neglect

One of the interesting presentations at the ACA/PCA (American Culture, Pop Culture Association) focused on New Orleans post-Katrina, mixing journal entries, memoir, and other stories with a kind of critical analysis of the issues at play: environmental,economic, race, class, political (it's all political). Anyway, he made some bold statements about neglect. Or rather I made some bold statements about the connections he was making about neglect. He implied that the ways in which the government had neglected New Orleans could allow the community to reconstruct THEIR New Orleans instead of (what writer Walker Percy warned about and called) "Disneyland Française of high rise slave quarters full of Yankee tourists looking out at other Yankee tourists." Of course, the speaker, reminded us that in its neglect of New Orleans, the government and other powerful forces (rich white men) who would benefit might actually be subtly working toward a Disneyland Française. But the idea of neglect being positive, the being left alone to force your independence, your own construction of selfhood as a person or place is a compelling one. I say this as a woman whose mother was absent due to mental illness and fits of depression. I hesitate to call my childhood full of neglect as my father and extended family were constantly present, showering affection on me. Still, I missed out on knowing my mother. I have no doubt that she loved me. I am sure that she felt tortured as she moved between moods. But I cannot know her experience; I only have mine. And so because I feel that I've been shaped by her absence, and subsequent silence around her depression, the idea of finding power in neglect or absence gives me pause.

Have I then, taken advantage of constructing my selfhood? Have I defined myself? It is difficult to resist that which is not present to begin with so how have I rebelled? How have I created who I am? Or could I have ever really had a say at all? Isn't my identity somehow already constructed for me, if not by my mother then by society? If there's something to be said for absence... what is it?