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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.

Beautiful Bicyclists and Censorship

Kurt in Utrecht with all those bikes

I’ve been in Utrecht, Netherlands two days now, and so far I find it filled with beautiful people intent on killing American academics like myself with their bicycles.

Do I jest? Of course I do. Of course I do. So I ask my former and current graduate students who follow this blog: Does a repetition of a phrase always carry ironic meaning? I leave it up to you. I leave it up to you.

Seriously, I find the use of bicycles here fascinating and wonderful. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE (sure, a sweeping generalization but . . . ), uses a bicycle for getting around the city. They ride in ones, twos, threes, sometimes two or more on one bike, and sometimes in extremely large groups that defy imagination. They ride fast and urgently. They are in a hurry on their bikes. They got to get there, wherever there is. They ride in tailored suits and stylish dresses. They carry dangling, smiling children like rag dolls in the handlebars of their bikes. This is fantastic for sustainability because it conserves fossil fuels and reduces pollution. Most of the bikes people ride here are just basic models they might lock up at the train station, say, if they need to take a longer trip in the area or in the city center to go dining or shop. This combination of bicycling and public transportation is obviously a great model for all of us in the world, and it keeps people in shape. That’s why so many people here are beautiful, both men and women. They are in shape and take care of their bodies.

But it’s not always so great for those of us here temporarily, those of us who have to navigate around the city especially because of work-related obligations. If you happen to temporarily get in the way of a bicyclist, they ring their handlebar bell incessantly at you, yell something out in what I see as the increasingly dead language of Dutch—probably an obscenity—and then look at you as if you’ve just committed murder. There are no clear signs of where to walk. The beautiful bicyclists themselves follow no discernable rules, which I’m sure are coded in the Dutch DNA they have so historically coveted to exploit other people throughout the world, and, okay, I’m sure there are certain codified bike rules, but maybe they could put out a brochure or something for visitors. It’s all so maddening, but in a European-adventure type of way. It really is thrilling to be on the verge of getting body slammed by a bike every two minutes or so. It keeps the blood flowing.

In the poem “Under Ben Bulben,” W.B Yeats writes:

Even the wisest man grows tense
With some sort of violence
Before he can accomplish fate,
Know his work or choose his mate.

I’m pretty much at that point right now here, and I’m not a huge Yeats fan or even believe in the philosophy underpinning those particular lines of poetry. I just need it to survive mentally for the next few days. If I get body slammed by a bike I may die or I may achieve greatness in my lifetime. It’s a risk I have to take because my university is paying for me to come here.

I also love the way people here conserve. For example, at my hotel’s breakfast buffet, a wonderful feast by the way, they only have one small carafe of water sitting on one table. People have to get up to get their water. The water glasses themselves were cocktail-like small. The carafe was constantly refilled so water was readily available so you could drink your fill, but no server was hovering over each diner constantly refilling their water glass when it got half empty or whatever. This seems like a wee point for sure, and I can hear the snickering four thousand miles away, but how much water or how much food do we waste in the United States under the guise of “good service” or simple gluttony or just plain stupidity? There are better ways to conserve that just make sense. This is one of them.

I just gave a presentation on the late author James Joyce at Utrecht University this morning as part of the XXIV International James Joyce Symposium. My presentation, “An Intellectual Fetish? Bloom as the Queeric Cuckold in James Joyce’s Ulysses,” deals with some of the more intense sexual elements in the exiled Irish author’s masterpiece novel. These sexual ideas were considered more intense back in 1922 than they are now, but they did stir major controversy that led to a major lawsuit in the U.S. Joyce’s genius pushed Western culture forward to enlightenment and Ulysses itself invented literary modernism. My argument tries to deploy a correction to a prevailing academic view that Joyce’s famous character Leopold Bloom is perverse and reflects Joyce’s own perversions as shown letters he wrote to his longtime partner Nora—later his wife—in the early twentieth century. In fact, I find Bloom’s sexuality, primarily depicted in his fantasies, as rich and sublime, and I’m using literary criticism known as Queer Theory to frame my arguments.

Unfortunately, I was blatantly censored by having my presentation cut short during my actual talk for reasons that I believe have to do with a bias that prevails among the Joycean studies power structure right now. I was unable to talk about crucial evidence of how former Joyce scholars have simply depicted the famous author as a pervert, which, in turn, has marred readings of his work. In fact, I think Joyce’s diverse sexuality enhanced and even drove his genius. I have textual evidence to support that claim. What’s so amazing about all this is that Joyce himself was censored throughout his life.

I guess there are extremely sound and financial academic reasons for having the conference here in Utrecht, and, of course, inside the intellectual bubble most professors don’t concern themselves publicly with everyday, contemporary political realities.

I WILL publish the paper, even if it takes the tenacity Joyce used to get his work printed, but it will have to go in a publication outside the Joyce-academic machine, controlled by older scholars who probably can’t have sex anymore and prudish heterosexuals who honor reprosexuality as some privileged status of humanity.

Back to Utrecht. The city center is beautiful, but the overall place is no destination place, folks. I’m here because of James Joyce, not Utrecht, which even with all its sustainable bicycles, beautiful people, wonderful restaurants and historical and quaint charm—the cobblestoned streets, the older, well-maintained buildings are wonderfully gorgeous—can’t overcome Netherlands’ deeply racist history and its particular complicated relationship with the colonization and oppression of South Africa, whatever the contemporary current denial is in vogue to qualify it here right now. I hope to connect with more locals to get their view on this topic, but certainly all in the spirit of intellectual engagement and progress and sincere friendship. It’s not like the United States doesn’t have its own ugly racist issues, but we do have a two-term African American president. I voted for him both times.

I also want to ask Dutch people here, in particular, what they think of Zwarte Piet, the country’s beloved holiday racist caricature.

Meanwhile, I’m extremely worried I’m going to get seriously injured or even killed here by a bicyclist. There are worse ways to go I guess, and at least I’ll be dying for the good cause of sustainability, right? I have to stop writing now and go get another glass of water because I’m composing this as I eat another wonderful Dutch breakfast. I hope I don’t lose my train of thought as I hydrate and forget that last good point I was going to make. It’s an important one. It could change the world.

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