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2004-10-22

They 

THEY broke the new ceramic hob, because they had cut the opening for it too small, got frustrated about it, and used a hammer to force the thing in - bad idea

THEY drilled a hole right through the wall from the kitchen to the living room

THEY fell from the ladder, crashing into the cupboard they were trying to mount, and destroying two of its four sides

THEY mounted the sliding doors of the same cupboard in a way that they cannot be shut

THEY didn't bring the fastening screws to mount the kitchen board

THEY had ordered completely wrong holders and could not mount the shutters

THEY came for an inspection to plan a four-hour cleaning job, and made a special price offer of EUR 225

(to be continued I fear)

THEY are professionals who do these things much better than I ever could. Good I don't try.

2004-10-19

bus, boys, patriotism 

Today on a Vienna bus, three boys, 10-12 years, discussing first mobile phones and then football. "There will be FC Barcelona against AC Milan on TV", cherishes one of them an enticing prospect. Then, a discussion about the influence of goals scored on the ranking in the champion ship group standings in the case of equal points; a discussion which, to be honest, is beyond me. Then, as an example: "When Austria led in the world cup standings, after that match against A..". "Azerbaijan", helps B. "These Austrians will never lead any standings", opines C. "There I agree", seconds B. But then, generously, "although they played ok against England." A does not mention Austria again. The national team of their common country of residence is not much en vogue among this new generation. When I was at that age, as far as I remember, the national squad used to be an unchallengeable object of adoration. Now, where many of the young generation have roots in more than one home-country, it seems that love has to be earned.

2004-10-12

A Fischler/Androsch government in 2000 

Yesterday, a couple of months after the death of Austrian federal president Thomas Klestil, outgoing EU-commissioner Franz Fischler has revealed publicly [DE] for the first time that in early 2000 he received an offer from Klestil to lead an ÖVP-SPÖ government. The background is that both Klestil and Fischler were at the time outspoken opponents of the looming formation of an ÖVP-FPÖ government under Wolfgang Schüssel, which eventually went ahead against much domestic and international protest, propelling the far right FPÖ into government, and in the mid term, into steep decline.

Klestil's plan, according to Fischler, was to install Fischler as chancellor for the conservative ÖVP, and Hannes Androsch, the former SPÖ finance minister, vice chancellor, and rival of Bruno Kreisky, as vice-chancellor for the socialdemocrat SPÖ. This latter aspect is particularly surprising, since Androsch had long retired from active politics and turned into a successful industrialist. Fischler said yesterday that the fact that Androsch was not even a member of parliament made the project appear unacceptably undemocratic to him.

The disclosure adds a sore footnote to Kletil's legacy. A paternalistic Fischler-Androsch government, installed by the president against parliament, seems like a concept out of 1950s-1960s Austrian political history, and although as alternate history it is curious, I think it would have led to ugly upheavals in most conceivable scenarios. Fischler was right to decline, and also the moment of his disclosure is well chosen. As for Androsch, one has to wonder how active his involvement in this project was. If he conspired with Klestil, this would reveal an unhealthy appetite for a late revenge on Kreisky, even at the cost of discrediting his own party leadership, which would mean that Androsch's frequent interventions in the political debate should be treated with caution.

2004-10-11

Jacques Derrida, dead at 74 

Over the weekend, French philosopher Jacques Derrida has died at age 74 from cancer. During my most intellectually vulnerable years, he had a rather deconstructivist influence on my world-view. I'm grateful. I'll tell my grandchildren that I witnessed Derrida give a memorial lecture for Czech philosopher Jan Patocka at the Palais Schwarzenberg in Vienna in 1992.

Le Monde may forgive these untranslated (Derrida wouldn't have wanted it otherwise) quotes from a long interview [FR] a couple of weeks ago:
L'Europe se trouve sous l'injonction d'assumer une responsabilité nouvelle. Je ne parle pas de la communauté européenne telle qu'elle existe ou se dessine dans sa majorité actuelle (néolibérale) et virtuellement menacée de tant de guerres internes, mais d'une Europe à venir, et qui se cherche. En Europe ("géographique") et ailleurs. Ce qu'on nomme algébriquement "l'Europe" a des responsabilités à prendre, pour l'avenir de l'humanité, pour celui du droit international - ça c'est ma foi, ma croyance. Et là, je n'hésiterai pas à dire "nous les Européens". Il ne s'agit pas de souhaiter la constitution d'une Europe qui serait une autre superpuissance militaire, protégeant son marché et faisant contrepoids aux autres blocs, mais d'une Europe qui viendrait semer la graine d'une nouvelle politique altermondialiste. Laquelle est pour moi la seule issue possible. ...

Je suis en guerre contre moi-même, c'est vrai, vous ne pouvez pas savoir à quel point, au-delà de ce que vous devinez, et je dis des choses contradictoires, qui sont, disons, en tension réelle, me construisent, me font vivre, et me feront mourir. Cette guerre, je la vois parfois comme une guerre terrifiante et pénible, mais en même temps je sais que c'est la vie. Je ne trouverai la paix que dans le repos éternel. Donc je ne peux pas dire que j'assume cette contradiction, mais je sais aussi que c'est ce qui me laisse en vie, et me fait poser la question, justement, que vous rappeliez, "comment apprendre à vivre ?".

2004-10-08

On the 'deadly hook' 

I just have to write another post on Elfriede Jelinek's literature. People are now wondering how the heck it will be possible to accommodate the new interest in translations of her works beyond the Piano Player (Die Klavierspielerin) - most of her literature is deeply grounded in distinctly local uses and abuses of language. Still, as Wendelin Schmidt-Dengler, the father figure of Austrian literary criticism said on TV, even Finnegan's Wake has been translated with success.

Personally at the moment I'm obsessed with rendering that 'deadly hook' I mentioned in my previous post, and doing so in my poor English. Here's for an attempt.

First of all, Jelinek has covered a number of topics at length: nature and metaphysics, the body, health-culture, sports, Austrian history. Yet I'll focus only on the gender topic, which is 1. central to her work, 2. maybe the area where she is most radical and original, and 3. the aspect of her literature that I find most interesting.

Lust was a bestseller. Since yesterday I have read at a couple of places that this was because of a misunderstanding on the part of the buyers. Well, Jelinek herself has made it clear she is comfortable with an interpretation of this and other texts as pornography. The supposed misunderstanding consists in reading this short novel with a voyeuristic interest, whereas it allegedly is 'anti-pornography'. Hm, in my opinion if it is pornography, then it's written to be read with a voyeuristic interest, and so I don't buy that 'misunderstanding' story at all. It was a bestseller, and the market is always right (Hi to Michael S.'s comment to yesterday's post at this point).

What Jelinek does in this book is not to negate pornography, or to develop an alternative pornography, but she takes pornography and presents an analysis of its core that looks uglier than her readers ever thought it would. "This is then what your voyeuristic interest is about", she tells the reader, and the imagined reader in Jelinek's text, I believe, is always herself, the artificial media figure of the suffering radical artist. At the most, we, the other readers, are allowed to assume the perspective of this artificial figure, tentatively, and see how much it ressembles ourselves. And, hm, it does, to a point. Because you sit there with that book in hand and stare at the words as objects written by another human being, and that other human being - the artificial author figure - stared at social reality and said, do you see these people staring at others as if the others were objects that exist for the starers' desires only, do you not agree that all there is is text producers and objects they put their words on, always with an agenda to appropriate these objects for their own hideous schemes? These text producers and objectivisers, were they not always men? [Here, presumably, Jelinek is exaggerating real imbalances, but let's continue. The claim is radical philosophy that generates art.] Do I not, as the female author, lay claim with my text on a spot that for these male text producers was always a blind spot? Is not therefore this whole discourse impossible--the female author for once controlling the text and putting it on the spot in a male-dominated universe that does not exist--, which is exactly why this is literature and not reality, and why this artificial media figure must be shown to be suffering?

Maybe the same structure could be established in other areas, such as the Austria-hater obsessed with Austria [Is Jelinek ostracised from Österreich? ;-)], the Viennese cafe-creature writing a drama on sports, the feminist writing on Heidegger, the novelist writing dramas, etc. Her literature is, maybe, an analysis of changes that are desired but impossible, and a search for survival strategies for those who desire the impossible. Whether those changes that are impossible are always desireable is a moral, and often political question, on which each reader can reserve the right to answer himself/herself. Here, whether we want to adopt Jelinek's political worldview or consider it misguided need not affect our judgement on the quality of her literature.

UPDATE: Now it's really enough said from my not so important point of view. Go read the long interview with Elfriede Jelinek [DE] from 1992 in Telepolis.

2004-10-07

Elfriede Jelinek wins Nobel Prize in literature 2004 

"for her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power" (nobelprize.org)
When German author Günter Grass won the nobel prize in 1999, Marcel Reich-Ranicki proclaimed "Es war der Richtige" [it was the right one]. I disagreed back then, in my opinion the prize should have gone to Grass's rival Martin Walser instead.

When I read [DE] about Austrian author Elfriede Jelinek's nobel prize a few minutes ago, my first thought was "It is not right". Probably envy played a role. It is an amazing achievement of course.

I have read: Lust, Totenauberg, Die Kinder der Toten, Gier. Not a lot for sure. Yet Jelinek is certainly one of the writers who have had the strongest influence on my literary tastes. I don't like her texts--probably nobody does, and probably she wouldn't want people to like them--but I have to admit that they shock, especially Lust. On the other hand, the more recent novel Gier, which I read last, is tired and lacking in originality, and her opus magnum Die Kinder der Toten is just too long for its substance I found. Elfriede Jelinek is not a perfect writer. She makes mistakes, voluntary and involuntary ones. The scope of the messages that she can convey with her literary method is limited.

Yet there is a deadly hook in her literary voice. I am not going to try to represent it in three hastily improvised sentences here. I think this hook is valid and deeply uncomfortable for any reader, maybe especially for male readers. For this force, projected only through words, on second thought I believe the Nobel Prize is justified.

A dilemma of global trade agreements 

Robert Poth, the economics editor of Austrian development politics magazine Südwind, analyses the state of the Doha-round negotiations at the WTO in an article in the current issue (subscription required [DE]), and points out an interesting dilemma that seems to extend beyond the case in point.

The Doha-negotiations for new liberalisation measures in global trade were on the verge of failure after a conference in Cancun, in which the developing countries managed to build powerful coalitions against interests of the rich countries, under the leadership of Brasil, India, and South Africa. Now, it seems that a compromise at least on process has been reached for further negotiations at recent talks in Geneva. A new agenda for negotiations has been agreed for the exchange of mutual trade favours between rich and poor countries on the global scale.

Poth points out that mainly the large developing countries, organised in the G-20 group, stand to benefit from such things as reductions of customs barriers for agricultural goods across the board, and the tactics of the rich countries seems to have been to bring exactly this powerful group among the developing countries on board of the new process. In contrast, Pohl argues, many of the least developed countries as well as the AKP-countries would fare better in a system like the current one, where they can rely on unilateral priviledges granted to them by specific important trading partners such as the EU. These weakest economies do not have spare capability to compete in a much wider and more open, and therefore also more competitive global market.

So the dilemma is between creating an open and efficient market for all developing countries, which benefits the stronger economies in this group, and handing out special priviledges to the group of least developed countries, by retaining some protective fences against too much competition. What is more important?

Of course this is essentially a matter for the economists to research (sigh), but on the level of semi-educated lay opinion, I believe that the global development strategy should indeed focus on creating opportunities for all, even if this means that some richer developing countries will be able to profit more than the weakest ones. Development will not be even. A strong Brasil or South Africa, for example, will in turn be beneficial for the respective regions and create new economic opportunities for poorer countries in their neighbourhoods. As more countries are able to stand their own in the global markets, the task of supporting the remaining laggards will also become smaller and more manageable.

2004-10-05

Emergency curbs on Turkish emigration? 

While Jose Barroso is advocating referendums to let the populations of existing EU-members decide about eventual Turkish membership, Günter Verheugen has joined the fray of high-ranking EU officials trying to appease the sceptics with questionnable concessions.

As the FT reports, Verheugen has hinted at a system of 'emergency curbs' in an interview with German ZDF television. Such a system should be in place permanently after a Turkish entry. Curbs on Turkish emigration to other EU countries could be activated if Turkish migrants caused "instability" in labour markets, "to limit and control migration at any time".

If this is a serious policy proposal by the EU commission, I have to say I find it horrible and discriminatory. It would be way worse than the transition rules imposed in the latest round of enlargement. Of course the migration issue is a central one, and the prospect of a national referendum in Austria on Turkish EU-membership is not a bright one if conditions at the time were to be similar to the current ones.

If a referendum needs to be won everywhere in the EU, some new migration management mechanism might be necessary, but it should be smarter and less offensive than what was proposed here by Verheugen. For a less discriminating system, I still reluctantly identify with the proposal I made here in August.

UPDATE: It seems that the UK heroically shares my view of Verheugen's proposal (TheGuardian, via Edward in a comment at afoe). Maybe I should emigrate there after all.

2004-10-04

Worship 

Judge your correspondent by the topics he picks. For me, the Open House in the offices of the federal president last Saturday. This magnificent event, much ridiculed by the more cynical of my fellow countrymen and -women, is in reality a peak of democratic symbolism. (DerStandard [DE], DiePresse [DE], Kurier [DE]). Around 7,000 people waited in line, for up to one hour, to get the opportunity of a short handshake with the president. Visitors had arrived from all over the country, many had brought gifts such as bottles of wine.

It looks like idolatry or royalism. But these people did not queue for a religious guru or for a king, but rather for the federal president, a democratically elected official for a period of six years. More specifically, they queued for an elected official with few real powers beyond the symbolism of the role of the head of state. They travelled to the geographical center of the state and expressed their adoration to its highest human representative. Why they did this I cannot say, but they must have followed some genuine need or desire to make a statement, to perform an act of worship maybe. They must have transformed the sober practicalities of representative self-government into a psychologically potent symbol that plays a positive role in their lives. There is a power of political imagination in this, an affirmation of the public good that I find deeply touching. Here is also a valuable resource that government should use well, and that it must never disappoint.

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