The act of violence ultimately ends up with some sort of waste. That waste can be in the form of money, energy, people, and even time. The quote “…violence is the performance of waste” (Roach, 1996, 41), can be articulated in so many different ways and from multiple different perspectives. This quote derived from Joseph Roach’s, Cities of the Dead Circum Atlantic Performance “Echoes in the Bone”. Although this book is meant for other drama and performance scholars, and not college students, the chapter “Echoes in the Bone” connects to many of our classes’ course concepts, media, and readings. Some of these concepts include memory, forgetting, performance, expenditure, and many more.
Roach looks at “…violence is the performance of waste” in three different ways. He begins to discuss that violence is never senseless but always meaningful because violence in human culture always serves one way or another, to make a point (Roach, 1996, 41). This alludes to the idea that behind every act of violence, there is a purpose. He then proceeds to explain 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” (Roach, 1996, 41). More often than not, violence in some way exceeds the idea of expenditure. Expenditure refers to the act of spending. You typically aren’t able to perform violence without experiencing some type of expenditure whether that be physical money or even blood. Moving along with his third point, he discusses 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, 41). Violence of any kind has an audience. That audience witnesses the act of violence and the waste that is produced.
The idea of sports connects to the quote “…violence is the performance of waste” because athletes are essentially performing violence against one another which ultimately ends up with waste. They play the game and perform violence for a few different reasons: they love the game, they make a living off of it, they are able to support themselves and family, and/or they play because they have talent. Many people would argue that playing sports is unquestionably “unproductive expenditure”. In this case, waste refers to energy, resources, broken bones, and possibly lifelong physical impairments. This act of violence is performed in front of a fan base. Sports make an unbelievable amount of money off their audience, which is another form of expenditure. Therefore, by athletes performing violence, they are ultimately weakening their body and their audience is losing money alluding to waste. Violence is a waste of time and energy but when you perform violence you are remembering what you forgot.
Roaches third definition of “…violence is the performance of waste”, directly relates to hurricanes, a focus in this class. Hurricanes are defined as a tropical storm with winds that have reached a constant speed of 74 miles per hour or more. Hurricanes are a natural form of violence that produce enormous amounts of waste. The act of hurricanes typically affects numerous amounts of people and places.
In this class, we read excerpts from Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas. Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas shows many ways in which “…violence is the performance of waste” through the actions of Hurricane Katrina. “…Unfathomable City plumbs the depths of this major tourist destination, pivotal scene of American history and culture and, most recently, site of monumental disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill” (Solnit, 2013). We also watched When the Levees Broke. When the Levees Broke is a documentary film that was directed by Spike Lee about the devastation of New Orleans, Louisiana following the failure of the leeves during Hurricane Katrina. Throughout the film, residents of New Orleans discuss how they were impacted by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. They also discuss how New Orleans is rising from the ashes after such a tragedy. Unfathomable City and When the Levees Broke both emphasize on our course concepts of memory and forgetting. Memory, referring to the idea of taking in information, storing it, and later recalling that information. Forgetting is the idea of failing to remember something or someone. “New Orleans has always had hurricanes, but what happened on August 29, 2005, and in the two weeks of chaos, rumor, betrayal, and social splintering afterward cannot be blamed on nature. Imagine that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had built adequate levees: Katrina would have just been a powerful hurricane that missed New Orleans…” (Solnit, 2013, 127). The violence that struck New Orleans was not just from Hurricane Katrina but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that didn’t take the time to properly mantel the levees. Because of this carelessness, the waste produced in New Orleans was “unfathomable”. The people that survived Katrina were left with dreadful and unforgettable memories. Referring back to “Echoes in the Bone”, the audience of Katrina was not only the people of New Orleans, but the world as a whole. Katrina, as expressed in When the Levees Broke, was talked about on almost every new channel. This devastating event caught the attention of so many people nationwide. Solnit states that the media also upheld power. The newspapers and televisions stations were spreading rumors that those stranded people were ravening hordes, that mass rape and murder were rife in the Superdome and the convention center. The media spread rumors that people were shooting rescue helicopters and that residents were engaged in disaster-time activities referring to looting (Solnit, 2013, 130-131). All of these rumors were due to the violence of Hurricane Katrina and the break of the levees. Not only was the media wasting people’s time who read about and listened to those rumors, but the media was wasting their own time when they could have been actively helping the people of New Orleans in multiple different ways.
Most of the residents that were part of the documentary, expressed the feeling towards the fact that if the levees were made and installed properly, most of the damage done on New Orleans could’ve been avoided. “Some roofs would have blown off in New Orleans, some trees would have fallen, and the city would have picked itself up and gotten back to being 66 percent African American city in decline which many described as poor, but some knew was also uniquely rich in music, in ritual, in memory and tradition, in conviviality and social ties and roots, and in certain kinds of enjoyment” (Solnit, 2013, 130). The residents of New Orleans felt very passionately that the U.S government wasn’t doing much to help in the first few days and weeks. “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 one was left to die on the roof of the attic, and the dehydrated elders, the hungry children, the stranded population of New Orleans’s poorest neighborhoods were rescued and protected” (Solnit, 2013, 130). The waste left by Hurricane Katrina was something not many people have seen before. People lost time through days, weeks, and months of not having anywhere to go, not having a job, and were left helpless on the streets. New Orleans residents lost their homes and all the belongings and memories that went with it. They lost energy; they fought and fought, and FEMA did not uphold all they could have within those first few days. And the most unfortunate “waste” of all was the 1,400 people that lost their lives to this devastating hurricane. The people of New Orleans will hold onto their memories of Hurricane Katrina and the awful aftermath forever. They will never be able to forget the days they went without food. The dead bodies they saw all over the streets. And the terrifying unknown of what was going to happen day after day.
The idea of “violence is the performance of waste” matters because everyone is essentially affected by violence through its waste. Money, time, energy, resources, and people are all different forms of waste. A quote that really resonated with me is, “The city was profoundly changed, physically, psychically, economically, and democratically by the storm, and the nation was rocked” (Solnit, 2013, 127). Roach insinuates that violence is excessive and endeavors “unproductive expenditure”. The city of New Orleans will never be the same after Hurricane Katrina hit. The violence and waste that that hurricane produced has forever changed the great city of New Orleans.