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.

In Europe

Image of Picasso work

I will be on an academic trip to Europe over the next couple of weeks or so, and while I still plan to blog, my posts might not follow my normal schedule given time differences and my professional obligations.

I hope that at least some of my content will deal with comparisons between Europe and the United States about sustainability, public transportation and medical issues. The medical issue is personally important one to me as I write this. For example, I’ve been unable to speak with my primary care physician or anyone in his office besides a receptionist in the last two days. I’m almost sure I can take care of what I need at a pharmacy in Europe, but I’m not 100 percent on that. Basic medical access, intentional limits on contacting physicians and ever-shifting, meaningless bureaucratic rules governing medicine, hiding like hateful cowards under the ugly curtain of greed or just plain ignorance, remain a huge problem here in Oklahoma and in other parts of the country.

It’s also my plan to watch and write about a House of Commons session in London. I’ll always weigh in on Oklahoma issues if something major happens. It’s always refreshing to view some of Oklahoma’s ongoing political debates from different places, especially when in other countries entirely.

My first stop is Utrecht, Netherlands, or more specifically Utrecht University, established in 1636 and proclaimed as one of the oldest and largest universities in Europe. Utrecht is about 20 miles south of Amsterdam. I fly into Amsterdam, and then take a train to Utrecht. Fortunately, my hotel is within walking distance of the university.

The University of Utrecht is hosting the XXIV International James Joyce Symposium this coming week. I’m presenting a paper on Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses, a paper that deals with the character Leopold Bloom and the Circe section of the novel. For those who aren’t familiar with the novel, it’s a modern augmentation and reflection of Homer’s poem the Odyssey and set on June 16, 1904 in Dublin, Ireland.

The novel is considered a major work of genius and the foundational text of literary modernism. The date June 16 is celebrated as Bloomsday throughout the world in honor of one of the novel’s three main characters. I just happen to be giving my paper in the morning of June 16 so I can gleefully usher in my Bloomsday with some salacious malarkey about Bloom himself after cooking up and eating my usual fried kidney. I’ll be careful not to burn it.

The title of my paper is “Intellectual Fetish: Bloom as the Queeroic Cuckold in James Joyce’s Ulysses.”

After Utrecht, I’m off to Paris, London and Dublin. For the first time, I’ll be taking a train through the Channel Tunnel, known as the Chunnel, from Paris to London, which runs under the English Channel for 23.5 miles.

In Dublin, I hope to get to know just a wee bit better the city and country of the exiled Joyce, an author I’ve studied and taught for a long time now.

Fracking Threat: It Gets Worse

Image of wind turbines

Feel that 3.0-magnitude earthquake Tuesday morning in central Oklahoma?

Well, here’s something else to shake things up even more in the growing case to be made against hydraulic fracturing: Possible nuclear disaster.

The site Truthout recently published an article in which experts argue that a cavern that stores radioactive waste near Carlsbad, New Mexico could be threatened by nearby hydraulic fracturing or fracking activity. Energy companies, according to the article, are drilling and establishing fossil fuel wells within five miles of the site.

According to the article:

Given that it is already well known that fracking causes earthquakes, it is clear that the nuclear waste storage site is now in danger of having its structural integrity compromised.

The site is part of the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP), which was established to store radioactive waste. It’s one of the deepest and largest such facilities in the world.

Could a major leak of that radioactive waste make its way to Oklahoma?

Of course, here in Oklahoma we know all about fracking, a process in which chemicals and water are injected by high pressure into the ground to release oil and gas. Our new and growing earthquake problem, though, appears to be caused by the injection wells that store the wastewater from the process, according to scientists.

A 3.0-magnitude earthquake rumbled Edmond Tuesday morning, but that’s nothing unusual anymore. It’s all just part of our reality now in a state once known more for its killer tornadoes than its seismic activity.

Oklahoma was ranked second in the nation among the lower 48 states for earthquakes 3.0-magnitude or higher in 2013. The state has already surpassed that total this year.

Oil and gas industry leaders continue to argue that there’s no definitive proof that their drilling processes are causing the huge number of earthquakes here and elsewhere in this country’s current fracking boom, and state leaders and a complacent corporate media are happy to oblige their argument.

Here are some questions: Are we going to experience a major earthquake soon in this area that causes massive damage? Will that wake up our state leaders? What is the structural impact of so many repeated earthquakes on our property and buildings? What are the legal ramifications of human-caused earthquakes?

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