Panel on New Orleans book, “Unfathomable City”

Friday panel at Tennessee Williams Festival:
Rebecca Snedecker
Garnette Cadogan
Shirley Thompson
Joshua Jelly-Shapiro

RS: it’s true that all 50 writers/researchers had their own experience about working on the book. Can the panelists describe their own experience?

ST: had little idea of what the final book would be. ..pleasantly surprised when it arrived in the mail…
The book invites readers to follow on their own path.
New Orleans has consciously used its place itself as a way to entice others to it, especially after the Civil War. This book chips away at that tourist narrative…

GC: shape of his essay was meant to resemble the shape of the city…

ST: tried to capture the paradox of diametrically opposed ideas. Sugar as a topic is a delightful treat and a commodity.

JJS: what’s interesting is that maps are stories-even narratives-and stories really contain maps. Combining the two is natural.

GC: an essay is a personal voice, a snapshot and is never really finished. Wanted the essay to contain the same sort of reactions (“write it as it felt”) as there is to the subject matter (bounce): joyful and disdainful at the same time, infectious feeling but also to contain the ambivalence that also exists.
(Tried to not use the word infectious, but ended up with it in there anyway.)
An intensely local subject but international at the same time, just like the city itself.
RS: it was important to remember that visuals and text shouldn’t be redundant, just like in cinema.
GC: there are 2 kinds of writers: those who hand in their work and those who have it pulled from their grasp. This project reduced the anxiety of attempting to contain the multitude-ness of the subject since the maps had their own story. It’s like the person who only listens to reggae music doesn’t know reggae music.
And I remembered New Orleans was here before me and will be here after me.
RS: what’s interesting is that the history of bounce music in New Orleans is partly the history of the projects (aka project music) and therefore is really about pre-K New Orleans. the map is one of those that does not physically exist any longer.
ST: Some maps have collapsed history, sugar for example is both the history and the contemporary story of sugar.
ST: I am usually skeptical of mapping. It’s really an act of conquest. Also because they impose a new set of claims on a place and attempt to define every site. Resistance itself is often about not being mapped, about resisting being named in a colonial way.
I bought (editor) Solnit’s SF map book Infinite City and saw that it showed creative resistance and had deep respect and humility for its subjects.
JJS: I also liked how the footprint of the city varies a good deal in the maps and essays.

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About D.W.

Works as an independent researcher, trainer and analyst for public markets and on larger community food systems. Also works in her home of New Orleans LA on sustainable civil society issues through blogging, community organizing and networking.

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