Effigies: A Performance of Waste?

One of the many topics that we discuss in Professor McCoy’s English 432 course is a concept provided by Joseph Roach’s, “Echoes In The Bone”. This concept which claims that violence is the performance of waste, is the core topic for our upcoming essay. I would like to use this post as a practice run for how I plan on going about this essay. Although I have already begun this paper, I would like to use this blog post in order to help get my thoughts out more clearly. Additionally, this is not the final copy of my essay, and is just the pre-final edition of my introduction.

What defines violence? Is it the antagonistic intent of an action that makes it violent, or does an action become violent if the consequences are considered harmful to its recipient? Joseph Roach Roach states in his work, Echoes In The Bone, that, “all violence is performative, for the simple reason that it must have an audience” (Roach, Page 41). Thus it would appear that Roach claims violence is only violent if an outside perspective views it as such. Roach additionally states that, “violence is never senseless but always meaningful, because violence in human culture always serves, one way or the other, to make a point” (Roach, Page 41). Consequently, if the victim of the violent action does not see the perpetrator’s action as being violent, the action therefore cannot be considered as violent. However, can an action really be considered violent, if the perpetrator of the action did not intend for it to be violent? Roach states that, “all violence is excessive, because to be fully demonstrative, to make its point, it must spend things – material objects, blood, environments – in acts of Batailian ‘unproductive expenditure’” (Roach, Page 41). One can then conclude that, for the intent of an action to be considered violent, it must have intended to create harm for the sake of creating harm. This is in spite of whom pays what cost, whether it is physical, financial, or figurative, even if said cost is paid by the action’s own perpetrator. Thus the action is rendered unproductive as the perpetrator receives no benefit from their action. Roach illustrates much of his definition for violence through the ritualistic and socialistic concept known as effigies: objects that crudely resemble a source of strife which are thence destroyed as part of a ritual or to make a statement against what the object is made to resemble. These effigies can include both animate and inanimate entities that are being sacrificed for either religious and/or tradition based ceremonies. Using Roach’s research on effigies and his analysis on violence as a form of performance, I will attempt to interpret Roach’s take on violence within effigies and why he defines violence as an “unproductive expenditure”.


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