Category: Uncategorized

La Vie Bohème

In class, the word bohemian was used to describe New Orleans’ red light district, the origin of the venerated Baby Dolls tradition. The word choice felt a little bit off in context of today’s meaning of bohemian, but historically, this has not been the case.

Part of my discomfort with the use of bohemian in that context comes from my experience working at the mall over the summer. When it came to clothes, we had three “trends” for women: sporty, pretty, and boho. So, I spent my entire summer trying to label people’s style as bohemian or one of the other two. In my mind, bohemian became associated with flowy clothes, floral patterns, and musical festivals.

However, my classmate was right to use bohemian in the context of Storyville in New Orleans. Only recently has bohemian come to have the connotations of young 20-somethings going to Coachella, fairy lights and tapestries in dorms, and a certain style of dress.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (I know it is a cliché to quote dictionaries, but bear with me), bohemian means vagabond, wanderer, especially a gypsy, or a person (such as a writer or an artist) living an unconventional life, usually in a colony with others. The labeling of a certain type of clothes as bohemian seems particularly ironic once faced with the dictionary definition, as someone who is unconventional should, by all reason, not want to buy any particular style, especially those labeled boho by a large corporation, but I digress.

Moving on to the etymology of bohemian, I once again find myself faced with Roach’s idea of performance, particularly the conscription of people into roles that they did not sign up for. The word bohemian originally meant someone that comes from the region of Bohemia, located in the present day Czech Republic. Mistakenly, the French thought that the Roma came from that region, possibly because another group was forced to leave their homeland in Bohemia around the same time the Roma first appeared in western Europe.

The Roma, because of their nomadic lifestyle, were conscripted into a sort of performance: the romanticization of their lifestyle while at the same time being persecuted by pretty much all groups in Europe. They were expected to play the happy nomads, the kind you see in any novel involving “g*psies” (which I have censored because it is now considered a slur by the Roma). Because of this romanticization of what is considered an unconventional lifestyle, bohemian came to mean any lifestyle out of the societal norm.

Undoubtedly, this was exacerbated by the French artists in the Latin Quarter of Paris that called themselves bohemian, vividly portrayed in La Bohème by Puccini (on which the musical Rent is based). This definition best fits Storyville. From there, it is easy to see how the word was commercialized and romanticized until it means what it does today.

Through a simple idea offered by Professor McCoy, to write a blog post about the etymology of bohemian, I did not expect to find Roach, but I did. Through geographical and historical errors and the conscripting the Roma into a stereotyped performance, bohemian means what it does today.

Performance of Memory & Conspiracy Theories

Well I’ve put this off for far too long…

As we continue to read our text in class it is very easy to see parallels between the key points we take away from the text and the actions of the characters (performers) in “When the Levees Broke.”

“Echoes in the bone refer to not only to a history of forgetting but to a history of empowering the living through the performance of memory.” —Joseph Roach, “Echoes in the Bone”

Apart from marginally having the best nickname in the film, Harry “Swamp Thing” Cook was the first to talk about the boom, or explosion, that happened in the lower ninth ward during the storm. The noise was never fully explained, but the residence had several theories as to what it was. Some suggested it was a transformer, a barge hitting the levee, a hole in the levee forming into a crack, and most noteworthy intentional dynamiting of the levee. This is the resurrection of the 1927 rumor that the levee was intentionally destroyed in Saint John Parish, and flooded more than a million people out of their homes, to preserve more expensive lake front property.

This was “never proven nor disproven,” however the parallels between the two disasters are incredibly strong and, conspiracy theories are stronger than levees. They can be overwhelmed by facts and not so much as crack. However, it doesn’t seem as if this conspiracy theory has been overwhelmed by facts, on either side of the argument. Professor Doug Brinkely of Tulane University, claims in his book “The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast” that the people of New Orleans have had a sensitive on-going history with poor, racially based, treatment while in the face of disaster.

Professor Brinkely’s argument spawns directly from Roach’s key themes of the performance of memory. By performing the memories, the residents of the ninth ward—such as “Swamp Thing” himself—that witnessed the unexplained “boom” felt empowered to understand the present. “People who believed that the levee was dynamited, have a long experience of being ripped off.”

And it’s true, between hurricane Betsy and the 1927 floods the rural/impoverished sections of New Orleans have had a long history of misfortune that is clouded with the suspicion of poor justice. In a Time Magazine article, Joseph Uscinski, associate professor of political science at the University of Miami claims, “Conspiracy theories are for losers.” Professor Uscinski does not mean this is a derogatory way, but in a literal way—people who have lost.

I find this very relatable. When I was a high school cross country runner we lost the federation championship to St. Anthony’s high school, horrifically. We were seeded to win… but we got our asses kicked. After the race settled weeks later a rumor surfaced that the team was using P.E.D’s to win the race. I believed it. I wholeheartedly thought I lost to a bunch of cheaters. But looking back at it, I know this is ridiculous to believe! We were children! I know that now, but now that I have distanced myself from the situation I know I should have known that then too. But I was too preoccupied being a loser.

In our topic of the flood history of New Orleans this is also very applicable. Every person involved had lost, whether it was family, homes, things or mental health. There were no winners. Yet weather or not (pun intended), the levees were intentionally destroyed, it is likely we will never know. There isn’t strong evidence for either side of the argument. But by performing the memories of the past, the citizens of New Orleans will feel more empowered to believe whatever they suspect.

 

Response to “Instruments for and against memory”

Note: this post does not argue against the necessity for an institution like Yad Vashem, and I’ve tried to write it in a way that will not purposely invite controversy.

Isabel refers to Yad Vashem in her recent post as an “arbiter of diasporic memory,” and during my visit to that museum I certainly got the impression that this is what the institution tries to position itself as. She also writes that Yad Vashem “provides a space to cultivate and perform memory through symbolic but evocative means,” and I agree, although to place Yad Vashem and the bill recently passed in the Polish Senate on opposite ends of a scale that gauges correct memorialization perhaps avoids the problems inherent in the memory that Yad Vashem creates. 

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Linear Memory and How Natural Disasters Can Be Manipulated.

During our last class discussion, we focused on an excerpt from Joseph Roach’s Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance, which discusses the idea of memory linearity and how memory operates as more than a way of remembering events and information. The brain’s function of memory is incredibly complex and, in literature, can be manipulated into operating as a tool that engages the reader in the events of a narrative. The end of the first paragraph states that memory, “operates as an alteration between retrospection and anticipation that is itself, for better or worse, a work of art.” This statement rouses my interest because of the two main components mentioned: retrospection and anticipation. For example, in the third person omniscient point of view of a story, the narrator is made aware of all thoughts, actions, and feelings of a character; he/she view the story as if they are looking through the eyes of God. We, the reader, are made aware of all retrospection in such a story because we are given the appropriate information to infer on the anticipated events as we continue reading. Memory is simply another tool that allows the third person omniscient to operate; however, when applying this idea to subjects of focus in class, the function of a person’s memory can become altered depending on the circumstances.

 

During life-threatening catastrophes, such as the one suffered by residents of New Orleans as a result of hurricane Katrina, the idea of life and death makes its way into the minds of those affected. The presence of catastrophes creates turning points in people’s lives that allow them to categorize their decisions into two groups: “before and after.” The actions up until the point of havoc are now actions that happened “before.” The actions/thoughts a person continues to make after a major event, for purely survival purposes, are now placed into the “after” category; the anticipated events in a person’s life. The decisions made after a tragedy are influenced by the capacity people have to offer help to themselves and to others; the will to survive and help others in time of need is subconsciously based on one’s memory. To aid in the understanding of why people act this way, the abstract of the book “The Memory of Catastrophe” can be viewed here.

 

One example of memory affecting the way people make decisions post-tragedy comes from Solnit and Snedeker’s “Snakes and Ladders” chapter, where the story of Donnell Herrington’s heroism is cut short by two bullets. Refusing to evacuate the city, Herrington stayed back and rescued over 100 stranded civilians using a small boat. After finishing, he proceeded for Algiers with hopes to leave the city via the Coast Guard. He was shot twice among arriving in Algiers by a vigilante who had previously been shouting racially-charged threats at him. Katrina was not the cause for this hate-crime, but it was the platform that allowed the vigilante to be reminded of their disdain for African-Americans; and it were these memories that became unlocked as a result of the lawless land created by Katrina. The events brought forth by Katrina allowed for the vigilante to retrospectively focus on his life before the circumstances, make a life or death decision by arming himself (no concealed-carry permit), and anticipate the lives he would be taking as a result of this tragic, new platform.

The Murphy Oil “Conspiracy”

          I was putting off writing this blog post (great start, I know) when I came across the Reddit post, “What conspiracy theory do you 100% buy into and why?” Two users replied that their relatives experienced a double-whammy during Hurricane Katrina. Soon after the storm, Murphy Oil Refinery reported that one of their oil containers had ruptured and leaked onto the surrounding area, namely in the neighborhood St. Bernard Parish (located just outside of New Orleans). Ghost510 comments: “After the clean up the land was deemed uninhabitable and the oil company was able to purchase all the land for very, very cheap. Many people that were affected and in the area believe that the oil company did it on purpose, and I tend to believe them.” 2EdgedDeath also says: “The whole thing was shady as hell.”

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Posthumanism, Transhumanism and Butler’s Humanism

Here above is a helpful short post which defines the two fields of thought: Posthumanism and Transhumanism.

Posthumanism is a term I have been using a lot in casual conversation. Now that I’ve looked it up to flesh out this blog post, I’m finding my definition was awfully limited. Apparently there’s up to seven definitions of the term (according to Wikipedia), but the one I’m focusing on is illuminated here, meaning:

“Most simply, the posthuman can be defined as that condition in which humans and intelligent technology are becoming increasingly intertwined.  More specifically, the posthuman is a projected state of humanity in which unlocking of the information patterns that those who believe in the posthuman say make us what we are—will shift the focus of humanness from our outward appearance to those information patterns.” (LaGrandeur, 2014).

This seems like a significant tie-in with regards to disrupting the primacy of the regime of the visual. If humanness can be attributed to something ethereal and cerebral rather than visual, external or physical, then our definition of what “human” can mean expands. If instead we accept the primacy of visual, the form of our appearence, if we equate it with something essential to being “human,” what we get instead might look like Transhumanism, defined in the same post as: Read more

You Judged that Book by its Cover, Didn’t You?

Earlier this semester our professor, Dr. McCoy, showed us the original cover of Dawn. I remember being confused for a moment. Where was Lilith? Well, it turns out she was right there, where you would expect her to be. She just didn’t look like you would expect her to look. She was white.

I’ve thought back to this cover a lot over the semester and every time I think about it I get a little bit angrier. First, there is the huge problem with whitewashing in Hollywood. Most people realize that this is a problem in film, but many don’t realize it’s also a problem at the local bookstore. Octavia Butler’s Dawn is one, but certainly not the only time this has happened.

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It’s OK to be a Snob About Reading

A couple weeks ago Cassie wrote an interesting blog post about the importance of the visual. In addition to raising some very valid points, she credited a point that I had made in our small group discussion. I felt that it was important to provide some context and credit to the original research.

Maybe it’s my constant need for validation or maybe just the fact that people are constantly making me justify my degree in literature, but I like to bring up the fact that reading literature actually makes you a more empathetic person at pretty much every possible opportunity. That’s right, fellow book nerds, reading actually makes you a better person. Well, at least if you define better as more empathetic, which I do because we could really use some more empathy in the world right now.

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A Brief Guide to the Many Traps of Octavia Butler’s Fiction

The students of ENGL 431/Octavia Butler and Social Ties have requested that I post their collaborative statement that they conceptualized and crafted independently of the instructor. Click here for a version with live links.

ENGL 431 Final

by Sandy Brahaspat, Sabrina Bramwell, Kevin Burke, Sandra Ching, Gabby Cicio, Elana Evenden, Devin Flaherty, Emma Gears, Denis Hartnett, Jonathan Kalman, Clio Lieberman, Jennifer Liriano, Linda Luder, Brendan Mahoney, Sean McAneny, Catherine McCormick, Steven Minurka, Nolan Parker, McKenna Parzych, Raina Salvatore, Samantha Stern, Emily Sterns, Katelyn Sullivan, Veronica Taglia, Elizabeth Verrastro, Davina Ward, Sarah Werth, and Sarah Westbay