When Paul Chan visited New Orleans for the first time in November 2006, the digital media and video artist expected to hear the sound of jackhammers and to see evidence of post-Katrina progress. He instead witnessed a far different scene: “The streets were still, as if time had been swept away along with the houses. Friends said the city now looks like the backdrop for a bleak science fiction movie. ... I realized it didn’t look like a movie set, but the stage for a play I have seen many times. It was unmistakable. The empty road. The bare tree leaning precariously to one side with just enough leaves to make it respectable. The silence.”
What the streetscape reminded him of was the setting in Samuel Beckett’s classic work Waiting for Godot. In the play, two men grapple with their nonsensical wait for a third; its philosophical reflection upon man’s uncertainty in the world seemed to Chan an apt metaphor for New Orleans’s precarious condition.