Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cultural News

There are many cultural events occuring at year's end, and just as many topics for consideration and conversation...

“In Congo Square: Colonial New Orleans” is the name of an article by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro in the Nation magazine, its December 29, 2008 edition (online December 10). The piece reviews two books: Building the Devil's Empire: French Colonial New Orleans by Shannon Lee Dawdy; and The World That Made New Orleans From Spanish Silver to Congo Square by Ned Sublette.

The book Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans was inspired by the trouble following hurricane Katrina and people’s attempts to get back to normal life and their sharing of recipes with each other and through the New Orleans newspaper the Times-Picayune, has been getting some local Louisiana attention.

Edouard Glissant: “As a writer, I write in the presence of all the languages of the world, even if I only know one. Humanities today are developing a practical, divining sense of languages, and are using a far higher proportion of the capacities of the human brain. Multilingualism should not be boiled down to the development of the quantities of languages; it refers not only to a situation, but also to a new awareness, related to the way I frequent the poetry of the world.” Edouard Glissant wrote and said those words as part of the September 28, 2008 conference called the European Meeting of Cultural Journals in Paris; and his words were posted online by Eurozine November 26. I know Edouard Glissant’s reputation but not his most significant work, so I am pleased when I come across something short by him that I can read quickly—it’s a nice reminder to read more of his work. Glissant, who was born in Martinique and spends time there as well as in New York and Paris, is the author of fiction, poetry, and essays. (He was one of the heroes of someone I used to know.) Edouard Glissant’s commentary on multilingualism, available on the web site of Eurozine, also affirms a redistribution of the world’s wealth; the international dissemination of knowledge and the significance of journals; and the relation of each to all.

I miss visiting the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan and ache a little more now, as reports that in January 2009 “The Museum of Modern Art, in collaboration with the Global Film Initiative (GFI), presents Global Lens 2009, a touring film exhibition conceived to encourage filmmaking in countries with developing film communities. The selection of 10 programs, each from a different country, which include films developed with seed money from GFI, represents a concise survey of contemporary filmmaking from areas where local economic realities make such expensive and technology-driven endeavors a challenge. Accomplished, entertaining, and thought-provoking, the films are also deeply rooted in the social and political realities of the countries where their talented and resourceful makers live and set their stories. Several of the films will also be screened for participating educational institutions and schools in the New York area as part of an educational project between GFI and MoMA’s Department of Education.”

One thinks of the Europeans as accomplished in many cultural matters but, apparently, there are failures of note. The press digest Eurotopics reported December 16 about a finding in a French publication: “Le Monde newspaper discusses how French and German are being neglected as foreign languages in the neighbouring countries. ‘The bad news is that cooperation is going through hard times. There are problems with French teaching in Germany and with German teaching in France, both of which are on the decline despite repeated promises at summit meetings.’”

For the online digest Sign and Sight (following a translation from the original German publication Frankfurter Rundschau), Arno Widmann writes about a philosophical study, Kurt Flasch's book Kampfplätze der Philosophie: “Flasch’s precise readings are interrupted by thoughts, ‘about the historical role of polemics’ or ‘praise of mediocre writers’ for example. These are not digressions but thoughts which lead to the heart of the sort of history of philosophy which is not interested in systems, big names or eternal questions, but which wants to find out how people in a particular place at a particular time learned about world th[r]ough thinking and research. And this was done by debating the ideas of the time and the time that went before. Written texts played a key role but they were never set in stone.”

On the demise of newspapers and the plight of journalists, Slate’s Jack Shafer (December 16) in “The Digital Slay-Ride” says, “The only reason we're so well-informed about journalists' suffering is they have easy access to a megaphone. The underlying cause of their grief can be traced to the same force that has destroyed other professions and industries: digital technology.”

Film Journal International (Harry Haun, December 16) profiles the wonderful actress Kate Winslet, who is now appearing in two well-reviewed films, Revolutionary Road and The Reader.

There seem to be some early bad reviews for Will Smith’s new film Seven Pounds, according to Greencine Daily.

Last night, a television fiction detective program, featured a woman whose body had been thrown down an elevator shaft and totally mangled. It was one of many dismemberments that appear—that are shown in detail—on such programs. One cannot help but consider the brutality of such a vision. (What is the nature of the gratification?)

A band I’m very fond of, Death Cab for Cutie, appeared on David Letterman’s late night television show last night but I was too sleepy to watch.

Singer Chris Brown was named artist of the year by Billboard magazine.