Exploring the Tensions and Interconnections Between Care and Violence

Saidiya Hartman’s assertion that “Care is the antidote to violence” is an optimistic view of the world. Prior to taking this course I may have, for the most part, agreed with her. After all, comfort or care following an act of violence is what is supposed to make people feel better.  After reading Davina Ward’s counter statement that “violence can exist as care,” and taking this Hurricane Stories course, I can recognize the tension that exists between the two words. Care is both the sickness and the cure in regard to violence. The two are most often thought of as opposites, but through my time in this class I have learned to distinguish the two not as mutually exclusive, but sometimes interconnected. 

At the beginning of the semester, as a class, we read part of Joseph Roach’s “Echoes in the Bone.” One of the main themes of our class has been the act of performance itself and also Roach’s claim that “violence is the performance of waste,” (41). Roach follows this idea with another claim “that violence is never senseless but always meaningful, because violence in human culture always serves, one way or the other, to make a point;” (41). I read this as Roach saying that there is always something behind an act of violence. A reason that others possibly cannot see. This brings me to one distinct difference between the concepts of violence and care, which is how they can be disguised. Throughout our readings this semester, I have learned that care can be disguised as violence. By this I mean that someone could show or perform an act of violence when they really mean to show that they care. With that being said, everything has an opposite: violence can also be disguised as care. In this case, someone will perform an act of violence under the guise of being caring. 

We see this performance in The Tempest, a play by William Shakespeare. The play follows Prospero, who is now seeking revenge on his brother, Antonio, after Antonio usurped his position as Duke of Milan and stole the crown. After the usurpation, Prospero and his daughter Miranda were left on a deserted island. At the beginning of the play, Prospero orchestrates a shipwreck. Among the survivors of the wreck is his brother Antonio and the Prince of Naples, Ferdinand. This violent act is hidden from his daughter Miranda, so Prospero does not appear aggressive in her eyes. Prospero acts as if he is genuinely caring towards his daughter then, in reality, decides to use her in his plan to regain power on the continent. He wishes to marry Miranda to the prince. Prospero leads Ferdinand into the scene and encourages Miranda to look at him, saying “The fringéd curtains of thine eyes advance, / And say what thou seest yond” (123). Prospero describes Ferdinand to his daughter as “gallant,” and “a goodly person” to which Miranda replies that he is “a thing devine.” When Ferdinand and Miranda meet they are immediately infatuated with one another, and Ferdinand proposes. Prospero then speaks to the audience, saying, “They are both in either’s powers; but this swift business / I must uneasy make lest too light winning” (126). Here Prospero is letting the audience know that his plan is happening too swiftly and he has to slow them down so it does not look orchestrated. I would consider this usage and view of his daughter as an object or pawn in his game as an act of violence against her and their relationship, however he disguises it as care for her as a father making sure his daughter is choosing the right man.  

Another tension our material from this class has led me to notice between these words is that care cannot always erase the violence that has occurred. I see this in Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke about the effect of hurricane Katrina on the city and people of New Orleans. These people went days without proper help and care from the government, of whom was supposed to provide it. There was rapid spread of disease, malnourishment, dehydration, and lack of general care before they got the help they needed. Spike Lee’s document shows the crushing reality the people of New Orleans faced in these conditions, pleading for days that they needed assistance, with no answer. Of course, they have been helped since, but in this case, they will think of the lack of care much more often than the care itself. The people of New Orleans are still, and will forever, be living with the aftermath of the violence of Katrina, both nature and human. 

Engaging with the tensions between care and violence has taught me different points of view towards ambiguous situations. By looking at these tensions and connecting them to materials we have read and watched in class I have a deepened understanding of human actions and reactions. I understand that violence and care can be opposites, but also exist within and next to each other.

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.