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 and/or 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.