Los Angeles: Reading the City
(Photo by Weiling Deng)
There are almost too many texts to characterize Los Angeles in any coherent way. In fact, it is its incoherence that makes L.A. special, as it is a city-object whose layers and histories run in a multiplicity of directions, both backwards and forwards in time, in a way that is like no other place. As Reyner Banham says, it is its “non-sense of history” that is important, as well as the fact that it “breaks all the rules”. There are simply too many Los Angeles’s, too many entry and exit points, with each presenting a different window into a city that has deeply penetrated the world’s cultural imagination. As one views it from a macroscopic vantage, say from the top of Mulholland Drive or from the Griffith Park Observatory, one can see all these things. They emerge from the sheer spatial immensity of the city to tell different stories or embody different contrasting narratives, steeped both in reality and stereotype. The following will try to survey just some of these important pieces in order to give a portrait of where Los Angeles has been and where it is going, culled from the existing cultural textual history of the city. It will zoom into some specific areas, film of course, but other mediums like literature and music, as well as historical or other notorious events, and give a sketch of some of the major works/events that make L.A. what it is. Fundamental to this analysis will be the dialectical relationship between light and dark, or as Mike Davis so eloquently puts it, Sunshine or Noir, that permeates every relationship within this city.
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