Scooby Doo & Voodoo

A few class periods ago we looked at and examined the FEMA USR signs and their curious correlations with some Haitian voodoo vévé images and symbols. My group’s discussion on this topic turned into a very eye-opening conversation on our origins of our knowledges of voodoo, and I was surprised to uncover what the connotations that some of our first exposures to voodoo in popular culture, film, and television had in relation to what we have been discussing on Roach’s ideas of relationships with the dead and performances of memory.

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Stages as Performers

“All the world’s a stage,” so begins the well-known monologue from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The melancholy Jacques who speaks the line goes on to describe life as a performance. Importantly he begins with a concept I had up to this point neglected in our course: setting the stage. Prompted by Joseph Roach’s Cities of the Dead, we as a class have discussed the everyday performances individuals undertake either by choice or conscription. Performances require an actor, an audience, and of course a stage. Without this essential stage, the performance lacks context and is rendered meaningless. Shakespeare’s character recognizes the importance of the stage, but perhaps fails to acknowledge that not only “all the men and women” are its players; stages take on their own performative roles as well. Read more

America is a gun, its identity water

Since Valentines Day I have been grappling with an intense desire to write a post that expresses some personal emotions and reactions to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. I say grappling because, in so many ways, it hasn’t been an easy process. The following post is soft-core political (depending on one’s perspective) and will be connecting some Roachian ideas to the shooting, gun violence, and how national identity plays a role in all of it.

WARNING: POST DISCUSSES gun violence/discourse, the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, gun religion, and issues of national identity  Read more

Cemetery Celebrations and the Segregation of the Dead – Part 1

Joseph Roach mentions in “The Segregation of the Dead” what Joseph Addison calls “the Confines of the Dead,” the boundaries which “separate life from the afterlife,” and elaborated on their physical manifestations in cemeteries (48). Roach describes the omnipresence of the dead both in their spirits and in their physical remains, the latter of which oversaturated their intended grounds and “literally overflowed into the space of the living” (48). And despite this overflowing, Roach notes the social engagements of life around death: “burial grounds often provided the most convenient public spaces available to merchants, mountebanks, jugglers, and their mixed audiences” (48).

This led to a class discussion regarding the place of the dead in normal life, and where they physically and metaphorically lay in regards to other events happening in the same area.

I then remembered an element of my childhood that I had not thought about in several years – my elementary school class would clump together several late June birthdays, mine included, into a class-wide celebration for the end of the school-year, annually hosted at Greenwood Cemetery. Tents were pitched and food was catered on a clear field near the administrative buildings, where venturing too much further would find headstones, obelisks and civil war monuments. Read more

Catastrophes, wishes, and provision ground ideology

“…Catastrophe may reemerge from memory in the shape of a wish.”—Joseph Roach

Radar image of Hurricane Hattie at peak intensity prior to making landfall on British Honduras on October 30, 1961.

I feel that this is a quote that we have not yet unpacked so deeply in class. Even so, this piece of Roach’s discussion on performance, autochthony, allochthony, and origins stuck out to me. Maybe it’s partially the elegance of the phrase: the juxtaposition of starting with the heavy consonance and lexical drama of “catastrophe” and ending with a wistful “wish.” Plus, the evocations of “wish”, for me, are almost magical—of blowing out birthday candles and of coins dropped into fountains—and I think of our most treasured hopes and dreams.

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Remembrance and Forgetting: Who Benefits?

I first came across the work of Rudyard Kipling as a child. My favorite Disney movie was (and still is) The Jungle Book. You can imagine my surprise when I first encountered Kipling’s other works in a sociology class in relation to colonialism; in that class, we read “The White Man’s Burden” and “Gunga Din.” In this blog post, I will be addressing “The White Man’s Burden,” an 1899 poem encouraging the United States to join in on imperialism. Read more


How are the dead given a voice through the living? I’m not talking about seances or Madame Bovary here. As we read the “Segregation of the Dead” portion of Echoes in the Bone, I thought about how we not only treat bodies of the dead, but their spirits as well. One specific faith I know of jumped out at me – Shinto. The propinquity within which societies place their dead (either physical, spiritual, or both) in relation to themselves varies across the world, but this culture in particular places special significance on the actual treatment of all spirits, and how close they always are to us. I find it exceedingly interesting when viewing it alongside Echoes in the Bone.

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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. Read more

Beer, Civilization, and Hurricanes

There was a portion in When the Levees Broke that really stuck out to me: one of the Katrina survivors was talking about when he was watching as people left to drink soda and beer in an attempt to hydrate themselves; water, the very thing that had brought destruction to New Orleans, was, paradoxically, just as necessary to the survival of its people, but they were unable to attain it. Yet the usage of beer reminded me of a point earlier in the semester when Beth made note of the consumption of beer in the wake of Katrina, which made me stop and think about beer’s presence there.

My first thoughts went to a book that I read in the summer before my sophomore year of high school, A History of the World In 6 Glasses by Tom Standage. In the novel he charts the history of civilization through the lens of beverage, moving chronologically from beer to wine to liquor to coffee to tea to Coke. However, what I honed in on for this topic was beer and it’s presence at the onset of human civilization. According to Standage’s research, beer was one of the first major inventions of ancient civilizations, and it held a role both secular and sacred in society. In Egypt, beer was a salary for the slaves as they built the pyramids, a beverage which provided purification of the Nile’s filthy water as well as nutrition akin to that of bread, and in Mesopotamia it was a drink to be shared at celebration feasts in honor of the gods. In short, beer was an important part of their society, and it was with this in mind that I considered its presence in the wake of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

According to Roach, “[an effigy] consist[s] of a set of actions that hold open a place in memory into which many different people may step according to circumstances and occasions. I argue that effigies – those fabricated from human bodies and the associations they evoke – provide communities with a method of perpetuating themselves through specially nominated mediums or surrogates” (36). In the context of human civilization, beer can be seen as an effigy of celebration and happiness, and its presence from society’s inception and continued usage throughout history speaks to its state a a method of perpetuation. People make toasts and share drinks in celebration of major achievements and events, but they also use it as an escape, which is still a method of societal perpetuation; rather than using the beverage to celebrate the achievements of a person and perpetuate society in that way, beer is instead used to omit and forget the failures or troubles of a person, perpetuating the society through omission instead of celebration.

New Orleans has a tradition of perpetuation through celebration in the form of Mardi Gras, and I feel that the opposite, perpetuation through omission of memory, was practiced in the consumption of beer in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Some residents of New Orleans were in need of an escape to deal with the storm, so they turned to beer to cope. In order to get through the day and begin the rebuilding of the city in the coming days, they omitted the moment they found themselves in through drink, even if only briefly. By escaping the current memories through alcohol, some survivors of Katrina were able to prepare themselves for the rebuilding of the city of New Orleans, a literal perpetuation of their society, and those citizens who drank also communed with the early civilizations history through the effigy of beer, as both groups used the alcoholic beverage to perpetuate their societies, albeit in different ways.