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

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Union Atlantic

Adam Haslett might be the best modern, young American writer that I know of. His short story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here was amazing, his first novel Union Atlantic convinced me little based on its cover or the description on its back. Yet, I bought it anyway, based on how much I had enjoyed him before and he truly rewarded me. Haslett includes a slight bit of magical realism in his novel, which tends to irritate me a bit, but notwithstanding this small default Union Atlantic is probably the novel of the US financial (note: not the real economy) crisis that I have read so far. Haslett's book reflects the US constantly at war in the Middle East, the greed of its banks and some of the people working for them, it even includes parts about the difficulty of being a - gay but not limited to that - adolescent. His characters have made good or bad career choices, but most of them are unsatisfied one way or another. His book shows life, period. And it does so without embellishments but poignantly. Highly recommendable.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The German Europe

Prompted by the reset in thinking brought about by the euro crisis, there has been a flurry of publications dealing with a possible future of Europe recently. To begin with Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Guy Verhofstadt – both of the rarest of species: Well known Members of the European Parliament (EP) – published their federalist manifesto Debout l'Europe! Martin Schulz, President of the EP weighed in with his entry tellingly entitled The Tied Up Giant – Europe's Last Chance. Jürgen Habermas has also made his voice heard with an essay Zur Verfassung Europas. Even that weathercock of the subject du jour, Bernard-Henri Levy, has co-signed a manifesto on Europe ou le chaos? together with a number of other European writers.

Ulrich Beck with his short essay on The German Europe fits right into this – important – fad. In his book, he provides a criticism of the current state of Europe, while at the same time putting forward a new Rousseauian social contract for a better future Europe. His is an integrationist vision that he proclaims a necessity for Europe if it is to be “capable of finding answers for [today's] fundamental transformation and great challenges without falling into the trap of xenophobia and violence.”

For Beck, Europe has become German in a process that is determined by economic might on the one hand and “Merkiavelli's” (in)action on the other hand. Said inaction is what in particular reinforces German power. It is not the fear to be dominated by German money – or tanks – that prompts the submission to German policy preferences, it is the all-dominating fear – inherently part of modernity's risk society – of a forced exit from the Euro prompted by the absence of German money that results in the political might of the country.

This German inaction has been described and criticized (Beck: “Germany has become too powerful to allow itself not to take a decision”) elsewhere of course, Beck's analysis is nothing new in this regard then. It also comes up surprisingly short when he claims that Merkel had seized her chance and changed the balance of power in Europe. Even while admits himself, that the current situation is untenable with the crisis still very much – and once again – raging.

Germany's hesitant action at every recurring point of deep crisis might be sufficient to contain the problem of the day; an end to the crisis per se cannot come without deep structural and institutional solutions. Current German might in that regard is merely a temporary phenomenon based on a specific politico-economic problem-set that allows the country to position itself as a normative model whose policy solutions others are expected to apply.

This temporary and sectoral – because economic – hegemony might of course be translated into a more enduring institutional and structural format once a sort of new European Union (2.0) has emerged. Yet, Germany has so far produced little but a cacophony of voices advocating changes with little tangible proposals emanating from the supposed leader of the pack. It is is difficult to argue then that Merkel has – at least so far – managed to implement a lasting shift of powers within the EU's complex governance system.

Beck finally lays out his vision for a social contract for Europe. He regards this kind of contract as the overcoming of an out-dated national state of existence – Nationalzustand. Europe of course is not a society though, which means that a “post-national society of national societies” has to be constructed instead. The fact that there is no European people hardly matters in this regard since our societies are increasingly individualized in the first place.

The Erasmus generation were to live this kind of individualized European life horizontally already, even while the vertical, institution-oriented process of integration, prompts their criticism of Brussels. For Beck, this new social contract needs to be accompanied by more social security at the European level especially to address youth unemployment in Southern Europe. Increased integration furthermore were to go along with an increased bottom-up democratization process, leading to aforementioned individuals emerging as the sovereign of European democracy.

The German sociologist lays out an interesting vision of a German Europe, dominated by Merkiavelli's government. Yet, his analysis is a disappointingly temporal nature, not taking into account demographic, economic, nor even institutional changes, that will seriously impact the intra-EU balance of power as he presents it. His proposed social contract, finally, is an interesting idea that Beck seems to have no idea how it could be implemented though.

Dantons Tod

Georg Büchner ist einer der vielen Klassiker der deutschen Literatur, die mir vom Name her ein Begriff sind zu denen ich aber wenig detailliertes Wissen habe. Nun las ich also Büchners Dantons Tod vor einigen Wochen. Büchner war natürlich Teil des aufsässigen bürgerlichen Vormärzes in Deutschland in der ersten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhundert. Er beschreibt in seinem Theaterstück das tragische Ende eines der frühen großen Gestalten der französischen Revolution, der unter Robespierres Guillotine verendet. Büchner bezieht hierbei einerseits Position für Danton, auch wenn er dessen Lebensstil zu kritisieren scheint, andererseits weist er auf die Gefahren einer überbordenden - jakobinischen - Revolution hin.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Böse Schafe

Eine schweizer Freundin hatte mir Böse Schafe empfohlen, ich lese ja kaum neuere Literatur sonst. Gerade jetzt, nach einem Jahr dominiert von viel Lektüre im wissenschaftlichen und vor allem wirtschaftlichen Bereich, wo ich kaum in den Genuss reiner - was auch immer das genau heißen soll - Fiktion kam, gefiel mir Katja Lange-Müllers Buch ungemein. Die (Ost-)Berlinerin erzählt hier die Geschichte einer aus dem Osten gekommenden West-Berlinerin, die sich in einen, sagen wir charakterlich schwierigen, Mann verliebt. Eine schöne Geschichte über die rauen Unschönheiten des Lebens, welche sich leicht am Stück liest.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Les Mots

Je lis beaucoup trop vite en ce moment malheureusement - mon emploi du temps m'y aide trop - alors je suis tellement en arrière que mes critiques me paraissent superficielles voire superflues parfois. Mais tant pis, je fais ceci autant pour avoir un compte rendu de mes lectures que tout autre chose. Sartre alors, dont j'ai aimé la trilogie Les Chemins de la liberté que j'avais lu quand je parlais à peine le français (ou au moins je le ressens comme tel aujourd'hui). 

Les Mots est bien différent de cette trilogie sublime ainsi que peu comparable aux drames magnifiques Les Mouches et surtout Huis Clos. Ce petit bouquin est un sort de A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man en plus jeune et moins catholique. L'auteur y raconte son enfance, sa mère veuve, son grand-père dominant. Il regarde sa famille - qui lui a clairement fournie et plus tard permis une éducation importante - d'un point de vue arrogant qui est impressionnant parfois. Cela en gardant une fausse modestie voire perception ironique de ce qui concerne ses capacités intellectuels de l'époque.

En somme de tout un livre qui pâlit en comparaison avec ce que j'avais lu de Sartre avant, en terme de beauté autant que d'importance.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Chronicles - Volume 1

Arguably one of the most important (Western) artists of the 20th century, Bob Dylan came out with Volume 1 of his Chronicles a few years ago. I had been wanting to read them for a while but life had always intervened, so here almost ten years after they came I finally got around to reading the - German - version. I had never read anything by Dylan before, heard virtually all of his songs at least once, know most of the early ones by heart, but I didn't read any of his earlier attempts at straight out (biographical/literature) writing.

What is Chronicles then? It is not of course a faithful recounting of his (early) life, in fact it sets in for the most part with his arrival in New York with some flashbacks to his time in Minnesota, and thus fits the Dylan legend quite well. Just like in his Theme Time Radio Hour - filled with amazing music for the most part - he constantly name drops great artists and songs most of which I was not only familiar with but whom I for the most part adore myself (Hank Williams, Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie of course). The most interesting aspect of all these names and songs (and books) might be the ones one wouldn't expect, Dylan seems to be much more read and globally informed than one might have thought. He thus name checks Bertolt Brecht's Dreigroschenoper, Rimbaud, Lord Byron...while also giving voice to the doubt as to what kind of music he recorded in the late 1980s concomitant with Kurtis Blow, NWA and the like.

Dylan hardly tells us anything about his personal life, there is virtually no gossip about his wives, about his many kids, instead much about his cultural origins, the singers he met and worked with before he became Dylan. He also goes on about his musical self-doubts as to the timeliness of his music as seen above already, but also as to his capacity to still produce something he may himself be satisfied with. Thus he mentions at one point that the producer of Oh Mercy was looking for songs such as the ones he had done in the past and yet he (Dylan) simply knew he couldn't deliver anymore.

Finally, and most noticeably maybe is his almost frontal attack of the protest or counter-culture movement he felt he was made the mouthpiece of. I see his point to some extent, he clearly wanted to be seen as an artist not as the exponent of a generation. Yet, at the same time, his early albums especially and this can be heard reflected in many of his early live recordings also, feature songs that were radical in their positioning of the time (and what concerns war and peace still are in the USA even today). It was little surprising then that he was expected to live up to his image as the spokesperson of his generation. 

Even in the German translation I read, Dylan seemingly managed to preserve the staccato of many of his songs as well as the name dropping of his later radio show. Chronciles is not great literature in the sense that Dylan's songs are amazing poetry, but they provide an interesting insight in the self-perception of someone who has to at least be considered among the greatest artists of the 20th century.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Rum Diary

One of the first solely literature novels I had read in a while, I thoroughly enjoyed Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary. The author tells the story of a group of American journalists living hedonistically in Puerto Rico. Reminiscent of Hemingway or Graham Greene without most of the political or historical interest, it is a journalist's novel. Telling the tale of hard-drinking journalists living it up without knowing where to go, what really to look for what to do. Arguably, the end tries to criticize this kind of lifestyle to some extent - interestingly enough, or sexist enough, it is a woman who pays the ultimate price for it who is incapable of living this life without paying a price. Yet, at the end of the day the novel simply provides a glimpse into this life, nothing more, nothing less.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Die Inflationslüge

Mark Schieritz ist als Wirtschafskorrespondent bei der Zeit tätig und schreibt unter anderem am Blog Herdentrieb mit. Er ist einer der wenigen (relativ) prominenten öffentlichen Stimmen in Deutschland, der sich gegen die anti-Keynesianistische Mehrheitsmeinung richtet. Sein - kurzes - Buch, Die Inflationslüge - Wie uns die Angst ums Geld ruiniert und wer daran verdient, ist denn auch ein Pladöyer gegen die vollkommen überzogene Inflationsangst von den Springermedien und der FAZ (und einigen anderen) kontinuierlich hervorgeholt. Für mich, der ich mich an der Eurokrise schon viel abgearbeitet hatte, war leider relativ wenig neues in seinem Büchlein enthalten, aber es bleibt eine gute Übersicht über das Thema und die missgeleitete deutsche Politik in Bezug auf den Euro.

Friday, July 12, 2013


Tony Judt is one of the most renowned, relatively (2010) recently deceased public intellectuals, historians around. His book Postwar - A History of Europe since 1945 is a massive - in physical size and scope - undertaking to tell the history of the divided - and then re-united - continent following the two wars that shaped its destiny. He devotes 900 pages to this endeavor, which yet is obviously impossible, he is obliged to concentrate on a number of major states while putting forward major trends and faultlines.

For me it was a fascinating introduction into regional and temporal parts of history I had been little familiar with previously. Necessarily slightly superficial where I already had a good understanding, essentially Germany and to some extent France, but ever there Judt contributed new elements or analysis to my understanding. Most valuable though, was the book for me where I knew hardly anything about such as Eastern Europe but also, say, Italian or UK history of the 1960s-1970s. The end with it heavy concentration on the very recent past seemed a bit redundant for anybody well versed with the news of the day (say, the last ten-fifteen years), yet a great overview for anybody interested in European history.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Kleine Geschichte der Ukraine

Andreas Kappelers Kleine Geschichte der Ukraine, 1994 geschrieben, soll angeblich eine der ersten - deutschsprachigen - Werke über die Ukraine überhaupt sein. Der Autor gibt hier die Geschichte der Region (denn ein Land war es den größten Teil dieser Zeit eigentlich nicht) vom 11. Jahrhundert wieder. Zeigt auf die frühe Hochperiode mit dem Kiever Rus, gefolgt von der Dominierung aus dem heutigen Russland (dem Moskauer Rus), die frühe Aufteilung zwischen Habsburg-Österreich und dem russischen Zarenreich. Die vielen Versuche Unabhängigkeit oder zumindest Eigenständigkeit zu behalten. Und schließĺich die furchtbare Geschichte des Landes im 20. Jahrhundert mit Bürgerkriegen nach beiden Weltkriegen, Kriegen mit Polen und Russland bzw der Sowjetunion, der Besetzung durch deutsche Truppen, dem Massenmord der ukrainischen Juden durch die Deutschen, schon vorher Pogrome von Russen und Ukraine verübt an denselben. Eine gut geschriebene Begleitlektüre meiner Reise im Land.