Speaking of the French perspective, one wonders if Oklahoma’s supposed rugged individualism, its empty spaces, its rather ugly expansionary history in the American story create a reductionist discourse that subsumes the reality of isolation, secrecy and en masse adherence to distorted religious codes.
What we might get at, first, is that in Paris, the close proximity of people (not to mention dogs, cats and pigeons) don’t necessarily create community but just IS the space in which cultural and personal identity remain situated. There is no similar space in Oklahoma. The Right-Wing Church in Oklahoma serves as the main point of reference, a center, but its hypocrisy and illogic render it useless in any universal sense outside our confines, and thus the center won’t hold.
In Oklahoma, nothing is spoken but much is conducted in silence or in the secret gestures of the breaking of taboos deployed by The Right-Wing Church. In Paris, one must search deeply for the taboo, and sometimes when it’s found it vanishes in its own reality. That taboo is no longer on the list of taboos, monsieur. Down the street, one might find more vanishing taboos until the last taboo is encountered behind the door marked “sortie.”
I’m thinking about these things as I finish my time in Paris and head to London. As I wrote in my “Letter From Paris” Monday, I know I open myself up to criticism for exchanging the pragmatic of the Republican election season in Oklahoma for philosophical indulgence. I don’t care. I don’t even know what to say about the complaint in the first place, especially when it comes from friends. To view and read the happenings in Oklahoma from Paris—and, of course, the internet captures the horrific scene these days—is to realize the state’s oppression and, frankly, madness, the terrible crimes, the massive child abuse, the lack of awareness about the importance of education and health care, the love of The Corporation, all inscribed by The Right-Wing Church. As I write this, NewsOK.com is running a story lauding the fracking conducted by oil and gas companies in the state despite the connection between this particular drilling fossil-fuel process and the surge in earthquakes, which are probably destroying our homes bit by bit and threaten real bodily damage.
I sit writing, thinking these thoughts, occasionally looking out the windows of my Paris apartment down at the cafes and shops below, and I know the error or randomness of misplacement, both personally and culturally.
The Right-Wing Church and The Corporation. It was suggested to me once that I write a book about the connection in Oklahoma. It’s THE main immoral dilemma in our state, one that drives all the problems, from poverty to illness to crime. I suggest the two, for the most part, are interchangeable or at least symbiotic. What bores me the most in Oklahoma, however, are (and, yes, I’m a leftist) arguments about how the Left-Wing Church is closer to a god than the Right-Wing Church on moral grounds. No, the point I will make is this: the Left-Wing Church is in love with The Corporation as much as the Right-Wing Church. The manifestation and language is different, but the result is the same: suffering.
People suffer in Oklahoma, and someone declares some statistics and meaning about it, and then more people suffer in Oklahoma, and then someone else declares some statistics and meaning about it. The Right-Wing Church and The Corporation don’t care about suffering or statistics; the former wants perverted control of the human body and the numbing of intelligence; the latter wants Le Grand payouts for the new aristocrats, who lie to themselves of their superlative capabilities and to their souls about any worthy examination of their existence.
Those who speak publicly about the suffering through statistics, The Media, The Organizations, left or right, are controlled by the new aristocrats or, let’s just call them what they are, the new filthy rich, who make a misery of so many lives in the world so they can colonize and own the planet and exert power. The Media, The Organizations, only mimic and depict The Serious relationship between the Right-Wing Church and The Corporation, although some will express self-righteous indignation of this notion. The indignation is laughable and, more importantly, ineffective. From Paris, drunk on philosophy, stoned on artistic beauty, the indignation seems like a Beckett play or a scene from Joyce’s Ulysses. Surely, there’s a hidden meaning in the indignation, right? But, no, it’s only the petty narcissism one must stoically endure in any generation.
In Paris today, a group of school children played soccer in the streets outside my window as people walked through this important World Cup game. A couple, their arms intertwined and oblivious to all people, drank espresso in small blue cups at a sidewalk café nearby. Scooters darted down the street in quick zips, scattering pigeons. A young, beautiful woman, dressed in a fashionable skirt and hosiery, walked her small, scruffy dog on its leash. The surrounding buildings enclosed and framed the scene, a painting, really, for Paris is a painting, but I must now make seventeen points about Oklahoma. What madness in itself!
My eighth point, or perhaps it’s my fourteenth point, on my Paris trip is aimed at all my former and current students. On this trip, a street vendor told me that “everything is possible.” He was answering my question about whether I could get some cooked chicken on a particular type of bread. I then asked, “Everthing?” He said, “Everything.” I then said loudly, “Everything is possible!” Someone else yelled it as well. It echoed down a cobble-stoned street. A small crowd waiting in line around us cheered. A moment. A life.
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
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.