Sunday, September 04, 2005

Unexpected Resonances

It may not be unusual that my understanding and experience of the hurricane's devastation in New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and the Mississippi are thoroughly saturated by my experiences with media, but in my case, the media have been thoroughly unexpected.

[Apparently I'm not the only one. The hurricane seems to have given Times columnist David Brooks his balls and his chops back, as his last two columns ("The Bursting Point" and "The Storm After the Storm") have been sharp, inventive, and illuminating in a way particular to his intellectual style -- which mostly involves conjuring resonance.]

At any rate, here were three cultural points my girlfriend Sylvia and I were surprised to find ourselves thinking about or returning to this week.

1) Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Those who have read the book know that its climax is a devastating flood that separates the protagonists, Janie and Tea Cake. Tea Cake is later bit trying to protect Janie from a rabid dog; Janie is finally forced to shoot Tea Cake. The book includes this titular passage:

The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.

2) "We Will Become Silhouettes," by The Postal Service (and notably covered by The Shins). Normally, I prefer The Shins' version, but Ben Gibbard's is the more poignant of the two. The lyrics are astonishingly relevant, and the message that "We will become / Silhouettes when our bodies finally go" is strangely comforting.

I've got a cupboard with cans of food
Filtered water and pictures of you
And I'm not coming out until this is all over

And I'm looking through the glass
Where the light bends at the cracks
And I'm screaming at the top of my lungs
Pretending the echoes belong to someone
Someone I used to know

And we become
Silhouettes when our bodies finally go

I wanted to walk though the empty streets
And feel something constant under my feet,
But all the news reports recommended that I stay indoors

Because the air outside will make
Our cells divide at an alarming rate
Until our shells simply cannot hold
All our insides in,
And that's when we'll explode
And it won't be a pretty sight)

And we'll become
Silhouettes when our bodies finally go

3) This one is the biggest reach, but the most startling. Not just the decomposition of bodies, the accounts of hoarding, the panicked rush to escape, and the specter of the military slowly losing control over the city, but especially the accounts of kidnappings, rapes, and murders in the dark -- in short, the denaturing of human beings -- reminded Sylvia and I immediately of just one thing: A zombie movie.

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