Negligent Expectations Rampant Throughout A Barbarous Storms Influences

Hurricane Katrina was undeniably a devastating torrent the bombarded ubiquitous, inextricable marring and ravaging of the vivacious, prideful communities intimate yet abundant throughout the city of New Orleans. Houses teeming with family history and robust cultural community were thrashed and decimated as if they were conscripted to be nothing more than fleeting effigies of one’s legacy and relation to such a gregarious, socially enriched yet tumultuous city. One could argue that choosing to live in a city whose waterlogged environment is so volatile and prone to betrayal during these ecological havocs is to embrace such a conscription, however for many in New Orleans it is evident the choice has not always been so simple. I found myself enthralled in the heartbreak and immense devastation as we watched Spike Lee’s exquisitely insightful When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. The documentary devoted a remarkable portion of time to reaffirming the unflinching, beautiful solidarity evident in the people of New Orleans in spite of agonizingly arduous conditions, which I believe to be an encouraging implementation of an affirming Second Line. However, the need for this Second Line was only present due to the sheer, indiscriminate violence and callous negligence imposed onto the city of New Orleans not just by the belligerent, haphazardly voracious storm, but also by the government and their relegation of New Orleans community as nothing more than supernumeraries, both indicative of a dirge. Lee made it evident that the people were left floundering both during and well after Katrina’s wake, afforded almost no commodities and relief for their strife, expected merely to press on and salvage a new life for themselves, with ostensible equal prospects. Communities were ravaged by a wasteful storm that left a gratuitous level of carnage and erasure in its flippantly harmful wake. A man was forced to relinquish his sick mother to the torrential, all-encompassing influence imposed on New Orleans. A mother is inundated with despair over the loss of her child, feeling utterly powerlessness and a lack of agency that may have helped save her child from compulsion as a sacrifice to this monstrous storm. Yet a disconnected mother of President Bush can observe this carnage and pervasive throttling of New Orleans’ life and legacy and insist that this is ultimately a blessing in disguise for New Orleans, as if being forced to dwell in their own excrement, toppling over wreckage and other bodies is a net improvement to some more impoverished denizens. It was made evident to me that the rest of society had largely remained largely oblivious to the plight and sacrifice these people had been forced to forfeit. This gratuitous geological and negligent violence imposed on New Orleans reminded me about themes reinforced in Joseph Roach’s “Echoes in the Bone”, an intimate look into the turbulent yet beautiful intricacies of the circum-Atlantic diaspora. Joseph Roach delves considerably into a notion that “violence is the performance of waste” (Roach 41). Through this essay, I intend to further explain how violence as a performance of waste serves to accentuate the notion that disasters often instigate egregious, compelled sacrifice and wounded memories, leading to a larger society to conscript those exploited during the disaster and tragedy to perform as supernumeraries left to mend on their own, without aid.

            One of the three primary corollaries Roach posits in his discussion over violence as a performance of waste is 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” (41). Here, Roach is alluding to the notion that violence demands and forcefully elicits sacrifice in order to fulfill its own performance of sorts, even if said performance is only to wreak extravagant catastrophe on an environment. He suggests that carnage often imposes a far more abundant negative output as opposed to its input, hence why said bombastic, rampant torrents of natural disasters are often cited as “unproductive expenditure.” I find this quote to be so fascinating since it can be contextualized as a confrontation of, or at the very least a prompt for discussion on, the notion that natural disaster can be a time for cleansing. While this outcome after a disaster is entirely plausible, even admirable it invests excessive eager sentiment and investment into a cathartic Second-Line while ignoring the ramifications and colossal wounds found present in the sharp vestiges whirling around the Dirge. This idea is reaffirmed in a poem from Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler, dubbed “Back Home”, that features a narrator gazing upon the pervasively pungent and atrocious state of what her life and environment was thrived off of in New Orleans. The speaker is thrusted into an overwhelmed despair upon witnessing the state of her home following the aftermath of a barbarous Katrina, mentioning that the vermin and water-ravaged home also harbors “funk, churning moss dripping from its arms, arms open wide to take in my damp body” (Smith 65). Here, Smith employs grotesque and derelict imagery to convey the irreparable contortion of the woman’s home and the material resources she worked to accrue and sustain through her life in New Orleans. I believe specifically that the implementation of “churning moss” clinging to and ravaging and slathering the house still with “arms wide” in an attempt to be richly expressive in just how emotional the sacrifice of one’s material environment can be for someone. The use of personification in describing the house despite its colossally warped and enfeebled state only further highlights the anguish the speaker is likely feeling upon witnessing all material components of her identity and legacy in shambles. The house is treated like an affectionate friend eager to comfort and protect the speaker in spite of being burdened with decay, as seen in its offer to wrap the narrator in its derelict body. The end of the poem finds the speaker further lamenting the unsalvageable state of her past life, now a devastated amalgam of grotesque wither and a nest for a contorted, new tarnished ecosystem of its own: “closing tied eyes against my home’s languid rhythms of rot, begging my new history to hold still” (65). This elegiac imagery conveyed by Smith reaffirms the emotional toll and marring the decomposed, derelict house has inflicted onto the speaker. The “languid rhythms of rot” further accentuates the notion that the house is a breathing, active entity within New Orleans legacy and ecology, similar to the speaker herself, making it all the more heart wrenching that it is in a state of inextricable disrepair. I believe the speaker “begging” her new history to remain stagnant shows how she is utterly unequipped and emotionally ravaged herself to be able to carry on with her life unfettered. Her home in New Orleans meant a tremendous deal to her, and she is far from ready to part with it for the sake of his torrential hurricane’s performance. Such a brutally callous discarding of one’s material and ecological identity in New Orleans shows how tremendously oppressive it can be for one to rebuild and commence a ‘cleansing’ process when forced to perform as a sacrifice for the spectacle and scope of these natural disasters. Instead of being empowered from Katrina’s carnage by a sense of renewal, I believe the speaker, as well as other individuals grappling with a similar deprivation and destruction of material and environmental familiarities. Such a flagrantly savage squandering of goods for a frivolous geological performance seamlessly encapsulates Roach’s concept that violence is intrinsically “excessive” and demands unprompted, unconsented sacrifice to embolden its own magnitude, diametrically “unproductive” in nature. The prospect of disasters yielding opportunity for new beginnings is rendered worthless if those unwillingly exposed to said disaster were so fervently entrenched in the value of what the material and ecological goods surrounding them. The speaker has clearly been affixed to a conscripted performance of her own because of this egregious violence and carnage, a societal supernumerary left to toil in the demolished remnants of her past life and expected reassemble them on her own to form a new one. 

            Another of Roach’s corollaries asserts that “all violence is performative, for the simple reason that it must have an audience– even if that audience is the only victim” (41). Roach is suggesting to readers that the waste of violence isn’t dictated necessarily by the scale of the catastrophe it inflicts, but by the capacity of waste, harm, and gratuity it imposes on those exposed to the performance. I personally find the amorphous nature of this assertion to be rather intriguing due to the vast plasticity behind one can be deemed an audience. The flexibility of who the audience is crucial since the audience will normally be the one to determine whether an act of violence is truly wasteful and worth acting on due to its scale, severity, and significance, making the negligent aid extended to New Orleans following Katrina more glaring. Providing an audience opportunity to disconnect from oneself can ultimately precipitate and exacerbate further waste and excessive destruction left by said performance of violence. This creates a notion of a vortex of violence and needless discord on a societal front, as hostile sentiments can fuel animosity and aggression among those who deem themselves an active victim of the violence audience when confronting the inaction of a disconnected audience. The notion of flexible accountability in an audience not immediately affected by said violence is evident throughout the Bush administration’s dispassionately indolent conscription of the people of New Orleans into those of a separated supernumerary from the rest of the country’s priorities. Patricia Smith does a fantastic job articulating this sentiment in her poem “The President Flies Over”, relaying Bush’s potentially unsympathetic and callous emotions as he flew over the carnage exacted by Katrina onto New Orleans, referring to the city as “that other country” and remarking how had heard “somewhere it has rained” (Smith 36). Smith chooses to convey the president’s abhorrently negligent disassociation and untethering of himself to the plight of New Orleans. I believe his reference to the city as “that other country” to be a prime example of conscripting New Orleans to a role of a disconnected supernumerary, a land that is excess and no longer apart of the United States due to the hefty commodities that would have to be extended to truly, vehemently rejuvenate the vigor of the extravagant, bountifully diverse city. Chalking the hurricane up as nothing more than trivial rain also is an instance of Smith conveying how a disconnected audience of violence can contort and conscript the narrative of the magnitude of said violence to ignore the ecological waste and emotional havoc brimming just outside their apathetic peripherals. As Roach suggests, violence as a performance of waste can be equally potent and devastating to those involved even if the supposed affected audience is one individual. Are they not worth extending aid to? Are they merely designated as a supernumerary entity, unworthy of exerting resources over to help mend the fierce wounds imposed on by said violence? Roach’s declaration of violence as a performance of waste yields ample capacity for scrutiny and reflection on the gratuitous and barbarous nature disaster can impose onto those exposed, as well as the penchant for disconnected audiences to conscript those directly impacted by said violence as a supernumerary to dismiss aid.

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