What is Los Angeles? This has been a key question for a city that both exhilarates and confounds. Commonly derided as a landscape without history, Los Angeles is (as all cities are) part of a trajectory where past and future collapse into the present. How can we make sense of a place so defined by tropes and cliches? One way is to examine what these visions say about the city as it exists today.
In this class, literature will be the lens through which we come to know Los Angeles. This is an exciting time to be in L.A., given the development of public transportation and pedestrian corridors, as well as L.A.’s sense of itself as a more connected, coherent city - less a loose collection of communities than a true metropolis. This is not a new idea; it goes back to the Los Angeles of 100 years ago. How did L.A., then, lose and regain sight of itself? What is the meaning of its circular evolution?
To get at some answers, we will use Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology, a collection of writings from Southern California that spans 100 years. Here, many of the city's signature texts and authors (Joan Didion, Wanda Coleman, Raymond Chandler, Walter Mosley) address the city from differing viewpoints. We will read these texts with a kind of double vision, looking at them both with respect to what they meant in their own time and what they mean now. In addition, we will apply a historiographer's perspective to talk about which texts have survived and which haven’t, and what this means for us vis-à-vis the city’s legibility. The editor of this important anthology, David Ulin (professor at USC’s Dornsife School), will guest-teach several of the classes.
We will also read Ulin’s Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles, a companion of sorts to Writing Los Angeles that makes a critical argument about the city L.A. seems primed to become. In the middle ground between the stories and the streets of the city, we will discover something not just about this landscape, but also about its soul. And in the process of looking into its future, we will be joined by a second guest teacher, Greg Goldin.
Finally, we will read Nina Revoyr's novel The Age of Dreaming, watch some seminal films that take place in Los Angeles, and feature a number of additional invited lecturers who will widen our conversation to encompass many of the hidden corners, geographical and otherwise, of Los Angeles.