ENGL 606-01: Katrina Culture

Section Description:

“If you weren’t angry after Katrina, you had to be in the market for a soul”—Patricia Smith, poet and former Boston Globe reporter Today, “Katrina” signifies much more than the name of a particularly devastating hurricane that hit the Gulf coast nearly fifteen years ago. While those outside its immediate path of destruction may have paid scant attention or have now largely forgotten the news media’s harrowing images of its impact, t anniversaries of what scholar Nicole Fleetwood calls the “Katrina event” has instructed all of us to “remember” but also, akin to 9/11 commemorations, to study the myriad economic, social, environmental, and cultural conditions left in its wake: a veritable diaspora of displaced and evacuated populations–some of whom have never returned to New Orleans and other Gulf Coast towns– who are largely poor and working-class African-Americans; the loss of inhabitable land, communities, literal and psychic ‘homes’; the disruption and recasting of musical and literary traditions that have constituted, for many, a kind of cultural imaginary of this unique region in the southern United States. This course will take a broadly interdisciplinary approach to understanding “Katrina” as both a natural and humanly-engineered disaster—as some have argued, a biopolitical crisis. We will marshal theories and methodologies from Anthropology, History, Geography, Race and Ethnic Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Working-Class Studies, Environmental Humanities, as well as Literary/Cultural Studies, to unlock the complexity of what happened and why. But we will focus particularly on media and cultural representations of the storm and its aftermath to examine how a variety of artists as well as journalists have attempted to document or rewrite the event itself through imagery, narrative, and poetics. At the same time, we will situate such texts within a larger framework of cultural politics that questions the binaries of ‘truth’ and ‘fiction,’ destabilizes the convenient shorthand of a definitive “pre-“ and “post-“ traumatic socio-cultural landscape, and considers how cultural forms themselves shape analysis. Together, we will explore the significance of local cultural practices like Mardi Gras and jazz funerals, read memoir, graphic nonfiction, novels, and poetry, watch plays and films. Music (jazz/brass band, hip hop, Cajun, protest) will be a constant presence in our course but will also close out our course in the final weeks.