How we see New Orleans, how we have seen it, and how we might see it still.
Photo by Brian Rosa.As we write this, Hurricane Gustav is bearing down on the banks of the Gulf Coast, and New Orleans has once again been emptied of its residents. We could never have predicted that Gustav's landfall would coincide with the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and with the Republican National Convention (as well as with the publication of this issue), but we might have expected it. The force of this storm’s symbolism may have surpassed that of its winds, but as ocean temperatures have steadily risen, so has the frequency of Category 4 and 5 storms. The Army Corps of Engineers recently admitted that, even with the repairs made to New Orleans’s levee system, each year there is still a decent chance that one-third of the city will be submerged under six feet of water. This month’s headlines sound like the knell of the so-called hundred-year storm.
He does so because in his role of consumer of an experience (a “recreational experience” to satisfy a “recreational need”) he knows that he is disinherited…that he is in a very special sort of zone in which his only rights are the rights of a consumer…. He carves his initials as a last desperate measure to escape his ghostly role of consumer. He is saying in effect: I am not a ghost after all; I am a sovereign person. And he establishes title the only way remaining to him, by staking his claim over one square inch of wood or stone.As tourists ourselves, we are deeply sensitive to the memories of longtime residents—for those who have lived in New Orleans for generations, there is no singular before or after—yet we are no less interested in how Katrina fundamentally altered the outsider’s experience of New Orleans. In the case of a disaster, Percy observes, “a loss of title occurs,” sweeping away expectations and granting us a new sovereignty over our experience of a place. To many, the New Orleans that emerged as the floodwaters receded was a land that had yet to be discovered and described.