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Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Chapel Hill, Boston, Istanbul, Calgary, Washington DC, Austin, Tunis, Warszawa and counting

Thursday, October 29, 2009

euro topics

I've been subscribing to a very useful newsletter called euro topics for a few weeks now. It provides an overview of interesting articles published all over Europe with the main focus being on political topics. The idea obviously is amazing, I read French, German, and English, but getting the Spanish, Romanian, or Bulgarian point of view on things is extremely interesting.

Yet, I noticed a sizable caveat today which made me remember the potential pitfalls that relying on a translation entail. Yesterday's newsletter included a commentary taken from Le Quotidien on Juncker's candidacy to the EU Presidency. Here is the excerpt:

"The Luxembourg newspaper Le Quotidien is all for Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker becoming president of the EU. But it questions whether Juncker will be able to win over the rest of Europe: 'Other European heavy-weights have also thrown their hats into the ring. In 2004 it looked like everything would have gone Juncker's way if the European Constitution had been adopted. But now it's a completely different story. The British are determined to back Tony Blair come what may. Although he does enjoy an incontestable international popularity, his 'Eurosceptic' track record is dubious to say the least. But it remains to be seen whether the Europeans want Juncker as much as we do here in Luxembourg.'"

The problem is that this is at best a misleading translation of what Le Quotidien actually says (I noticed this only because I was working on a blog entry of my own on Juncker and had wanted to read the whole article in the original). The columnist for example never explicitly takes position in favor of Juncker's candidacy. The belief that Juncker would have had more success in 2004 is based on diplomatic circles not on the writer's personal opinion. Finally, the concluding sentence, while faithfully translated, is completely taken out of contact as it orignally refers to Juncker declaring before the elections in 2004 and 2009 that he would leave (for Europe) if not reelected. It does not comment on his popularity in Luxembourg today or even his compatriots' approval of his ascendancy to the EU Presidency.

I still am thrilled by the general idea and will continue to subscribe to the service, but I guess the lesson of the day is that one should never completely rely on something translated by someone else.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

German Foreign Policy Under its New Government

The third installment of my work with ACUS: German Foreign Policy

Please note that I have nothing to do with, the irrelevant at best, title.

A Gathering of Old Men

After Mozart and Leadbelly A Gathering of Old Men is the second book by Earnest J Gaines and in a way I was surprised not to be enthralled. Maybe my expectations were too high, but something just wasn't right about this book. Gaines talks about the South, he talks about race, he mocks religion (or the priest in any case), on the face of it I would have to love the book. Yet, nothing ever remains as simple as it seems.

Gathering of Old Men tells the story of a group of old, black men who have suffered indignation and abuse by white people all their lives and finally decide to make a stand and defend one of theirs suspected of the murder of a white man. Gaines tells the story by switching from one character to another, providing varied view points while not becoming incomprehensible or impossible to follow. The problem of the book lies simply in the fact that it is too simple. It's message is too straight forward, the characters develop no depth (with the possible exception of one important non-main one) and the reader always feels longing for some more food for thought. The cover of the book is adorned with a very nice folk art picture of three old black men with guns. I liked that picture. I like folk art, but I guess as far as literature is concerned I like things a bit less obvious and straight forward.

Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize

Slightly late, but here is my second post for the Atlantic Council:
The View from Europe

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Portrait d'un inconnu

Portrait d'un inconnu de Nathalie Sarraute a été une lecture frustrante pour moi. J'ai sans doute essaye de lire trop vite (comme je fais par l'habitude) mais ma (toujours limitee) connaissance du français en combinaison avec le degré de difficulté de la langage et du stream-of-consciousness (y a-t-il un mot pour cela en français?) ont assure que je n'ai pas beaucoup compris. Malheureusement. Je n'aime pas échoué comme ça et j'aime bien pense que cela ne m'arrive pas souvent, mais cette fois ci je n'ai juste pas réussi de me mettre dans le bouquin. Largement, j'ai évidemment qu'il y a un narrateur qui décrit un père et sa fille qui habite dans sa maison, mais je ne veux même pas savoir combien de détails (petits et grand) m'ont échappé. Pire, je n'avais même pas l'envie de retourner et d'essayer de comprendre mieux ce qui se passe et ce que lui (le narrateur) et elle (l'auteure) veulent nous dire. Lecture frustrante et sans beaucoup de compréhension, et je ne peux même pas réclamer que le livre n'est pas bien, cela n'a juste pas marcher pour moi peu importe la raison.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Requiem for a Nun

"The past is never dead. It's not even past." This might be a reminder to some Germans trying to leave Germany's pre-1949 history behind, or French ignoring the evils of colonialism, or in general anyone pretending their history doesn't matter anymore since it is (too far) in the past. yet, it is by William Faulkner as always talking about the South or more specifically his heroine's, Temple Drake, past. Requiem for a Nun (I feel like there aren't many of his books that I haven't read yet by now, and I am already looking forward to re-reading some of the ones I read a long time ago) is a bizarre novel (maybe something that Sartre would call anti-roman) in a play. Or a play in a novel. Faulkner tells the early story of Yoknapatawpha County in a novelized form, while telling us of a (white) mother's quest to liberate the (black) killer of her infant daughter her uncle(-in-law) serving as facilitator of this attempt. Faulkner aficionados will be familiar with most of the main characters (Temple Drake from Sanctuary, Gavin Stevens from all over the place, Gowan Stevens, but also the early population of Yoknapatawpha County, Sutpen, Compson, Ratcliffe (whose name will become Ratliff over time, Satroris...) and the combination of a historical novel and a modern play, one interrupting the other, makes for early incomprehension of the reader. I feel having read Sanctuary, already knowing Gavin Stevens and most of the characters from Yoknapatawpha's early days enabled me to appreciate the text much more than someone without this knowledge would have been able to.

What else can I say? I love Faulkner's writing, not merely because it is convoluted and takes forever to get to the point, not even because it twists and turns within one single sentence, maybe not even because his topics elicit a hard to understand pleasure in German middle class kid - what is my relation to the American South after all? what have I to do with racial relations from the early 19th to the middle of the 20th century - not just because his body of work has to be seen as one with interlinks between his novels and characters occurring constantly; no, his writing satisfies me through its intricacies, its long-winded sentences which seemingly never come to an end and which embody a Southern life style which move slowly, rejects outside influence and is willing to fight against it even when it might share the outside's intended goals. Read it, especially if you want to know why Jefferson is called Jefferson, I won't tell you.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Huis clos & Les mouches

J'ai normalement un peu du mal à me mettre au théâtre autant que dans la prose. Je préfère largement le théâtre joué. Mais Sartre dans ces deux pièces, Huis clos & Les mouches une fois de nouveau réussit à me convaincre. Ses œuvres littéraires sont vraiment très forts. Voire très forts. Surtout Huis clos; très court, est d'une force frappante. Un homme et deux femmes sont à l'enfer, ils y souffrent à l'éternité et ont quand même du mal à réaliser où ils sont et ce qu'ils attendent. Les mouches au contraire est beaucoup moins direct, beaucoup plus difficile à comprendre. Je ne veux même pas savoir combien m'échapper dans ce texte. Je devrais vraiment lire une interprétation. La pièce est une variation d'une ancienne histoire grecque. Le frère et la femme d'Agammemnon payent pour l'avoir tué, ses enfants le vengent mais payent en leur tour.

Je place Sartre dans mon panthéon des écrivains vraiment grands déjà. Je sais qu'il est connu plutôt pour ses essais politique ou philosophe, mais sa prose sans doute vaut le coup.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Is NY still a democracy?

Really just want to throw this out there, because I find it quite shocking. Basically, Mayor Bloomberg is ignoring a decision made in a city-wide referendum limiting officials to two consecutive terms running for reelection. (NYT) Sounds like the kind of thing against which the US would run amok if it happened in Central or South America and involved a left-wing President. To be fair, the government (aka, the CDU) of Hamburg also ignores its citizens' decision-making (SZ). Still, this seems kind of crazy in the biggest and (by name) most important US city. Today the NY Times made its readers aware of the fact that in two Democratic runoff elections (for public advocate and comptroller - whatever the fuck these people actually do) 8% of eligible Democrats actually voted. That means that 2% of the city's population decided on who will - undoubtedly - fill these positions. If that is the future of democracy, I sincerely do hope the last guy around will remember to turn the lights off.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Power and the Glory

An old friend of mine had told me that I should read Graham Greene at some point. We are not in contact anymore, nor friends, but I did finally get around to read one of Greene's books. The Power and the Glory tells the story of a priest on the run in a Mexican province after a socialist uprising has razed all the churches and killed or corrupted all priests. The last remaining 'whiskey priest' devoid of any adherence to Catholic decorum and dependent on brandy constantly keeps on the move trying to avoid a ruthless, if morally sound, Lieutnant trying to serve his people by killing the religion still living within their midst.

Greene portrays this particular Mexican province as a desperate and desolate place and he does a great job describing a variety of stock characters most of whom are not deeply explored even while Greene offers a powerful portrait of them. The pious mother trying to instill religion into their children, her critical son, the poor and hypocritical Judas, the alcoholic Brit trying to leave, the atheist German happy on his farm. I cannot say that the story enthralled me per se, but I did eat up the people populating it. Maybe this was due to the philosophical or political questions touched upon in the book, religion and the state and the people, simply not being of any significant interest to me. I'll read another of his book and I can recommend him, but reading the book with the high expectations I had, I couldn't help but being slightly disappointed.

Hygiène de l'assassin

Je suis plus ou moins sur que je n'avais pas encore lu un livre d'une autrice belge née en Japon avant et je dois avouer que son livre est presque si bizarre que cette combinaison d'origines. Hygiène de l'assassin d'Amélie Nothomb décrit plusieurs entretiens par quatre journalistes différents avec un gagnant du prix Nobel génial, cynique et insultant. Il est peu clair ce que Nothomb veux dire au lecteur avec son livre. Il y a des indices qui font penser a une critique de notre société sur-médiatisée ou des journalistes peu critiques et trop facile a impressionner, mais le dernier entretien prouve cela absurde. Effectivement, le seul résultat de la lecture de ce livre est le respect devant la façon comment l'autrice (je sais, mais il faut être féministe un peu, non?) a l'écrit. Elle montre une bataille intellectuelle entre les journalistes (surtout la dernière) et la personnage principale qui est très bienfait, très bien écrit même exhilerant parfois. Le seul problème avec l'histoire est qu'on ne comprends jamais a quoi elle sert. La fin du livre laisse tomber le lecteur sans qu'il comprends pour quoi ces évènements se passent ou s'ils ont un sens.