Violence is the Performance of Waste – Remembering so as not to Forget

“Violence is the performance of waste.” I have probably read this quote from Joseph Roach’s “Echoes in the Bone” one hundred times trying to find what it means to me. Ultimately, it just means what it says. Violence emphasizes waste, it breathes life into it, it is a performance resulting from it. Waste, in this case, is something spent; it is something used then tossed aside like trash, something no longer wanted, and usually forgotten. Roach follows this idea by saying, “violence is never senseless, but always meaningful, because violence in human culture always serves, one way or another, to make a point…violence is excessive, because to be fully demonstrative, to make its point, it must spend things–material objects, blood, environments,” (41). What Roach appears to be saying here is that there is a cost to violence; there is a waste that comes with it, but it never comes without reason. 

This idea of waste ties heavily into the concepts that center around our course on hurricane stories. Our course concentrates on themes of forgetting, memory, origins, death, and waste, among others. With these in mind, over the last few weeks we have been watching Spike Lee’s docuseries, When the Levees Broke, about Hurricane Katrina’s effect on New Orleans. The series calls itself a “Four part requiem,” meaning that it is a call to the dead, or a way to remember what was lost. Throughout the episodes the survivors of Katrina tell us the beginning of the hurricane, the devastation during and following its destruction, and finally the beginning of the healing of New Orleans. All of this happens while continually memorializing the dead and the waste left in Katrina’s wake. This idea of a requiem makes the series itself a performance of the waste Katrina caused and left in New Orleans. Not only did Katrina cause waste in its destruction–houses, grocery and convenience stores being torn down and drowned–but it also in how the people of New Orleans were forgotten in their time of need. In When the Levees Broke, Spike Lee shows the living conditions New Orleaneans were put through following the hurricane. There was very little food and water, tight spaces with extreme heat, and terrible hygiene circumstances. They lived like this for days with no help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), before being evacuated to different states and separated from their families. This inconsiderate and forgetful treatment of the people of New Orleans following Katrina is a show of people being treated like they are nothing, a performance of waste. 

This being said, death, forgetting, and waste are not our only course concepts. New Orleans celebrates what is known as the Dirge and the Second Line. The dirge is like the requiem, a recognition of death. It is something mournful, something sad. The second line can be described as hope. It is the beginning of something new and optimistic. From the dirge we are brought to the second line and to our other course concepts such as origins and memory. After the hurricane, as people were returning to New Orleans, many of the survivors never forgot where they came from. New Orleans itself, and what it meant to them, was their home. The New Orleans culture and community is where they are from, it’s where they began, and that could never be destroyed. Upon returning, parades and funerals were held in memory of what was previously lost, as shown in When the Levees Broke

It is important to think of violence in this way for the very reason not to forget it. Remembering violence as something that carried any sort of meaning, makes it memorable, as Joseph Roach was trying to say at the very beginning. Keeping these things in mind–acts of remembrance, forgetting, origins, and waste–as we move through these hurricane stories in class will help to better understand how people survive these disasters and what they do after. Making a performance of what has been wasted, or treated like so, breathes life into the waste itself, and makes it unforgettable.