I was inspired to write this blog post after reading Madi’s writeup on “cigarettes as a sign of civilization.” Their post represents the pre-apocalyptic feeling of the familiarity of a cigarette and how it represents the unity of a people, specifically a traumatic subgroup, in the future – after the trauma. Following Madi’s lens, I want to explore the relationship of other items or objects that may have meant little before a catastrophe but have had their meaning altered as a result of desolation – specifically drinking water. To be familiar with something is to be comfortable – well, sometimes anyway. In the face of trauma, one normally tends to take solace in the objects, feelings, people, etc. of the past – before the trauma. In the events of hurricane Katrina, the level of familiarity with clean drinking water became altered.
Everybody needs water to drink, and the catastrophe that is Katrina disrupted the level of access residents had to sanitized water. The level of familiarity with water before Katrina is still regarded as a need, but it was a need that could easily have been fulfilled. I understand having easy access to clean water is a “first-world” concept, but it is important in the context of Katrina. Post-Katrina, the relationship of familiarity victims had with water was strained – there simply wasn’t enough access. According to an article by the Organic Consumers Association, efforts to provide clean water were halted: the “U.S. and local government officials ordered the local drinking water turned off and refused to allow water or food relief into New Orleans.” Even when Green Party activists tried to intervene and provide water to victims held in the Superdome, “armed soldiers pointed rifles at them and prevented them from delivering supplies.” In turn, isn’t this domestic refusal of clean water a performance of violence in and of itself?
According to Roach, violence as a performative measure has three corollaries: the first being “that violence is never senseless, but always meaningful[.]” Applying this lens to the article, the measures taken by the government to reduce the level of clean drinking water that entered New Orleans can be viewed as a “brazen attempt to starve people out.” The second corollary of Roach’s definition of violence is that “violence is excessive, because to be fully demonstrative, to make a point, it must spend things”; in the context of the article, the spent aspect of the performance of violence would be the loss of life as a result of government interference. The third and final corollary states that “violence is performative, for the simple reason that it must have an audience – even if that audience is only the victim, even if that audience is only God[.]” The audience in this scenario would be the Government – the police force that prevented entry into the city is under command of a higher authority, meaning the police offices are performing for their bosses.
The above example of the government’s ultimately successful attempt to prohibit clean water sources from entering the city is a deliberate act of violence. The level of familiarity to sanitized water in the events of Katrina became taxed and as an unnecessary result, hundreds of people perished.