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Letter From Paris

Image of Kurt Hochenauer at the Centre Pompidou in Paris

Bonjour. Pardonnez-moi. As a dog on a leash in the winding streets of Paris, streets filled with the smells and trash in the aftermath of Fête de la Musique, I have more freedom than a typical Oklahoman.

Curled in front of the hotel in which the writer Oscar Wilde lived at the time of his death in this city, down the street from the Voltaire statute near the Seine, as a Paris cat yawning my existentialist despair or my simple feline, princely boredom, I have more freedom than a typical Oklahoman.

I see a Paris pigeon, and everyone ignores it as it pecks its food from crumb-filled streets lined with cafes and shops, but it is, of course, freer than any Oklahoman given the current oppressive political and religious culture in a state that once was called home by progressives Will Rogers and Woody Guthrie. They were American Voltaires and Wildes in their own right, but they’re all forgotten in the right-wing, sanctimonious hubris.

This is what’s on my mind after a few days in this place. I’m struck by the distinction between the hollow “freedom” rhetoric from the religious right and Tea Party in our state and what freedom really looks like, on the streets, in conversations, in personal identity, in all the diversity, here in Paris, even among the dogs, the cats, the pigeons. Don’t underestimate the lowly pigeon for she comes in many colorful feathers and attitudes as well as dogs and cats.

Granted, I’m in a philosophical mood. I’m in Paris, and I’ve been at an academic conference, and I know I open myself up to ridicule for verbosity and hyperbole. Oh, I’m so worried, so worried, what you might think about me. Please don’t think that or this, or maybe just think about a time I told you a funny story or pissed you off. Think about one moment in time. Create me from that one moment. (I want to name names, you beautiful creators.) Create me from seven or twenty-two moments. Moments are what we have. Use them wisely or not.

No, alas, I don’t have patience for these meaningless meanderings on a sunny, summer day in Paris! There’s so much to do here, and I have limited time. Thus, in perfectly reasoned, appropriate numeric order, I shall make two points:

Secondly, people here are free to behave responsibly, and the vast, vast majority of people do, and thus people gather on blankets along the Seine drinking wine and eating and laughing and singing and crying and kissing, a lot of kissing. The police presence is minimal. (Yes, I know there are high crime areas in Paris.) Compared to Paris, though, Oklahoma City is a major police state—from here it seems closer to World War II fascism—and our overall state’s high incarceration rate tells that old story as well as anything. The sidewalks around the Bricktown Canal in Oklahoma City, often held out as one of the major wonders of the world by some in the city’s elite power structure, is probably more policed that the banks of the Seine in Paris.

My fifth and final point is that diversity and loving one another, which are palpable in the Paris streets, is something rarely seen in Oklahoma. Here in Paris, there is recognition of “difference/difference,” a love for its beauty, a certain intuitive acceptance of it in the sense of what it means for sustaining humans. In Oklahoma, we really don’t have culture besides some damn good music, man. This includes Toby Keith and Wayne Coyne as cultural icons. (Not so hidden secret: Keith and Coyne are actually the same person in terms of the commercialism of music.) What dominates in Oklahoma are mega right-wing churches with no discernable or understandable rituals—except for commodification—or the gender legalism and warped heterosexual idealization underlying the Southern Baptist Church, which helps produce the profound mental illness and ignorance that creates our ongoing despair.

And, thirdly, in Oklahoma, we have many native people who have been terribly abused and mistreated through the years by the federal and state governments—in the cause of “settlement” or “civilization”—but really it’s just ongoing exploitation and greed by white European colonization. Our Oklahoma legislature made sure this session the state will continue to be known as a place of abject racism after denying funding for the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum this session. Here in Paris, there’s the Louvre, of course, and the Centre Pompidou, but more than that, there’s a general acceptance that understanding art and history and philosophy are essential in living realized lives. What a huge error Oklahoma has made in denying funding for such an important space, and such foolish errors have no end in sight. Fools to the world.

The dog, the cat, the not so lowly pigeon because she can fly after all, find their unity in what they have in common or not so in common for they have to share the geographical space like us all, but they act without the oppressive secrecies and silences of a place that has lost its way in oppressive dogma and hypocritical reasoning and right-wing political ideology.

Je t’embrasse, de Paris

Kurt

From Paris, On Earthquakes

Electric car fueling up in Amsterdam, Netherlands

I’m staying in an apartment in Paris for the next few days after presenting a paper at the XXIV International James Joyce Symposium at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

I’ve written about the conference here, and I’m moving on to more important sustainability issues than the pettiness of academic arrogance.

I’m here in Paris today in a wonderful residential area fairly close to the Louvre—there are tons of kids around—and, I’m thinking back about the Netherlands, too. These are places that have evolved into natural places of conservation in terms of energy and food, and in building into their daily life systems patterns of behavior, such as walking and bicycling, that keep people healthy. They have and will fight against irresponsible, immoral corporations and their supporters among craven political leaders.

I'm reminded of all this in particular because of the 4.1 earthquake that struck the Oklahoma City area this week as I was in Europe. As I’ve written over and over, this bizarre, incredible earthquake surge in the state, according to scientists, is related to the oil and gas drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

Here’s the bottom line. Your life is in danger. Your home, if you own one in central Oklahoma, is probably getting damaged on daily basis. Your home’s foundation is probably cracking. The larger trees on your property could come tumbling down when the big one hits. Your roof could be damaged. Your window sealing might have to be redone. Think about your house, right now, at absolutely zero monetary value. That is what could be coming your way, and maybe it won’t matter because you’ll be dead, anyway. That’s the Oklahoma spirit, right?

Oh, and the qualifications by the oil and gas industry here are so incredibly and obviously acts of rhetorical subterfuge and secrecy that one wonders how people in Oklahoma even survive in the modern world because of their failure to call it out. The qualifications from the billionaire oil men’s club: Well, it’s never been proven conclusively that fracking here causes earthquakes and, well, it’s the wastewater injection wells actually that are used in the fracking process that maybe just maybe might cause this minor problem so then is it really fracking causing the problem?

I repeat: State political leaders, such as Gov. Mary Fallin, who could do something about this problem are not going to do a thing about stopping the looming earthquake disaster because they are beholden to the oil and gas industry for campaign contributions and electoral support.

Here from Europe, I noted the recent earthquake shook up the metro Oklahoma City area as well, this time, not just places north of Edmond or Jones or Spencer. It would not surprised me a bit if down the road, unless more intelligent people are given a voice in this debate, that the buildings on the Chesapeake Energy “campus,” as if it’s a university with thoughtful people trying to seek truth and use deep critical inquiry to solve major contemporary problems, will come falling down like dominoes, one temblor after another. It won’t even be poetic justice, just another act of willful ignorance based on greed.

I passed a small, parked electric car fueling up in Amsterdam, Netherlands the other day, and it’s the future of the world. (Note the photograph above.) I know much of the U.S. and Oklahoma face the problem of urban sprawl. Just because people weren’t foresighted enough about the car and fossil fuels in this country several decades ago doesn’t mean we can get there now. Europe was forced into their situation, sure, but they have the answer, not American oil and gas companies.

Renewable energy sources are the answer to our earthquake problem in Oklahoma.

Last Words On The James Joyce Conference Censorship Controversy In Utrecht, Netherlands

Satirical image of James Joyce in a dress

(I’m asking everyone who supports this blog a favor. Email the head of the XXIV International James Joyce Symposium at Utrecht University in the Netherlands—his name is Peter de Voogd—at peterdevoogd@fastmail.fm and/or P.J.deVoogd@uu.nl. Simply write: “Peter, please let DocHoc speak.” It will only take a few seconds.—Kurt Hochenauer)

I’m going to devote at least one more post to how I was censored at the XXIV International James Joyce Symposium this week at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and then I will probably drop it. Who cares, right?

Here were the specific circumstances: As I was reading and approached a section in my paper dealing with the “illogic” of reprosexuality, a term used in Queer Theory studies to criticize the concept of compulsory heterosexuality and its relationship to the privileged status of sexual reproduction, a student/conference staffer in the back of the room suddenly signed me telling me I had only five minutes to proceed.

At the time, I was quoting Yale University English Department Chair Michael Warner specifically from his book Fear of a Queer Planet, and it was crucial to my point about Joyce’s masterpiece novel Ulysses. I had supposedly been speaking for about 15 minutes. I believe it was closer to 12 or even 10 minutes myself. I’ve given many papers over my 25 years teaching college and earning full professor, and I had timed this one over and over. Because of this, I had to stop in the middle of the quote, and I was prohibited from using other evidence in this particular line of argument. I was forced to simply jump to a disjointed conclusion.

Yes, the suggested length time for the paper was 20 minutes, but it’s very normal to go over the paper time limit at any academic conference. That's built into the program. In fact, as I’ve shown people over and over this week, some speakers are going over 30 minutes in their talks. I can show them this because they are in the same sessions with me, and I’m timing the talks with the stopwatch on my Iphone. I actually offered to show them my phone. I’ve seen no one else get signed to wind down his or her paper. What happens normally at an academic conference is that presenters talk, there’s a question-and-answer period afterward and, at this conference, anyway, a 30-minute break between the 90-minute sessions. There are three speakers in each session. Do the math. There’s plenty of time for everyone to talk, talk and talk some more.

In fact, I’m writing this right after attending a session titled “James Joyce and Daniel Defoe” in which one speaker spoke for 33 minutes, another for 23 minutes and another for 25 minutes or more. They certainly were never signed to wrap things up. The speakers were, respectively, Richard Brown from the University of Leeds, Anne Fogarty of University College Dublin and Austin Briggs of Hamilton College. All of them talked for so long there were only a few minutes for questions at the end. Graduate students just gathered around the panel table after the talk for mandatory worship time. That’s NORMAL. I get it. I'm not bothered by that. Even Brown’s selfish time-hogging was normal for egotistical professors who know it all, and maybe they know a lot, but they don't know it all. Nobody does. What happened to me is not normal in an academic conference situation. I believe it was intentional academic sabotage.

In my session, I felt so censored and mistreated by the moderator, I left after everyone spoke. Some people here think I was treated badly and wanted to hear more of my paper, and I was offered a spot on another panel to re-present if I wanted, but my paper was so different from that panel’s focus it just seemed too odd to me. It would just be another way to marginalize me because no one would know my topic before I presented it. Who would even show up? Would the other presenters resent me taking away from their time? I did offer to give a stand-alone talk during an intermission period or maybe after the last panel on one of the conference days, which could have been advertised on the conference Facebook page and through word of mouth, but I was adamantly refused. So the conference officials get it both ways. I think it’s bogus, and they intentionally wanted to shut me up about gay liberation. They just don’t want to admit they were wrong.

The panel moderator, who I shouldn't name, claims his actions had nothing to do with the fact I was dealing with GLBT issues, but I simply find that difficult to believe. He sure isn’t apologetic about any of it, that’s for sure, and he wrote me an email defending his actions. I replied with a scathing email of my own. (Ah, the fights of academics are so intense for such petty reasons, right? Yet GLBT prejudice isn’t petty at all. Ever hear of the AIDS holocaust and how slow governments around the world were to act when HIV first appeared in the male gay community, Jim LeBlanc of Cornell University? There are at least 36 million dead so far.) The head of the conference has been gracious enough to talk to me twice about what I see as censorship, and so, alas, I have to be done with an issue I’m sure a lot of readers of this blog really don’t care about. I know it sounds so bloated to many of you. I gave an abbreviated version of my paper. It was accepted quite well by some people. I AM in Europe after all, right? I will get over it.

On a further note about this conference, I find the old guard here to be really out of touch on reading and responding to Joyce these days. It’s like they’re back in the 1980s or even earlier. In addition, the lack of the use of technology among the participants here is absolutely dismal and frightening and appalling. One of the panelists on the "James Joyce and Daniel Defoe" panel had paper handouts. None of them on this panel used a computer in their presentations. They're probably afraid someone might post on the internet an old image of Joyce wearing a dress. Would that make him/her seem queer?

Listen up graduate students: It’s my argument you will not get a tenure-track job in academics if you model people who shun gay rights and computers.

This is a long conference, and there have been some good papers, and I’m just going to get what I can out of it at this point. It was always unlikely the traditional Joyce academic power structure would publish my paper, which accepts Bloom’s sexuality in Ulysses rather than denigrates it. But there are plenty of journals out there that do want to disturb the status quo.

Given all the hunger and violence in the world, this all seems trivial, I know.

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