4 Shopping and Nuclear Energy Plants

Janei’s life with Jamilio, her boyfriend in the US, was different from what the reader might have understood. She was younger, she could feel it; she was in fact a lot younger than Jamilio, who moreover maintained friendships with considerably older men, like Wonking (also in the US), whom she liked and respected but sometimes felt an unbridgeable distance to. Even though she had older friends herself – fathers of former boyfriends, nieces of aunts that had passed away, old neighborhood friends – she seemed so much older than when she was younger. Their friends who used to older were her own age now. So in a way one does not age after 22, she sometimes thought.

The bridges between her and Jamilio she most often simply avoided bringing to mind. She knew the answers to all ‘real’ questions were unknowable. That was what made them real questions. And the rest should not really matter, according to Nietzsche. They had also only recently met, and started seeing each other from an impossible situation: she was in a city more than 300 miles away from his, and she wasn’t sure about sticking around. She might leave and go back to where she came from, and where she was now, Europe. However, for what? At least she had Jamilio there to build something up with. Also, she could grow to be a respectable scientist and writer there, in the country of opportunities. But would he not leave her ultimately? Absolutely not, she was too young.

“Regarding my Dutch accent you mean?“ asked Emanuel, whom she was paying a visit. He was the father of Bormaus, Janei’s neighborhood friend from the early days.

– “No, in terms of content as well. That you think ‘I should have have said that instead’.” They were discussing the fact that she was recording the conversation. Emanuel expressed his fear of saying something and hearing it on tape later, then wishing to have bitten his tongue off.

“So you rather had said nothing? And then you say…”

– “You have rather said nothing, or you say the wrong thing at the wrong time, or…”

In a recent debate on Facebook, the Japan post-earthquake and -tsunami catastrophe was vehemently debated and in Germany large groups of nuclear energy opponents would next weekend assemble in over 20 different German cities. She had brought it up in the hope that Emanuel would have a clear opinion she would learn from. He had recommended her a text book explaining the basics of nuclear fission and fusion. She also regarded him as one of her more educated friends. She did not know why she would learn more now that she was in his living room, listening to his arguments. But she always felt so different in this house, where she had made many good experiences as a younger woman and child, that it may make her more susceptible to his perspective on nuclear energy.

Another example of how she manoeuvred so as to enhance her susceptibility, understanding and respect for authors, was to hear them speak, perhaps even somewhere online. She could apply the cadence, intonations and other speech markers on the written sentences. Often at times in moments of decreased concentration she would pretend to hear the words being screamed, whispered or even sung in her mind. Her enhanced ability to mentally project speech markers as a result of her knowledge of different languages had certainly also helped with that. One reason behind her stubborn return to lecture halls and seminars, she now thought, seemed related to these places conveying the ‘everyday’ of complex and powerful ideas. ( McLuhan – tribalization?)

“Once in a million years can be tomorrow… or in 400 years, or 500.000 years, we don’t know.” Emanuel explained.

– “Your argument that the earth spins around regardless of everything…so it doesn’t matter that these things explode once in a million years, because the benefit weighs up to the 100.000 people that once a million years are…”

“Such is the case in society, yes. If that would have been different, if that would have been unacceptable to us, as world community, then we would have said right after Harrisburg or Chernobyl ‘now we’re closing everything’, but we didn’t say that. What’s more, we have kept on building them.

– “Well, we knew that Chernobyl was their own fault…so we knew the origin…” She had talked about this a couple of hours ago with another friend who lived nearby.

“Own fault or not, you construct something, a car, a bike, a step, or an submarine, and with all those things we fabricate, chances are that something goes wrong. One has to compare the amount of casualties and the damage that will be done with the revenue. In the case of nuclear energy, the people that control that…the government officials look at what potential these things have, and say they agree that there we build more, or maintain status quo..and now, at this moment you hear Mrs. Merkel in Germany…”

– “Who is nuclear physicist herself…”

“Yes, and she now suddenly claims that we have to close everything down, while maintaining one or a couple because you never know…”

– “That’s how they say that?” She wasn’t aware that they would close everything…even though she thought to have read most of the Facebook entries on the matter and had followed their links.

“In the long run, yes..and they now already closed 7 of them, and yes in the long run they will be closed, but I give you the guarantee that – it will be after my time – in ten years they might think differently again. That they will re-open them again…Or we mothball them now and in ten years we’ll look at it again…”

– “Keeping the public satisfied? Because I happen to know that in Germany a crowd will protesting against nuclear energy…”

“Yes, we had that here as well. That’s nothing new.”

– “But in the Netherlands at the moment this is not the case. I don’t see anyone in the streets. One week ago, over 100.000 people in Germany, spread over 20 cities…” She was on her activist chair again, and wanted to use ‘actual’ public space to show the ‘world’ what ‘we’ were thinking. Such bull.

“One does not find that in the Netherlands at the moment, but it has definitely been there as well..”

– “Will probably return as well…” Same, but different – through social networks that gain more and more international political weight on matters of national interest. But what means political pressure and who verifies that? Who verifies anything? She remembered how she had been invited to Friendster in 2004 by a good friend. She had build up a network of about 14 people. A year later she invited that same friend to join Hi5 and around the same time she had begun to explore Hyves.

In 2007, her main activities in terms of online social networks were through Couchsurfing and Hospitality Club, two sites that connect potential hosts with potential guests. She had hosted and been hosted by about 40 people in the years after that, which had time and again triggered her interest for the ‘real’ person behind profiles of total strangers.

She knew that most professors she knew and were studying digital media had not made such experiences. But yet they were the ones writing about that. She didn’t want to become one of them. As of 2008, she started to use Facebook as her main connection with her circles of friends. After she went to the States the amount of friends had in no time doubled from 150 to 300. But she had disliked Facebook. And she dislike The Social Network. It just didn’t resonate with her. And that was a perfectly academic argument for not liking it. Professors made decisions based on how things resonated with them all the time, she had experienced.

And now, in 2011, she was still using Facebook, though less than before. She had started using Google+ as well. And at this point, she had started to see how much of a distraction for real issues these networks formed to some people in her circle of friends. The people that were hit the most were, sure enough, perpetually available in digitality, but NOT EVER in flesh and blood. She was lucky to live in a coop, she thought, in which 5 out of its 15 house members did not own a cell phone and where she would strike up ‘old-fashioned’ uninterrupted conversations on a daily basis.

She felt there was something real to these people. It was hidden in their mentality towards life – they had the original programmers, where all of the programmers she would meet were in fact utilizers, using technology to attain their goals – which were invariably status, money and/or jobs. Original programmers, in her mind, were thinking outside of such goals, were constantly finding ways to put these life-taking goals into different perspectives. They still lived.

“I don’t know, I’m not a psychic. But left- or right-way, we want to use energy, and more than we can produce with simple biological labor… and the oil and gas.”

“Wind, water…“ She wasn’t just trying to keep the conversation going, surely? Where were her thoughts?

“Sun, all kinds of nice things.“

– “Nuclear fission, not fusion, do they have a date scheduled for that to come out?” Janei asked.

“The experts do not agree in any way on that issue yet. On paper, I understand, it’s not very hard, but you need 15 million degrees to bring about nuclear fusion. In what kind of jar do you want to put that? But they are working on it…I’m hoping on it, but I won’t be here to experience it.”

– “Is it not that we are just in love with scientific progression, that has already come so far and can do so many things, and that we want to see that it is all possible, that we can benefit from it. Is it not that all the investments in finding the smallest particles on earth – what does it consist of – that we then use that knowledge to our advantage and…” This was bold, very bold. It didn’t even mean anything. To her.

“I don’t believe that it’s a scientific romance.”

– “What then has happened after Chernobyl that the whole world said ‘we are simply going to continue’?

“Need, need for energy, which is translated into Euros or Rubles or Pesetas.“

– “But the need is growing smaller with ongoing water, light and wind energy, and more and more scientists are convinced that in the near future we can make fossil fuel out of CO2, mimic photosynthesis…”

“Yes, that’s an illusion, for now it’s an illusion. CO2, you will have to detach the O2 from the carbon – that costs as much energy as that it has delivered – how do want to go about doing that?”

“And what about those Tesla experiments? It’s kind of vague, but I know about this project in Alaska called HAARP, an installation of …it looks like a park stuffed with power transmitters and apparently the US government works there under strict secrecy on a project to supply power to random places on earth. The idea is derived from Tesla, from his…” She had lost track. Sloterdijk had talked about this, but she wasn’t sure what she was talking about. It sounded wild and interesting…and dangerous. But she needed Google and Wikipedia.

“Magnetic fields..”

– “Yes, from his idea of wireless power generation, one pole supplies an entire region with power.”

“You’ve talked about this before, but I think…I don’t believe it yet. It’s a bit like the utopia of perpetuum mobile.”

– “What’s that? “

“Something that maintenances itself…causes itself to be continuously moving.”

“OK, so..perpetuum mobile, nowadays we say that we are always in perpetual contact with one another through media.”

“Yes, but it does cost energy.”

– “Luckily we have that energy, we eat continuously.”

“Like it has always gone with developments. Technology can be better, we can do more, we become smarter, we become…”

– “And with nuclear power it is just a matter of safety because the benefits are already there. Or can these also be enhanced, other than through fusion?”

“I was talking about this with my daughter once, who is ardent opponent of nuclear power, she says the yellow cake is going deplete. Yellow cake is the building material for nuclear fission plants – uranium. Uranium is a relatively rare metal that can’t be found in free nature – it’s always bound with granite, a mineral. One first has to detach it from the mineral, and separate shadow isotopes from light isotopes. Looking at the amount of uranium 235 that one gains thereby – that is very meager. So if you take this all…but this is all in the book as well.” He referred thereby to the book on nuclear power that Janei had borrowed from him.

– “Indeed, it’s in the book…uranopilite is hydrated sulfate, rutherfordium and carbonate.”

“Yes, complicated.”

– “This is what it looks like”. She pointed at a picture in the book.

“Yes, yellow. Anyway, will you take that book to America?”

– “Yes.”

“That you have something to read.“

– ”I wouldn’t worry about that…”

“You have enough to read anyhow. I came across it the other day and thought it was nice for Janei.”

– “You know, I have a vested interest in these things, but I’m not doing it…”

“It’s not your thing..”

– “Yes, I said earlier to myself ‘I’m pretending to be a scientist but in reality I’m not at all’” This was true. She had learned to see her own attitude towards science as a graduate student, being under a lot of stress. Because you are constantly carrying mostly your own limits around wherever you go, and have the feeling everyone sees them immediately as you step into whichever room, the enemy in graduate school is a lesser version of yourself that you start to see as real. It is the self when you don’t perform according to the better you.

Performing along the lines of the better you is also perfectly subjective: any outsider, and most strikingly your own adviser, will frown upon any serious talent or potential that you would claim to bring to the table if you perform the better or even best you, the superman. She first learned to stress less by understanding that the construct she was afraid of believing to be real as a construct and as separate from her state of being. This, according to Laclau and Lacan, was nothingness.

In a lot of ways, therefore, graduate school was a monoculture that one had to continually find the exit from (in order to survive without unhealthy stress-disorders that linger on for as long as one lives – and beyond, if one believes the BBC The Ghost in your Genes documentary). Continually finding exits from the threatening ‘real’ image of you, however, to her was worlds apart from from realizing the diversity and the good one could do in the world, working with one’s own potential, and feeling good doing that. Therefore, graduate school made you into a tough cookie that can ‘really put the snow pea in the wok’, but was not going to help you as a human being.

“Yes, but you have ‘drs.’ in front of your name?”

– “But I don’t really use that..”

“But you’re doktorandus, or not?“

– “In an official sense, yes.”

“Alright, that’s what I mean.“

– “But..eh..”

“Your attitude is scientific in any case.”

– “I was thinking journalistic. Wanting to know everything about something in order to make a nice story out of it.”

“That’s a very broad concept of course.”

– “Science….”

“Whether you write for Telegraaf or for NRC, that makes quite a difference.”

“Science journalist..”

– “Let’s go back to where I was…we have to talk about something, don’t we?” Emanuel seemed afraid the recording would not be worthwhile. So he started showing on a Google map on the TV-computer the location where he had had car accident two days earlier.

“This is the Praxis,” pointing at the screen, “this is the Gamma, you used to have Leenbakker here, but that burned down, and I stood at these flags, on this spot, so I back-up and that guy stood here somewhere. There was nothing here, so I thought I back-up straight and park it there. The guy says he stood here. And then claims that I hit him.”

– “Ah, but you’re to blame because you backed-up..”

“Yes, I agree. Initially I also thought, yes, I backed-up. But if he was standing here, it is impossible for him to make that curve and end up straight. He stood straight.” It seemed to be a difficult issue and Janei wanted to know all about it. However, she was also thinking about her earlier thought, her role in all this, as an outsider, a role that she knew so well because grad school had taught her to snap out of anything if needed be. She seemed to be able to think about that while following the discussion on the accident – however less focused. She had wondered how she had become so well at multi-tasking her way through all conversations. It weren’t actual tasks, just thoughts that she would somehow process parallel – but really sequentially of course – to what was actually happening – here and now.

“And thus it is likely that he stood one place further…” Emanuel was referring to the man in the other car, with whom he had had a debate about whether he stood still or not. Sometimes she thought the strong presence of these other thoughts – not that they were compulsive or obsessive in any sense – had been enhanced by having had a voice in her head for so long – through her headphones.

During her studies in Berlin, she mostly got around using the city’s almost flawless subway and bus system. Public transport sometimes offers a good opportunity to get some reading done, through a hearing device, like walkmans, mp3-players and iPods, of which she had owned more than a dozen. By chance she once downloaded a lecture series from 1996 by Niklas Luhmann and discovered that listening to interactional (as in: lecture hall-professor-students) speech brought home the idea of explaining difficult concepts in her own words.

This was really a big step in her belief that after all she was capable of conveying knowledge to others. Her boyfriend at the time was her first target, and although he quite often did not get any of the things she attempted to explain – the matter of cybernetic sociology is of course not the easiest – he did mention more than once that what she was doing was ‘interesting’. What he meant was that he saw that she was interested in the matter herself. Was that all that was needed? Yes. This may have strengthened her inner voice, after all.

“Yes, and I spoke to an insurance mediator. This woman said these things are usually difficult. You were both busy parking in general and whether it was slowly moving forward or reversing – that doesn’t make all that much of a difference, because standing still usually refers to a little more time..”

– “A little more than 10 seconds…”

“Something like that. So I told this man that I thought it very unlikely that he stood still at the exact moment I arrived and attempted to drive on. It seems like a tall story.”

– “What kind of damage does he have?”

“He has a zest this small (holds fingers very close together), and this thick. One needs a magnifying glass to find it. And no dent or nothing. And my rear light is broken.”

– “Just the reflector?”

“It all went very, very slow.” This seemed to be the exact opposite of what people usually say when describing an accident they were in. “What pissed me off a little, was that this man directly said ‘yes, you drove against me’ and his wife who was there made a slip, she said too much, she said ‘yes, we reversed’ but directly added ‘..but then we were moving forward’ to that.”

– “Yeah, but what do you start against that?”

“I could also say that ‘I just stood still’”

– “But you’re not going to say that..”

“No. I said ‘there were a couple of people who were parking their cars, I’ve noted that down on the damage form. The insurance will have to look into it further. He has got 150-200 Euro damage. I said ‘I’m estimating my damage’ – I put myself in as reference – they ask what is the estimated damage? And I wrote down 400 Euro.” 400 Euro for one reflector?

“And who estimated that?”

– “Myself.”

“Isn’t that a little loose?” she tried. “You have one light..”

“I think it’s very loose, yes.”

– “Only for your own car?“


– “But you thought I take it loosely.”


“And what does he estimate his damage to be?“ She realized he had just told her this but she had lost track of his story again. Instead, she had wondered off to George Constanza, who in some Seinfeld episode was obsessed with ‘books for the blind’. Similarly, there had been a time when she would listen instead of read books.

Unfortunately, audio studying is not really a possibility if one is serious about one’s work and becomes a pedantic habit other students frown upon. In her trajectory towards becoming a high school teacher (2007-2009) she therefore gradually lost the Berlin spirit of explaining things in her own words: she just wasn’t capable of doing it.

In her youth, roughly between 6 and 19, parents, friends of parents, schoolteachers, pastors and others perhaps just had not been diligent enough in guiding her through the process of building a mind of her own – instead of one filled with book knowledge. This was, when she had reached her thirties, still very much the case, although she now and then consciously seeks for someone to explain her in their own words what they mean by difficult conceptual puzzles, such as the role of language in identity.

“We went to the Fiat or Seat dealer, there was a mechanic who didn’t really know too much about it, but he estimated it at 150-200.”

– “To bump out that dent?”

“No, it wasn’t a dent, it was a zest.”

– “And re-varnish it.”

“Yes, that entire region has to be redone. If it was up to me, we would have just left it that way. You got your damage, I got mine. But that man is so incredibly convinced that I drove against him that he blames me, that’s possible, but I’m not convinced, and he cannot convince me. Because he could have hit me just as hard as I could have hit him.”

– “It is the back?”

“Yes, and my back.”

– “And your back? But how is that possible if he stood straight and you come from there?” She was now herself pointing at the Google map on the TV-computer.

“Look, he is here – he says – but he stood here according to my analysis, with his nose in that direction. He wants to go in that direction, so he turns with his ass that way.”

– “So he turns on your side of the road?”

“Well, on my side of the road I don’t know. He wants to go in that direction, can you picture it in your mind? I’m reversed out of my spot, look that way, and that way, back-up because I thought that’s where I can stick my ass in that hole, and then I can drive off like that. And at that point – he turns that way – my car on this side touches his left side.”

“Yes, so it’s the corner in both cases.”

The conversation went on like that for several minutes, going into detail about the damage and the maneuvers both cars had made:

“And he says he stood still on the road. And I don’t believe that.“

– “Did you see that he was moving?”


– “But you were moving?”

“I was moving, but he didn’t see that.”

– “But how is it possible that there is almost no damage if you were both moving? Because if he was moving, he was moving towards you.”

“He says he stood still.”

– “But you don’t believe that.”

“I don’t believe that.”

By now she knew what to say to better the perfect conversation partner. She didn’t even have to think about it. They were on the same level.

– “So he was moving, and if he was moving it was towards you, or away from you?”

If he was moving, then…I don’t know. In any case he could not have come from that side, I would have seen him then. And also not from there. So he could only have come from there, or – according to him – from there (points at map). But I didn’t see that. And he didn’t see me.”

“You were in his dead angle, and most likely he in yours. If he had been moving the impact of the collision would have been larger, of course. No? Maybe, that the question. I don’t know.

– “Or if he hadn’t been moving, it would have been smaller.” Etcetera, what is it that we like to go into so much detail about things, she wondered. Both Emanuel and her, they wanted to have an eye for the little things, but why?

“If he was not moving, it would have been smaller, related to what I estimate to be my speed. I crawl backwards, very slowly. It I have hit a post or whatever before with such speed where absolutely nothing happened. But we don’t know. I don’t know, but he don’t know either.”

– “But it’s of course very convenient for him if you also sign that it’s your fault.”

“And I didn’t do that. You can read it, I copied it, below on the page. I only used the word ‘maneuver’ the wrong way.”

On a printed copy of the collision, the discussion was then repeated but in reference to what both drivers had drawn, their depiction the real, instead of in reference to the actual collision the way they had been talking for a while. As a teenager, she remembered, every time on television or the radio whenever a person would walk over small stones, leaves or twigs, the creaking sound felt so real that it urged her to go do it herself. Because it was always audio – not visuals – she thought she had especially sensitive hearing.

She had always severely disliked hearing loud noise or cries, from babies and young children notably. What she did not understand back then, is that these sounds of stepped-on creaking wood, stones or moss, were different from the exact same sounds in nature because they were mediated intimacy, even closer than the real. The sensation would not have been possible without this forged transmission – that one has to ‘not see’ to experience as the higher real, the hyperbolic visceral, perhaps.

This showed her how these media possess the quality of bringing objects closer to the self than otherwise. Than in case one never encounters the external world through magic channels for seeing and hearing. Honestly, she thought all beings on this earth must have (had) such encounters in their lives. It might even be the purpose. Doesn’t make such magic make life worth while? The other driver’s perspective on the collision, as boring as his point of view may seem, had brought forth more questions.

“Yes, well that’s his interpretation. After the collision he has moved a little forward.”

– “So he stood still here. And you backed-up as well?”

“No, I didn’t move. Is that thing still on?” Suddenly Emanuel remembers the recording Janei was making on her notebook.

– “Yes.”

“What do you want with all that?”

– “Nothing.”

“I don’t want to see it on the Internet.”

– “No, it’s going to be literally transcribed.”

“I don’t want to see it transcribed on the Internet either.”

– “Are you going to look for it, then?” She said it half laughing, as though searching for something like this was a silly attempt at defending ones privacy pro-actively.

“You bet! What is your eh…what are these things called…your weblog? Then I can see you when I feel like it. But you of course write everything in English.”

– “But you can have everything translated, you know that?”

“Yes, but when I read you I have to cut my head in two: one for the English and one for the content of the text.”

– “That’s true. But where does he say that it’s your fault?”

“He doesn’t. Here, what he writes there: he stood still, so it was my fault.”

Americans say that: you live five hours from Paris? So you go shopping there on the weekend? They like that. But that’s not how things go in the Netherlands, of course. Well, Americans maybe more like tourists at home, she thought, Place the la Concorde, Place d’Etoille, the Tuilleries, the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, August Rodin museum, don’t hear them talk about classy names, but they have been everywhere twice. Emanuel had learned in school that My ville est ma ville ma Paris est le monde. Yes, Paris was the European capital in the 19th century. Even though it should have been London. Or Vienna. Though Vienna was perhaps just the musical capital of Europe.


Janei in the Netherlands Copyright © 2011 by Peter Blank. All Rights Reserved.


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