Hurricanes as Destruction and Creation

Hurricanes are often seen as a destructive force, however; they can also be seen as a way to create new beginnings. In Joseph Roach’s “Echoes in the Bone,” he says: “amnesia as the inspiration to imagine the future.” (Roach 1) In this phrase, Roach is basically saying that in order to build upon the future, you have to fully erase the past. In class, we discuss death, sacrifice, and forgetting as major course concepts. Hurricanes serve as all three of these; bringing death, forcing sacrifice, and forgetting the way of life you had before everything was lost. Hurricanes are the thing that is ending creation and reset the narrative to bring change in life. 

To begin, focusing on death and renewal, Roach says: 

“Turner and others have hypothesized that celebrations of death function as rites of social renewal, especially when the decedents occupy positions to which intense collective attention is due, such as those of leaders or Kings.” (Roach 3)

In viewing death as a celebration, most people allude to the things that come after death. How they’ll either be “born again,” or in a “better place,” etc. Viewing death as a form of rebirth coincides with the idea of death bringing new beginnings. If we are talking about viewing death as a celebration in order to bring new beginnings, we are also discussing the dirge and second line. The dirge would be the hurricane itself: the sadness; and the second line would be the way of viewing the damage caused by the hurricane as a positive: a way to start a new life. According to Roach, the death of a leader is the most important role in the continuation of a community:

“‘It seems that the most powerful natural symbol for the continuity of any community, large or small, simple or complex, is, by a strange and dynamic paradox, to be found in the death of its leader, and in the representation of that striking event.’” (Roach 3)

This quote alludes to the idea of the dirge and second line, as well as death and renewal. In the stance of hurricanes, the hurricane coming in and destroying a community will in turn bring the community together as a unit. This is prevalent when you look at the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, and the way the people of New Orleans banded together after the disaster. 

When watching the film, “When the Levees Broke,” you can feel the pain coming through the screen. The people being interviewed in the documentary have lost everything in their lives, and all they have left is each other. The disaster that was Hurricane Katrina, brought death to over a thousand people, as well as bringing death to homes and communities; however, it brought the people left with nothing closer together as a community. There is nothing that can truly replace the damages caused by Katrina, or the lives lost, but the rebirth of the community in New Orleans stands alone. As Roach says: “Death, as it is culturally constructed by surrogacy, cannot be understood as a moment, a point in time: it is a process.” (Roach 4) Death is a process in the same way a hurricane being able to destroy everything in its path is a process. 

In, “When the Levees Broke,” the interviewees often criticize the government in regard to how they handled Hurricane Katrina. The article: “What Went Wrong in New Orleans? An Examination of the Welfare Dependency Explanation”, continues this same argument, saying that: “The main argument is that the incomplete pre-storm evacuation of New Orleans, which exposed thousands of residents to catastrophic flooding was largely a function of a culture of dependency.” (Brezina 5) When Katrina happened, the government could have seized the opportunity to do right by the people of New Orleans; especially since they had done them the disservice of not being prepared for the flooding in the first place. Instead, they left them with nothing but waiting lists and each other. (“When the Levees Broke”) They paraded on the news the tragedy that struck New Orleans, but never whole-heartedly tried to help them. I believe Roach puts it perfectly when he says:

“That is why performances in general and funerals, in particular, are so rich in revealing contradictions: because they make publically visible through symbolic action both the tangible existence of social boundaries and, at the same time, the contingency of those boundaries on fictions of identity, their shoddy construction out of inchoate otherness, and, consequently, their anxiety-inducing instability.” (Roach 4)

The government could have seized the opportunity for rebirth when Katrina struck, instead, they chose to watch the people struggle, waste away, and live homelessly. All these people had was each other, so they chose rebirth on their own accord. They took the violence shed upon them and turned it into a community effort to rebuild, without relying on the government to rebuild for them (even though the government definitely should have done this and not put them on mile-long wait lists). (“When the Levees Broke”) The hurricane caused the ‘death’ of their community, but it also caused the rebirth of their community. The violence that Katrina unleashed allowed the community to adapt together, and the violence that the government allowed to happen let the community realize they only had each other. Roach says:

“…first, that violence is never senseless but always meaningful, because violence in human culture always serves, one way or the other, to make a point; second, that all violence is excessive because to be fully demonstrative, to make its point, it must spend things–material objects, blood, environments–in acts of Batallian ‘unproductive expenditure’…and third, that all violence is performative, for the simple reason that it must have an audience–even if that audience is only the victim, even if that audience is only God.” (Roach 5)