Congratulations, I Played Myself

I hope readers of this post will indulge my flippant reference to DJ Khaled. Upon completing my essay on Saturday, I inadvertantly got to experience both a cycle of memory and forgetting as well as violence as the performance of waste. I saved my essay three times and even created a new tag to find it more easily. When I went to submit my essay on Canvas, it was nowhere to be found. Completely gone. I was initially in disbelief as I calmly searched every corner of my computer’s memory before I came to accept that no amount of configuration would bring back the labor I expended on this assignment.

I then continued my performance by including Beth in my violent performance of waste. Roach says that violence requires an audience of some kind because it is intrinsically performative, and so it did in my case as Beth and I were forced to respond to  (Roach 41). Through a desperate and hastily-constructed email, I attempted to illicit sympathy for my plight and acquire an extension, even though the last thing I wanted was for this performance of waste to include any more of Beth’s or my time as part of its collateral damage.

Once I accepted that rewriting the essay would be my only path forward, I found myyself belonging to the cycle of memory and forgetting. Even though I had just read through my paper multiple times, the prospect of recreating my original paper exactly seemed impossible (and indeed it was). I worried that sense the original material I created was no longer accessible to me, my overall potential for succeeding would somehow be diminished, even though writing a paper for the second time should be a much easier task. In my rewrite, my memory was compromised by the performative violence of losing my essay. I altered, expanded upon, or omitted entire sections of my argument from the first version of my essay to reflect my current mental state and the way I was processing the assignment the second time through. I definitiely still consider this experience a performance of waste, but as Roach suggested, this waste was not senseless (Roach 41). It served a purpose in that it forced me to process and understand Roach’s point in a personal setting and reflect on the assignment in a completely different frame of mind, which was still very much a valuable exercise. It also forced me to switch my writing approach to Google Docs because of its automatic save feature so that I never have to endure this again.

Whatever Happened to Ivor Van Heerden?

When going back over When the Levees Broke for the recently due essay, I remembered a figure that Professor McCoy (quite a while ago) recommended we look further into. This figure is Ivor Van Heerden, formerly the deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, fired after Hurricane Katrina with no reason given.

In Levees, Van Heerden was the one who made the models predicting that the levees would break under the force of Katrina’s flooding. After the storm, he publicly blamed the United States Army Corps of Engineer, saying they were directly to blame for the deaths and damage done by Hurricane Katrina. This drew a lot of fire from Louisiana State University. He even wrote a book about it called The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina-the Inside Story from One Louisiana Scientist, published in 2007. In 2009, LSU chose not to renew his contract (which ended in May 2010). The reason given was that Van Heerden was bringing bad press to the university, which would lead to decreased funding from the state government. Continue reading “Whatever Happened to Ivor Van Heerden?”

A Note on the Forgotten

I will be completely honest: when I was watching Levees, the one thing that didn’t cross my mind was the absence of animals. I mean, I love them, but maybe I was just so caught up in the powerful narratives of Lee’s documentary? As Beth said, Levees is “a work of art.” It’s supposed to move us. When Beth brought up animals in the classes afterward, I was stunned that I had forgotten about them. What happens to people’s beloved pets when they are forced to evacuate due to a natural disaster? I decided to look more into it.

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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. Continue reading “Effigies: A Performance of Waste?”

The Human Habit of Moving On

Over spring break, I had the privilege of working in Guatemala on a philanthropic project. For a week, I worked in the town of Santiago Atitlan in Central Guatemala, and I was working with an organization, called ADISA, which is an education and work organization to help those with mental and physical disabilities to live better lives. One part of ADISA is an artisan workshop, where some people with disabilities work with recycled newspaper to make jewelry and pottery to be sold at the local market, and it is ran by a man name Jose.

Jose is 45 and has been wheelchair-bound since he was 16 years old. During a protest against the military presence in Santiago Atitlan in the early 90s, 12 people were gunned down by the armed soldiers and many more were wounded, Jose amongst them. Jose then found himself waiting 15+ hours before he was finally in an operating room with a surgeon saving his life, and shortly afterward Jose was informed that the bullet had clipped his spinal cord and that he would never walk again.  However, Jose has not let this one event define and control his life. He has found himself employment in the workshop, he wakes up each day with a smile on his face, and, in his words, “while he may not be able to walk with his legs, he is able to walk with his mind.” Simply put, he did not let this act of a violence, a momentary performance of waste, dictate whether or not he would waste the rest of his life over it.

The story of Jose is but one of the many that came out of Santiago Atitlan in the wake of the shooting, and many of them are much like Jose’s in that they did not let the shooting stop them in their mission. In the months that came after the shooting, the people of the town rallied together and petitioned the government to keep the military out of their town, and an agreement was reached. Since 1992, the military has not been allowed within the limits of the town, and they have been able to bounce back from the oppression that they were subjected to by the soldiers previously stationed there.

I cannot help but find many similarities to the ways in which the people of New Orleans have been able to recover in the years following Katrina. While there was much suffering in each situation, the people of the town did not let the tragedy dictate their actions after it, and each community has worked together to overcome the event. In both Santiago Atitlan and New Orleans, members of the community came together to form support groups, open their homes to those who needed help, and aid the physical recovery of other members of the community.  They were each tenacious in their drive to build themselves back up, and I find that this commonality speaks to a certain fact about human nature.

We find ourselves unable to abide by the card we are dealt, and within each of us is a desire to better ourselves and our communities. Naturally, there are exceptions to this, but, by and large, it is a human desire to be better off, and it is that drive that can allow us to make sure that past or present performances of waste cannot waste future performances.

Cultural Appropriation in Festivals

Over spring break I went skiing in Holiday Valley, Ellicottville. It was only after we arrived that I realized that weekend was an annual “Winter Carnival” event. The aesthetic included some very basic elements of Mardi Gras, such as costumes; a ski lift named Mardi Gras; and plastic beads around necks and tree branches. But what stood out most to me were helmets with fake dreadlocks on them, some even rasta colored (image linked as WordPress isn’t letting me embed). It’s insane to me that African Americans around the United States have gotten suspended or fired for styling their hair in traditional ways, yet nobody bats an eye at these ugly, mocking pieces of foam.

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Getting the Full Picture

In the credit sequence of “When the Levees Broke,” there is a notable uniformity in presentation. Each of the film’s interviewees, with his or her face contained within a picture frame, looks at the camera and tells his or her name, position, and place of residence. The scene acknowledges “When the Levees Broke” as a kind of art, as the ornate frames immediately bring and association to museums, galleries, or even framed family photos. Each of the New Orleans residents, in the frame, becomes a piece of the collection. Similar to the individual artworks in Steve Prince’s Katrina Suite, each piece contributes to an aggregate understanding. In both cases only an examination of all components of the collection can result in the fullest picture of the Hurricane Katrina experience.

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A Close to Home Violence Against New Orleans

As this NPR article suggests, there were many key players during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, one of the most well known being former New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin. During and following the aftermath of the storm, Nagin was vocal about getting help for the citizens he was responsible for and didn’t shy away from showing his frustrations. One such example showing Nagin’s anger towards governmental aid, or there lack of, came in a radio interview where he stated, “Don’t tell me 40,000 people are coming [to New Orleans]. They’re not here. It’s too doggone late. Now get off your asses and do something, and let’s fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country.” From the perspective of Americans watching the news and seeing a lack of communication and governmental leadership, Nagin’s call for action was a refreshing change. Given that many Americans were angry that some politicians were more concerned with placing blame than helping aid efforts, Nagin’s response, whether a dubious effort or not, garnered him popularity. While New Orleans recovered and tried to clean its reputation as a great American city, Ray Nagin’s reputation soon began to tarnish, though.

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We Have to Talk About Ray Nagin

When Beth suggested the we look into former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin’s fate post “When the Levees Broke,” I felt a sense of dreadful anticipation. I knew corruption was the inevitable conclusion conclusion to his story, but after listening to his charismatic interview juxtaposed with heartfelt interviews with survivors of Katrina who spoke of loss and devastation, I felt more upset than I expected. I’ll do my best to summarize concisely. Ray Nagin tooks bribes and personal payout in exchange for awarding rebuilding contracts to large corporations in the wake of Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans. His corruption apparently started before Katrina hit, and his sentencing began in 2014.

Political editor of the alternative magazine Gambit originally excused Nagin’s behavior. He posited that the all-encompassing hurricane could crush anyone’s resolve, but he soon amended his view of the former governor, saying, “He did not enjoy the work of being the mayor. He only enjoyed being the mayor.” This same article, provided by USA Today, revealed that there was a deep sense of betrayal from New Orleaneans who believed Nagin to be the one politician who was incorruptible.

In researching articles that ranged in details from an extremely detailed account of what Nagin would experienced when he surrendered on his first day at the prison to announcements that a federal judge agreed that he was very poor and needed to be assigned a public defender. The question I kept coming back to was overly simple: What does this mean in the context of our class? Is Nagin an effigy? A scapegoat? A pariah? The conversations surrounding his conviction were certainly a purge of violent sentiment. There was a sense that a wrong had been righted, but only through the net effect of causing pain to people who had already seen too much of it.

Ray Nagin was not the only one at fault for the devastation and lack of quick and effective response to Hurricane Katrina, but he paid one of the highest prices for his misdeeds out of any government official. In some ways, his conviction was the closest government concession that its response to Katrina was extremely flawed and full of oversight and personal greed. His incarceration was a public sacrifice, satiating New Orleaneans’ need to see some consequences. To do this, however, the cycle of remembering and forgetting presented by Roach dictated that those feelings of being foresaken by one’s own government had to be dredged up again. Nagin’s incarceration doesn’t invoke a feeling of satisfaction for me. In the face of all of the insurance claims that went unfulfilled and the FEMA trailers that sat empty for months after the storm, it feels futile and ineffective.