Categories » Nonfiction


NER Classics | The Long March of “Orientalism”

Categories: NER Classics, Nonfiction

The Long March of ‘Orientalism’: Western Travelers in Modern China,”
Nicholas R. Clifford’s report from abroad, appeared in NER 22.2:

Graves, graves, graves, countless ancestral graves in countless ancestral fields! Always the presence of death! A few naked trees along the railwayembankment . . . now and then the dark crenellated walls of some ancient city . . . (Agnes Smedley, 1943) . . .442px-Brooklyn_Museum_-_Chinese_Ship_(Tosen_Zu)_with_Listing_of_the_Sea_Route_from_China_to_Japan-2

They are drawn conventionally enough, these pictures. Travelers finding in a foreign land—here, the China of fifty or sixty years ago—a waste of unchanging hopelessness: a land perceived as corrupt, superstitious, and burdened by a conservatism so rigid it might be taken for stupidity. The images themselves betray a frustration, a kind of fed-upness by the observer with the observed. In no sense are they original, for their pedigree reaches back a century and more, each succeeding generation adding its own detail and coloration to the features conjured up by Western fancies of the country.

 [read more]



The Image Factory | Rick Barot

Categories: Nonfiction

A first look at NER Vol. 34 Nos. 3–4 was born in the Philippines. When I was ten, my family immigrated to the United States, settling in Oakland. My father worked in a factory that made cardboard boxes, my mother worked at a government office. Between them were over a dozen siblings, scattered throughout California: aunts and uncles who were accountants, nurses, telephone company workers, postal service workers. They had all gone to college, but had the immigrant’s understandably practical view of why you went to school, why you went to work, what things you could get from working. Among these aunts and uncles were readers of books and lovers of jazz and opera, and distantly, in past generations of my father’s side of the family, there had been writers. But otherwise life was family, work, and church. Nothing here was a spur or a hindrance to my becoming a writer, and so I went ahead. Because I had gotten good grades all my life, everyone assumed I knew what I was doing with myself—even if, in the years I’m talking about, I always had my eyes averted, I was always a blur at the edges of gatherings and conversations.

And if I knew at some level that poetry was supposed to encompass the whole of who I was, it would be a very long time before I knew what that whole could include. Poetry was this paradox: it invited a largeness of self even as it foreclosed my ability to see myself as anything beyond the poet I desperately wanted to be. Poetry was emotion, it was intense language. It was a tradition, a canon. Poetry for me was a deeply literary identity before I saw it as a space where sociological, social, political, and other elements of identity also converged. Being an immigrant, being gay, having had an ambitious education, having grown up middle class in a liberal, diverse, culturally abundant part of the country—these were real enough facets in the lived life, the way categories of identity could be checked off on an application form. But in the poems I tried to write, these things were abstract, puzzling, barely available and acknowledged resources. I didn’t know how these things could be expressed in my poems, nor did the poems and poets that I loved at the time give sanction for expressing them in the first place. A time would come when I realized those resources were there; but that was much later.

[Read more]

The Trial of Joseph Brodsky | Frida Vigdorova

Categories: Nonfiction

From the current issue, NER 34.3–4
Translated from the Russian by Michael R. Katz
Read the PDF

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first hearing in the trial of Joseph Brodsky (1940–96), who was, in 1964, a 24-year-old poet and translator at the start of his career. In the Soviet Union, every able-bodied adult was expected to “work”—those who refused risked being criminally charged. The poet Brodsky was, by this logic, accused by Soviet authorities of crimes against the state and found guilty of “social parasitism.” A smuggled copy of Frida Vigdorova’s court transcript, newly translated and annotated here by Michael R. Katz, documented the courage and candor with which Brodsky responded to the Judge, and brought his work to the attention of the West. 

First hearing of the case of Joseph Brodsky.
Session of the Dzerzhinsky District Court.
City of Leningrad.
February 18, 1964.

Judge: What do you do for a living?

Brodsky: I write poetry. I translate. I suppose . . .

Judge: Never mind what you “suppose.” Stand up properly. Don’t lean against the wall. Look at the court. Answer the court properly. (To me) Stop taking notes immediately! Or else—I’ll have you thrown out of the courtroom. (To Brodsky) Do you have a regular job?

Brodsky: I thought this was a regular job.

Judge: Answer correctly!

Brodsky: I was writing poems. I thought they’d be published. I suppose . . .

Judge: We’re not interested in what you “suppose.” Tell us why you weren’t working.

Read the PDF

Confessions of a (Six-) Figure Painter | By Peter Plagens

Categories: Nonfiction

From the current issue (34.2):

Bad Boy jacket image - © Eric Fischl by Gérard Rondeau 1993

To get a couple of things out of the way at the top: Eric Fischl isn’t all that bad, either as a painter or a person. As a smart-ass conceptual artist friend of mine (who has no particular affection for the dauber’s craft) points out, “He can move it around.” But before I get to Fischl’s recent memoir,* this personal anecdote:

My wife, Laurie Fendrich, teaches at a university that, in 2006, organized a symposium about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. She invited Eric Fischl, whose commemorative bronze sculpture, Tumbling Woman, had met with great protests and ultimately a rejection, to participate. He did, for free. The school scheduled several simultaneous sessions, so that the audience for the Fischl panel was much smaller than it should have been, and, moreover, the tech stuff got screwed up so that the artist was unable to project images from his computer. But he took the snafu like a trouper and, afterwards, over a cup of coffee, waxed calm and philosophical about the whole event. A real gentleman, she said.

[read more]

Putin Cracks Down | By Ellen Hinsey

Categories: Nonfiction

AtmosphereFrom the current issue (34.2):

When I arrived in Moscow, a week before the March 4 presidential election, it was below zero and winter was grinding to a close. At midday the downtown was completely tied up—lines and lines of cars were stalled in one of the city’s eternal traffic jams. The advancing tires slowly churned a black sea of slyakot—a tenacious type of slush—that splashed on BMWs and tinted-glass luxury cars, as well as on the capital’s poorer pedestrians’ boots. For security reasons, Lenin’s tomb on Red Square was closed; a single soldier in uniform paced back and forth in the snow. A few streets away, a piercing wind circled the Lubyanka, the former home of the KGB and now headquarters to its successor, the FSB—the Russian Security Forces—and still a working prison.

[read more]

Wetland Reflections

Categories: Nonfiction

From Joseph McElroy’s essay, “Wetland Reflections,” in the current issue:

red buoyPeople live here, of course; and close by. The apartment dwellings are visible if you look. Still, amid this population and from my vantage, it is another element I contemplate. Where Eastern Boulevard Bridge carrying the Bruckner Expressway across the Bronx River connects two sections, even neighborhoods, of the south Bronx, you are unlikely to glance out your window, driving east or west, to mark the glimmering, quite narrow road of water below. If you are walking the bridge, going home from work or with your child, you can pause to see to the south this substantial stream bending left as it approaches its mouth just out of sight, a mile away, joining estuaries with the East River. Nearer at hand, Cube Smart Self-Storage, scrap metal warehouses, flats fixed, body work, a car-wash, a U-Haul, Gulf station, checks cashed, a paper-recycling facility are for the eye like the city sounds that can seem to hide the river. Yet in the near distance, in a boat slipping past a dilapidated two-story industrial building, three or four young people rowing pause, like a distinct exception, as the person with the sweep oar in the stern, a woman, addresses them, and you can feel some waterborne privacy of the talk you can’t hear.

[read more]


[image: "Boya roja" / franciscobernalperez / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0]



Categories: Nonfiction

From Hilaire Belloc’s “Reviewing,” in the current issue:

356px-Plate_XIII_A,_Morphology_of_Guillainia_and_LithidionThe ancient and honourable art of Reviewing is, without question, the most important branch of the great calling which we term the ‘Career of Letters.’

As it is the most important, so also it is the first which a man of letters should learn. It is at once his shield and his weapon. A thorough knowledge of Reviewing, both theoretical and applied, will give a man more popularity of power than he could have attained by the expenditure of a corresponding energy in any one of the liberal professions, with the possible exception of Municipal politics.

[read more]

My Mother, Gardening

Categories: Nonfiction

From Joanne Jacobson’s essay, “My Mother, Gardening,” in the current issue:

511px-Alleged_location_of_Eden_crop“Can you see anything inside?” his companions cried out to the archaeologist Howard Carter when he opened King Tut’s tomb, secreted in the sands for thirty centuries. “Yes!” Carter called back, “Wonderful things!” It was November 4, 1922: two and a half years before my mother was born. Carter and the others dizzily wandered the chambers where the young pharaoh had been buried, his sandals exquisitely carved, braided in solid gold to simulate woven reeds. All of Tut’s organs, his heart and his liver, each kidney and his stomach, were embalmed and laid in stoppered canopic jars, then fitted into golden coffinettes. Coffers of fish and assorted meats, thirty jars of wine, four complete board games, one hundred thirty-nine ebony, ivory, silver, and gold walking sticks, fifty linen garments—for the Egyptians believed that earthly human affairs continued in the afterlife—were preserved in the airless, crowded rooms.

[read more]

Realism’s Housewives

Categories: Nonfiction

realhousewivesOCFrom Emma Lieber’s “Realism’s Housewives,” an essay in the current issue:

There’s something going on with women on television these days. As the TV critics have noticed, shows about the lives of women have been proliferating over the past few years: the fall 2011 lineup featured several such debuting sitcoms (Whitney, New Girl, and Two Broke Girls), and that spring saw the airing of Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls, a sly, self-mocking portrait of twenty-something girlfriends muddling their way through life in New York City (clearly a challenge to Sex and the City, though Dunham’s vision is very much her own). The fall 2012 lineup added to the roster The Mindy Project (about a gynecologist with a barren romantic life), and this year’s mid-season listings gave us the premieres of Red Widow (featuring a housewife forced to carry out the mob work of her late husband) and The Carrie Diaries (a Sex and the City prequel). And though Carrie Bradshaw’s show itself, certainly one of the mothers of these more recent additions, went off the air almost a decade ago, various other women-centered shows (The Good Wife, Gossip Girl, and Desperate Housewives among them) are now well into their mature years. In a rather literal enactment of this general phenomenon, Two Broke Girls has recently displaced Two and a Half Men, taking over the time slot previously occupied by that show.

[read more]

When War Came

Categories: Nonfiction

All of us associated with the New England Review mourn the loss of the writer A. J. Sherman, who died on April 6, 2013, just before the current issue was released in print. He was a person of extraordinary discernment, an accomplished author, and a generous friend.

From A. J. Sherman’s “When War Came,” an essay in the current issue:

For my parents, as for many New Yorkers, the countryside was invested with almost magical healing and protective powers: it was the only safe place for young children to spend the summer months, especially in the years when polio threatened all of us and seemed to lurk with greatest menace in crowded urban areas. Those perennial enemies, city dirt and city crowds, were deemed especially dangerous in hot weather; and the wholesome features of country life, including fresh milk and eggs, obligatory exposure to sun, and brisk walks, were expected to extend their benign blessings throughout the bleak winter months of cold and snow.

[read more]