Dirt | Individualism | The Rebuilding of New Orleans



The clear-up begins. The autopsy.

The media attempt to deflate the pompous politicians in their teflon suits, who hope the dirt won’t stick, that they won’t be a casualty.

The volunteers still up to their necks in filth, delicately orange-crossing the ex-houses housing the inflated bodies, hoping the dirt won’t stick, trying to enumerate the casualties.

The environmentalists, hoping the dirt won’t stick, seeing the casualties far beyond the political, out beyond the human… the innumerable animals, vegetables, minerals.

Toxification. Intoxication. Detoxification.

Boundaries broken. Levees smashed.

Dirt: matter out of place:

Boats on streets;

Dogs on roofs;

The poor in the Superdome;

Rivers upstairs;

Refugees and shit just about everywhere.


Well, I haven’t had a pistol for years now. But what with all these strange folk coming to take refuge round here, I thought I’d better be safe.


de Tocqueville detected a kind of ‘civic solitude’:

Each person” he wrote, “behaves as though he is a stranger to the destiny of all the others… As for his transactions with his fellow citizens, he may mix among them, but he sees them not; he touches them, but does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone. And if on these terms there remains in his mind a sense of family, there no longer remains a sense of society.

‘Democracy in America’, published 1845.


So should New Orleans be rebuilt?

Yes. But the poor should not have to suffer this again. They should be moved out to other areas.


I can’t help thinking of Richard Sennett’s “Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization:

The Revolutionaries believed they could fill an empty volume, free of the obstacles and litter of the past… [They thought] pain could be removed by removing place. [They thus] placed the body in pain in an empty, homeless space, a body alone with its pain – and this is an unendurable condition.

Lurking in the civic problems of a multi-cultural city is the moral difficulty of arousing sympathy for those who are Other. And this can only occur, I believe, by understanding why bodily pain requires a place in which it can be acknowledged, and in which its transcendent origins become visible. Such pain has a trajectory in human experience. It disorients and makes incomplete the self, defeats the desire for coherence; the body accepting pain is ready to become a civic body, sensible to the pain of another person, pains present together on the street.

But the body can only follow this civic trajectory only if it acknowledges that there is no remedy for its sufferings in the contrivings of society, that its unhappiness has come from elsewhere, that its pain derives from God’s command to live together as exiles.


Emerging Church:

Acknowledge pain.

Be sensible to the pain of others.

Arouse sympathy for the Other.

Acknowledge it is from Elsewhere.

Live together as exiles.


‘I might be wrong’


2 responses to “Dirt | Individualism | The Rebuilding of New Orleans”

  1. great thoughts Kester. We’re talking about this stuff now at Soliton in Ventura…wish you could be here to share! See you back in the big smoke soon enough.

  2. Wish I could be! Look forward to seeing you once the world tour is over… Very graceful of you not to mention the footy!