Civilizations without Boats Prospectus

Boat in Dulac
A Heterogeography of Chauvin, Louisiana

what

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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Civilizations without Boats

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a heterogeography of Chauvin, Louisiana

research proposal, Spring 2014, Institute of the Liberal Arts, Emory University

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 project intends to map the impossible places in Chauvin. Foucault used the term “heterotopia” to mean micro-utopia that collapse time, space, official narratives, bodily intensity, and imagination. He called the boat “a heterotopia par excellence.” As the story goes, each year during the blessing of the fleet, there are fewer boats than before. One can point to this as evidence of a decline: people are abandoning traditional culture and labor, assimilating, selling out. And yet, perhaps in a civilization without boats, the imaginative energy that burrows out a heterotopia finds its expression elsewhere: in unfixed moments when, briefly, some fantasy might corral a few people together, create an intensity for a single person: on the fairgrounds where people listen to a Cajun French heavy metal band, eating jambalaya by the fistful; the tour of an Our Lady of Fatima statue in living rooms; the outlaw poker run for charity that turns into a fishing trip; the outsider grad student lurking in the library, hoping someone old might talk to her.

I want to study these people’s imaginative lives in order to understand how the people of a small, precarious town imagine themselves as belonging to something, how they manage paradoxical fantasies and stories, what populates their dreams and where it comes from. I want to understand how they might intervene in their own mythmaking.
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Genealogies & Performance

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what Christopher Lirette has been doing in Atlanta & what he might do next
UPATE: Read my current prospectus here, which contains new (2014) genealogies (and a new performance) for my project.

It is very confusing what I do; luckily, my graduate program makes first year students make a story about what they do. Here’s my (unedited) narrative statement:

In Spring of 2012, I was living in New Jersey, teaching classes on comic books, hip hop, and creative writing at Cornell, and co-running a nonprofit in Louisiana via the internet and coach airline tickets. Hence my proposal to work on the subjects of popular expressive culture and the specific social milieu of southeastern Louisiana. In a way, these interests have not changed. I still plan to do “field” research in Louisiana. I still plan to figure out how television and Facebook and pro wrestling and superheroes fit into the collective identities that make up Louisiana culture(s). In another way, though, my trajectory into graduate study has been thick with detours and sinkholes. I came in thinking I might turn toward sociology or anthropology to fill out methodological gaps. But I’ve grown to be a very suspicious person.

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