent of social media culture exacerbates the problems inherent to Italy’s traditionally politicized media. As a dossier in Il Mulino on ‘media and public opinion’ makes clear, distrust in traditional media has radically changed Italian politics.
Hate speech: The Italian media is a special case in Europe, writes Anna Carola Freschi. First, it is heavily concentrated. Second, it has the highest rate of hate speech incidents in Europe. Third, social media has influenced politics to an extraordinary degree. Disinformation and hate speech around immigration is a particular problem, for which politicians are directly responsible. Freschi cites figures from Amnesty International showing that over 50 per cent of Matteo’s Salvini’s tweets are offensive or discriminatory. Before the 2019 European elections, Facebook removed 23 pages or accounts with over 2.5 million followers related to the Lega and M5S.
Journalism: Popular journalism in Italy sells by the five S’s, writes Rolando Marini: sangue, sesso, salute, sport e soldi (blood, sex, health, sport and money). But the five S’s of so-called quality journalism — scontro, sondaggio, scandalo, straniero, social (confrontation, polls, scandals, foreigners and social media) — are themselves highly susceptible to the kinds of disinformation and distortion that social media are so good at propagating. The result: that the impoverishment of public discourse is lamented in the same media that others blame for fake news.
Education: Whatever mechanisms are put in place to restrict disinformation and online abuse, the critical change must be to educate the audience. ‘We are caught in a short-circuit from which we have difficulty escaping,’ as editor Bruno Simili puts it. There has been a move in Italy from inequality in access to information to inequality in digital literacy — something that is at least as damaging, especially since consumption of traditional sources of information is also declining. Only 41 per cent of Italians read books and only 37 per cent read newspapers, both huge drops in the last decade. But if education is the key, there is bad news here too for Italy. According to statistics cited by Fabio Paglieri, Italian students’ capacity for critical thinking has stagnated in recent years.
Turkey: ‘When a government wants to conquer a people, it first conquers its past,’ comments Turkish-Kurdish writer Burhan Sönmez. Referring to Turkey, he says that ‘our social memory is quickly cancelled or represented in a new guise’. And yet, continuing criticism of the Gezi Park protests show that they are still perceived as a genuine challenge.
Esprit assesses Macron mid-term
Esprit asks whether we have entered a new political world, with contributions on the crisis of democratic representation, the role of social networks, the mutations of political personalisation and new forms of mobilization.
Macron at mid-term: Midway through Emmanuel Macron’s presidency, the editorial board of Esprit debates the political conjuncture, insisting on the continuing importance of the left–right distinction and the relevance of political ecology and debates on social justice. Macron is himself connected to the history of Esprit, having been a member of the editorial committee in the 2000s. The editors review key concerns in the history of the journal — anti-totalitarianism, human rights, the value of civil society — and the anthropological terms in which they have been discussed. As Michaël Fœssel comments ominously: ‘Esprit has a role to play in the coming conflict of anthropologies, which may end in the defeat of democracy.’
Personalization: Considered as an anti-system candidate amidst the decline of traditional parties, Macron marks a charismatic moment in politics. Yet his power is still contained within the institutions of the Fifth Republic and must respond to democratic demands and challenges. ‘Power that is personal, solitary and top-down is doomed to fail, because it is archaic,’ writes political scientist Vincent Martigny. For Jean-Claude Monod, Trump and Macron have much in common. Today, both are having to consider democratic institutions that they had overlooked. ‘Only movements outside institutions and parties appear to meet the urgency of contemporary environmental, social and cultural issues.’
Banlieues: The suburbs are France’s political laboratories, writes journalist and activist Erwan Ruty. Their de-politicization may result either in conformity to the liberal-consumerist pattern of French society at large, or in a communitarian and ‘indigenist’ withdrawal. ‘Political dreams haven’t disappeared completely from the French suburbs, but only traces remain, like in the rest of French society.’
Also: Anthropologist Véronique Nahoum-Grappe sees #MeToo and demonstrations against domestic violence as signs that ‘the deep historical impunity granted to perpetrators of crimes against women is being disrupted’. And philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy argues for a reflexive relation between European and Islamic cultures, inspired by the history of mathematics and literature.
L’homme looks back on thirty years of feminist historiography
L’Homme — ‘The European Journal for Feminist History’ — first appeared three decades ago this year. The journal and its changing team of publishers, editors and authors have ‘played a role in forming the various phases and facets of the self-positioning of feminist historiography,’ writes co-publisher Christa Hämmerle.
At its inception, the ironically titled L’Homme ‘placed itself firmly in the space between political movement and academic analysis’. After a period of interdisciplinarity, the goal of feminist historiography was to ‘step back into the discipline’ and ‘rewrite history entirely’. However, the emergence of gender studies brought yet new methodologies. ‘Queer’ approaches and ‘liquid’ definitions of gender have since played as significant a role as ‘praxeological, cultural-scientific, power-theoretical and intersectional interpretative schema.’
What does the journal see as its role today? With the rise of ‘gender bashing’ and the instrumentalization and mythologization of relations between gender and history, ‘it is crucial to again position oneself in feminist terms.’
Interiors, exteriors: A re-reading of Leon Battista Alberti’s Della famiglia(1433–34) reveals nuances in upper-class Renaissance domesticity that contradict the notion of rigidly separated sexual spheres, a central tenet of earlier feminist historiography, writes Inken Schmidt-Voges. Changing the scene, Björn Klein introduces the reader to the New York underworld of the turn of twentieth century, and particularly to its sexually ‘colourful’ inhabitants. On the basis of unpublished writings by Ralph Werther, a ‘female impersonator’ and amateur sexologist, Klein reconstructs the emergence of the term ‘voyeur’ in Euro-American sexology. And Çiçek İlengiz analyses the colonialist appropriation of Kurdish space by the Kemalist republic, concentrating on the gendered dynamics of the Dersim massacre of 1937/38 and its public commemoration.
LGBT: Software magnate Peter Thiel, the first openly gay speaker at the Republican National Convention, has appealed for an end to ‘fake culture wars’ and for a focus on ‘fixing the broken economy’. Not only does this message overlook Trump’s anti-LGBT agenda, it also shares the popular notion (cf. Mark Lilla) ‘that forms of discrimination based on someone’s sex, race, sexual orientation and/or gender identity are mere symbolic legal issues belonging to an alternate reality.’
K24 reads a tale of exclusion
In Turkish online journal K24, Niyazi Zorlu takes the publication of Ayşegül Devecioğlu’s novel Güzel Ölümün Öyküsü (‘A tale of a good death’) as an opportunity to praise the work of a novelist he calls ‘revolutionary’ in her ‘determined, stubborn’ focus on the shadows and ignored aspects of city life. The new work, Zorlu says, ‘gives voice not just to street children and living things, but also to lifeless objects such as the street itself.’ Devecioğlu celebrates a ‘writer whose concern for the gaps between what literature includes and the spaces occupied by those who have been ignored, or who fall outside the requirements of society and history, approaches the literature of detective fiction’.
Interview: Novelist, critic and scriptwriter Selim İleri explains in an interviewthat the title of his new book of essays and memoir, Bir Gölge Gibi Silineceksin(‘You will fade like a shadow’) is not a reference to the quality of the work, but an attempt to resist ‘the world of vanity, the world that is thinking every minute of how to push the self forward’. He admires the lives of figures such as the writer Nezihe Meriç, ‘a person who throughout her life truly lived as a shadow, who never felt the need to push herself forward … I am talking of a life that was led constantly within the boundaries of literature.’ Living such a life has been a challenge in Turkey, İleri admits. ‘I am in a belljar, it’s true, but I cannot say I feel protected at all. None of us can.’
Ecology: Cihan Erdönmez examines the history and precarious future of Turkey’s forests. While forested land is increasing, this is mainly the result of rural depopulation, which has caused fields to be abandoned and pastures to remain ungrazed. The natural forests of the rest of the country are under enormous pressure from mining, forestry and tourism. Erdönmez ‘smiles and keeps silent’ when people profess a love for forests — ‘Because we never taught them what love for forests means. We teach our children foreign languages even in primary school. We teach them how to code. But we never hold their hands and take them to the forest. If we do, we look for a picnic table, light a barbecue and turn on the car stereo.’
2000 cautions against cowardly obedience
In late 1919, after the Treaty of Versailles assigned Transylvania to Romania, the Cluj-Napoca Hungarian State Theatre was evicted from its building. Before leaving, it put on a final performance. The play was Hamlet and the show turned into a protest, lasting until late at night. ‘Records say the audience answered, “To be or not to be” with a loud “We want to be,”’ writes Andrea Tompa.
Disturbing patterns of historical erasure surround the memory of the performance. By the time northern Transylvania was reconquered by Hungary in 1940, the star of the show, the Jewish actor and director Jenő Janovics, had been removed from the history of the institution. When the theatre was ceremonially re-opened, Janovics provided most of the items for a commemorative exhibition, without his name being featured at all. Similarly, an article he wrote on the history of the theatre appeared under another person’s name, with his consent, because the Second Vienna Accord forbade him from publishing.
Ethics: András Czeglédi draws on Timothy Snyder’s ‘first commandment’ inOn Tyranny — ‘Do not obey in advance’ — to examine the nature of cowardice and obedience. In an essay of ‘meta-ethical musings’, he recalls everyday cases of individual disobedience during Nazism — among them the famous photograph of a young mechanic refusing to give the Hitler salute amongst a crowd of colleagues. Czeglédi contrasts the ethics developed in the work of Mikhail Bulgakov with the practical immorality that the human species often needs in order to survive. Cowardice, he argues, is part of us all. But ‘the cowardice of obeying in advance is the greatest sin’.
Art history: Since the exhibition in 2009 of photo of Marcel Duchamp, in which the artist is depicted fivefold, as if in a conversation with himself around a table, art historians have been in paroxysms. The portrait, they claim, is a trace of Duchamp’s unique genius. András Beck traces the history of the peculiar five-way composition, only to find that it was a popular genre in fin de sièclephotography, achieved by setting two mirrors at a 72-degree angle. In light of which, the critical excitement appears somewhat different, writes Beck.