what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Abolish the news!

News is a commodity sold on a mass market which despises in-depth assessments but goes for stock clichés and instant opinion. 
Where does one go when one wants, instead, good and thoughtful writing about issues, culture or history? The answer seems to be bi-weekly, monthly or bi-monthly journals of a general nature. 

Avoid journalists – the modern harlot – like the plague and find instead real writers who demonstrate (a) clear and original writing, (b) familiarity with the subject matter and (c) courage in challenging the conventional wisdom. 
This is what the fortnightly London Review of Books (to which I’ve been subscribing for the past year) is now giving me – take John Lanchester's two long articles on the British banking scandal here and also here; novellist James Meek's stark analysis of electricity privatisation; and this piece reviewing various European texts on the crisis as typical examples.
The New York Review of Books – of which I used to be an aficionado – no longer speaks to me…..it somehow seems to have become incestuous….
I would, of course, like to recommend a French or German journal – but cannot find one with the same scope and clarity as LRB. Le Monde and Die Zeit are both great heavyweight journals – one a daily, the other weekly – but are still newspapers with all the pressures that entail. A monthly (German) journal such as Cicero is too narrowly political – others too business. NachDenkSeiten is a website I've come across which has a nice focus. But don't get me started on the tens of thousands of specialised academic titles which waste our valuable time and warp our minds!!

The various monthly European literary reviews (such as Magazine Litteraire) just don’t seem to have mastered the more discursive tone (and editorial genius) of the London, Dublin and New York Review of Books which are patently reaching out to a broader audience than that for simple book reviews (with the strange mixture of internecine and marketing processes that can involve!). These three Reviews prefer to use a recently published book (or better a bunch) as a peg on which to hang a more general discourse. 

I always enjoy glancing at the Romanian version of Lettre Internationale even although its sponsor, The Cultural Institute of Romania now has dubious leadership. Its woodcuts are marvellous and the copious footnotes take me back to the good old days of Le Monde!
I also very much appreciate what Eurozine trying to do - with its collecting in one website the key articles from Europe’s 70 odd cultural magazines – even if most of that content is too highbrow! But at least it does try to give us a sense of what is happening in Europe outside the superficial treatment we get of the eurocrisis and how it is impacting on people. I have remarked several times in this blog about the scandalously uninformed coverage there is of the social context in which the majority of Europeans live their lives.

In desperation I have now added New Left Review and a new-look New Statesman to the list of journals which now wend their way to my mountain retreat. Already I feel a difference!!
But perhaps its time to ask a simple question - there are tens of thousands of journalists and academics churning out articles in (hundreds of) thousands of journals in the general field of politics and social policy. Can we not think of a way of making the better of these pieces more accessible - in various European languages?? That's the Eurozine idea - but they're selecting from a rather precious bunch!
Of course what gets in the way of this simple idea is the specialisation of political, professional and academic silos - there are a few journals who are trying this idea - eg Project Syndicate but from a rather narrow ideological base.
Time for more experimentation!

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