Thursday, January 21, 2010

have you heard? there was an earthquake...

Obviously, I write. To aid Haiti, I’ve sent money to the red cross – and hope to send more. But I write. So why not translate some of the material I am coming across in French, I said to myself.

There is a fantastic site, Balawou, that has been publishing reportage and comment since the beginning. Sometimes I get the feeling that for the Americans and the English, the earthquake in Haiti was the equivalent of one hundred thousand house flies being crushed – not the kind of news that should interrupt one’s day, or be allowed to cross one’s blog, especially if you have made an important Deleuzian analysis of Lady Gaga. I however am such an old fashioned humanist that I feel all pinched in my human parts at the hundred thousand crushed houseflies. I'm even questioning the “leftist” credentials of the important Deleuzian analysis of Lady Gaga. I must be going senile.

Anyway: Lyonel Trouillot, who if there had not been an end of the world would have had a pleasant time at the Etonnant Voyageurs writing festival in Port au Prince, scheduled for 1/14/2010 – has been warding off the insanity by posting reports. Here’s one.

"Haiti, living with Death by Lyonel Trouillot.

Port-au-Prince, Wednesday 19 January, 9 am In certain quarters, the capital is like a deserted city. Few cars, few pedestrians. Ruins. And some bold spirits who try to fossick out some objects, some souvenirs, from under the fallen debris.
Really, we no longer are looking for the living. On the ruins of the house of my friend, Georgia Nicola, coordinator of the l'Atelier Jeudi Soir, we assess, with an engineer and some workers, the scope of the disaster. What is a great disaster except the sum of a thousand small disasters! Each small disaster is in itself immense. Lives, careers. Seven days after the catastrophe, the ‘after’ begins.

I ask a laborer for news about Josué, the handy man of the quarter (guard, coiffeur...). He’s dead, he is somewhere under the ruins, some houses further down. A glance towards the ruins of the said houses. Exit Josué. A young Doberman has joined us. He seems to have chosen us as his adoptive parents. His master’s house is no doubt destroyed. The day before, our friend Valerie’s family buried her, a long time member of the atelier who directed a theater school. This occurred in another quarter, at the foot of the city. A building blocked the street, like an immense projectile, in order to strike like a whip a school, a church, and a library.

You can’t weep for so many dead at the same time. It becomes almost ridiculous. In the pile, you can’t choose. I met my friend Danice, an artist for the magazine Le Matin. He lost his wife and his two children. The editor of the magazine isn’t staying there. His wife and his three children, who came from the U.S. to spend the holidays with him, are among the victims. This fucking earthquake has not left a single soul without his allotment of deaths.

Vigilance, but also extortions.

No one without his quota of deaths, that is one of the truth at the beginning of the after. I go down to radio Kiskeya, which has begun to function since the day before yesterday. I go for news. The distribution of aid is still posing problems caused by lack of coordination. The last [?] tentatives and hopes of the rescuers to take out the last [?] survivors of the debris. The small robberies of crooks who infiltrate the ruins in the night to take a computer, a gadget or cash from out under the ruins. The reactions of the police who are acting in some parts of town, putting up surveillance, often without any nuance. Vigilance, but also extorions. Where did you find that? While you are waiting, they arrest you, you can explain it later.

Some rapes. Some cases of looting. Carrefour, Pétion-Ville, le boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines... One thing is certain, neither the police nor the population will spare the bandits. In a number of quarters, the youth have formed neighborhood watches. The security of the zone is one of the priorities. Not evil, those who take the ones who steal. People need shelter, drinking water, food. They have neither the time nor inclination to play at democracy with the thieves, rapists and murderers.

Many questions. Question about the intention of the ones and the other givers of aid. About the U.S. in particular, which now controls the airport and announces the dispatch of troops, of new troops. The government is slowly shaking off its dumbness, but it isn’t yet sufficient nor sufficiently clear to reassure, really. I return. Port-au-Prince seems to have been emptied. Those who remain sleep in the streets. Some, because their houses have been destroyed; others, because they don’t want to enter theirs. I understand. I have developed a foul fear of showers and bathrooms. Among the rumors, the rich (there is still some in this breakdown) have reservd private airplanes. For them as well, without doubt differently, the question comes up, how to live after death?"


Anonymous said...

thanks for posting this and the others, roger - haven't been able to look away from haiti reports either, except to notice the implosion of the democratic party, the supreme court backstab, and to finish off my deleuzian analysis of lars von trier.

i've been too paralyzed to write about this (or anything else of importance)-- just to have an email argument with a friend who wanted to 'wait until the facts come in' before making any rash judgments about the aid agencies and national delegations turned away by the u.s. military, the leisurely decision to permit airdrops, and the like.

during the presidential election and after obama won i avoided watching the speeches because i didn't want to be influenced. after the earthquake i've been watching the same survivor interview clips over and over again (they've been hard to find amidst all the talking heads). i want to be influenced.

Roger Gathmann said...

I totally understand the paralyzed reaction. And you know, it isn't as if I give my saintly and compassionate attention to all the disasters around the globe. I was in a self imposed news blackout in Mexico when the tsunami happened in Indonesia, and it wasn't until I got back to the states that I really read about it.
Location and culture count - and, in my mind, Haiti has always been wrapped up in the trans-atlantic weave. More even than, say, Florida. Which is why I expect this earthquake to register. Not that I expect all to give up their interests - even in Lady Gaga - and pay singleminded attention to the end of the world in Port au Prince. However, if you are blogging or writing or teaching from a left perspective on culture or politics or philosophy, you have given yourself certain responsibilities. And it is disheartening, to say the least, that, say, Michelle Malkin has more to say about Haiti than 90 percent of the theory bloggers. Like, what is this shit? I'm not a popular culture kinda guy, but I do know that pop culture has borrowed and borrowed from Haitian culture - I mean, it isn't just sugar, but the zombie who came from there.
Well... I'm not going to drift. I have felt that in spite of its imperfections - what Nina has called the 'fan boy' approach to philosophy - there was something really moving about so many twenty somethings in the 00s using blogs as a means to reflect on the way things are, to be as broad as possible about it. However, it has always teetered on the edge of preciousness. As this generation goes into their thirties, I'm hoping that they aren't going to harden around that precious impulse. I'm afraid that is happening.