Fifteen essays comprise this anthology, as critics survey Angeleno literature from two centuries ago to today. From its founding as a Spanish outpost to its massive sprawl today, not only in territory but in global influence, the city's peddled itself as both utopian retreat and last resort. That is, as a paradise lost as soon as it was found.
Science fiction, sleuths, essays, Hollywood as fiction, the Southland on screen, African-American reactions, Asian and Latino confluences, nature and various 19 and 20c responses to genres familiar both in print and in film feature. The contributors share a curious insistence on a term I as a native never have heard used by anybody here, and I taught in South-Central the evening the 1992 violence broke out after the Rodney King verdict. The scholars all employ the term "Justice Riots," but this may again show the fictional response as a factual one, obliquely, as academia imposes its own definition upon what we natives fail to recognize as the way we speak about our own city.
This kind of re-invention permeates literary versions of L.A. Whether as filmed or bound, as poetry or critique, escapist pulp, studio satire, or suburban malaise, those who chronicle this region appear drawn to the same stereotypes. Yet, as a careful study of this collection shows-- despite the tendency for some contributors to offer more potted summaries than explications of how selected texts clue us in about this difficult city to sum up-- it can also offer surprises.
The mingling of Korean and Salvadoran, Armenian and African, starlet and has-been and wannabee on its streets, or in its traffic as likely, energizes the L.A. Basin. At its best, these professors and writers keep that kind of unexpected encounter fresh in their own narratives. Eric Avila correcting Mike Davis, David Wyatt and Patrick O'Donnell on post-war and mid-20c L.A., and Charles Scruggs about Walter Mosley's tales, or James Kyung-Jin Lee's juxtaposition of immigrant cultures and daily stories: these sorts of critiques make for pleasurable as well as instructive reading.
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