(This a reprint of a post on June 25, 2014 when I was staying at an Paris apartment in the 2nd arrondissement for several days. Perhaps, it’s unfair to compare the great intellectual and beautiful city of Paris with Oklahoma, but we contend with our own type of religious extremism here. Following the recent terrorist attacks on their city, I agree with many people that Parisians need love and support from us, not self-indulgent prayers. There’s too much religious extremism and religious hate in the world these days. As the Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Joann Sfar put it in a cartoon after the attacks: ”Friends from the whole world, thank you for #prayforparis, but we don’t need more religion. Our faith goes to music! Kisses! Life! Champagne and Joy! #Parissaboutlife.”)
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) doesn’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.”
— Rue89 (@Rue89) November 14, 2015
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 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.