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Loss and The Katrina Papers

[By Goyland Williams]

In her afterword to David Eng and David Kazanjian’s edited collection of essays entitled, Loss: The Politics of Mourning, Judith Butler notes, “On the one hand, there is the loss of place and the loss of time, a loss that cannot be recovered or recuperated but that leaves its enigmatic trace.” She continues, ” And then there is something else that one cannot “get over,” one cannot “work through,” which is the deliberate act of violence against a collectivity, humans who have been rendered anonymous for violence…” (468). Like the rest of the essays in the collection, the question of loss; of mourning; of melancholia; and of trauma, drive the weight of the text. In particular, the question at the heart of Butler’s investigation is, “After Loss, What Then?”
As of late, I’ve been reading and re-reading Jerry Ward’s The Katrina Papers: A Journal of Trauma and Recovery (2008). The struggle with grief, human suffering, uncalculated loss, exile, mourning and mo’nin’ [Read Fred Moten’s essay, “Black Mo’nin'”] buoys this text. Like Butler’s afterword, Ward also begins on a  blue note– loss.

 You Don’t Know What It Means Until Sunday, August 28, 2005


You defied Hurricane Ivan, but Hurricane Katrina makes you enter the I-10 contraflow traffic and flee New Orleans for Mississippi…You had planned to teach Rousseau’s The Social Contract this semester. You shall live it now as a “houseless” person among other displaced strangers. It is not easy to accept your fate- no comforting words from the friendly, caring Baptists erase the horror of losing house, forty plus years of manuscripts, first editions (esp. Richard Wright 1st editions), correspondence with fellow writers- the horror smolders” (13). 
That Ward does not let despair have the last word, answers the “What Then?” question. Even while he concedes that trauma does not conclude, he does not “give up the task of redemption” (Butler, 472). Instead, Dr. Ward confirms that “blues people are capable of laughter” (228).