Violence as Care, Because Violence Calls for Care

Over the course of this semester, the exploration of  “violence as the performance of waste” (Joseph Roach) has become the backbone of most of my thinking throughout the course. Though now, having to consider this violence as care, I have found myself also relying on former Geneseo student, Davina Ward’s paper, where she proposes that violence can take on the form of care and vice versa. In her essay, Ward pushes back against Saidiya Hartman’s assertion “care is the antidote for violence”, where she argues that both violence and care “each serve as a justification for an action”. Thinking back to the course concepts revealed at the beginning of the semester, sacrifice, effigy, and expenditure will be involved heavily in my analysis here. Really early in the semester, an example was presented to the class of a picture of a bounce house called the “Tot-Tanic” an inflatable rental for kids parties. An effigy at its core, somehow its performance of violence –violent in the way it is discrediting the tragic deaths of the incident, or rather,  forgetting the severity of that event.– a community was brought together by an effigy, and its violent performance. So the morality of it all comes into question here; can a violent performance be considered an act of care if the end result brings people together? 

Looking to Superstorm, by Kathryn Miles, the audience is brought into Hurricane Sandy, the surreal depictions and tragic details of the storm’s impact, grant the reader a perspective to understand the violence of the storm. Focusing on the afterward, the audience is enlightened on the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, with survivors struggling without power, Miles describes the torment these individuals had to face. She writes, “For many, the torment continued. Across Appalachia, residents struggled against freezing temperatures and no power. They risked asphyxiation by using camping stoves and gas ovens to keep warm. Nursing home workers swaddled elderly patients in blankets and sleeping bags. The snow continued to fall.” (Miles, 254). This quote depicts the violent circumstances these people had to endure. Continuing along in the afterward, Miles writes about Bellevue Hospital, where the patients had to stay in unsanitary conditions with limited food supply. One thing to take away from this part of the afterword is the way Dr. Ford took the initiative in bringing everyone together during that time of hopelessness. Miles writes, “The situation was now a crisis. She approached the corrections officers there. “I want to bring together all of the patients,” she said. “I think it’s the only way.” They agreed. Her staff began walking patients one by one. It was dark. The only lights they had were the flashlights they had brought on Sundaayy. Once they were all assembled, Ford called for her staff, too. She waited for them to settle in. And then she began to speak. She told them just what they were up against. She promised to take care of them. “We’re all in this together,” she said.” (Miles, 245). This quote shows how the circumstances brought people together to care for one another. What is demonstrated here reflects the concept of violence acting as care, or more in-depth, a violent state invoking care. 

After evaluating the correlation between violence and care, my final question pushes through: Does an act of violence initiate care? When considering examples of this, I think back to when I would get hurt and would need to be cared for in order to get better. After an injury is obtained from a violent act (purposeful or accidental) care is required to maintain stability and heal the injury. This draws on scholar Saidiya Hartman’s assertion that care is the antidote to violence. When care is necessary, it typically seems to follow a violent circumstance. From the video on Vimeo, In the Wake: A Salon in Honor of Christina Sharpe, Saidiya Hartman reads and provides a brief statement about Sharpe’s work before introducing her to speak. Hartman gives more on the “antidote to violence” concept during the time she speaks, bringing up the encountering of black suffering and stating “When looking at images of blacks suffering, I keep looking because that cannot be all there was to see or to say. I had to take care. Care is the antidote to violence.” (Timestamp: 8:29). This presents the idea that violence can lead to the action of care, although care is not always the guaranteed end result of violence. Care can also be a way to resist or combat violence, but it may not “erase” the violence before it, the memory still exists.

It is important to evaluate this correlation between violence and care, and not fully understanding that correlation is completely okay as well because it is a complex moral concept. Violence as care, because violence calls for care, is just one way to see that connection. It is worth examining how violence, despite not always appearing as care, can bring people together or spark the need for care. Through the examination of several course materials, I have learned how to grasp a better understanding of how violence and care interact with each other in many different settings.

Performance of Waste: The Dehumanizing Treatment Faced by The People of New Orleans After Katrina

Hurricane Katrina, a devastatingly impactful storm, left the city of New Orleans and its people turned upside down. After the Levees broke, walls were put up to protect the already below-sea-level city, and New Orleans drowned. What came after Hurricane Katrina was not only visible physical destruction, but the inequality faced politically and socially by residents of New Orleans. The media portrayed these people as helpless, while our government’s response showed to be not just unbearably slow, but insufficient. These people were left to their own devices. Throughout this essay, the concept of “violence as the performance of waste” (Joseph Roach) in relation to the devastation faced after Hurricane Katrina will be analyzed, using Joseph Roaches Cities of the Dead: Circum Atlantic Performance “Echoes in the Bone”,  Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler, and the documentary: When The Levees Broke by Spike Lee. These sources allow us to examine just how the people of New Orleans were treated as waste, and how they were dehumanized and cast aside after Hurricane Katrina. Though despite the unimaginable hardships faced, the resilience of the New Orleans people refused to perform as the victims that society and the media were portraying them as.

So far in this semester’s course on Hurricanes, a lot of important concepts have circulated in and around discussions about the course content. In Joseph Roaches Cities of the Dead: Circum Atlantic Performance “Echoes in the Bone”, the concept “violence is the performance of waste” is presented. One way to interpret what Roach means by this statement is to look closer at what would be classified as waste, and then again at violence. Waste is typically tossed to the side after being expended, used up, and forgotten about. The people who suffered through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were expended, cast aside during the time of a natural disaster. Abandoned, neglected, and left without basic survival necessities, the people of New Orleans became expendable waste at the hands of a disorganized government response to a crisis among its own people. After failing to meet the basic needs of these people, the individuals of New Orleans were forced into a position of performance. Humanity was thrown out the window as these people were thought of, and portrayed by the media, as victims. In the documentary When The Levees Broke by Spike Lee, news reports were shown of struggling city folk, who weren’t being helped by the government, and the people of New Orleans were consistently referred to as “refugees”. This is an incredibly frustrating label for these individuals displaced within their own nation because, during that time, military forces that would have been called on to help the people of New Orleans were focused on another country, and not the agony being faced at the time by people in their own country. The People of New Orleans, after having to face traumatic events from Hurricane Katrina, were to perform as weak victims of the storm.

A poem from Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler, a collection of poems highlighting the devastation of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, tells a story of a child after Katrina in a new community just trying to adjust to the sudden new life they were thrown into during the diaspora (a scattered population separated from the place of origin). Smith writes, “They keep touching him, brushing past his scarred arms, tugging lightly on his clothing, some boldly reaching out for his cheek, sorry, so sorry. And he wonders how long he can stand this still, be this sort of trophy, how long he can stay bended, going from one to the other, slipping their winged feet into God’s loafers, slipping deftly into his role as child who drowns, again and again, who opens his mouth to scream, but river rushes in.” (Smith, page 71). This poem allows the audience to grasp an idea of the pressure put onto a child who has no choice but to disperse from their original life. Phrases like “trophy” and “role as a child to drown” scream volumes to the forced performance the people of New Orleans are unwillingly apart of. Portrayed as victims just taking handouts who, in the words of Barbara Bush, “were underprivileged anyway”, the origin of these strong human beings was forgotten, and they were treated as waste. I like how Roach quotes Dido’s Lament, Roach writes, “‘Remember me, but ah! Forget my fate’ (Purcell and Tate, 75).” (Roach, page 45). This quote emphasizes that for the people of New Orleans, they are more than just the fate of Katrina. In New Orleans, there is a custom at funerals to perform the dirge, followed by the second line. Sad, mournful music is appropriately played for the funeral, but in a city of parades, there is always something to celebrate. The life that person lived, how blessed everyone was to know and love them, and now moving on to the next life. The dirge and the second line are a powerful New Orleans tradition, just as the people of New Orleans are powerful. 

Despite everything, the pain, the loss, and the slander of the city, the people of New Orleans continued to persevere through it all. Through the lens of Joseph Roach’s “violence is the performance of waste”, it is clear to see how the people of New Orleans were treated as waste, forced into a position of performance as victims, and then the violent emotion felt by these people who refused to be portrayed as such, they rebelled against this judgment. The power of their community and the resilience of human spirit fought back against the wrongful portrayal, these individuals refused to be defined by the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and continued to celebrate life in New Orleans culture. Overall, the New Orleans people have shown they are far more than just the fate of Hurricane Katrina. While many will see a Hurricane as a “cleanse” or a “resetting” of a narrative, Katrina should be seen as a lesson. One to the government that nearly failed the people of New Orleans, and especially humanity as a whole. As a society, it is our responsibility to make sure that what we witnessed during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is not forgotten, and that no one is expended during future times of crises.

Nina Avallone-Serra, Engl 111 Final Self-Reflective Essay

In my very first semester of college, using Beth McCoy’s ENGL 111 Expulsion & Housing Crisis course as a guide, I took my first ever dive into one of the defining events of my generation: the housing market crash of 2008. Coming from a family fortunate enough to avoid the fallout of this crisis, I grew up with no knowledge of it at all. In fact, I only found out about it in my mid-teens when I caught a showing of the film adaptation of The Big Short which did little to improve my understanding as I struggled to keep up with the large cast, the fast pace, and the head-spinning financial jargon. 

But at the end of the semester I am marginally older and wiser and can explain with some certainty what The Big Short was trying to communicate. The housing crisis (or the subprime mortgage crisis) was a devastating market crash which resulted from the offering of loans to unqualified applicants by predatory lenders. These loans were high-risk, meaning that those who received them had poor credit and were unlikely to pay back the lended money, but investment in these loans was encouraged and even launched a secondary market for repackaging and selling these bad loans to large Wall Street banks. This caused a “bubble”, with homeownership reaching a “saturation point” in 2006 according to Investopedia. After this point, the value of houses purchased with these bad mortgages plummeted, leaving millions indebted to their lenders, unable to pay back mortgages they should have never been able to afford and unable to sell the homes purchased with these mortgages without losing money. This triggered the worst recession seen since the Great Depression, the effects of which can still be felt over a decade later.

Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, the final text of the course, as a dystopian novel written about the effects of an impending climate crisis on the nation in future decades, may not immediately bring to mind the 2008 housing market crash. What does a science fiction novel written in 1993 about the socioeconomic and climate disasters of the distant 2020s have to do with the subprime mortgage crisis of the early 2000s? The surface similarities don’t seem to go very far, but placing Butler’s novel in the context of the crash, broadens the conversation about the 2008 crisis. 

Some of the most striking similarities between the two include patterns of expulsion, lack of access to housing, and extreme wealth disparities. Both the real life event of the housing crisis and the conditions described in Parable of the Sower forced millions out of homes, leaving many homeless and entirely without basic needs. The events of Parable of the Sower, when used as a lens through which to view the housing crisis, adds another dimension to it. In my own reading, I used Butler’s novel as a peek into a nightmarish world in which the outcome of the market crash was truly dystopian, using the similarities between the novel and the crash as a way of magnifying the fallout experienced by those who lost their homes and livelihoods in 2008. 

In our study of the subprime mortgage crisis, one of the aspects that I found most striking was the isolation of rich and poor from one another and the extreme wealth disparity between the two. I learned from Michael Lewis’s The Big Short and articles like Joe Nocera’s “What the Costumes Reveal” just how insular the world of investment banks and mortgage servicers is. In the firm of Stephen J. Baum (who represents multiple large mortgage lenders), the office culture revolves around the mockery and degradation of those who are faced with the loss of their homes. There is a shocking lack of empathy and so little regulation that businesses like this were allowed to cut corners everywhere, free to terrorize homeowners as they pleased. The main players in The Big Short were similarly contained, enjoying lavish Las Vegas lifestyles and protected from the consequences of their business. Lewis writes about the aftermath of the crisis: “A few wall street CEOs had been fired for their roles in the subprime mortgage catastrophe, but most remained in their jobs, and they, of all people, became important characters operating behind closed doors, trying to figure out what to do next.” (pg 260, The Big Short)

This aspect of the market crash is shared by Parable of the Sower. Large corporations like KSF have a large background presence in the novel, buying up towns like Olivar and controlling the market for water. We see stark contrasts in access to wealth and resources between racial and ethnic groups in particular, the wealthy and prosperous town of Olivar offering residency only to white families. There exists, as in the case of the 2008 crisis, an insular characteristic to the wealthiest class in Parable of the Sower, their status enabling them to ignore the veritable apocalypse unfolding before their eyes. A great example of this is our protagonist Lauren’s fascination with the locals in Los Angeles who were able to enjoy a day at the beach simply for leisure despite the chaos around them. With the funding to acquire transportation, self-defense, food, water, and housing, rich people in Parable of the Sower were able to stave off a crisis and preserve their way of life in a manner reminiscent of the way in which corporate bailouts enabled elites on Wall Street to preserve their own jobs, resources, and wealth. Both the rich in the fictitious world of The Sower and in reality occupied a bubble untouched by the realities of the poor and middle class world.

A theme of expulsion represents another strong tie between Parable of the Sower and the housing crisis. The most significant outcome of the housing market crash (as the name would have one believe) is the massive amount of foreclosures on houses across the country, causing millions to be suddenly cast out of their homes. Houses were left abandoned and demolished in the wake of the mass exodus caused by the 2008 crisis. Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House, another one of our texts, offers great insight into the effects of the crisis on middle and working classes. Flournoy describes the  abandoned homes and vacant lots, plummeting home values, and rising poverty and crime experienced in the months leading up to and in the months following the collapse of the housing market. 

The conditions in Parable of the Sower felt eerily similar to this. As I read further into Butler’s novel, mental images of burnt-out ruins in the world of Parable of the Sower started to mirror the depictions of streets lined with demolished and abandoned homes in Detroit in The Turner House. The characters in both books even responded to challenges in similar ways: the walls of Lauren’s home Robledo reminded me of the makeshift garage constructed by the Turner family to keep out thieves and intruders and the emphasis on building community and family in order to survive. The conditions of both novels demanded their characters adopt a strong sense of survival and resourcefulness in order to support themselves and their loved ones and this echoes an important message about the hardships real-life individuals had to overcome during the crisis of 2008. 

  The Turner House and Parable of the Sower also share similar themes about family, addiction, and faith. The internal familial tensions in both books act as a driving force for the development of the protagonists’ actions and beliefs going forward. In Parable of the Sower, Lauren forms many of the foundational tenets of Earthseed around discrepancies between her own beliefs and those of her father. Many of the practical aspects of Earthseed, however, she adopts from the training she received from her father, emphasizing self-defense, vigilance, community, and leadership. We see a similar dynamic in The Turner House, also with the patriarch of the family. Francis Turner’s own beliefs and fears (particularly in regards to the phenomenon of the haint) played a large part in shaping Cha-Cha’s convictions and his role as the leader of his family. His refusal to acknowledge Cha-Cha’s haint, his alcoholism, and his detachment from his children all became defining points in his children’s lives, either empowering their own beliefs, or wearing them down. These family dynamics, though fictional, reflect the real-life significance of family and community, particularly in times of hardship. The people around us are a huge determining factor in laying the groundwork for the beliefs that will carry us through life and in developing our ability to deal with difficult situations. These facts take on an even greater importance when family and community are threatened, and they certainly were in the housing crisis – with this mass expulsion occurring, families and communities were broken up in large numbers, harming these bonds and causing an even greater social and psychological impact on those affected. 

Diving into themes about addiction in both novels continues to broaden the discussion about the 2008 crisis. Addiction would exist with or without a housing crisis or an apocalyptic disaster, but exploring this particular issue and how it interplays with the poverty and crime resulting from events like these gives us a deeper view into their effect on the broader population. The Pyro drug in Parable of the Sower is the clearest example of this issue. The drug worked as both a form of salvation, either by abusing it for pleasure or by selling it for financial relief, and as an agent of destruction. This dynamic works similarly in The Turner House, addiction linking with poverty, crime, and housing instability. Using these novels as a reflection of the housing crisis, addiction becomes an important part of the context of the crisis and creates a clearer picture of how widely the effects of the crash reached. Using Parable of the Sower as window into the 2008 housing crisis, though it may not seem like the obvious choice out of all the texts in our ENGL 111 course, brings a depth to the matter that one may not get if they interpret it through strictly informative sources like The Big Short or “The Giant Pool of Money”. The effects of an event so devastating and transformative can be explored on a more precise and personal level, accounting for family, faith, addiction, poverty and can hit even harder when using Parable of the Sower as a magnifier. Using Octavia Butler’s work in concert with my own newfound knowledge of the nitty gritty of the housing crisis (CDOs, credit default swaps, big banks, etc.) added an element of humanity to my view and helped me to identify the 2008 housing crisis as something apocalyptic in its own right.

Final Self-Reflective Essay, ‘Parable of The Sower’ and The 2008 Expulsion and Housing Crisis

After engaging with ‘Parable of the Sower’ by Octavia Butler, and with the knowledge of the 2008 global financial crisis in mind whilst reading, I have found that many course concepts connect in different ways to this novel as well as the others we have read in the class. Concepts like trust and expulsion especially stuck out throughout the course. While many believe the 2008 expulsion and housing crisis to be caused by homeowners who “did not read the paperwork”, there are truths that lay beyond this. In Michael Lewis’s novel ‘The Big Short’, wealthy investors are seen playing a sick game with the homes and mortgages of many during this time. Grown men are seen betting against subprime mortgage loans and profiting off the little guys, homeowners. “The subprime mortgage machine roared on. The loans that were being made to actual human beings only grew crappier, but, bizarrely, the price of insuring them the price of buying credit default swaps fell. By April 2006 Lippmann’s superiors at Deutsche Bank were asking him to defend his quixotic gamble.” (page 90 of The Big Short). After encountering ‘The Big Short’, it’s clear to see where trust was broken for homeowners who were eventually expelled from their homes because of the corruption on Wall Street that directly affected the lives of real people. 

While it is not easy to see right away that the contents of ‘Parable of The Sower’ has much to do with the expulsion and housing crisis of 2008, themes and concepts are clear to pick out of this dystopian read. Expulsion is one concept I find not only the main character can relate to, but also those who reside outside of walled communities like the one Lauren has lived in. Early on in the novel, the picture is painted clearly of how life was for individuals who did not have the protection of walls and a tight-knit community with, apart from robberies, a reliable food supply. While out with her brothers, father, and four other kids, Lauren describes what and who she sees outside her walled community. “Crazy to live without a wall to protect you, Even in Robledo, most of the street poor- squatters, winos, junkies, homeless people in general- are dangerous. They’re desperate or crazy or both. That’s enough to make anyone dangerous.” (page 10). It’s clear in Lauren’s world that if you don’t have a safe home (walled community), it is near impossible to survive, much like how it is in our own world. “Then there were the pitiful, unwalled residential areas. A lot of the houses were trashed burned, vandalized, infested with drunks or druggies, or squatted in by homeless families with their filthy, gaunt, half-naked children.” (page 10). The people Lauren encounters outside of her community walls have been expelled from “luxury living” even though Lauren doesn’t consider her way of living a luxury, home is not something that is accessible for those stuck on the outside. During the expulsion and housing crisis of 2008, millions lost their homes, their source of safety and comfort. Much like how it’s difficult to place blame on the characters in ‘Parable of the Sower’ struggling to survive, the homeowners that took what loans they were offered in 2008 were merely trying to hold on to shelter and stability, and trying to keep their families generational homes. Many who were expelled from their family homes had to disperse, and with family living in different states, the feeling of expulsion was present in not being around those who have always been around. Lauren went through a similar expulsion when she had to leave her home behind. “It had occurred to me, though, that I should get back to my garage before someone else settled there. I wasn’t thinking very well It was as though that garage was home now, and all I wanted in the world was to be there.” (page 166).

After reading anything, it’s common to gain a better understanding by relating their own personal experiences to these stories. For me, when I read ‘Parable of the Sower’ it became clear that I could relate to the main character in a religious sense and, in a less severe case, her hyper empathy. After identifying this connection, I was able to see that I could understand, on some level, the expulsion Lauren had to feel and face. In the book, we get to know a lot about our main character, Lauren. We find how she has struggled with a disorder that came from prenatal exposure to a drug her mom used at the time. Lauren finds it difficult to travel outside the walls of her home because of the sickness, pain, and drug epidemic that affects the people outside. This is especially difficult for Lauren because through her hyper empathy she can feel what those who are suffering do just by looking at them. Although I don’t suffer from a prenatal birth defect, I have found that I tend to put others needs over my own, which is something that. A quote from ‘Parable of the Sower’ that stuck with me in this sense was when Lauren found out about her brother’s death, and how he was killed. “​​If hyper empathy syndrome were a more common complaint, people-couldn’t do such things. They could kill if they had to, and bear the pain of it or be destroyed by it. But if everyone could feel everyone else’s pain, who would torture? Who would cause anyone unnecessary pain? I’ve never thought of my problem as something that might do some good before, but the way things are, I think it would help. I wish I could give it to people.” (page 115). I suppose this quote puts into words the philosophy I stand behind when it comes to how I interact with those around me. As for how Lauren feels about religion I feel I can especially relate. Coming from a very religious family I’ve struggled with a lot of things that have to do with my faith, every day I am tested with questions that push me in every direction, just one example is wondering whether I should base my actions on what I think God would want or what I know people would want. It’s funny because in The Bible we (Christians) are told not to be of this world yet here we are. Circling back, I feel Lauren’s father and I share the same God, I also think her father and mine would get along great because of the similarities I see between them wanting to protect and prepare family for troubles to come. Although I can’t say I have experienced the trauma Lauren has, I do know that because of the religion I was brought up in, and the way I have always put others’ feelings before mine, I am influenced in a way that has made me feel expelled to some degree. I have found it difficult to gain my own understanding of having a “relationship with God” because of all that I have been conditioned to understand about Him from the congregation and from my family. This plays a big part in my need to please people, especially my parents, if I don’t stick to the moral obligation my religion demands from me, I’m not who they want me to be. All this makes it hard to feel a sense of security, in a way, I am expelled.

Because I feel somewhat of a personal connection to Lauren and the expulsion she has come to face throughout the novel, I am able to understand the concepts that are presented between the lines of Parable of the Sower’. The common theme of expulsion is one not to take lightly, how we understand the concept of being expelled will prepare us in truly recognizing the reason for the 2008 expulsion and housing crisis.