New York Review of Books


Neues über den Parthenon

Der kritischen Rezension Mary Beards in The New York Review of Books nach, ist Joan Breton Connellys neues Buch The Parthenon Enigma nur bedingt überzeugend. Ich finde ihre These aber trotzdem interessant, versucht Connelly doch eine komplette Neuinterpretation der berühmten Elgin Marbles:

The pivot of her argument is a reinterpretation of the sculpted frieze that once circled the entire building above the colonnade. With its array of galloping horsemen, charioteers, offering-bearers, and sacrificial animals, this has usually been identified as a representation of the procession that took place at the regular religious festival of the Panathenaia, making its way to the Acropolis in celebration of the goddess Athena. Connelly rejects this, to argue instead that the subject of the frieze is a myth of early Athens. What we see, she claims, are the preliminaries to a human sacrifice, when the daughter of one of the legendary kings of the city, Erechtheus, is sacrificed to ensure Athenian victory over an invading army. The procession depicts the celebrations that honored the girl’s noble act of self-sacrifice. It is not, in other words, a human scene at all, but a moment drawn from myth, and—to modern eyes—a shocking one at that.

Connelly’s interpretation centers on the puzzling scene (now in the British Museum) originally aligned with the main entranceway of the temple, apparently the culmination of the procession. It shows an adult male figure exchanging a large piece of cloth with a child, who may be either a boy or a girl. The clearest diagnostic feature for the sex of the child is its bare buttock protruding from a loose robe—and a large amount of art-historical time and energy has been fruitlessly expended over the past decades in comparing this buttock to those of other girls and boys in classical art, with (unsurprisingly) no definitive answer.

Next to the man, and with her back to him, stands an adult woman, facing two girls who carry stools on their heads. The traditional reading of the frieze, which goes back to the famous study of James Stuart and Nicholas Revett in the late eighteenth century, connects this with the presentation of a newly woven robe (peplos) to Athena—the high point of special, grander Panathenaiac celebrations, which took place every four years. This would mean that we are seeing the child (boy or girl) handing over the new peplos to some male religious official (perhaps the archon basileus, or “King Archon”), while behind him a priestess receives from other young cult servants the stools—on which she and her male partner will later sit.

Wie liest man Balzac?

In der dritten New-York-Review-of-Books-Ausgabe dieses Jahres schreibt Geoffrey O’Brien einen klugen Essay über Balzac. Er erläutert dabei auch seine eigenen Leseerfahrungen, die den meinen durchaus ähnlich sind:

Yet even after taking so much from those books I felt as if I were reading Balzac against the grain, wanting him to be a different sort of writer than he was, faulting him for long-windedness and digression, tuning out his extended riffs on animal magnetism or Swedenborgian doctrine and his monarchist political editorializing, reacting unhappily to what seemed abrupt or haphazard plot developments. I wanted him to hurry it along, tidy it up, bring it to a neat and emotionally satisfying conclusion; if possible I wanted to mainline the gist of what Balzac knew of the world without having to make my way through the ramifications of his paragraphs.

Meine Balzac-Notizen finden sich hier.

Timothy Snyder über die Ukraine

Aktualisiert am 9. März.

Als einer der besten Kenner der ukrainischen Geschichte ist Timothy Snyder ein plausibler Analyst der aktuellen Ereignisse. Sein letztes, dunkles Buch besprach ich im Rahmen dieser Sammelrezension. Für die New York Review of Books schrieb er in den letzten zwei Wochen drei sehr lesenswerte Beiträge.

In Fascism, Russia and the Ukraine beleuchtet er unter anderem die ideologischen Hintergründe der von Putin forcierten Euroasischen Union:

The strange thing about the claim from Moscow is the political ideology of those who make it. The Eurasian Union is the enemy of the European Union, not just in strategy but in ideology. The European Union is based on a historical lesson: that the wars of the twentieth century were based on false and dangerous ideas, National Socialism and Stalinism, which must be rejected and indeed overcome in a system guaranteeing free markets, free movement of people, and the welfare state. Eurasianism, by contrast, is presented by its advocates as the opposite of liberal democracy.

The Eurasian ideology draws an entirely different lesson from the twentieth century. Founded around 2001 by the Russian political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, it proposes the realization of National Bolshevism. Rather than rejecting totalitarian ideologies, Eurasianism calls upon politicians of the twenty-first century to draw what is useful from both fascism and Stalinism. Dugin’s major work, The Foundations of Geopolitics, published in 1997, follows closely the ideas of Carl Schmitt, the leading Nazi political theorist. Eurasianism is not only the ideological source of the Eurasian Union, it is also the creed of a number of people in the Putin administration, and the moving force of a rather active far-right Russian youth movement. For years Dugin has openly supported the division and colonization of Ukraine.

Im gestern veröffentlichten Blogbeitrag Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda analysiert Synder die russische Desinformationskampagne:

Interestingly, the message from authoritarian regimes in Moscow and Kiev was not so different from some of what was written during the uprising in the English-speaking world, especially in publications of the far left and the far right. From Lyndon LaRouche’s „Executive Intelligence Review“ through Ron Paul’s newsletter through „The Nation“ and „The Guardian“, the story was essentially the same: little of the factual history of the protests, but instead a play on the idea of a nationalist, fascist, or even Nazi coup d’état.

In fact, it was a classic popular revolution. It began with an unmistakably reactionary regime. A leader sought to gather all power, political as well as financial, in his own hands. This leader came to power in democratic elections, to be sure, but then altered the system from within. For example, the leader had been a common criminal: a rapist and a thief. He found a judge who was willing to misplace documents related to his case. That judge then became the chief justice of the Supreme Court. There were no constitutional objections, subsequently, when the leader asserted ever more power for his presidency.

Im dritten Teil vertieft Snyder und weist überzeugend die Putschpropaganda zurück:

Parliament declared that he had abandoned his responsibilities, followed the protocols that applied to such a case, and continued the process of constitutional reform by itself. Presidential elections were called for May, and a new government was formed. The prime minister is a liberal conservative, one of the two deputy prime ministers is Jewish, and the governor of the important eastern province of Dnipropetrovsk is the president of the Congress of Ukrainian Jewish Organizations. Although one can certainly debate the constitutional nuances, this process was not a coup. And it certainly was not fascist. Reducing the powers of the president, calling presidential elections, and restoring the principles of democracy are the opposite of what fascism would demand. Leaders of the Jewish community have declared their unambiguous support for the new government and their total opposition to the Russian invasion.

John Eliot Gardiner über Johann Sebastian Bach

Wenn einer der besten Dirigenten über einen der besten Komponisten schreibt, verdient das natürlich Aufmerksamkeit. George B. Stauffer las Gardiners neues Buch für die New York Review of Books. Bemerkenswert ist, dass Gardiner versucht – trotz schlechter Quellenlage – die dunklen Seiten von Bachs Biographie herauszuarbeiten:

Moving beyond the hagiographies of the past, he presents a fallible Bach, a musical genius who on the one hand is deeply committed to illuminating and expanding Luther’s teachings through his sacred vocal works (and therefore comes close to Spitta’s Fifth Evangelist), but on the other hand is a rebellious and resentful musician, harboring a lifelong grudge against authority—a personality disorder stemming from a youth spent among ruffians and abusive teachers. Hiding behind Bach, creator of the Matthew Passion and B-Minor Mass, Gardiner suggests, is Bach “the reformed teenage thug.” In the preface we read: “Emphatically, Bach the man was not a bore.” Neither is Gardiner.

Gardiner versucht Bachs „dunkle“ Geschichte mit Hilfe des Vokalwerks zu rekonstruieren. Das Instrumentalwerk spielt keine Rolle, was natürlich methodisch ebenfalls fragwürdig ist.

Der Erste Weltkrieg

Alle Medien beschäftigen sich jubiläumsbedingt derzeit mit dem Ersten Weltkrieg. Wer dieser deutschsprachigen Nabelschau eine internationale Perspektive entgegen setzen will, ist mit dieser ausführlichen Sammelrezension in der New York Review of Books gut beraten. R.J.W. Evans stellt die wichtigsten englischsprachigen Neuerscheinungen zum Thema vor:

Er geht dabei auf die Forschungsgeschichte ein:

The first phase of reflection culminated in a long work of scholarship, published in 1942–1943, by the Italian politician and journalist Luigi Albertini. Silenced by the Fascist regime, Albertini immersed himself in all the sources, and added more of his own by arranging interviews with survivors. That lent an immediacy to his wonderfully nuanced presentation of the individuals who actually made (or ducked) the fateful decisions. Albertini’s magnum opus eventually made its mark in the 1950s, when it appeared in English translation.3 As the fiftieth anniversary of Sarajevo approached, the verdict seemed clear: the road to war, an immensely complex and protracted process, was paved with shared culpability.

At that point the learned consensus was shattered, and earlier assumptions seemed corroborated in a new perspective. The Hamburg historian Fritz Fischer issued a series of works incriminating the German side in a premeditated “bid for world power.”4 By the time of his closest examination of pre-war diplomacy, in Krieg der Illusionen (1969),5 he argued that Kaiser Wilhelm II and his ministers more or less single-mindedly provoked the conflict out of a combination of expansionist ambition and a desire to distract and discipline socialists and other increasingly insubordinate elements in domestic German society. The resultant “Fischer controversy” had its roots in intellectual instabilities of the then Federal Republic of Germany, including ambivalent attitudes toward the recent National Socialist past, in its relation to the course of German history as a whole, and in a vogue for socioeconomic explanations of political behavior. In any event, it brought influential confirmation that the much-maligned drafters of the Versailles settlement might not have been so far wrong after all.

Iran – Rückblick und aktuelle Entwicklung

Im Mai werde ich drei Wochen den Iran bereisen, weshalb mich die Iran-Berichterstattung derzeit besonders interessiert. Jessica T. Mathews schreibt in der New York Review of Books einen exzellenten Artikel darüber, wie sich die Beziehung zwischen dem Iran und der USA entwickelten, um danach auf die aktuelle Situation einzugehen.

Sie weist auch auf die Risiken eines militärischen Angriffs hin:

Even the strongest proponents of air strikes against Iran’s known nuclear facilities do not argue that the result would guarantee anything more than a delay—perhaps two years or somewhat longer—in Iran’s program. Facilities can be rebuilt and physicists and engineers would continue to have the expertise needed to make nuclear weapons. After years of effort, Iran can now make at home most of what it needs to build a bomb.

When the program is rebuilt after an attack there would be no IAEA inspectors and no cameras to monitor its advance, since monitoring depends on cooperation. As outsiders attempted to track the reconstituted program and prepare for another round of attacks, they would know far less than we do today about the scale, scope, and location of what is happening.

The political consequences would be longer lasting. An attack is likely to unite the country around the nuclear program as never before. The hardest of Iran’s ideological hard-liners would be strengthened against those who had advocated restraint and reconciliation, thereby radicalizing and probably prolonging clerical rule. Following air strikes, it would be easy for Iranian leaders to make the case that the country faces unrelenting international enmity and must acquire nuclear weapons in order to deter more attacks.

Türkei: Hintergründe

Die Medien berichten derzeit über den politischen Tumult in der Türkei. Die Hintergründe kommen wie immer zu kurz. Eine exzellente Analyse über die Entwicklung der Türkei in den letzten zehn Jahren findet man in der New York Review of Books.

Christopher de Bellaigue beleuchtet in Turkey: ‘Surreal, Menacing…Pompous’ nicht nur die Entwicklung in diesem Jahr und stellt diese in den zeitgeschichtlichen Kontext. Er betont auch, dass die säkulare Elite nicht immer die besten Interessen des Landes im Auge hatte:

The reforms that Turkey embarked upon in the mid-2000s were long overdue. For decades, the country’s pious majority had been suppressed by a secular elite claiming to uphold the values of the republic’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. In 1923, Atatürk set up the Republic of Turkey from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire; he spent the rest of his life secularizing institutions and propagating European education, mores, and dress. Atatürk was a visionary and a genius, but Kemalism, the credo built around his memory, had degenerated into ancestor worship long before I was first able to observe it, after moving to the country in 1996. Atatürk’s picture and sayings were everywhere; the country’s leaders made countless pilgrimages to his tomb and used his memory to defend measures such as a ban on the Islamic head-covering in state institutions, which effectively denied millions of young women a university education.

Trotzdem hält er fest:

Now, more than ever, it is harder to argue for the compatibility of political Islam and democracy.

50 Jahre „The New York Review of Books“

Meine Lieblingszeitschrift habe ich bereits oft empfohlen. Dieses Jahr wird sie 50 Jahre alt und in der Jubiläumsausgabe (Number 17) beschreibt Timothy Garton Ash sie als einen Leuchtturm der Aufklärung:

Consistently, over five decades, this journal has published critical essays, reportages, and analyses of totalitarian and authoritarian states, whether their rulers were opposed to or currently aligned with the United States: friendly dictatorships in Latin America; the Soviet Union, subsequently just Russia; China; South Africa; Eastern Europe, when it still existed as a geopolitical entity; Iran; Nicaragua; Iraq; Vietnam; Egypt.
These exposés have been written by dissident writers inside those countries and Western writers traveling through them.
We could also call it Applied Enlightenment. Indeed, this journal has been—not always, to be sure, but in very large measure—the vehicle for a modernized version of the European-American Enlightenment (as well as publishing some of Isaiah Berlin’s strongest essays on thinkers who challenged that Enlightenment). Many of its contributors have both applied and extended the original Enlightenment principles of equal individual human liberty and dignity under law, at home and abroad, and explored the social and economic conditions that are an essential complement to those civil and political rights.

Meanwhile, the whole community of Review writers and readers has been a contemporary equivalent of the Enlightenment’s “republic of letters.” It has been a surprise to discover, at a series of recent conferences organized by the Review, that many longtime contributors had never before met in person, but merely read each other for years, and perhaps corresponded, publicly and privately—exactly like those seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literati and savants whose correspondence you can now read on an Oxford University website called Electronic Enlightenment.

This republic of letters might further be characterized as the Widest West. Its core undoubtedly remains in North America and Europe. Indeed, despite several brave European attempts to create a pan-European intellectual review, The New York Review is the closest thing we Europeans have had to a European Review of Books. But our republic also extends to the whole English-speaking world, Latin America, and South Africa—and to wherever, be it in India, Burma, Egypt, or China, there are writers and readers who share the basic values of this modernized version of the Enlightenment.

Deutschland und die Welt

Unter dem Titel The New German Question schreibt Timothy Garton Ash viel Kluges über Deutschlands Rolle in der Welt. Eine sehr lesenswerte Analyse!

To understand why Germany is so reluctant to lead, you have to realize that the European monetary union forged during and after German unification was not a German project to dominate Europe but a European project to constrain Germany. To the German question of 1989—what should we do about a rapidly uniting Germany?—the answer given by François Mitterrand of France and Giulio Andreotti of Italy was: bind it even more tightly into Europe, through a monetary union. Yes, plans for a single currency to complement the single market were already to hand, Chancellor Helmut Kohl was for it in principle, and there were economic arguments for introducing it. But the timetable then hastily agreed for the monetary union we have today, and some of its fundamental design flaws, resulted from the politics around German unification.
Germany had not sought this leadership role in Europe. After 1990, most Germans would have been quite happy to master the challenges of national unification and otherwise go on being rich and free, in a kind of Greater Switzerland, with high-quality exports and plenty of sunny holidays on the Mediterranean. Instead, the monetary union intended by Mitterrand to keep France in the driver’s seat of Europe, and Germany in the passenger seat, ended up doing the precise opposite. It put Germany in the driver’s seat as never before.

Die Physik und die Zeit

Seit Jahrtausenden denken Philosophen über das Wesen der Zeit nach und auch für die moderne Physik ist sie natürlich ein wichtiges Konzept. Deshalb ist es erwähnenswert, wenn mit Lee Smolin einer der klügeren theoretischen Physiker einen Paradigmenwechsel vorschlägt. In seinem neuem Buch Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe plädiert er, anders als Einstein, dafür die Zeit als ontologisch realen Gegenstand zu verstehen.

James Gleick schreibt in seiner umfangreichen Rezension Time Regained! in der New York Review of Books darüber:

His argument from science and history is as provocative, original, and unsettling as any I’ve read in years. It turns upside-down the now standard view of Wells, Minkowski, and Einstein. It contravenes our intellectual inheritance from Newton and, for that matter, Plato, and it will ring false to many of Smolin’s contemporaries in theoretical physics.


For Smolin, the key to salvaging time turns out to be eliminating space. Whereas time is a fundamental property of nature, space, he believes, is an emergent property. It is like temperature: apparent, measurable, but actually a consequence of something deeper and invisible—in the case of temperature, the microscopic motion of ensembles of molecules. Temperature is an average of their energy. It is always an approximation, and therefore, in a way, an illusion. So it is with space for Smolin: “Space, at the quantum-mechanical level, is not fundamental at all but emergent from a deeper order”—an order, as we will see, of connections, relationships. He also believes that quantum mechanics itself, with all its puzzles and paradoxes (“cats that are both alive and dead, an infinitude of simultaneously existing universes”), will turn out to be an approximation of a deeper theory.

For space, the deeper reality is a network of relationships. Things are related to other things; they are connected, and it is the relationships that define space rather than the other way around. This is a venerable notion: Smolin traces the idea of a relational world back to Newton’s great rival, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: “Space is nothing else, but That Order or Relation; and is nothing at all without Bodies, but the Possibility of placing them.” Nothing useful came of that, while Newton’s contrary view—that space exists independently of the objects it contains—made a revolution in the ability of science to predict and control the world. But the relational theory has some enduring appeal; some scientists and philosophers such as Smolin have been trying to revive it.

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„Die Presse“ meint:

"Aber das Internet ist nicht schuld daran, dass Zeitungen reihenweise ihre Literaturseiten „gesundschrumpfen“. Vielmehr hat es das Monopol der traditionellen Medien auf seriöse Literaturkritik gebrochen. Blogs wie die „Notizen“ des promovierten österreichischen Literaturwissenschaftlers Christian Köllerer ( zeigen: Es gibt genug Qualität, man muss sie nur suchen."
(5. Januar 2013)

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