May 012011

NC has a whole hybrid art theme, understated but insistent—Nance Van Winckel’s photoems, graffiti art, Domenic Stansberry’s graphic novel, and Nance’s off-the-page workshop video. We also like our art seasoned with a dash of wit and arrogance. So on this slow, droll Sunday, NC offers for your delectation a spritely, deadly comic photo essay by photographer Melissa Fisher who recently spent an afternoon in Whitehall, NY, (where the United States Navy was founded, mysteriously far from any ocean front, and a place noted for its Big Foot sightings—there is a Big Foot Liquor Store). Melissa has, in fact, a lot of affection for Whitehall where once she says, her car broke down and the local mechanic was sweet and persistently helpful as was the guy at the Sunoco station where she got a slice of pizza. She also, being from Vermont, has an affection for the backwoods, forgotten places, vestiges of older times, and the quirky things you find when you get off the main street. Whitehall proved to be a goldmine of comic signage, poignant in its juxtaposition with a kind of upstate economic decline. Her work has been published in Vermont Life and Hunger Mountain, and she has had an exhibition at After Image Studio in Montpelier.



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Apr 302011

Herewith a “What it’s like living here” essay & photos from Liz Blood who has taken an adventurous turn and fled her native Oklahoma City for the exotic wonders and mysteries of South Korea where she is now teaching (Liz and students pictured above). What is unique about this piece is that it’s about discovery and newness, not about a place Liz knows well or loves from habit, but a place in which she cannot even make out the words on the store signs. Everything is new, she feels awkward, nothing is easy. Going out to buy instant noodles at a convenience store is an expedition into the unknown. Liz’s words are fresh and revealing in their honesty and detail.


What It’s Like Living Here,

from Liz Blood in Gunsan, Jeollabuk-do, South Korea



There are marks everywhere that you don’t understand—on cars, buildings, flyers in your mailbox. Squares, circles, upside down Y’s—sometimes it looks more like a game of Tetris to you than a language.  This makes almost everything a real chore, but none so much as getting a meal. What will you order? How will you order? Are you even sure that’s a restaurant? When you first arrive in South Korea you don’t go out to dinner alone. Instead, you walk down the cold, granite steps of your apartment building, through the air-compressed sliding glass door (which you’re sure came from the set of Star Trek), and head out onto the street for the nearest convenience store.

As you leave your building—which is called Dreamplus, a fact you find funny since you’ve had so few dreams since coming to this country—you consider the sliding glass door and the ease with which it moves. Whooosh. It took you six or seven trips out that door to realize the sensor was above it and that, when the door wouldn’t open, a simple wave of the hand would suffice. All that jumping around and on and off the steps was unnecessary. Perhaps, one of these days, you will move with such ease, act right on cue. Like the door or even the children in your English classes, you will know the proper response.  I’ll have a beer, the pork dumplings, and kim chi soup, please.

But, until then, you simply round your corner in Jigok-dong—the name of your neighborhood, which you say proudly because it is one of the only things you can say properly—and walk into the 7-11 to find a pack of instant noodles. You choose any one of the packages without drawings of shrimp or fish and place the noodles on the counter, not even bothering to listen to the cashier tell you the amount—the register’s screen points outward, the numbers glow neon green. You breathe easy and relish the convenience.

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Apr 282011

Sabah Al Khair Habibti

by Natalia Sarkissian


Dear Nick and Chris:

Fuzz from the poplar sticks to the windshield of our Ford. In the courtyard of our building, the birch bursts with pollen and I sneeze when hanging out sheets to dry on our balcony. The sky glows, the days lengthen, you both grow long and lean. A strange time, perhaps, to write you about Christmas, but your father’s gone, and writing this to you fills the hole he’s left.

You’re at an age where you’re interested. You’ve asked how a twenty-year-old man from Siena and a nineteen-year-old art history student from New York met. As an answer I’m writing you about the Christmas of 1977, the first Christmas the two spent together. A bizarre Christmas, with the young woman shut in a monastery—not unlike poor Pia de’ Tolomei in The Divine Comedy (whom I’ll tell you about later)—while the young man came and went when curfew lifted. In a strange way that Christmas echoes the challenges facing us this spring. We’re here, stuck in Milan, going to school. Your father’s off to Egypt, making a living, returning on short monthly visits.

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Apr 272011

Tucked away in the pages of Numéro Cinq are skillfully told stories that pull us inside. The best of these hold us tight and whisper things that haunt our thoughts, urging us to care more deeply. Robert Semeniuk tells such stories with his photographs. He has been a photojournalist and human & environmental rights activist for 3 decades. I met Robert and his wife, musician Ruta Yawney on Bowen Island a few months ago and today I am honored to introduce you to Robert’s work. Each of the images shown here is excerpted from a story. These particular stories about the Inuit of arctic Canada, preventable blindness in Ethiopia, war affected children, and AIDS in Botswana are elaborated in image and word on Robert’s webpage.

— lynne quarmby

Five Photographs

By Robert Semeniuk


Tea time on the cariboo hunt

Gaza boys playing ‘Arab & Jews’

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Apr 262011

Herewith a gorgeous and protean reading of Joseph Conrad’s story “Youth” by the noted Dutch maritime historian and scholar J. N. F. M. à Campo. “Poiesis of the Past” is a special paper, prepared and delivered as a farewell address, which thus contains personal as well as scholarly and critical perspectives, which, yes, accumulates critical vectors not always available to the pure literary critic and thus reaches beyond the conventional approach. Joep à Campo teaches World History and Historical Research Methods at the Faculty of History and Arts of the Erasmus Universiteit, Rotterdam. He received his PhD degree cum laude in 1992 (Rijksuniversiteit Leiden). His dissertation has been published in English as Engines of Empire, Steamshipping and State Formation in Colonial Indonesia (Hilversum 2002). He has published widely on research methods, historical consciousness, economic, maritime and cultural history. His current research topics are Maritime History of Indonesia, Memo-history, Conradian studies, and Tango studies. NC has the great privilege of publishing this paper due to the good offices of our mutual friend, Haijo Westra, of the University of Calgary (see his essay on dg’s novel Elle here).




A historian’s reading of the short story ‘Youth, a narrative’ by Joseph Conrad

By J.N.F.M. à Campo



Farewell paper for the Center for Historical Culture

Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

18 January 2011

Foreword: a personal note

… and I remember my youth and the feeling
that will never come back any more …

Joseph Conrad, Youth: a narrative

The closing of my academic duties is an appropriate opportunity for looking back on my lifelong engagement with history. As a mirror of my reflections I have chosen the short story Youth: a narrative written by Joseph Conrad, pseudonym of Joseph Korzeniowski, in 1898. It offers an opportunity to overlook some central themes in my work, and also to hark back to some formative experiences in my own childhood.

I was born and raised in the roman-catholic countryside of Southern Limburg in the after war years amidst deserted weapons and recurrent stories of the war, the content and flavour however varying according to the temperament of the narrators.[1] There was a stark contrast between the rural and industrial sectors in the region, where natural hills contrasted with mine deposits, and where the traditional countryside was interspersed with modern mining villages, called colonies, inhabited by migrants from all Europe. At the age of six I migrated to the IJsselmeer polder, and the change from the luxuriant hillside to the chilly plain below sea level was felt as a real break. For days on end I roamed the reclaimed bottom of the sea and stuffed my trousers-pockets with clay pipe bowls lost by former Zuiderzee fishermen, daydreaming of the flat bottomed vessels that once had sailed above my head, over the past as a bygone yet nearby world. The sense of loss was as captivating as the sense of innovation. Memorable were the frequent trips to the encapsulated former islet of Schokland, nearby ultra-orthodox fishing-villages like Urk, with their old houses and inhabitants in traditional costume, or to Staphorst where children were literally tightened on leashes against the dangers of the modern world.

As a showcase of post war economic innovation, the polder was set up as a social project for national integration based on planned denominational segregation (verzuiling) of settlers from all over the country. It accentuated the contrast between old and new land, tradition and modernity, historical growth and social malleability. Just like the native surroundings, the new setting provided many incentives for social diversities and historical consciousness. History also intruded from the outside. The most exiting images were exotic glimpses from Indonesia, which were gleaned from disparate sources ranging from visiting missionaries to picture books with wonderful colour-plates. At the local gymnasium I became acquainted with mythic, narrating and analytic history as exemplified by Homeros, Herodotus and Thucydides respectively. From the interest in the canonized history in school, however, I was much detracted by Sam Cooke’s 1960 hit ‘Don’t know much about history … But I do know that I love you …’

Gradually the relevance of history for contemporary problems dawned upon me. History popped up in discussions about the cold war and its fire-blazes overseas, decolonization and deconfessionalisation. It became clear that historical imagery is not just carefree musing, but is involved in mental maps, social attitudes and political choices, – that history does matter indeed. The present was experienced as history. That background became the motivation for studying political science and modern history and the moving spirit of my academic activities.

My research focused on the maritime history of Indonesia, as a meeting ground of eastern and western history. While I was dedicated to an academic attitude and writing format of solidly fact-based history, I intermittently turned towards the fiction of Joseph Conrad, in particular his stories set in the Eastern seas. It proved inspirational because of its critical stance towards common contemporary historiography, and it helped balancing fact and fiction, romance and reality, documentation and imagination. As an academic historian, however, I felt puzzled, challenged, even provoked by his assertion that artful fiction is ‘nearer truth’ than academic historiography. Before addressing this statement, I want to summarize and discuss a historical reading of one of his short stories, Youth: a narrative, first published in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1898. It was included as the first story in the 1902 volume Youth, a Narrative; and Two Other Stories, the other stories being Heart of Darkness and The End of the Tether, featuring maturity and old age, respectively.[2]


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Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. This experience has been elaborated in my research report on historical consciousness in: De Nieuwste Tijd 10 (2000) p. 87-114.
  2. Ian Watt (1979, 133-34) maintains that the ‘relatively slight’ story – relative to Heart of Darkness - owes its success to the ‘relative simplicity of its story, characters, and theme’. While appreciating its charm, he regards Marlow’s romantisation of ‘youth’ and its confirmation by the audience just trite rhetoric. Jocelyn Baines (1993, 73) called the story ‘a gorgeously romantic evocation of the impact of the East’. Richard Ambrosini (1991, 80) regarded the tale just a ‘nostalgic song of lost youth, a wistful regret for the passing of time’ and thus they have skipped its significance as critical discourse.