Dogs, Elegies, Progress, and David Byrne

I left class on Friday with no shortage of ideas for blog posts, prompted by Beth to consider why Patricia Smith would elegize Luther B (a dog) in several poems across Blood Dazzler. The poems tell a story of how the “Rottweiler, bull, whatever” (30) Luther B is left chained to a tree in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, struggles to survive and eventually “ascends” (69), assumed to be towards heaven after dying; however, the dog’s owner evacuated her home, and a poem from her perspective shows her belief that Luther B would have escaped the chains and easily ridden out the storm.

There is a lot to unpack in these poems, but I want to focus on the overall importance of the elegy – why a dog deserves an elegy, and why the story of a dog deserves to be told in Smith’s collection of poems about Katrina. I was also inspired by themes of dogs and progress in David Byrne’s album “American Utopia,” so I apply Byrne’s perspective on what dogs can represent and relate it to the importance of Luther B’s elegy. Continue reading “Dogs, Elegies, Progress, and David Byrne”

Racial Tension: Beyond the Surface

In my earlier blog post, The Boundary Between Light and Darkness, I commented on the light-dark interplay that Steve Prince’s “Katrina’s Veil: Stand at the Gretna Bridge” and Francisco Goya’s “Third of May 1808” utilize. Namely, in Prince’s piece, I saw the use of only black and white as a commentary on the racial tension present in America, namely New Orleans. The white and black simultaneously blend and separate figures in the print, showing how there was tension between citizens of the same city before, but particularly after, Katrina. Beth commented on this post, mentioning that there might be merit in looking at how surface tension connects with racial tension. After digging up my prior experience in general chemistry and looking at the definition of surface tension, the connection between the two terms was as clear as water.

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Sentinel Species, Range, and New Orleans

Science and literature are different languages to express similar concepts about humanity. This blog post is an attempt to explore the relationship of science and literature in the context of some class concepts. Weeks ago, Beth (1) mentioned the concept of “the canary and the coal mine.” We did not unpack it at the time, but that moment made me think about range, as discussed in my Biogeography class and When the Levees Broke.

Continue reading “Sentinel Species, Range, and New Orleans”

Children: The Interplay Between Effigy and Paratext

A trend that I’ve noticed in the physical classroom so far is the problem of reading paratext out loud—some people skip over the paratext, while other people don’t. Paratext is outside the main body of the text, i.e. it is not central, but paratext is needed in order to complete a text. Paratext then, by nature, is peripheral but also necessary. This reveals a hierarchy in the physical pages of books—the main body of the book is imperative to read, while everything else is considered supplemental, which parallels how we frame Others in society—groups of people who are necessary but overlooked, and therefore, invisible.  Continue reading “Children: The Interplay Between Effigy and Paratext”

Stumbling across relevant poetry

I found this poem in a chapbook entitled Counting Descent by Clint Smith, who is one of my favorite poets/writers/people to follow on Twitter. I was reading when I came across this poem and naturally thought this could serve as a good blog post, especially since we’re going to be looking at Blood Dazzler in class soon and we looked at poems in class last week. Continue reading “Stumbling across relevant poetry”

Doing the Best We Can: X-codes and retrospective memory

Several classes ago we discussed, in our small groups, how to interpret the FEMA USR signs that were, and still are, widespread across the wretched landscape of New Orleans. At a glance, these symbols (known as ‘X-codes’) appear to be mere displays of vandalism; however, when deciphered, they represent something much larger. During the primacy of hurricane Katrina, these symbols served as devices that notified the people of government aid and interference. The destruction done by Katrina left thousands of New Orleans citizens stranded and helpless, so even the most inadequate forms of Government assistance were accepted. X-codes were primarily painted on buildings (and sometimes cars) to alert people that the interior has been investigated or scavenged; if people needed help. While serving as symbols of government relief, X-codes also simultaneously represent, through a ‘Roachian’ lens, an agency to the performance of memory.

Roach states that memory is “an alternation between retrospection and anticipation,” and in this case, we should focus on the retrospective memory. It’s been 13 years since Katrina, and during that time most of the symbols have either faded or have been removed by current homeowners, but the memory of devastation and allochthony suffered by the residents of NOLA is still present. The scrubbed and faded symbols (known as ghost-codes) serve as an agency to the performance of memory by providing a narrative that tells of transformative loss and destruction. We are able to trace the outline of these ghost-codes which allows us to focus on the aspects of aid and assistance dealt by the government, as well as the destruction itself (i.e. number of deaths). The traces of ghost-codes left behind act as portal to remember the past, and only through retrospection can any step towards anticipation be taken.

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. Continue reading “Stages as Performers”

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  Continue reading “America is a gun, its identity water”

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. Continue reading “Cemetery Celebrations and the Segregation of the Dead – Part 1”