In February the German president, Joachim Gauck, called for English to be adopted as the official EU language, partly to make the UK feel more loved now that David Cameron’s committed himself to an in-out referendum. Another candidate might be Latin, Europe’s lingua franca for over a millennium, but the ancient Romans are not thinking of leaving the union. This has its serious side, as the EU’s 23 languages (to become 24 when Croatia joins) contribute to a democratic deficit; as with Belgium, in some ways the EU in microcosm, failure of accountability is often put down to the lack of a common language.
‘What is “experimental” art,’ the late Christine Brooke-Rose once asked, ‘or an “experimental” novel? Is it a genre?’ The question was the theme of a symposium on her life and work at the Royal College of Art last week, organised by Natalie Ferris. Tom McCarthy, like Brooke-Rose mistrustful of the label, suggested that the question had to be: ‘Experimental compared to what?’ More »
‘Ah, the tyranny of mzungu prizes!’ the Kenyan author and journalist Parselelo Kantai said when I rang him up to talk about literary awards for African writers. Mzungu is Kiswahili for ‘white person’ and Kantai was only half-joking. Since its inception in 2000, the annual Caine Prize for African Writing – awarded, more narrowly than the ‘African Writing’ of its title might imply, ‘to a short story by an African writer published in English’ – has been the most high profile award for contemporary anglophone African writers. But it’s administered in Britain and the £10,000 cash prize is bestowed during a gala dinner at the Bodleian Library. ‘There’s something that rankles,’ says Kantai, who has been shortlisted twice. ‘Once the conferring is done in London you become big on the African landscape.’
But the lingering hangover of colonialism may be lifting. More »
Martin Kippenberger would have been celebrating his 60th birthday two months ago, if he hadn’t died of liver cancer at the age of 44, and it’s conceivable he’d still be celebrating now, drinking in a dive bar until dawn in Dawson City, or Vienna, or the Belgian quarter of Cologne, because to be himself, he needed other people, but he also needed to create a blur between himself and them, because otherwise everything was too intense.
But Kippenberger – artist, punk, provocateur and Zwangsbeglucktertum (‘someone who forces others to have fun’) – has ceased refilling people’s glasses, and disco dancing in his underwear, leaving Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof at liberty to mark his birthday in a drier way, with a self-approving exhibition entitled Sehr Gut/Very Good, when ‘So Ein Blech/A Lot of Crap’ would have been more in tune with Kippenberger’s democratically expansive spirit and, it must be said, much of his art. More »
Toxic smog in Beijing, 16,000 dead pigs in the tributaries of the Shanghai river, birth defects from pollution, no safe drinking water in any Chinese city: Premier Li Keqiang has promised to respond to China’s environmental problems with an ‘iron fist and firm resolution’.
Michael Dobson in the LRB, 17 January 1999:
Every year, on a Saturday morning in April, the miscellaneous participants in the most improbably charming event in the official national calendar gather for a cup of tea in the Georgian town hall of a small market town in the West Midlands. There is a great deal of scarlet in evidence, in the robes of the assembled Council and of sundry invited academics, white in the vestments of the local clergy, and a respectable quantity of gold in the mayoral chains of office; there are any number of sombre grey suits on visiting diplomats and corporate sponsors; and outside the sunshine, if there is any, glints from the brass instruments and buttons of a military band. More »
In October 2001 I went to a conference on transnational approaches to economic development in Makhachkala, Dagestan. The conflict in neighbouring Chechnya was still hot and with international organisations on security alert after 9/11 the representatives of the World Bank, IMF and UN couldn’t go. The only ‘internationals’ were a romantic French economist who believed the Caucasus economy could be fixed by cross-breeding the local, scrawny cattle with Burgundy cows, and me, a very junior think-tank researcher just out of university. The local politicians, tall men with long black leather coats and large moustaches, looked past me when I talked about lessons-to-be-learned from Yugoslavia and plied me with the local sweet, thick cognac and ladles of black caviar from Soviet crystal bowls. More »
The Cosmic Microwave Background – as seen by Planck. Credit: ESA and the Planck Collaboration
Last month an international team of physicists and astronomers working with the Planck satellite released a remarkable set of baby photos: images of the universe taken with light emitted when it was a mere 378,000 years old, less than 0.003 per cent of its present age. More »
On Sunday, Paraguay will conduct its first elections since the parliamentary coup that deposed Fernando Lugo last year. According to the sociologist Marco Castillo, voters face a choice between reactionary oligarchism with fascist inclinations – the Liberal party candidate, Efraín Alegre, in alliance with the extremist UNACE party – and reactionary oligarchism with narcotrafficking inclinations: the Colorado candidate, and favourite to win, Horacio Cartes. More »
A panel from ‘Super Putin’ by Sergei Kalenik.
‘Keep punk bands out of this zone,’ said a banner in Amsterdam during the Russian president’s visit last week. ‘Putin might be offended.’ Thousands of LGBT demonstrators with rainbow flags lowered to half-mast shouted ‘Putin go homo’ as they protested against the Kremlin’s latest move to ban ‘homosexual propoganda’ (which might include the rainbow flag). A few days earlier in Germany Putin had been rushed by topless Femen activists with the words ‘Fuck you dictator’ scrawled on their breasts: a statement, Femen said, against the Kremlin’s ‘patriarchal authoritarianism’. Putin must have been delighted. More »