I was inspired to write this blog post after reading Madi’s writeup on “cigarettes as a sign of civilization.” Their post represents the pre-apocalyptic feeling of the familiarity of a cigarette and how it represents the unity of a people, specifically a traumatic subgroup, in the future – after the trauma. Following Madi’s lens, I want to explore the relationship of other items or objects that may have meant little before a catastrophe but have had their meaning altered as a result of desolation – specifically drinking water. To be familiar with something is to be comfortable – well, sometimes anyway. In the face of trauma, one normally tends to take solace in the objects, feelings, people, etc. of the past – before the trauma. In the events of hurricane Katrina, the level of familiarity with clean drinking water became altered.
Kanye West. Everyone under the age of ~35 has heard his music at least once in their life. He is known for his musical ability as well as his outlandish personality. He has even been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2005 and 2015, respectively. It is a fact that Kanye West is regarded as a dominant figure in rap/hip-hop, and his influence stretches even beyond that as indicated by the statement above. The enigma that is Kanye West has been puzzling critics and the public for years – the genesis of his mystery, perhaps, could be attributed to his vocalization of George Bush’s response to Katrina, in which he is quoted as saying, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Recently, he has been making headlines again, but for a seemingly juxtaposing statement to that of his statements on George Bush. In a recent interview with Charlamagne tha God, he is quoted as saying, in regard to slavery, “[w]hen you hear about slavery for 400 years … For 400 years? That sounds like a choice.” These false comments sparked outrage from fans and friends alike, with musicians such as Will.i.am calling his remarks “one of the most ignorant statements” he could say. These comments, combined with Kanye’s influence among the public, serve to both the performance of violence as waste and the performance of memory and forgetting.
People like to hate on Shakespeare for many reasons – the most common being the poetic style of his chosen diction and how the density of his syntax lacks proper clarity at a surface level. It is only when you read between the lines and look up the context of his colloquialisms that we are able to fully understand the style of his writing. I know that when I was in high school, I severely disliked reading works written by the main man of the canon; and even now, as a sophomore in college, I still shudder at the thought of analyzing A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare may not be for everyone to enjoy per say, but it is a fact that without him, my understanding of the English language and Renaissance would be much less – he is necessary. As previously stated, his language lacks clarity on the surface; however, in doing so he successfully conveys more than one theme on each individual line. In the context of our class, “The Tempest” is representative of a contemporary lens of the performance of memory and forgetting given to us by Roach.
Since writing about my experience at the wake/funeral services that I attended this past weekend, I have had an urge to talk about the body politic and what social factors are capable of altering it. Specifically, I would like to talk about the social implications on the subjectivity of post-mortem burial rights. An identity is only what the actions of the person make it. After someone becomes deceased, who has the right to speak for an identity that’s been, to society, used up? A person’s identity is only useful to society after death to remember; serving as an agency to the performance of memory – but it is too subjective to claim that everyone’s identity is “useful” in the grand scheme of things. Now, that’s not to say that identities are not important, because self-expression is important in everyone; but to further a societal gain, one’s identity must impact the factors that benefit a society. For example, my identity means nothing to someone who is involved in the Labour Party of the U.K. – they do not benefit from my existence, I do not benefit from theirs.
Parades – all of us have been to one or two at a point in our lives; they’re fun. But why do we enjoy parades, and what is the significance of them? Well, the answer to both of these questions is subjective, but to aid in understanding it is important to look at the etymology and what it means to celebrate a parade. A parade is defined as “[a] large public procession, usually including a marching band and often of a festive nature, held in honor of an anniversary, person, event, etc” by Dicitonary.com. But if we look at the origin of the word, there’s a difference in meaning. According to etymonline.com, the present-day use of the word derives from the 15th century French word “parade,” which is an “assembly of troops for inspections.” Modern displays of parades are an agency to the performance of memory; and in the context of contemporary New Orleans and its famous Mardi Gras parade(s), the militaristic connotation of the word can be traced back to the French Quarter of the city. When we talk of the French Quarter and parades in New Orleans, we must also talk of the “Krewe du Vieux.”
What is civic responsibility? And what does it mean to be civically responsible? Typically, when we hear those two words in the same sentence, we are conditioned to focus on suffrage and political elections. However, the “true” definition, according to thefreedictionary.com, is “the social force that binds you to the courses of action demanded by that force[.]” If we align franchise with the course of civic responsibility according to the definition above, that responsibility becomes an obligation. The right to vote is merely an example of how civic responsibility is commonly displayed by the American people – and it shouldn’t stop there. My own definition is slightly different: it is the duties, based on ethics, of the people to react to the obstacles presented; the role of a municipality to change, for the better, the outcomes of events. In the context of our class discussion(s), Zone One questions the clarity of what it means to be civically responsible in the event of a zombie apocalypse.
This past Friday and Saturday, I went to the calling hours/wake and funeral, respectively, of a loved one’s mother, a former primary school teacher. I have been to wakes and funerals before, but these were different – the majority of the community was in attendance. When I arrived at the wake, it appeared that it wasn’t only close friends and family, but seemingly the entire population of my little town instead. I turned to my friend who I went with and asked him why there were so many people, and his response was simply: “she was a teacher.” His answer sparked a magnitude of questions that I will explore in this post. As the wake commenced and our visit was over, I drove home, questioning the many practices and ritual ceremonies we have to celebrate and remember our dead. The performance of celebration and memory are two concepts that intertwine, and I consistently find myself referring to them in everyday life. During my drive back to school, I questioned the social barriers that allow for such large or small celebrations of death. Because of her status as an educator, the lives she touched spanning a 15-year career called for a large celebration. If her status was that of a working-class member of society, would the turnout have been as large as it was? Probably not. But what does it mean to celebrate death as a community?
Several classes ago we discussed, in our small groups, how to interpret the FEMA USR signs that were, and still are, widespread across the wretched landscape of New Orleans. At a glance, these symbols (known as ‘X-codes’) appear to be mere displays of vandalism; however, when deciphered, they represent something much larger. During the primacy of hurricane Katrina, these symbols served as devices that notified the people of government aid and interference. The destruction done by Katrina left thousands of New Orleans citizens stranded and helpless, so even the most inadequate forms of Government assistance were accepted. X-codes were primarily painted on buildings (and sometimes cars) to alert people that the interior has been investigated or scavenged; if people needed help. While serving as symbols of government relief, X-codes also simultaneously represent, through a ‘Roachian’ lens, an agency to the performance of memory.
Roach states that memory is “an alternation between retrospection and anticipation,” and in this case, we should focus on the retrospective memory. It’s been 13 years since Katrina, and during that time most of the symbols have either faded or have been removed by current homeowners, but the memory of devastation and allochthony suffered by the residents of NOLA is still present. The scrubbed and faded symbols (known as ghost-codes) serve as an agency to the performance of memory by providing a narrative that tells of transformative loss and destruction. We are able to trace the outline of these ghost-codes which allows us to focus on the aspects of aid and assistance dealt by the government, as well as the destruction itself (i.e. number of deaths). The traces of ghost-codes left behind act as portal to remember the past, and only through retrospection can any step towards anticipation be taken.
During our last class discussion, we focused on an excerpt from Joseph Roach’s Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance, which discusses the idea of memory linearity and how memory operates as more than a way of remembering events and information. The brain’s function of memory is incredibly complex and, in literature, can be manipulated into operating as a tool that engages the reader in the events of a narrative. The end of the first paragraph states that memory, “operates as an alteration between retrospection and anticipation that is itself, for better or worse, a work of art.” This statement rouses my interest because of the two main components mentioned: retrospection and anticipation. For example, in the third person omniscient point of view of a story, the narrator is made aware of all thoughts, actions, and feelings of a character; he/she view the story as if they are looking through the eyes of God. We, the reader, are made aware of all retrospection in such a story because we are given the appropriate information to infer on the anticipated events as we continue reading. Memory is simply another tool that allows the third person omniscient to operate; however, when applying this idea to subjects of focus in class, the function of a person’s memory can become altered depending on the circumstances.
During life-threatening catastrophes, such as the one suffered by residents of New Orleans as a result of hurricane Katrina, the idea of life and death makes its way into the minds of those affected. The presence of catastrophes creates turning points in people’s lives that allow them to categorize their decisions into two groups: “before and after.” The actions up until the point of havoc are now actions that happened “before.” The actions/thoughts a person continues to make after a major event, for purely survival purposes, are now placed into the “after” category; the anticipated events in a person’s life. The decisions made after a tragedy are influenced by the capacity people have to offer help to themselves and to others; the will to survive and help others in time of need is subconsciously based on one’s memory. To aid in the understanding of why people act this way, the abstract of the book “The Memory of Catastrophe” can be viewed here.
One example of memory affecting the way people make decisions post-tragedy comes from Solnit and Snedeker’s “Snakes and Ladders” chapter, where the story of Donnell Herrington’s heroism is cut short by two bullets. Refusing to evacuate the city, Herrington stayed back and rescued over 100 stranded civilians using a small boat. After finishing, he proceeded for Algiers with hopes to leave the city via the Coast Guard. He was shot twice among arriving in Algiers by a vigilante who had previously been shouting racially-charged threats at him. Katrina was not the cause for this hate-crime, but it was the platform that allowed the vigilante to be reminded of their disdain for African-Americans; and it were these memories that became unlocked as a result of the lawless land created by Katrina. The events brought forth by Katrina allowed for the vigilante to retrospectively focus on his life before the circumstances, make a life or death decision by arming himself (no concealed-carry permit), and anticipate the lives he would be taking as a result of this tragic, new platform.