In the book Cities of The Dead, Roach states, “a stark definition emerges from Bataille’s meditations on “catastrophic expenditure”: violence is the performance of waste”. Oftentimes when people are violent, they are getting rid of their angry emotions and try to take it out on something or someone else. People may have a build up of wrathfulness, rage, and frustration and feel the need to release it. This then results in an expenditure and waste of negative energy. Moreover, in class we talked about how an individual being violent may expend their negative energy with a purpose towards someone they don’t like, or even towards people they like or love. This is as a person may think another person is disposable, and therefore perform violence towards them. In regard to violence is the performance of waste Roach asserts, “to that definition I offer three corollaries: 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”. In this essay I will demonstrate how Roach’s violence is the performance of waste and the three outcomes he suggests provide insight on the course’s core issues and questions thus far.
Roach states, “Girard’s idea that sacrificial violence operates as a kind of expenditure through which society prolongs its sense of coherence in face of a threat of divisive substitutions owes its understanding of excess to him” (pg 40). In class we highlighted Roach’s emphasis on the terms “sacrificial violence,” “expenditure,” both “productive” and “catastrophic”, and “pressure” on page 40 and 41. These phrases were then added to our course concepts list. In our class discussion on the course concept expenditure, we discussed many examples of ways things can be expended such as money, time, people, and resources. An example of time being expended and wasted if you sleep your time away. Continuing, during class McCoy told a story in terms of expenditure and violence and performance and waste. In McCoy’s first year in graduate school she was a TA making six thousand dollars a year and went to visit one of her college roommates. Her roommate’s step mother, who was wealthy, had just returned from the casinos in Atlantic city. The stepmother had a pile of cash she won at the casino and stated, “I don’t even know what to do with all of this money, I should just throw it away”! McCoy emphasized to our class the fury that she felt in that moment and that she wanted to leap across the table and throttle her, although she didn’t. This is because her roommate’s step mother did not appreciate what she had, and may have intentionally made a mockery of McCoy. In regards to expenditure and violence of the performance of waste, this story demonstrates the stepmother saying she plans on expending and wasting her money, therefore leading McCoy to violence and wanting to throttle her.
During class, we discussed that human beings can be constructed as waste. An example of human beings being constructed as waste that we talked about during class is how a lot of cities bring their waste to more rural areas. Another example of human beings being constructed as waste is in regard to the film When the Levees Broke. Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke depicts the havoc that Hurricane Katrina’s breaking of the levees caused in New Orleans, Louisiana. In the film, Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans that were in need of help expressed their frustration that president George Bush originally stayed on holiday and was extremely delayed in helping them. The fact that President Bush did not take responsibility until nearly three weeks into the aftermath of Katrina while so many people were suffering is alarming. In the book Unfathomable City Solnit and Snedeker stated, “Imagine that even though the levees failed and people were left behind, everyone in a position of power had responded with urgent empathy so that no one was left to die on a roof or in an attic, and the dehydrated elders, the hungry children, the stranded population of New Orleans’s poorest neighborhoods were rescued and protected”. This further demonstrates that human beings being constructed as waste as President Bush and those in positions of power did not prioritize helping individuals in New Orleans. Moreover, an individual from the film When the Levees Broke stated, “they are not doing anything for the katrina victims, and the aftermath to me is worse than the actual levees breaking”. This demonstrates that both human beings and cities can be constructed as waste. Another example in the film, When the Levees Broke, demonstrated how people were treated like animals when Hurricane Katrina hit in New Orleans. A woman in the movie stated how victims could not brush their teeth, change their clothes, or take a bath, and for days people did not eat. In the book Unfathomable City Solnit and Snedeker stated, “the bitterness of Katrina in New Orleans was not only that people in that city (out of 1,836 total casualties throughout the Gulf Coast) died and didn’t have to, but also that many thousands more felt as though they had been treated as outcasts by their society”. In other words, thousands thought they were treated as “waste” by their society. These examples from the film, When the Levees Broke and the reading Unfathomable City indicate that people and cities, like the New Orleans Hurricane Katrina victims, can be and were constructed as “waste”.
In class, we talked about several kinds of “waste”. It is common for waste to lead to disposal; for instance, if you have a “supernumerary” amount of something, it can go to waste. Continuing, waste can manifest in a variety of ways, especially that memory and forgetting are factors in. An example of this is the massive inflatable slide of the Titanic that we were shown in class in the beginning of the semester. In Echoes in the Bone Roach states, “echoes in the bone refer not only to a history of forgetting but to a strategy of empowering the living through the performance of memory” (pg 34). In class, we connected this line from Echoes in the Bone to the tot-tanic and unpacked how the tot-tanic is a approach of empowering the living through memory performance. Despite the fact that children may not be aware of what happened to the Titanic and all of the lives lost, people allow their children to play in this bouncy house in the present, forgetting about the tragedy of the Titanic. Therefore, children use this insanely disrespectful bouncy house as entertainment by performance of fun. The tot-tanic constructed the Titanic and those that died on it as “waste” given the incredible amount of disrespect in making a Titanic bouncy house that children play on for entertainment.
Throughout this essay, I demonstrate how Roach’s violence is the performance of waste and the three outcomes he suggests provide insight on the course’s core issues and questions thus far. I did this by thinking through class material and connecting to Roach’s violence is the performance of waste. Connecting our class material to Roach’s Cities of The Dead furthered my analysis and understanding of Roach’s violence is the performance of waste. My analysis matters as it connects Roach’s violence is the performance of waste to important course topics such as “expenditure”. The course concept “expenditure” furthered my thinking on the many ways things can be expended, and how expenditure can also lead to violence. Continuing, my analysis connects Roach’s violence is the performance of waste to how human beings and cities can be constructed as waste. It is extremely important to recognize how horrible it is for human beings, such as New Orleans Hurricane Katrina victims, to feel themselves and their city are treated and looked at as “waste”. My analysis also lead me to think about several kinds of “waste” and the many ways that “waste” can manifest that memory and forgetting are components in.