Considering a Wider Understanding

Violence is the act of intentionally causing harm; harm, in and of itself, is not beneficial or advantageous to an enterprise of any kind. Violence and the energy generated in order to execute those efforts are, understandably, perceivable as counterproductive and wasteful. Within Cities of the Dead, Joseph Roach provides us with the notion, “. . . violence is the performance of waste” (Roach 41). He supplies corroborations further supporting his idea, to paraphrase: violence is always meaningful because it is done for a certain purpose, all violence is excessive because it involves the act of spending in some capacity, and all violence is performative because there is always an audience. Roach’s development of this concept is beneficial for the class purposes of Hurricane Stories because it acts an illuminating agent, helping to clarify the course concepts that are being explored and providing the necessary scaffolding that allows for comprehension to transpire. Being aware of this conviction and having it in mind while interacting with the course materials permits us to explore the themes we encounter in greater depth and further investigate the meanings and significances of them. It prompts thinking and understanding that help to organize our thoughts surrounding the material and aid in the cultivation of analysis.

A concept that Roach’s notion is obvious in helping us explore is performance, the word is quite literally in his statement. Performance can have various interpretations by different people, it can include probably an infinite number of definitions based on the diverse considerations of what people deem to be qualifying of one. Violence being the performance of waste helps to deepen the understanding of performance itself because it leads to thinking about how violence is a performance and what constitutes a performance as well as the significance. There is intention behind violence and there is intention behind performance. People perform or put on a performance with a predetermined objective in mind. Performing is for a purpose, it is a way to express the message you want to convey in a manner of your choice. Not everyone will perceive a performance the same way and people will have different opinions on performances and how they influence. Within the documentary, When the Leeves Broke directed by Spike Lee, there are multiple scenes of celebrations and parades that take place in New Orleans. Parades are like a performance of celebration, their goal is to commemorate the event or day. As Professor McCoy discussed in class and the class notes, “. . . in Lee’s churn of New Orleans past and present, there are clips of people wearing blackface. They are part of the Zulu Krewe on the Carnival floats. These are Black people wearing blackface in order to send up white supremacy through mocking performance and thus to publicly take the public stage (i.e,. the streets) away from white supremacy. It’s important to acknowledge that not everyone agrees with what from the Zulu Krewe’s point of view is a good-faith performance” (McCoy, 2/13/2023).   The intent of this performance for the Zulu Krewe is empowering and a way for them to celebrate themselves and reclaim their history. Other people do not view the performance in the same regard, performances have the ability to mean different things to different people. Some performances can be viewed as a performance of violence; violence and performance are connected because you can both use performance in a way to be violent and your performance can have violent impacts. There are so many ways to put on a performance, laughing loudly to get someone to notice you could even be viewed as a performance. You’re putting on a show for a purpose. It is possible to convey almost anything through a performance, it acts as delivery tool for meaning. There is an always an audience to a performance, whether it be a giant theater or your mother. There will always be some type of reception to your actions. Violence requires performance because there is no way to express violence without it being experienced.

The theme of expenditure is also able to be furthered explored and given a deeper meaning with Roach’s idea in mind. Expenditure is the act of spending, when considering this almost anything can be spent in some form or another. Performing violence can involve any number of things to be spent depending on the type of violence that is taking place. Beating someone up spends energy, buying objects like guns or knives spends money, planning out an intent to hurt someone spends time. The actual act of performing the violence, as Roach states, is excessive; it requires something to spent. Excessive means unnecessary, to be viewed as wasteful. There is no real need for it, and there is no real need for violence. By instigating violence and putting on that performance, which as already discussed all violence is, you are wasting whatever resources are involved in that performance. It is not ethical to waste for the purposes of seeking to incite violence; it is not productive or contributable to a positive goal. Thinking of expenditure in terms of Roach helps to conceptualize what it means to spend something and consider the effects of those actions. In class, we watched the “Urban Garden” Steve Prince residency video. Within this we witnessed students work with artist Steve Prince to create a work of art that represented America as a garden, confronting the problems within society through drawing to promote thought and change. This community project was an act of expenditure, but for a constructive and positively impactful purpose. Students and himself spent the time to draw and come up with their creations and the messages they wanted to spend, someone bought the resources and materials necessary for the project to occur, and I’m sure a lot more was spent in the duration of setting up the entire experience. This demonstrates a useful and valuable expenditure. By exploring expenditure in terms of considering that wasteful expenditure occurs when violence is performed, understanding that there can be different forms with different intentions and outcomes also results from that exploration and allows for the appreciation of expenditure in a positive context. The community project displays how time, money, resources, etc., can be the opposite of waste. Having intentions to cause violence and then putting effort toward that is expending in a wasteful way, Roach helps to provide the tools to understanding this and the broader context of what expenditure can mean through his views.

Memory, as well, can be considered through the lens of Roach’s ideas on violence. Remembering moments, people, interactions can be small or large, seemingly important or unimportant. However, there are reasons why, even if unknown, that we remember. There are so many aspects that can be related memory, you could spend years of life figuring out and investigating all the different ways memory can act. Roach explains that memory and performance are connected, “Like performance, memory operates as both quotation and invention, an improvisation on borrowed themes, with claims on the future as well as the past” (Roach 33). Memory always surrounds us, people are constantly thinking about things that have happened, what they’ve said and how they acted, what other people have said and how they’ve acted. In your memory things may not always be clear, they might be blurry or hard to depict. Your memories influence you as a person and therefore your actions and how you perceive things. In this respect, it is clear to see how memory can be related to performance. Most likely you will remember when you preformed violence and most likely you will remember when violence was performed on you. It takes root in you, stays with you. The victims of Katrina will never forget the treatment they endured and the response to their tragedy. In When the Levees Broke, we see the victims as well as the administration that was involved, we hear both sides. A completely life altering and shattering event takes place, and it seems that the government that is supposed to support and care for them had barely any consideration for what they had experienced. The actual event of Katrina was traumatizing, severely detrimental, and absolutely unforgettable coupled with the aftermath response and in addition that influential figures like the former First Lady were sayings things like they were better off demonstrates how actions are so significant and can’t be forgotten and how performing violence will be remembered.

Almost any aspect of life can be connected to another in some sort of way or thought process. Roach’s concept on violence gives insight on how our actions matter and forces us to come to deeper conclusions and revelations about how and why actions are done, what that can mean, and how those actions have affects. Light is shed on our questionings and topics from his notion because, at least from my interpretation, what it basically boils down to is that what we do matters and should be thought out. It makes you consider the effects of anything on everything which can force a more considered perspective on relatively any concept.