Passionately Curious: Coffee O’Clock

Passionately Curious

I, like most University students, and in fact most people, enjoy a good cup of coffee. When it’s been a long night, and that lecture just can’t quite seem to keep your attention, one dose of the ol’ midnight brew will get you pepped up, alert and awake. Most of us just take it for granted on the basis that it simply always works, but as usual in Passionately Curious, I like to go a step further: how does it work? Continue reading “Passionately Curious: Coffee O’Clock”


Restricted Area: Derogatory Words racial slurs and homo-/transphobic slurs are used for demonstration and explanation in this article.

As children and teenagers we hear often enough that words do not just have meaning: they can also hurt, although some songs and stories may claim the opposite. If you’re lucky, you’ll experience little of the negative power that words can have and see mostly the good that words can do, but unfortunately there are plenty of people who have experienced, and still will experience that some words hurt. Of course, words don’t necessarily harm or work in a positive way – there are plenty of influential words and plenty of less influential words in the world, as there are plenty of influential and less influential people in the world.

There are certain words and terms among the powerful words with a negative meaning that have been heavily debated over the last decade, or even longer. These forms are derogatory words that have been used to insult people who belong to certain groups or minorities. These words are categorized as racial slurs or homophobic or transphobic slurs, and include words such as “nigger”/”nigga”, “faggot”, “dyke”, “queer”, “tranny”, “slut” and so forth.

The debate mostly involved the discussion of whether these words should be used or avoided, or whether their meaning should be changed, and furthermore, if these slurs can be used – who is allowed to use them. To some people it is obvious that if you belong to a group that has used a slur against another group, you immediately lose the right to use that word ever again – even if you no longer intend to offend with it.

As an example for the arguments used in the debates I will discuss the usage of the n-word. When listening to rap music, there is a large chance that you will hear at least one or two songs in which the rappers use the n-word to describe themselves, their friends or other people around them. Quite some fans of this genre pick up aspects of the language that rappers use, and inherently, they might start using the n-word. The result is a discussion: is using the n-word acceptable or not?

Fact is that there is not just a consensus within these groups on the usage of a word. You will for instance find the opinion of those who agree with talk show host Oprah, who discussed the matter with rapper Jay-Z on her show. In her opinion, people, no matter whether they are black or white, should not use the n-word at all. The colonial history that the word has, the background of oppression the word comes from, makes it a word with so much power that there is no justifying the use of it. Furthermore, using the word, especially as a black person, can give others the idea that it is actually acceptable to use a derogatory form. To quote Tina Fey’s character in the Mean Girls movie on a similar matter: [to the female students] “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.”

Jay-Z disagreed with her. He believed that with eradicating a certain word from a language we do not solve a problem, the problem lies deeper than just the meaning of a word. By claiming the word, however, he says, we strip the power it has been given from it and give it a new, empowering meaning. That does not mean that white people are allowed to use it. As the n-word was/is used by white people as a derogatory slur, and as white people are very privileged compared to black people, white people have lost the privilege to use this very word.

Of course, there are people who do not care who uses the n-word or not. Tyler the Creator, a rapper, shared his view on the use of the n-word in an interview, and he does not really care who uses the word or not. In his opinion, the word has a whole different meaning nowadays, and he does not place so much importance on language and the meaning of language. In the end, he claims, a lot is context-dependent as well. Some people may accept a word such as the n-word, while others may find it funny, and there are people who may find it offensive. Tyler says, however, that he does not have an opinion on the hateful derogatory use, as it has never happened to him.

All three, the ones who want to abolish the word, the ones who want to (re)claim the word and abolish the old, derogatory meaning and the ones who do not really care, make an interesting argument in the discussion that can be applied to many of the words that are considered derogatory.

In the end, I feel like the decision lies mostly with the people against whom the word has been used. As a white person, you cannot really decide what is racist towards a person of colour, as a straight person you cannot decide what is homophobic or transphobic towards a LGBTQ-person, and as a man you cannot decide what is sexist towards a woman. But I do think that all people have at least some emphatic capacities that make them able to estimate what might hurt or offend others, and it may be time to consider the usage of this ability more often.



Header image courtesy of

Less Is More

fireflyWe have all felt the initial pang of sadness when we discover one of our favorite shows’ lifespan is shortened to less seasons than you might have liked to watch. I had such an experience with the two shows Freaks and Geeks and Firefly. Each of these was only given one season—and for both of them that feels far too short.

Freaks and Geeks is a show that centers on teenage protagonist Lindsay Weir and her little brother Sam, who go to the same high school. The setting takes place in a small town in Michigan in the school year 1980–1981. Her friends are notoriously called “freaks” and feature, among others, a young James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel. Her little brother’s friends are called the “geeks” and both groups experience hilarious and heartstring-pulling situations. As neither Lindsay nor Sam truly fit into these groups (nor any other groups, for that matter), it is easy and a lot of fun to invest into and identify with their characters.

Firefly takes quite a different angle. This show features a crew of misfits and do-gooders alike, working, smuggling and struggling through the vast endlessness of space inside of a Firefly-class spacecraft called “Serenity”. Set up as a Western in outer space, Firefly revolves around the following nine individuals: Mal (the captain, kind of a Han Solo-like character), Zoe (the second in command), Wash (the goofy pilot, married to Zoe), Kaylee (the cute mechanic), Jayne (the nitwit muscle), River (wanted by the government), Simon (a doctor, River’s brother), Book (a shepherd with a dark past), and Inara (a “companion”). The way in which these different characters with their different gimmicks and traits work together, clash with each other and beautifully form a family, makes this one of the most captivating shows I have watched. Luckily, Joss Whedon (the creator) made an additional movie called Serenity.

Having watched and re-watched all the episodes of both these shows more than twice I continue to wonder what it would be like if their plugs hadn’t been pulled. On the one hand, having the pleasure of watching more, and enjoying more of it seems very appealing. Especially because there are so many sides of these one-season long shows that could have been explored to a far greater degree. On the other hand, the compactness and tragedy of their duration does immortalize their awesomeness. As it is now, the shows will not be spoiled with filler episodes, unnecessary plot twists, or general dragging of plot—like it is done with so many other shows, for obvious financial reasons (read: Lost, or How I Met Your Mother, or Two and a Half Men, etc.). No, now I can bittersweetly say that I am happy these shows were this short, because there is no way I will ever forget them.



Header image courtesy of

Humanities: Rethink, Redefine, Reform

6,6--17,7 Winter, 2010 (Article Ilona)It’s a tough world out there as a humanities scholar. Facing virtuous doctors, renowned mathematicians, and heroic physicists, we are more than often advised to celebrate the wondrous worlds of Raphael’s Stanze, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, whilst occasionally throwing around a Judith Butler text, alone, without claiming their utility. Studying humanities is a way to enrich your life. It underlines our pursuit of knowledge. Its intrinsic value is so prominent and elitist already that there is no need to associate the humanities with other fields of science. Apparently we are just studying a lifestyle. Thus, humanities scholars need to defend themselves in this polemic academic disunity. And we’ve done so poorly.

In the ongoing debate of Profile 2016 and the humanities departments in universities in general we, as humanities scholars, have the tendency to defend a position in which we establish two dichotomies. The first one is a simple one and emphasizes the differences between the humanities and the hard sciences[1]. The second dichotomy refers to the ongoing debate of how we should defend the value of the humanities with the obligation to ‘choose’ between its intrinsic or its instrumental value. However, a number of recently published articles have pointed out that there is a need of philosophy, literature, language, and history in other fields of science, and even in the U.S. Air Force Academy[2] (“Greater emphasis on humanities means more well-rounded decision making”). And it’s in the argumentation of these new discourses that the humanities scholar is to find a new defense.

In May 2014, The Guardian[3] argued that the humanities are necessary because of the enrichment of art and literature in our lives, but are not essential to democracy and therefore their instrumental value is doubtful: “The arts and humanities cannot claim to be essential to democracy, economic success and social wellbeing. Most people do perfectly well without direct engagement with culture.” However, there is one thing we should not ignore in this article: “At their best they [the arts and humanities] can engage us in a continuous search to understand the human condition.” And where The Guardian fails to elaborate, Azar Nafisi’s The Republic of Imagination picks it up: “I object to the notion that passion and imagination are superfluous, that the humanities have no practical or pragmatic use or relevance and should thus be subservient to other, more “useful” fields. In fact, imaginative knowledge is pragmatic: it helps shape our attitude to the world and our place in it and influences our capacity to make decisions.[4]

So, if we can take humanities into our world of democracy and even as far as the U.S. Air Force Academy, why do we still establish and emphasize the dichotomy between the humanities and the hard sciences? In its most recent issue of De Gids, Netherlands’ longest established literary and cultural magazine, Bert Keizer in his essay on the medical sciences stresses the importance of philosophy of science, but also acknowledges the difficulties of application[5]. In this, there is a glimmer of hope for the humanities scholar. I’m not saying that we should go around saying we can save lives telling medicine students what to do. However, in the possibilities of reforming departments in universities, we should keep in mind the value of humanities, rethinking and redefining it continually.





[1] For example:



[4] The Republic of Imagination, p. 11-12.

[5] “ Waar zijn we in terechtgekomen? Midden in het cartesiaans dualisme. Dat is geen filosofische positie, maar een filosofisch probleem.”Read the full article in Dutch on Blendle:

Chance Amazement

Oftentimes I go to concerts to be surprised. I primarily go for the headliner, but the supporting act is always a surprise. When I attended a great show by Opeth in the Heineken Music Hall at the beginning of November, that surprise turned out to be astonishing. That evening, the show was opened by the French band Alcest, and they are something special. Continue reading “Chance Amazement”

Writer’s Block Happenings – To Christmas and Beyond!

The weather outside is frightful, but that doesn’t mean there are not awesome things to do out there! This is your final dose of WB-approved activities happening in and around Amsterdam for the year, but we hope these will tide you over to 2015. Enjoy, and we’ll see you next year!

December 8, 4-6 pm – Boston Tea Party @ Leeuwenkuil P.C. Hoofthuis In light of the upcoming 241st anniversary of the renowned Boston Tea Party event, the Amsterdam Americanist Society (AAS) and Etcetera have joined forces to organize a High tea. The High Tea will consist of a couple of teachers that will give a small talk about the event itself. There will also be a multitude of cakes and tea. E-mail Etcetera if you want to attend!

December 9, 8 pm – Geesteswetenschappen onder vuur (SLAA) @ Perdu
Engage in a discussion about the humanities, organised by SLAA (Stichting Literaire Activiteiten Amsterdam). More info and tickets:

From December 10 – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (3D) Ah, it’s Christmas time again! This means a new Hobbit film is hitting the cinemas and again causing disputes amongst fans and haters. A thrilling adventure or a soulless film that’s merely exploiting Tolkien’s legacy? It’s for you to decide! In selected cinemas all over Amsterdam.

December 11 – Etcetera’s Drinks! @ Molly Malone’s from 20.00 It’s time for another edition of our infamous drinks.

December 11 – Evening with James Wood (De Gids) @ De Rode Hoed
Titled ‘Serious Noticing: Life, Death, Detail’, this evening’s theme centers around James Wood’s book How Fiction Works. Wood is a British literary critic, one of the most prominent ones in English literature. Tickets €11,50 for students.

From December 14Frozen Sing-a-Long Did you think that the Frozen hype finally ended? Think again! It’s back and now your fellow cinemagoers can even yodel “Let It Go” along with you! Don’t forget to bring popcorn and earplugs. In selected cinemas all over Amsterdam.

December 14, 4 pm – Emily Dickinson (SLAA) @ De Nieuwe Liefde
Poetry Sunday with the fantastic works of Emily Dickinson. Tickets are €10,- for students.

From December 18 – What We Do in the Shadows A hilarious mockumentary from the creators of Flight of the Conchords and Eagles vs. Shark that follows four vampires from very different centuries. Promises to be the best horror comedy since Shaun of the Dead. We hope you like fake blood. In selected cinemas all over Amsterdam.

December 19 FGW Gala 2014 @ Odeon 22.00-04.00 Are you into prom dresses and suits? Come join your fellow humanities’ students at our annual prom. Tickets are €10, you can bring non-UvA related dates and friends.

December 19 (20:15) and 20 (16:00, 20:15) – Kiss Me Kate the Musical @ Universiteitstheater The Windmill Theatre Group associated with our English department have joined up their creative spirits to create their version of this entertaining Cole Porter musical. Come to support them and have a great time!

December 19, 8.30 pm – Hoe overleef ik ironie? (Dutch) @ De Balie
Explore the thin line between sincerity and irony. Discussion with amongst others Joost de Vries, writer of the essaybook Vechtmemoires. Tickets (€7,50 for students) and info:….ironie%3f!/e_9757607/p_11685792


Don’t forget there’s a whole slew of events from the last few weeks that might still be going on! The complete list of events is always featured on the right of the page, so use the search function if you’re looking for info on a specific event that’s not on the above list. Do you happen to have a really good suggestion for the next edition of WB Happenings? Let us know through, and we might include your suggestion in the next edition! Happy holidays from the WB Happenings team!

Job Vacancy – General Editor – CLOSED

Writer’s Block is looking for someone cool to join our editorial board! From February on, you’ll be editing poetry, prose, essays and other stuff with the aim of making each issue of Writer’s Block one worth reading.

Have we gotten you interested? These is who we’re looking for:

  • You are a student;
  • You have mastered the English language;
  • You have a passion for language and literature;
  • You’d like to learn how to edit texts, or already know how;
  • You’d like to write columns/reviews/essays for our website on a regular basis;
  • You’re available until the end of the school year (or longer);
  • You can attend the weekly meetings;
  • You preferably have knowledge of social media, e-mail protocol, promo/marketing and/or making posters, although this is not mandatory;
  • You’re basically overall amazing.

If you feel that this is perfect for you, please send your CV and a motivation letter to on December 31st at the latest and we’ll get back to you! We’d love to have you join our team.


Header image courtesy of Burokoos.

UPDATE: As per Januari 1st, this vacancy has been filled! If you would have liked an opportunity to be part of the Writer’s Block team, there’s still no need to despair: the board is fully comprised of students, so the members typically rotate every year. Keep your eyes peeled, and who knows: you might still get to be part of our team next year!