Civilizations without Boats Prospectus

Boat in Dulac
A Heterogeography of Chauvin, Louisiana


These are the facts of Chauvin, Louisiana: a small, coastal town, populated by refugees from the Acadian diaspora; a place where men are trawlers, roustabouts, and roughnecks, and the women wives, cashiers; a hurricane disaster plain; shore-zero for oil spills; a French community that morphed into an illiterate American one; a repository for the old songs, two-steps, and trickster tales from a beautiful, impossible past; a population uneducated on behalf of the state, a still-spooky Catholicism, and technological maladjustment. And yet, facts are not enough.

This research projects intends to map the spaces between those “facts,” the impossible places, the intensities felt behind the hard stones of culture, the worlds that are verging on becoming. I want to study how people make worlds out of the stories and landscapes they live in. I want to understand how these worlds harden into story and culture and land, how they become facts. I want to understand the worlds that die and the ones that are eroded by the strong worlds already extant.

To do this, I will go to Chauvin and talk to the people that live there, make movies with them, look through their stuff, and share in their imaginings. My questions will be: How do you imagine your past? What could the future hold for you, your town, your landscapes? How do you move through the world in the present and what stories and fantasies propel you? But questions, like facts, are not enough. To cull the ephemeral space between actualities requires being attuned to the senses, to my subjects’ and mine, to bodily navigation—in addition to discourse, official or otherwise. I am after the kinds of fantasies that make it possible to live in the face of loss. The kinds that acknowledge the loss of industry, the loss of land, and the loss of community heritage, which in turn have embedded emotional importance in these lost things.

I want to study these people’s lives and the worlds they make in them in order to understand how the people of a small, precarious town carve out space for themselves that they can live in, how they manage paradoxical fantasies and stories, what populates and fuels their dreams. In the process of exploring these research questions, perhaps we might begin to touch the process whereby space, narrative, affect, and imagination condense into fact, how we might intervene in our own myth and world making.

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