Friday, December 16, 2011

Fukushima to Haiti: What Disasters Reveal

This month we have been discussing Haruki Murakami's short story collection, After the Quake and as an adjunct to that I wanted to bring attention to novelist Junot Diaz' essay, Apocalypse: What Disasters Reveal, from the Boston Review last May. (He also discusses the essay on NPR's On Point.) Diaz looks at the potential of apocalyptic events such as natural disasters to reveal and clarify our world,
After all, if these types of apocalyptic catastrophes have any value it is that in the process of causing things to fall apart they also give us a chance to see the aspects of our world that we as a society seek to run from, that we hide behind veils of denials.
Apocalyptic catastrophes don’t just raze cities and drown coastlines; these events, in David Brooks’s words, “wash away the surface of society, the settled way things have been done. They expose the underlying power structures, the injustices, the patterns of corruption and the unacknowledged inequalities.” And, equally important, they allow us insight into the conditions that led to the catastrophe, whether we are talking about Haiti or Japan. (I do believe the tsunami-earthquake that ravaged Sendai this past March will eventually reveal much about our irresponsible reliance on nuclear power and the sinister collusion between local and international actors that led to the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe.) If, as Roethke writes, “in a dark time, the eye begins to see,” apocalypse is a darkness that gives us light.
Diaz goes on to discuss how natural disasters expose the kinds of societal choices (eg. the neglect of the levee system that protects New Orleans) that create social disasters, and to explore the way in which the communities most vulnerable in a disaster, such as Haiti, are those least likely to benefit from the trend towards greater global inequality. I urge you to read the entire essay.

Having previously blogged about a documentary narrated by another of our authors which won a regional Emmy, I wanted to note that the Miami Herald recently won an Emmy for it's documentary, Nou Bouke,  narrated by Edwidge Danticat (Brother I'm Dying), a good visual complement to Diaz' piece,
Nou Bouke, a Creole term for "We're Tired," focuses on Haiti's past, present and future in light of the apocalyptic January 12, 2010 earthquake that now marks a new chapter in the nation's history. The documentary presents a comprehensive look at the Haitian polemic as the Caribbean nation faces its most challenging crossroads due to the immense loss of life and destruction. 
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