Care and Violence as a Hurricane

This course provided me ways to think on and improve how I engage with classmates and literature of all kinds through the framework of learning about hurricanes.  I learned that what I do best is observing and drawing connections, even though it takes time for me to gather the churning thoughts out of my head.  Through this circulation I was able to think more on the relationship between care and violence and pick out the examples that I thought would help my self-reflection.  Throughout this course I learned that there are times when care is attempted but accidentally results in violence, and when violence is performed in order to achieve care, especially when confronted with surviving a natural disaster or recovering from one. 

I noticed that the idea of violence appeared many times in our discussions and in several of the books we read and films we watched.  As unsettling as it may be, violence must come up in a course about hurricanes because of the natural destruction they bring, followed by human recovery.  Saidiya Hartman’s quote “care is the antidote to violence” fits in this situation, with rebuilding communities and lives after an enormous natural disaster.  For example, Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke details the entire timeline of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, showing footage of floodwaters, rescues, survival, and recovery.  His documentary is filled with accounts from people that lived in the Lower 9th Ward and surrounding communities in New Orleans that were affected the most, the first responders that got people to safety, politicians that were in power at the time, and many more.  The ending credits of the documentary show every person that was interviewed with a picture frame around them, presenting them as equals that all had a place in the story of Hurricane Katrina.  This documentary shows the way that care is an antidote to violence by showing the recovery and the care provided to the affected communities after surviving the hurricane and the negligence that followed.  In class we even started with the end credit sequence to ensure that we saw it, so we would not get stuck in the grief of the rest of the documentary.  This care given to us by Dr. McCoy and the care Lee gave to portray the people he interviewed as individuals and equals was a part of the antidote to healing from Hurricane Katrina.

I still subscribe to Hartman’s view that care is the antidote to violence, but I want to examine how care can be attempted but in a way that still results in violence.  A passage in Davina Ward’s essay about how violence can exist as care stood out to me, as she describes a scene in When the Levees Broke where a mother buries her young daughter after she drowns in the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina.  Ward writes that “[the mother] had to bury her daughter in an act of preserving her memory, however, it was a great violence to herself. Burying her daughter was a violence that she had to inflict on herself, her body wracked with sobs is a testament to that. However, in this violence is the last act of care she can perform for her daughter. Here violence is also an act of care.”  Laying her daughter to rest was a final act of care that the mother can give but it hurt her to do so as shown by her weeping.  Ward describes how it felt to watch this part of the documentary in class, saying that it was a raw moment that made many people emotional.  I found that this scene resonated with me because my own mother had to bury my older brother two months after he was born after he died from health problems, and the hymn that was sung during the procession in the documentary was one that I hold very close.  I personally associate the hymn “Soon and Very Soon” with hope and family because of how I often hear it sung in church during the Advent season, having the song mean that soon the savior will be coming to us instead of vice versa, and it was one of the many hymns my mother would sing to me as a child.  Hearing it in this context and with my family history made watching this scene difficult for me, even though I was warned that the death of a child was coming.  I thought that by staying and watching the scene I would show that I care and empathize with the tragic event, but ended up inflicting violence upon myself in the form of emotional memories.  A similar story from When the Levees Broke that came up when I thought about care resulting in violence was one about a man and his elderly mother at the convention center.  The high temperatures and lack of food and water was making it difficult for him to get help for his mother, and he was receiving no answers other than the promise that busses would soon arrive to bring people to better shelters.  It was heartbreaking to watch him recount how he looked over to her and saw she had died in her wheelchair and how her body was left outside the convention center under a sheet until it could be dealt with.  A major theme of the documentary is that the response to Hurricane Katrina was not adequate, and that letting people suffer like this is the worst form of violence a government can do to its people.  This man did not intend for his mother to die even though he did his best to care for her in this situation.

In my thinking I realized that another part of the relationship between violence and care is that violence is sometimes performed in order to achieve care, especially in times of survival.  Self-defense is a common way of carrying this out, like in Colson Whitehead’s Zone One where survivors of a zombie plague must clear out the remaining undead to rebuild society.  The leftover “stragglers” are described as harmless and only interested in staying in familiar places they once went to when they were alive instead of chasing after flesh.  The main character, Mark Spitz, is sympathetic to the stragglers yet knows that they must be disposed of quickly, unlike others who do not see stragglers as formerly human or potentially dangerous and often make fun of them.  There are even instances where a character that has been infected will kill themselves to not become a skel and harm others.  The characters in Zone One perform the necessary violence needed to rebuild after a traumatic event.  The theme of necessary violence in order to provide care for the sake of survival continues in the 2004 film The Day After Tomorrow when characters must burn books to keep warm during an apocalyptic winter storm.  The act of burning books has long been associated with hate and the erasing of ideas, which the film acknowledges by choosing not to burn certain books in order to preserve the past if human society does get wiped out.  Rebuilding a community after a disaster is an arduous task that no single person or group can do alone, and sacrifices in the form of violence must be made.  The more I thought about committing acts of violence with the intent of care, the more I thought about my second semester at Geneseo when I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved.  Morrison uses the story of Margaret Garner, an enslaved woman who escapes with her family to freedom but makes the choice to kill her daughter rather than see her in slavery again as the basis for her character Sethe, who endures the same thing.  Violence with the intent of care has stayed with me throughout my time as an English student and it feels appropriate that I choose to include it now.

I would like to go back to what I said in the beginning of this paper about the course concept of circulation, circling back to it if you will.  When one thinks of a hurricane, the image of a vortex of clouds comes to mind, along with waves crashing over shorelines and trees bent in the wind.  Many times I have found myself much like those trees, unable to stand as strong as I can against the storm of thoughts that form and not fighting to make sense of what I was thinking.  This semester I realized that I do not always have to sound smart or perfectly eloquent when contributing to discussions, and I found that the best way for me to get my ideas out is through writing.  I value the practice of stepping back and thinking through what I want to say, and I feel like I can properly do that when writing a paper.  I can slow my churning thoughts and find the best ways to communicate what I want to say.  I can now say that care and violence swirl together like a hurricane, and I have found myself in the eye where I can collect myself in the calm of the storm.

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