Civilization-Barbarian-Savage: Categorization and Othering

Lewis Henry Morgan, a nineteenth century anthropologist, is credited with bringing the idea of the “ladder of cultural evolution” to the public. His theory, accepted as scientific at the time, suggested that there was a natural hierarchy between cultures that supported racial prejudice and subjugation of the perceived lesser peoples. Morgan’s scale had three distinct categories: civilized, barbarian, and savage. “Civilization” consisted of the Western ideals of private property and christian morality. “Barbarism” denoted those cultures in transition towards civilization who still had some “backward” ways to correct. “Savagery” was the lowest, most undesirable state that was equated with a complete absence of law, order, and morality. Aligning his theory with that of Charles Darwin, Morgan proposed that it was possible for a culture to evolve from one category to the next. However, this did little mitigate the resultant bigotry that the theory–at least to some–justified. Continue reading “Civilization-Barbarian-Savage: Categorization and Othering”

“Gloriously Catastrophic Futures”

The English historian Horace Walpole once declared, “The next Augustan age will dawn on the other side of the Atlantic.” In response, Joseph Roach includes in Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance the following quote: “The conception of history as a vast performance of diaspora and surrogation haunts intercultural musings such as Walpole’s, which transform invented pasts into gloriously catastrophic futures.” Colson Whitehead’s Zone One and the genre it is a part of are proof that these kind of transformations are still very much alive. Continue reading ““Gloriously Catastrophic Futures””

New Orleans Bounce: A Circum-Atlantic Performance

New Orleans is traditionally considered the home of the genre of bounce music. The city is designated as both the genre’s origin point and its continuing center. To some degree, this is true. Artists considered at the foundation of bounce music all hail from New Orleans. Bounce music maintains its prominence in the region through concerts and festivals. However, treating the genre as an entirely autochthonous product overlooks the rich network of places and identities that have shaped the musical form as we know it today. Continue reading “New Orleans Bounce: A Circum-Atlantic Performance”

“Go Hurricanes!”

In recent news, one can find a host of sports team names challenged by public outcry. Teams ranging from the Washington Redskins to the Ithaca Bombers to the Holy Cross Knights have had tough questions to answer about their selected nicknames and mascots. Yet for the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL, this scrutiny has been virtually non-existent since the team’s relocation and name change in 1997. Is this surprising given what we know about the connotations of hurricanes? What processes of remembering and forgetting must occur to allow this?

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The Two Angolas

“The Lousiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola, is situated on the lush land of a plantation of that name founded by a slave trader.” This detail can be found in the chapter of Solnit and Snedeker’s Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas entitled “Of Levees and Prisons.” The statement is steeped in layers of history and competing narratives: a great place to slow down for some thorough examination. Continue reading “The Two Angolas”

Getting the Full Picture

In the credit sequence of “When the Levees Broke,” there is a notable uniformity in presentation. Each of the film’s interviewees, with his or her face contained within a picture frame, looks at the camera and tells his or her name, position, and place of residence. The scene acknowledges “When the Levees Broke” as a kind of art, as the ornate frames immediately bring and association to museums, galleries, or even framed family photos. Each of the New Orleans residents, in the frame, becomes a piece of the collection. Similar to the individual artworks in Steve Prince’s Katrina Suite, each piece contributes to an aggregate understanding. In both cases only an examination of all components of the collection can result in the fullest picture of the Hurricane Katrina experience.

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Stages as Performers

“All the world’s a stage,” so begins the well-known monologue from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The melancholy Jacques who speaks the line goes on to describe life as a performance. Importantly he begins with a concept I had up to this point neglected in our course: setting the stage. Prompted by Joseph Roach’s Cities of the Dead, we as a class have discussed the everyday performances individuals undertake either by choice or conscription. Performances require an actor, an audience, and of course a stage. Without this essential stage, the performance lacks context and is rendered meaningless. Shakespeare’s character recognizes the importance of the stage, but perhaps fails to acknowledge that not only “all the men and women” are its players; stages take on their own performative roles as well. Continue reading “Stages as Performers”

“The Dead Stay Dead”

In his book Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance, Joseph Roach titles a chapter “Echoes in the Bone.” Roach himself acknowledges the title as a nod to a play by Jamaican playwright Dennis Scott entitled An Echo in the Bone. The allusion is fitting for the chapter in Roach’s book that deals primarily with remembering, forgetting, and the deceased, as Scott’s play is centered around a Nine-Night Ceremony. The Nine-Night Ceremony, according to Roach, “welcomes the spirit of a deceased person back into his or her home on the ninth night after death has occurred.” It is a ceremony that engages in the wider, cross-cultural discourse on the remembering and forgetting of the dead. Continue reading ““The Dead Stay Dead””

Autochthony and the Imagined Community

Our class discussion about allochthony and autochthony reminded me of something we talked about in the Civil War Historical Novel class I took last semester with Dr. Rutkowski. In the class, we focused heavily on the divide between Union and Confederate, North and South. The border that separated the two and divided America was a contrived boundary that grouped together two groups: “Americans” and “other Americans.” These communities that did not exist in name before the advent of the American Civil War were fabrications. Though geography and stance on slavery linked a majority of people in these communities, to say that the two were dichotomous is an exaggeration. Continue reading “Autochthony and the Imagined Community”