In Roach’s “Echos in the Bone”, from his book Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance, he writes heavily on the subject matter of forgetting and remembering the deceased, as well as portions of our lives. Roach’s writing suggests that these two work hand in hand with the ideas of performance and memory within our society. Upon reading the chapter, Roach brings forth many interesting claims about how these ideas play into one another. Yet none are as striking as when Roach makes the claim that “violence is the performance of waste”. Looking further into Roach’s exploration of violence as a performance of waste, he includes three corollaries to provide a more rigid definition and understanding of how violence, performance, and waste are defined within his own words.
Specifically, I will be drawing attention to the third corollary in which Roach suggests, “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”. What makes this corollary so complex is the lack of the inclusion of one’s self. While it can be inferred that those that do not believe in a divine being can interpret the latter solely as self reflection or that a person may be a victim of their own violence, Roach’s lack of reference to the performer indicates that one can not perform violence as an act solely for themselves. Roach’s emphasis on performance forces the reader to question why he would not include this in his corollary. His writing is, as he would say, a performance, similar to how he, “argue[s] that performed effigies —those fabricated from human bodies and the associations they evoke—provide communities with a method of perpetuating themselves through specially nominated mediums or surrogates: among them, actors, dancers, priests, street maskers,states-men, celebrities, freaks, children, and especially, by virtue of an intense but unsurprising paradox, corpses”. His goal was to evoke the absence of one’s self in this corollary. But his reasoning/rationale for doing so is a bit more difficult to grasp. To have forgotten such a crucial part of the violence cycle after discussing at great lengths the importance of remembering and forgetting seems unlikely. Initially, the thought dawned upon me that Roach disregarded this claim in hopes of avoiding the idea of his work unintentionally leading people to blame themselves for the violence enacted on them. However, this would also suggest that his quote would lead people to believe all forms of violence are bad. Roach instead says that violence, except in the case of self defense, which he believes to be rare, is a form of cultural expression. Ultimately, through Roach’s understanding of violence a person’s impact on themselves, others, the environment, and everything in between would result in one being an an audience to the performance of waste at one’s own hands.
Having established the typical interpretations of Roach’s ideas, we can now use them to analyze Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke”. Lee’s documentary focuses on the violence that befell New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina and how it impacted the citizens as well as the entire country. One of the most primal examples of violence comes at the heart of any storm. The film shows the loss that flooded the city, whether it be the rubble of buildings as well as bodies washed away with the storm. These images follow the idea of the storm performing waste in a very literal sense. The city was transformed from a celebration of Creole history, as well as a celebration of the melting pot mentality of America, into nothingness.
The documentary shows different perspectives of multiple New Orleans natives to share their reactions to how President Bush, their state legislature, and FEMA handled the care for the city after Katrina. These people were the audience to the political performance that came from major corporations, as well as their representatives as they pleaded for their homes back, but no help was offered. Months passed and the government quickly began to show their true nature and their own side of violence, with a lack of action. The United States Military was preoccupied with Bush’s war with Iraq and therefore was unavailable to come and help with the rebuilding of New Orleans. There appeared to be no rush to try and get some form of assemblage of people into the city to help move forward. Instead the city continued to live in the dirge. This violence, the second major act that fell onto the New Orleanians in 2005, begins to delve more into the symbolic root of waste. What more was there to waste after the storm? How could there be any more loss? The spirit and time of New Orleanians was washed away due to the lack of action. Lack of care. They were victims of a government that would not prioritize them, until they remembered that the New Orleans area is beneficial to the United States’ economy. It wasn’t until the oil on the Louisiana coast began to go missing from the economic system that the government really began to try and rebuild New Orleans.
While these acts shower over the disaster that occurred throughout the year, the question remains as to what part the people of New Orleans played in the violence enacted on them. While not everyone was capable of leaving, due to a lack of transportation, resources, or secondary location, there was an evacuation put in place for the people of New Orleans to leave the area before the hurricane hit. While it was not the case for everyone, the film shows multiple people standing firm in their belief that they “were born in New Orleans and would die in New Orleans” . This thought process led to many natives staying, not believing the storm would be as dangerous as it was. Many of the older New Orleanians referenced surviving Hurricane Betsey, not forgetting the violence that hurricane brought with it, but rather remembering the strength of their community as they rebuilt from the destruction that occurred. The stance on staying was initially founded in the performance of memory of the struggles that hurricane brought to the entire city and the exaggeration of the storm’s power. This was an unintentional act of violence on themselves that would lead them to stay and fight through the violence performed by the storm and continue to live with the news surrounding the lack of action from the government. Spike Lee’s interviews throughout the documentary clearly show the fusion between performer and audience as these people were witnessing their own actions first hand, waiting for others to act, to help, and yet being forced to continue pushing beyond what they could do solely for survival.
The pride and heart that lives in New Orleans is not, and will never be a bad thing. New Orleans is what it is solely because of the people that live there. The determination and pride in the land to stay through devastation, while violent, is certainly not bad, but rather a cultural expression. This expression of love and happiness and memory made Hurricane Katrina just that much more devastating. But New Orleans lived on and the violence of the storm, of the divine, of the government, of other Americans, and of themselves will never be what New Orleans is known for. It is a culmination of so much more.
Looking at the city from an outsider’s perspective, it is best known for its celebration of Mardi Gras, where the city is crowded with tourists to celebrate the holiday, celebrate the history, and partake in the festivities. Mardi Gras is well known by multiple symbols, but none as prominent as Mardi Gras beads. They are worn by many throughout the day and are even thrown from the floats throughout the parade. However, in a Nola article from 2018 written by Beau Evans the impact thetis celebration had on the city afterwards was brought to light. According to Evans “46 Tons of Mardi Gras Beads Found in Clogged Catch Basins”, there were “crews working under a $7 million emergency contract have flushed out 15,000 clogged catch basins – nearly one-fourth of the city’s full roster of about 68,000”. Through the celebration, a fundamental symbol being disregarded in the streets yearly clogs their drains. The parade is not an act of violence at first glance, but looking at the effect it has on both the community and the environment, the performance of waste becomes more clear over time. The article focuses primarily on the environmental and economic impact that the draining of Mardi Gras beads has had, however, it chooses not to focus on the impact the draining issues had, and continue to have, on the residents of New Orleans. This act of violence first and foremost affects them. Not bringing them into the discussion of the impact of these beads is very apparent. They are not only not given the opportunity to take accountability for the issues with the parade, but also become a part of the solution. Without their account, similar to Roach, the idea of acts of violence affecting oneself is missing.
Overall, Roach’s connection between violence, performance, and waste raises more questions than it answers. However, this connection allows for us to look back and reconsider the definition of violence and how it may impact individuals as well as corporations. If violence is a cultural expression, then it should and does continuously change with time and the performance of waste that follows will continue to develop along with it. Therefore, looking at Roach’s quote through the lens of a single person’s impact on themselves will continue to create the further development of this timeless philosophy.