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Thirty Seven: Hubris February 24, 2014

Posted by The Typist in 365, je me souviens, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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What hubris to think I could write something every day worth punching the Publish button. To write every day, that is the injunction, but to write toward a distant end: a poem, a story, an essay, something complete. What could I possibly have said yesterday worth sharing: that the morning was spent in a pleasant hangover-and-coffee stupor? That the chilli came out well? That I read a chapter of physical anthropology and took the quiz?

I made an effort to get through a good bit of Susan Sontag’s On Photography for my Visual Anthropology class. Among the professor’s professional subjects are the Mardi Gras Indians, whom he has photographed extensively. When he asks us at the beginning of class if we have questions or comments on the reading, do I dare ask him about this passage?

Moralists and conscienceless despoilers, children and foreigners in their own land, they will get something down that is disappearing–and, often, hasten its disappearance by by photographing it.

Does the extensive photography of the Indians first by Micheal Smith, Christopher Porche West and, yes, Dr. Jeffery Ehrenreich honor or despoil something once the exclusive property of its own community, the Black neighborhood in which a particular tribe lives, something as powerfully spiritual as any drum ritual of humanity’s invention, something as beautiful as any art humanity has created? The Indians sewed and came out before the cameras arrived. What now of the flocks of tourists and natives alike with their cheap digital cameras? Is this a fusion of cultures, an integration never achieved in the schools, or rather part of what I once called the descent into Disney?

We are figures on a disappearing landscape, a city that has maintained much of an original culture against the onslaught of universal television and economic conglomeration. We are as beautiful and alien and endangered as any tribe at the edge of Amazonian development. And what will gentrification do, when the Indians are driven out of their own neighborhoods and the corner practice bar becomes a nuisance to the new neighbors? Old urban churches could survive for a while on the parishioners, black and white, who fled to the suburbs returning on Sunday. What will become of the Indians when the corner bar becomes a coffee shop and they are scattered in diaspora?

I worried about these issues into the tens of thousands of words when I was publishing the Wet Bank Guide blog. Would the Indians be able to return? What would happen to the next generation of musicians, the children scattered to Texas and Atlanta, when they decided to take up 50 Cent’s microphone instead of their uncle’s trombone? I don’t voice those worries as I did once only out of fear that I was looking over the black precipice and in danger of tumbling over. Still, I worry, especially about gentrification and the Indians. The famous scene used as the lead still for the first season of Treme, when Chief Lambreaux comes up the street in full regalia, emerging out of darkness to insist to Robinette they will still come back, reduced me to tears.

I still worry that what I write is part of our Apocalypse, about those in power who think we should model ourselves on Atlanta instead of pan-Carribbea, that we are among the last men and women who will walk the streets of something recognizably New Orleans.

And that is hubris, the unquenchably Gaullist chauvinism of New Orleans exceptionalism, that I will only give up as the rattle of my last breath. Until the gods strike me down, I will always find something to say because I live in one of the last places on Earth worth saving from insect humanity.

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