Violence is the Performance of Waste.

We forget how devastating mother nature can truly be. I have always been one who has wanted to sit down and understand it more, especially hurricanes as they have torn apart individuals in my family. Although I have never got myself to sit down and discover what I have been wanting to do, this class has led me to do exactly that. In this class we recently have discussed the most devastating hurricane, Hurricane Katrina. We watched a film “When the Levees Broke which showed us mini clips with the survivors of Katrina due to the poor build of these Levees, they explained their personal trauma and how the help was never given when it said it would be. People waited days for answers. New Orleans faced not only destruction of their homes and lives but issues economically, socially, and politically as well. These poor families and individuals were left with what was nothing but themselves and they were given nothing to overcome this life-changing experience. Prior to the evacuation there was no help given to the families, no resources. The individuals suffered something that never knew would take place in front of their eyes, yet it did. I was nothing but disappointed when hearing how President Bush reacted to this hurricane and not taking responsibility for what needed to be his. As I looked into many outside resources I found some interesting news explaining the political effects which stood out to me the most when discovering how Katrina affected New Orleans, , from Wikipedia it states “The variation of weather and maintenance budgets makes finding the appropriate “threshold” difficult. Due to this “cost efficiency / diminishing returns” factor, and the weather forecasting ability the primary protection for any flood situation is the proper evacuation of flood-prone areas in a timely manner.” Which is only one of the many issues these individuals had to face. What was the beautiful town of New Orleans, turned into the unfortunate truth of nothing. We learned that New Orleans is who they are due to the people who live there, their strength and perseverance is what made New Orleans. The fight was nonstop, the long tiring days as they tried to put their lives back together were unbearable, yet they came together and did what had to be done for their community and themselves. The perseverance these individuals had, helped me relate to many course concepts as well as Roaches texts.

This semester we have been given many course concepts and resources when looking into Hurricane Katrina and connecting them to how people of New Orleans were treated like “waste”. Joseph Roach introduces that “Violence is the performance of waste” and how it “It must have an audience”, “Third, that all violence is performative, for the reason that it must have an audience even if the audience is only the victim, even if the audience is only God” (Roach, 41). Which makes perfect sense as we treat others as if they are waste and connecting this to Hurricane Katrina as the ones who suffered from this devastation were treated like waste by their own government, they failed them. As it was said, FEMA stopped contributing to the cost of their food, housing, and many other supplies needed. They were pushed to the side as they suffered. We can see violence in many ways, and we can connect it to waste in many ways as well. in this situation we are explaining how when violence takes place, we are hurting and harming one another which leads to treating them as if they are waste. Roach quotes “violence is never senseless but meaningful, because violence in human culture always serves, one way or the other, to make a point” (Roach, 1996). This stood out to me the most as we need to understand even though destruction, change and violence is devastating, it opens new doors and allows there to be change. Although, I only took negative from the film When the Levees Broke and all of the damaging stories that were told, I find it important to recognize how in the end there was light, the community came together and made what was a mess into teamwork and strength.

The two main course concepts Beth McCoy explained in class were memory and forgetting, which I have connected the most with what we have been reading and talking about in class. When we dive into these two course concepts we understand New Orleans will forever be stronger from what they have overcome, yet forgetting it is never an option. It will always be a memory as well. Understanding that this was such a traumatic event that could take place again, anywhere, this is where we need to remind ourselves that forgetting is not an option. We mentioned many other important course concepts, but these two specific ones have stuck with me when looking at Hurricane Katrina and during our readings, such as Cities of The Dead.

Throughout this class I have noticed how beneficial it is when connecting certain moments of life to different though processes. Which is exactly what Roach has demonstrated in his books, and this helps us individuals understand the society we live in and the way we handle waste. From coming into this class thinking violence was just strictly putting harm to something, I have now been informed that this goes much further than that, it is a performance with a ton of meaning following it.  It has been extremely interesting to connect the course concepts with outside situations from the past and present and I am intrigued to recognize even more information given from this course!

Mini- collab 2

The NACE Competencies stands for the National Association of Colleges and Employers. This helps illustrate the skills that most people already have, but in reality, don’t know the power of these skills and how they impact one’s career within the workforce. There are eight career readiness competencies: career & self-development, communication, critical thinking, equity & inclusion, leadership, professionalism, teamwork, and technology. When it comes to reading aloud Shakespeare’s The Tempest, there are many factors that contribute greatly to the process of each other’s understanding of the context of the play. Using a traditional text like The Tempest allows students to use their critical thinking skills to understand the text through a deeper meaning by analyzing an older text through modern meaning. Students can interpret an older text meant traditionally for a Renaissance English class, but this course gives students the opportunity to see a play about hurricanes and mythological beings/events to modern-day understanding of institutional discrimination seen within Hurricane Katrina. How ancient rituals and knowledge connect all human beings to each other like the burial rituals done within New Orleans. These understandings help students connect to a greater sense of knowledge. Through the utilization of NACE competencies such as critical thinking and teamwork, the class was able to collectively discern and discuss various connections within the dialogue of The Tempest to course concepts. For instance, Caliban is referred to in a dehumanized, earthly manner, often chastised by Prospero as wasteful. Prospero additionally prompts a natural disaster as a means of bringing about a renewal or cleansing in an attempt to free himself from previous worldly hindrances, an example of the expenditure concept we discussed during class. When it comes to reading something like The Tempest, reading aloud isn’t something that comes easy and natural to most. More often than not students read within their mind, but while reading aloud there begins to develop a level of professionalism that everyone is contributing to the reading as much as possible, putting in their best effort. This allows for equity and inclusion to build off of each other through teamwork. This shows the level of NACE Competencies usage within an English class that can occur using the basics of communication to work with others like one would within a workforce. So why does this matter? This is a question that may seem basic to most, but rather oftentimes overlooked. This concept of the NACE Competencies allows for an understanding of growth within your peers. We as college students are in different/similar paths of life, but are all learning the importance of how these skills can be used within the workforce and on our resumes outside the classroom. 

Written by: Elizabeth Gambino, Meredith Amodie, Katlin Mcneil,
Aidan Lewis, and Audrey Smeaton

The Allusions of Waste: Violence Preformed on Hurricane Katrina Victims

“Waste” is a term that can reference a broad array of allusions. For some, waste can exist as a form of physical garbage, bodily excretions, or other tangible debris. And yet, for others waste holds a greater significance in representing concepts such as time, energy, thoughts, or even people. In an expansive sense, “waste” is something that has the ability to be spent, ridden of, abandoned, rejected, or discarded. Another implication of “waste” could be supported as something that could be sacrificed or expended with a sense of disregard and lack of care. Most importantly, however, I feel as though the strongest ability of “waste” lies within its capability of being forgotten.

People forget what they deem unimportant or unworthy of remembrance. This coincides with “waste” because the many insinuations of this term all reference the lack of merit that we deem our waste to have.  As for remembrance, memory is the process of retaining information, analyzing it, and storing it so that it can be brought to mind later. In Joseph Roach’s performance “Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance”, he explained how the process of “memory operates as both quotation and invention, an improvisation on borrowed themes, with claims on the future as well as the past” (Roach, 1996, pg.33). Therefore, memory is persuaded by the source and the environment from which the memory is being recalled; it is an easily influenced concept. He further explained that “memory circulates and migrates like gossip from location to location as well as from generation to generation, growing or attenuating as it passes through the hands of those who possess it and those whom it possesses”(Roach, 1996, pg.35). Comprehensively, he is reaffirming his idea that memory is interpretive and can be manipulated through interpersonal communication. It can be a biased misinterpretation of the past that can be wrongfully expounded in the future. Overall, our ability to forget “waste” and the misconstruction of memories create a threatening combination for our past, present, and future. 

Within his performance, Roach also referenced the consequential undertone that the term “waste” could carry, especially in regard to representing groups of people. With this, he explained the harm that is led to arise from the classification of people as waste, and he referenced both historical and more recent contexts in doing so. Historically, human societies have often turned to violence when one group of people identifies another group as “waste” that could be sacrificed, as they are considered inferior and worthless. Through this, he ultimately supported his claim that “violence is a performance of waste” (Roach, 1996, pg. 41).

Promptly after this claim, Roach clarified his definition of what violence truly entails; he explained, “first, that violence is never senseless but always meaningful, because violence in human culture always serves, one way or the other, to make a point; second, 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 Bataillian “unproductive expenditure” (or Veblenian “conspicuous consumption”); and third, that all 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” (Roach, 1996, pg.41). Comprehensively, this definition exploits the true intent of violence as a purposeful performance of brutality upon an “expendable” victim. Personally, I have always felt as though violence stems from an accumulation of internal anger that is eventually “taken out” on another through a physical or verbal act of rage. Furthermore, I have always believed that people tend to become violent against those that they deem inferior, as they are seen as unworthy of respect and civility. The collaboration of my thoughts on violence and Roach’s own personal and elaborate definition therefore both support Roach’s ultimate claim that “violence is a performance of waste” (Roach, 1996, pg.41).

As mentioned prior, groups of people have been categorized as “waste” throughout history and have therefore been considered to be expendable; consequently, suggesting that violence could be administered upon these groups. Such examples of historical violence have often resulted after a catastrophe, a word which Roach defines as a “…word rife with kinesthetic imagination, which carries forward through time the memory of a movement, a “downward turning,” redolent of violence and fatality but also of agency and decision.” (Roach, 1996, pg. 33).  Hurricane Katrina is an example of such a catastrophe that revealed a sense of violence against the people of New Orleans performed by national leaders and organizations of the United States. 

The tragedy of this category 5 hurricane and the violence that followed was depicted in Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke: a film that exposed the truth behind the events before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina occurred. Throughout the four acts of this film, Lee unveiled an array of people that were involved in or affected by Katrina and had them tell their side of the story. Many of these stories explained their mentality prior to Katrina, and then the hardships they faced as a result of such a severe storm. Most of these people referenced their frustration and helplessness during and after the storm’s outbreak, and many pointed their fingers at the same common enemies: the United States government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Following this hurricane, thousands of New Orleans residents were left stranded in the flooded city and forced to deal with starvation, dehydration, unbearable heat, and unsanitary living conditions. Over one thousand people died as a result of this tragic event, and yet, many feel as though this high death toll could have been avoided. 

Returning to Roach’s performance, the people trapped in New Orleans felt “expendable” by the U.S. government. There were countless preparations that should have been executed prior to the hurricane, especially knowing the damage that a category 5 hurricane is capable of causing. The main example of this was the structural incompleteness of the levee in the 9th ward of the city of New Orleans. For this, many residents blamed the federal government of Louisiana for their ignorance of the inadequate design and construction of the levee; and as a result, this levee was incapable of withstanding the force of the hurricane. In the book, Unfathomable City Solnit and Snedeker referenced the federal involvement in New Orleans in stating, “Like many urban Infrastructure systems in the United States, the city’s trinity of waterways has not been well maintained. People haven’t been willing to or able to pay up– and we haven’t adapted these systems to the problems we had” (Solnit, 2013, pg.156). From this, I, like many of the New Orleans residents, questioned: what is the true reason why the levees were inadequately constructed? Knowing that a majority of New Orleans’s geography lies below sea level, as well as its proximity to a quickly eroding coast, why wouldn’t the federal government prioritize the establishment of adequate flood protection? These were the questions that fueled so many residents’ frustrations following Hurricane Katrina, as preventative measures could have been taken to potentially have avoided the storm’s detrimental effects. This idea was further expressed in the lyrics of the Wood Brothers’ song, “River Takes the Town”, as they stated, “nothing’s ever for certain until the levee breaks down–The water comes in and the river–The river takes the town”.  Overall, as these precautionary measures were not taken to prevent flooding water from drowning the city, it could be argued that the U.S. government was willing to sacrifice the people of New Orleans. 

This argument was further supported by the aftermath of the storm depicted in Spike Lee’s film, whereas the people of New Orleans were abandoned in dehumanizing conditions and left helpless. Families were separated, dead bodies lay in the streets, people remained trapped in buildings, and thousands faced starvation and dehydration, and yet, where was the United States Government to provide relief? The Federal Emergency Management Agency was not sufficiently prepared for the severity of the storm and took multiple days to begin helping those in need. Furthermore, President Bush remained on his vacation following the hurricane, and waited three weeks to arrive and begin assisting the flooded city. This delay infuriated the many scared and desperate New Orleans residents. One example of this was expressed in a poem by Patricia Smith, where she wrote from the perspective of a  New Orleans woman in stating, “Looks like this country done left us for dead”(Smith, 2008, pg. 22).  Evidently, there should’ve been a greater sense of urgency for the government to assist the people of New Orleans. These people felt expended by a government that is supposed to protect and care for them. Their helplessness quickly transformed into frustration against the powers of the United States that had sacrificed them as “waste”.

Throughout history, Roach explained how we  “tend to place catastrophe in the past, as a grief to be expiated, and not necessarily in the future, as a singular fate yet to be endured”(Roach, 1996, pg.35). Yet, considering all of the hardships faced by the victims of Katrina, I argue that we should not allow this catastrophe to be left in the past. The hardships these people faced impact their lives to this day, and the United States government should still be held accountable for the wrongs they executed. In the context of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath, it is important that we do not forget the truth that the United States government was willing to sacrifice the people of New Orleans.  The government enacted violence against these residents as they abandoned them and left them helpless. The horrifying injustice of this catastrophe is something that cannot be ignored because this violence could be repeated again if another tragedy were to occur in an “expendable” city. As civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. once stated, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars”. With this, we must hold the United States government accountable for their consideration of people as waste and remember the true violence that the people of New Orleans underwent during and after Hurricane Katrina.

Violence is the Performance of Waste – Remembering so as not to Forget

“Violence is the performance of waste.” I have probably read this quote from Joseph Roach’s “Echoes in the Bone” one hundred times trying to find what it means to me. Ultimately, it just means what it says. Violence emphasizes waste, it breathes life into it, it is a performance resulting from it. Waste, in this case, is something spent; it is something used then tossed aside like trash, something no longer wanted, and usually forgotten. Roach follows this idea by saying, “violence is never senseless, but always meaningful, because violence in human culture always serves, one way or another, to make a point…violence is excessive, because to be fully demonstrative, to make its point, it must spend things–material objects, blood, environments,” (41). What Roach appears to be saying here is that there is a cost to violence; there is a waste that comes with it, but it never comes without reason. 

This idea of waste ties heavily into the concepts that center around our course on hurricane stories. Our course concentrates on themes of forgetting, memory, origins, death, and waste, among others. With these in mind, over the last few weeks we have been watching Spike Lee’s docuseries, When the Levees Broke, about Hurricane Katrina’s effect on New Orleans. The series calls itself a “Four part requiem,” meaning that it is a call to the dead, or a way to remember what was lost. Throughout the episodes the survivors of Katrina tell us the beginning of the hurricane, the devastation during and following its destruction, and finally the beginning of the healing of New Orleans. All of this happens while continually memorializing the dead and the waste left in Katrina’s wake. This idea of a requiem makes the series itself a performance of the waste Katrina caused and left in New Orleans. Not only did Katrina cause waste in its destruction–houses, grocery and convenience stores being torn down and drowned–but it also in how the people of New Orleans were forgotten in their time of need. In When the Levees Broke, Spike Lee shows the living conditions New Orleaneans were put through following the hurricane. There was very little food and water, tight spaces with extreme heat, and terrible hygiene circumstances. They lived like this for days with no help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), before being evacuated to different states and separated from their families. This inconsiderate and forgetful treatment of the people of New Orleans following Katrina is a show of people being treated like they are nothing, a performance of waste. 

This being said, death, forgetting, and waste are not our only course concepts. New Orleans celebrates what is known as the Dirge and the Second Line. The dirge is like the requiem, a recognition of death. It is something mournful, something sad. The second line can be described as hope. It is the beginning of something new and optimistic. From the dirge we are brought to the second line and to our other course concepts such as origins and memory. After the hurricane, as people were returning to New Orleans, many of the survivors never forgot where they came from. New Orleans itself, and what it meant to them, was their home. The New Orleans culture and community is where they are from, it’s where they began, and that could never be destroyed. Upon returning, parades and funerals were held in memory of what was previously lost, as shown in When the Levees Broke

It is important to think of violence in this way for the very reason not to forget it. Remembering violence as something that carried any sort of meaning, makes it memorable, as Joseph Roach was trying to say at the very beginning. Keeping these things in mind–acts of remembrance, forgetting, origins, and waste–as we move through these hurricane stories in class will help to better understand how people survive these disasters and what they do after. Making a performance of what has been wasted, or treated like so, breathes life into the waste itself, and makes it unforgettable. 

Decay in the Face of Storms: Violence by Omission of Care

I remember very vividly the first time that I saw what a hurricane could do. I was young, maybe eight or nine, and my entire family had piled into our used minivan to make the journey from upstate New York to the southern coast of North Carolina, to visit my grandparents. A few days before we were set to leave, rumblings of a storm started to make their way across the TV screen, but we had been set to make this trip for a long time and my parents wouldn’t be deterred. Besides, my grandmother gently reminded us, there were always storms. Just a part of living on the coast. We rode on the heels of the hurricane, missing the worst of it and only being showered with the remnants of the storm as we steadily wound down through the state to the southern coast. A few hours from our destination, we started to come across cars flipped upside down in ditches, trees crushing a house in half, felled by winds. The water on the road grew to a few inches deep and everyone in the car held their breath as we glided slowly through the water. It was the closest my father ever came to driving a boat and lost any desire to pilot a real one afterwards. Mailboxes, garbage cans, street signs, and traffic lights all lay strewn about like loose change on the counter. All this from a storm we only heard the first of a week ago. Destruction had been unrelenting and swift.  

All these twenty years later, almost all of those structures we drove past are still wrecked. North Carolina charges a hefty fee if you want to raze a building on your own property, which most of the people in my grandmother’s area did not have.  Even when some of the land got repossessed by the government, state officials too felt that the cost of removing the debris or rebuilding was too high for such a poor county. What most people ended up doing was building new structures right beside the destroyed ones, forcing them to live in a constant shadow of their own fear– an act of violence by omission of governmental assistance. Driving through an almost-uninhabited area that is littered with residuals of lives once actively lived is a hostile thing. It makes me feel relief that I’ve never had to rely on the government to determine my worth after a life-altering act of nature, and guilt because it feels like, as a viewer of these “abandoned” buildings, I am complicit in their value judgement.  

These buildings sit in a state of decay, holding a tether between memory and forgetting that just about smacks you in the face and makes you wonder, who is worthy of a rebuilt home? Who does the government believe is worthy of a rebuilt home? And by extension, who does the US government believe is worthy of the violence of being unhoused, displaced, and never reinstalled?

These are some of the integral questions posed in “When the Levees Broke” directed by Spike Lee, which considers the cause, aftermath, and ultimate consequences of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.  

In his article “Echoes in the Bone”, Joseph Roach considers, “The binary distinction that creates two categories, dead and alive, simultaneously creates in its interstices a threefold process of living, dying, and being dead. The middle state (dying, or more expressively, “passing”) is the less stable stage of transition between more clearly defined conditions: it is called the “liminal” (literally,”threshold”) stage, and it tends to generate the most intense experiences of ritual expectancy, activity, and meaning.”. A binary must always force us to consider a third option and the middle ground between living and death is, according to Roach, a liminality between tangible existence and shedding of identity. Roach’s conception of “dying” manifests in many ways in Lee’s “When the Levees Broke”.  

Lee’s documentary begins with tracking the storm as it forms and approaches New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and underscores the duality of how slow officials were to take it seriously and how reticent inhabitants of New Orleans were to evacuate, both embodying Roach’s “dying” and setting the framework for the government to elucidate us with what and who they consider disposable. When both the inhabitants and officials came to the simultaneous realization of the immediacy and gravity of the storm, there was no way to feasibly get people out of the city or to protect New Orleanians from the wind, rain, flooding, and heat that resulted from the storm.  

In her book of post-Katrina poems “Blood Dazzler”, author Patricia Smith writes “I don’t ever have to come down. I can stay hooked to heaven, dictating this blandness. My flyboys memorize flip and soar. They’ll never swoop real enough to resurrect that other country, won’t ever get close enough to give name to tonight’s dreams darkening the water. I understand that somewhere it has rained.” Smith manages to distill the government’s performed indifference and highlight their active choice to not perform caring. A lack of care which resulted in death, destruction, and violence.

As an informed viewer watching the film 17 years post-Katrina, Lee’s pacing seems both too fast and too slow. Lee reveals, in his pacing, the agonizing pressure of anticipation and stark immediacy with which Katrina hit New Orleans. Once a storm of such a magnitude is set in motion, all humans can really do is get out of the way—when given the appropriate tools and incentive. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, most of the multi-generational inhabitants or plucky transplants of New Orleans relied on public transportation and did not have access to private cars nor were complimentary evacuation vehicles provided. The two-day time span for an entire city to evacuate dovetailed with a bred mistrust of the US government’s historically racially and economically motivated bad intentions towards the citizens of New Orleans couldn’t have reasonably been expected to truly evacuate their city. A mandate of evacuation issued two days before Hurricane Katrina’s landfall is where the die is cast and New Orleans transitions from Roach’s conception of dying to death, because many citizens have no other options. Another omission of care by the government, another passive act of violence revealed by the equalizing power of Katrina.

Lee’s interviews with government officials reveal that the administration’s hesitation to act more quickly and intentionally was motivated by worries of financial loss and stands out in hindsight as potently inhumane. The prizing of fiscal incentive over human life undulates as a gritty undertone of Katina, and what turned into a narrative of complexities lain bare by natural catastrophe. In a certain light, it is refreshing to see the governmental exploitation of human lives for consideration of profit margin told plainly. In another light, you hope to God that the lack of care and humanity shown to people in need during Katrina would never happen again.

Nothing about the hurricane is one thing, but the unnecessary violence shown to United States citizens by blatant disregard for their well-being during a catastrophe cannot be overstated. Cruelty from the government manifesting in a lack of care or willingness to perform care during a time of great need cannot be dismissed. Willingness to align with the governmental and social acceptance of loss of life, resources, and memories by passively cosigning the sacrifice of a whole city has revealed itself as far too easy.

Performance of Waste: The Dehumanizing Treatment Faced by The People of New Orleans After Katrina

Hurricane Katrina, a devastatingly impactful storm, left the city of New Orleans and its people turned upside down. After the Levees broke, walls were put up to protect the already below-sea-level city, and New Orleans drowned. What came after Hurricane Katrina was not only visible physical destruction, but the inequality faced politically and socially by residents of New Orleans. The media portrayed these people as helpless, while our government’s response showed to be not just unbearably slow, but insufficient. These people were left to their own devices. Throughout this essay, the concept of “violence as the performance of waste” (Joseph Roach) in relation to the devastation faced after Hurricane Katrina will be analyzed, using Joseph Roaches Cities of the Dead: Circum Atlantic Performance “Echoes in the Bone”,  Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler, and the documentary: When The Levees Broke by Spike Lee. These sources allow us to examine just how the people of New Orleans were treated as waste, and how they were dehumanized and cast aside after Hurricane Katrina. Though despite the unimaginable hardships faced, the resilience of the New Orleans people refused to perform as the victims that society and the media were portraying them as.

So far in this semester’s course on Hurricanes, a lot of important concepts have circulated in and around discussions about the course content. In Joseph Roaches Cities of the Dead: Circum Atlantic Performance “Echoes in the Bone”, the concept “violence is the performance of waste” is presented. One way to interpret what Roach means by this statement is to look closer at what would be classified as waste, and then again at violence. Waste is typically tossed to the side after being expended, used up, and forgotten about. The people who suffered through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were expended, cast aside during the time of a natural disaster. Abandoned, neglected, and left without basic survival necessities, the people of New Orleans became expendable waste at the hands of a disorganized government response to a crisis among its own people. After failing to meet the basic needs of these people, the individuals of New Orleans were forced into a position of performance. Humanity was thrown out the window as these people were thought of, and portrayed by the media, as victims. In the documentary When The Levees Broke by Spike Lee, news reports were shown of struggling city folk, who weren’t being helped by the government, and the people of New Orleans were consistently referred to as “refugees”. This is an incredibly frustrating label for these individuals displaced within their own nation because, during that time, military forces that would have been called on to help the people of New Orleans were focused on another country, and not the agony being faced at the time by people in their own country. The People of New Orleans, after having to face traumatic events from Hurricane Katrina, were to perform as weak victims of the storm.

A poem from Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler, a collection of poems highlighting the devastation of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, tells a story of a child after Katrina in a new community just trying to adjust to the sudden new life they were thrown into during the diaspora (a scattered population separated from the place of origin). Smith writes, “They keep touching him, brushing past his scarred arms, tugging lightly on his clothing, some boldly reaching out for his cheek, sorry, so sorry. And he wonders how long he can stand this still, be this sort of trophy, how long he can stay bended, going from one to the other, slipping their winged feet into God’s loafers, slipping deftly into his role as child who drowns, again and again, who opens his mouth to scream, but river rushes in.” (Smith, page 71). This poem allows the audience to grasp an idea of the pressure put onto a child who has no choice but to disperse from their original life. Phrases like “trophy” and “role as a child to drown” scream volumes to the forced performance the people of New Orleans are unwillingly apart of. Portrayed as victims just taking handouts who, in the words of Barbara Bush, “were underprivileged anyway”, the origin of these strong human beings was forgotten, and they were treated as waste. I like how Roach quotes Dido’s Lament, Roach writes, “‘Remember me, but ah! Forget my fate’ (Purcell and Tate, 75).” (Roach, page 45). This quote emphasizes that for the people of New Orleans, they are more than just the fate of Katrina. In New Orleans, there is a custom at funerals to perform the dirge, followed by the second line. Sad, mournful music is appropriately played for the funeral, but in a city of parades, there is always something to celebrate. The life that person lived, how blessed everyone was to know and love them, and now moving on to the next life. The dirge and the second line are a powerful New Orleans tradition, just as the people of New Orleans are powerful. 

Despite everything, the pain, the loss, and the slander of the city, the people of New Orleans continued to persevere through it all. Through the lens of Joseph Roach’s “violence is the performance of waste”, it is clear to see how the people of New Orleans were treated as waste, forced into a position of performance as victims, and then the violent emotion felt by these people who refused to be portrayed as such, they rebelled against this judgment. The power of their community and the resilience of human spirit fought back against the wrongful portrayal, these individuals refused to be defined by the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and continued to celebrate life in New Orleans culture. Overall, the New Orleans people have shown they are far more than just the fate of Hurricane Katrina. While many will see a Hurricane as a “cleanse” or a “resetting” of a narrative, Katrina should be seen as a lesson. One to the government that nearly failed the people of New Orleans, and especially humanity as a whole. As a society, it is our responsibility to make sure that what we witnessed during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is not forgotten, and that no one is expended during future times of crises.

The Violence of Injustice and Its Waste of Time

The quote,” violence is the performance of waste,” by Joseph Roach was a quote that I struggle to interpret. Roach himself contributed three possible meanings to this quote. One of the three contributions were “that violence is never senseless but always meaningful, because violence in human culture always serves, one way or the other, to make a point.” The second being, “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 Bataillian “unproductive expenditure” (or Veblenian “conspicuous consumption”).” Lastly, “and third, that all 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.” Although I agree with the second and third definition, I wasn’t sure what it exactly meant to me, but I believe I’ve come to a satisfactory interpretation. To me the way the people in power in 2005 treated the people of New Orleans before, during, and after the disaster that was hurricane Katrina is a horrible violence that contributed to the waste of valuable time and resources that led to the loss of people’s lives and homes. 

During the summer of 2005, a category 3 hurricane named Katrina hit the coast of Louisiana, specifically impacting the city of New Orleans. While the situation wasn’t great things took a turn for the worse when the Levees broke, causing the lower 9th district to be completely flooded. Some people who remained were trapped there for days with no fresh water or food, in blistering heat, just waiting for help to arrive. The first act of violence against the people of New Orleans was the delay of the rebuilding of the levees after they broke for the first time in 1995. Not only were the levees not finished, but they also weren’t even being built to handle so much pressure that it wouldn’t have mattered if they were finished. In the documentary,” When the Levees Broke,” a man named Garland Robinette clearly stated,” My understanding is that the lake backed up a category one into our levees, and they failed.” This brings into question why the state even bothered putting in time to build the levees anyway. Not only was it a waste of time and resources, but it also prompted the end of some people’s lives because the job wasn’t done right. 

When the weather subsided the government’s response was more than just lackluster. Instead of the government sending out people to save the people left in New Orleans, the coast guard, regular civilians, and even organizations from other countries stepped in days before the government and FEMA did anything to help the people. FEMA who was supposed to oversee getting people food during this time didn’t seem like they were bothering to do anything, naturally the people in this situation took matters into their own hands and started taking food from stores to feed themselves and their loved ones. This leads to another act of violence inflicted onto the people of Luisiana, when people started taking things from stores depending on their race, they would be labeled differently in news reporting’s. People with fairer complexions would have headline written as,” Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from local grocery store,” (Associated Press) while people of much darker skin tones received headlines saying,” Young man walks through chest deep water after looting local grocery store” (AFP). These people were branded criminals when trying to feed themselves, and the police didn’t help. In the documentary a reporter made the following comment,” Here we have a refugee camp with thousands of people waiting for some sort of help. Medical, food, water, you name it. And then over there the police, scores of police officers. All concerned about one looter who’s in that supermarket.” From point to point in this whole situation resources that could have been used to help these people is just that they waste valuable time on doing the wrong thing. 

After Hurricane Katrina many people were displaced. Some people were in centers, other people were in hotels, wherever the government or FEMA could find to place them. Some people were promised trailers to live in since their houses were destroyed but were unable to obtain them because they had no place of residence. Every step of the way, the people in charge of taking care of New Orleans kept slipping up and making mistakes. When touring one of the many refugees’ centers Barba Bush said something very insulting and insensitive,” Almost everyone I’ve talked to says, ‘We’re going to move to Houston.’ What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them.” The former first lady does not seem to recognize that many of those people have nothing left to go back to. The people in charge failed them every step of the way and it would just be easier to start new where they are then start again where they were. When the president finally came to New Orleans after days, after weeks, of never even checking the situation out, he gave a speech, one where they had to turn the power back on for. The people of New Orleans hadn’t had power in days, so when their power turned back on that gave them hope but that hope was quickly torn away when the power was shut back off when the president was done with his speech. During one of our class discussions my professor Beth McCoy had informed us that during George H.W. Bush’s speech his back was drenched in sweat because that’s how hot it was in New Orleans. This was an excellent example of a quote from,” Echos in the Bones,” by Joseph Roach where he wrote,” In certain respects the tribal customs of the French and the English, including the British policy of early recall of colonial civil servants so that the locals would never see their European governors falling into illness or decrepitude.” While I can understand this in most situations, during this time frame keeping appearances is nothing but a waste of time.  

This thought process of mine has brought me to the conclusion that the quote,” violence is the performance of waste,” symbolizes the idea of injustice being inflicted onto people which results in the waste of time that may later negatively impact said people. It is ashamed to see how let down the people of New Orleans were and how this unwillingness to act will sow deep distrust in the government within these people for generations to come. 

Hurricanes as Destruction and Creation

Hurricanes are often seen as a destructive force, however; they can also be seen as a way to create new beginnings. In Joseph Roach’s “Echoes in the Bone,” he says: “amnesia as the inspiration to imagine the future.” (Roach 1) In this phrase, Roach is basically saying that in order to build upon the future, you have to fully erase the past. In class, we discuss death, sacrifice, and forgetting as major course concepts. Hurricanes serve as all three of these; bringing death, forcing sacrifice, and forgetting the way of life you had before everything was lost. Hurricanes are the thing that is ending creation and reset the narrative to bring change in life. 

To begin, focusing on death and renewal, Roach says: 

“Turner and others have hypothesized that celebrations of death function as rites of social renewal, especially when the decedents occupy positions to which intense collective attention is due, such as those of leaders or Kings.” (Roach 3)

In viewing death as a celebration, most people allude to the things that come after death. How they’ll either be “born again,” or in a “better place,” etc. Viewing death as a form of rebirth coincides with the idea of death bringing new beginnings. If we are talking about viewing death as a celebration in order to bring new beginnings, we are also discussing the dirge and second line. The dirge would be the hurricane itself: the sadness; and the second line would be the way of viewing the damage caused by the hurricane as a positive: a way to start a new life. According to Roach, the death of a leader is the most important role in the continuation of a community:

“‘It seems that the most powerful natural symbol for the continuity of any community, large or small, simple or complex, is, by a strange and dynamic paradox, to be found in the death of its leader, and in the representation of that striking event.’” (Roach 3)

This quote alludes to the idea of the dirge and second line, as well as death and renewal. In the stance of hurricanes, the hurricane coming in and destroying a community will in turn bring the community together as a unit. This is prevalent when you look at the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, and the way the people of New Orleans banded together after the disaster. 

When watching the film, “When the Levees Broke,” you can feel the pain coming through the screen. The people being interviewed in the documentary have lost everything in their lives, and all they have left is each other. The disaster that was Hurricane Katrina, brought death to over a thousand people, as well as bringing death to homes and communities; however, it brought the people left with nothing closer together as a community. There is nothing that can truly replace the damages caused by Katrina, or the lives lost, but the rebirth of the community in New Orleans stands alone. As Roach says: “Death, as it is culturally constructed by surrogacy, cannot be understood as a moment, a point in time: it is a process.” (Roach 4) Death is a process in the same way a hurricane being able to destroy everything in its path is a process. 

In, “When the Levees Broke,” the interviewees often criticize the government in regard to how they handled Hurricane Katrina. The article: “What Went Wrong in New Orleans? An Examination of the Welfare Dependency Explanation”, continues this same argument, saying that: “The main argument is that the incomplete pre-storm evacuation of New Orleans, which exposed thousands of residents to catastrophic flooding was largely a function of a culture of dependency.” (Brezina 5) When Katrina happened, the government could have seized the opportunity to do right by the people of New Orleans; especially since they had done them the disservice of not being prepared for the flooding in the first place. Instead, they left them with nothing but waiting lists and each other. (“When the Levees Broke”) They paraded on the news the tragedy that struck New Orleans, but never whole-heartedly tried to help them. I believe Roach puts it perfectly when he says:

“That is why performances in general and funerals, in particular, are so rich in revealing contradictions: because they make publically visible through symbolic action both the tangible existence of social boundaries and, at the same time, the contingency of those boundaries on fictions of identity, their shoddy construction out of inchoate otherness, and, consequently, their anxiety-inducing instability.” (Roach 4)

The government could have seized the opportunity for rebirth when Katrina struck, instead, they chose to watch the people struggle, waste away, and live homelessly. All these people had was each other, so they chose rebirth on their own accord. They took the violence shed upon them and turned it into a community effort to rebuild, without relying on the government to rebuild for them (even though the government definitely should have done this and not put them on mile-long wait lists). (“When the Levees Broke”) The hurricane caused the ‘death’ of their community, but it also caused the rebirth of their community. The violence that Katrina unleashed allowed the community to adapt together, and the violence that the government allowed to happen let the community realize they only had each other. Roach says:

“…first, that violence is never senseless but always meaningful, because violence in human culture always serves, one way or the other, to make a point; second, 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 Batallian ‘unproductive expenditure’…and third, that all 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.” (Roach 5) 

Considering a Wider Understanding

Violence is the act of intentionally causing harm; harm, in and of itself, is not beneficial or advantageous to an enterprise of any kind. Violence and the energy generated in order to execute those efforts are, understandably, perceivable as counterproductive and wasteful. Within Cities of the Dead, Joseph Roach provides us with the notion, “. . . violence is the performance of waste” (Roach 41). He supplies corroborations further supporting his idea, to paraphrase: violence is always meaningful because it is done for a certain purpose, all violence is excessive because it involves the act of spending in some capacity, and all violence is performative because there is always an audience. Roach’s development of this concept is beneficial for the class purposes of Hurricane Stories because it acts an illuminating agent, helping to clarify the course concepts that are being explored and providing the necessary scaffolding that allows for comprehension to transpire. Being aware of this conviction and having it in mind while interacting with the course materials permits us to explore the themes we encounter in greater depth and further investigate the meanings and significances of them. It prompts thinking and understanding that help to organize our thoughts surrounding the material and aid in the cultivation of analysis.

A concept that Roach’s notion is obvious in helping us explore is performance, the word is quite literally in his statement. Performance can have various interpretations by different people, it can include probably an infinite number of definitions based on the diverse considerations of what people deem to be qualifying of one. Violence being the performance of waste helps to deepen the understanding of performance itself because it leads to thinking about how violence is a performance and what constitutes a performance as well as the significance. There is intention behind violence and there is intention behind performance. People perform or put on a performance with a predetermined objective in mind. Performing is for a purpose, it is a way to express the message you want to convey in a manner of your choice. Not everyone will perceive a performance the same way and people will have different opinions on performances and how they influence. Within the documentary, When the Leeves Broke directed by Spike Lee, there are multiple scenes of celebrations and parades that take place in New Orleans. Parades are like a performance of celebration, their goal is to commemorate the event or day. As Professor McCoy discussed in class and the class notes, “. . . in Lee’s churn of New Orleans past and present, there are clips of people wearing blackface. They are part of the Zulu Krewe on the Carnival floats. These are Black people wearing blackface in order to send up white supremacy through mocking performance and thus to publicly take the public stage (i.e,. the streets) away from white supremacy. It’s important to acknowledge that not everyone agrees with what from the Zulu Krewe’s point of view is a good-faith performance” (McCoy, 2/13/2023).   The intent of this performance for the Zulu Krewe is empowering and a way for them to celebrate themselves and reclaim their history. Other people do not view the performance in the same regard, performances have the ability to mean different things to different people. Some performances can be viewed as a performance of violence; violence and performance are connected because you can both use performance in a way to be violent and your performance can have violent impacts. There are so many ways to put on a performance, laughing loudly to get someone to notice you could even be viewed as a performance. You’re putting on a show for a purpose. It is possible to convey almost anything through a performance, it acts as delivery tool for meaning. There is an always an audience to a performance, whether it be a giant theater or your mother. There will always be some type of reception to your actions. Violence requires performance because there is no way to express violence without it being experienced.

The theme of expenditure is also able to be furthered explored and given a deeper meaning with Roach’s idea in mind. Expenditure is the act of spending, when considering this almost anything can be spent in some form or another. Performing violence can involve any number of things to be spent depending on the type of violence that is taking place. Beating someone up spends energy, buying objects like guns or knives spends money, planning out an intent to hurt someone spends time. The actual act of performing the violence, as Roach states, is excessive; it requires something to spent. Excessive means unnecessary, to be viewed as wasteful. There is no real need for it, and there is no real need for violence. By instigating violence and putting on that performance, which as already discussed all violence is, you are wasting whatever resources are involved in that performance. It is not ethical to waste for the purposes of seeking to incite violence; it is not productive or contributable to a positive goal. Thinking of expenditure in terms of Roach helps to conceptualize what it means to spend something and consider the effects of those actions. In class, we watched the “Urban Garden” Steve Prince residency video. Within this we witnessed students work with artist Steve Prince to create a work of art that represented America as a garden, confronting the problems within society through drawing to promote thought and change. This community project was an act of expenditure, but for a constructive and positively impactful purpose. Students and himself spent the time to draw and come up with their creations and the messages they wanted to spend, someone bought the resources and materials necessary for the project to occur, and I’m sure a lot more was spent in the duration of setting up the entire experience. This demonstrates a useful and valuable expenditure. By exploring expenditure in terms of considering that wasteful expenditure occurs when violence is performed, understanding that there can be different forms with different intentions and outcomes also results from that exploration and allows for the appreciation of expenditure in a positive context. The community project displays how time, money, resources, etc., can be the opposite of waste. Having intentions to cause violence and then putting effort toward that is expending in a wasteful way, Roach helps to provide the tools to understanding this and the broader context of what expenditure can mean through his views.

Memory, as well, can be considered through the lens of Roach’s ideas on violence. Remembering moments, people, interactions can be small or large, seemingly important or unimportant. However, there are reasons why, even if unknown, that we remember. There are so many aspects that can be related memory, you could spend years of life figuring out and investigating all the different ways memory can act. Roach explains that memory and performance are connected, “Like performance, memory operates as both quotation and invention, an improvisation on borrowed themes, with claims on the future as well as the past” (Roach 33). Memory always surrounds us, people are constantly thinking about things that have happened, what they’ve said and how they acted, what other people have said and how they’ve acted. In your memory things may not always be clear, they might be blurry or hard to depict. Your memories influence you as a person and therefore your actions and how you perceive things. In this respect, it is clear to see how memory can be related to performance. Most likely you will remember when you preformed violence and most likely you will remember when violence was performed on you. It takes root in you, stays with you. The victims of Katrina will never forget the treatment they endured and the response to their tragedy. In When the Levees Broke, we see the victims as well as the administration that was involved, we hear both sides. A completely life altering and shattering event takes place, and it seems that the government that is supposed to support and care for them had barely any consideration for what they had experienced. The actual event of Katrina was traumatizing, severely detrimental, and absolutely unforgettable coupled with the aftermath response and in addition that influential figures like the former First Lady were sayings things like they were better off demonstrates how actions are so significant and can’t be forgotten and how performing violence will be remembered.

Almost any aspect of life can be connected to another in some sort of way or thought process. Roach’s concept on violence gives insight on how our actions matter and forces us to come to deeper conclusions and revelations about how and why actions are done, what that can mean, and how those actions have affects. Light is shed on our questionings and topics from his notion because, at least from my interpretation, what it basically boils down to is that what we do matters and should be thought out. It makes you consider the effects of anything on everything which can force a more considered perspective on relatively any concept.

The Performance of Violence and it’s Consequences

In Joseph Roach’s Echoes in the Bone, he introduces the idea that “violence is the performance of waste.” There are many examples of this, both in the book and in real life. People can be seen as waste by others. This view of seeing others as waste allows people to commit violence against others without remorse. Throughout the history of human society, this idea of some people being beneath others because of race, gender, sexual orientation, social status, etc. allowed for unspeakable acts carried out by people onto other people and treated as normal or acceptable. The hoarding of resources can be seen as violence to people these resources are being withheld from. Roach also raises the idea that “all violence is a performance because it must have an audience.” Throughout this course, we’ve learned about hurricane Katrina and not just the devastating effects it had on the residents of New Orleans, but also the response of the United States government, or lack there of. The United States government’s utterly mediocre response to Hurricane Katrina and the damage it did to the city of New Orleans and its residents is an act of violence in itself, witnessed not only by the citizens of the United States but by many others around the world.

Violence can be seen as waste in that when violence is done to a person or thing, that person or thing becomes waste because damage has been done. The wasting of resources can also be seen as violence. When rich people waste tons of money on ridiculous things no one needs while others could have used that same amount of money on basic needs that they don’t otherwise have access to, that can be seen as violence. On the other hand, the rich may see poorer people as disposable or waste. This way of thinking has contributed to catastrophes across the globe. In one specific instance, this way of thinking of poorer people or people that are different as disposable or as waste had devastating effects on the victims of Katrina as the government and politicians watched as over a thousand people perished and refused to do anything about it because they saw New Orleans and it’s residents as waste.

While the entire city of New Orleans was under water politicians were seen vacationing. This blatant display of ignorance and apathy towards the situation in New Orleans is an example of the detriment done when others are seen as waste. Some politicians even going as far as to say that hurricane Katrina was a cleansing of the city. The waste of money and resources used in other areas that the United States government deemed more important than their own people was another example of the violence used against the people of New Orleans. The people of New Orleans have repeatedly expressed irritation at the waste of money being spent on the war in Iraq while residents of New Orleans continued to die as a result of the hurricane and the heat of the summer that followed. This waste of money was an act of violence against the people of New Orleans. This act of violence was a performance as the entire world was the audience that witnessed it. Hurricane Katrina destroyed countless lives but the poorly constructed safety measures, withholding of resources, and slow reaction of the United States government was the true cause of the catastrophe that came out of hurricane Katrina. Roach brings up the idea that the mistakes of our past follow us into the future. The poor construction of the levees was the past that followed New Orleans into the future and reeked havoc on residents living there. This poor construction of the levees ties into the idea of waste and the thought of human beings as waste. The United States government didn’t want to spend the money for the proper construction of the levees that would have protected New Orleans from category 5 hurricanes such as Katrina. They thought of the money spent as a waste and as a result left the levees unfinished and in turn left New Orleans residents unprotected.

The carelessness showcased by the United States government added to the death tole of Katrina. Without food and water the people that had survived the actual flood were dying. People were also dying because of the lack of shelter and the unrelenting heat that came after the storm. People were dying on the streets waiting for help that would never come. With houses destroyed, people were left homeless. The government promised them trailers, these trailers did come but it took way longer than it should have. By ignoring the suffering of the New Orleans residents, the government wasted the lives of well over a thousand people. Even today the effects of Katrina can be felt in New Orleans. This is another ghost of the past haunting the present. While people continue to come to New Orleans from all over the to celebrate Mardi Gras and experience the rich culture that survives there, the suffering of the residence is very much ignored by the rest of the country and the world. Many places have yet to be completely rebuild almost two decades later. While the initial catastrophe is over the effects of it and the government’s lackluster response continues to effect not only the residence of New Orleans but the rest of the country as people saw just how faulty our government truly is.