ARLT 101: LOS ANGELES: THE FICTION
Spring 2011, SGM 123, M,W 2:00-3:50, and discussion
Prof. Thomas Gustafson
Office: THH 402C, ext. 0-3747, email: Thomasg@usc.edu
M 10-12; T 11-12, and by appt.
Los Angeles has been mocked as a city 500 miles wide and two inches deep.
It is famous for its movies and music, but critics claim that it lacks cultural depth.
This course seeks to prove otherwise.
The region of Southern California has a
remarkably rich literary heritage extending deep into its past, and over the past
two decades, Los Angeles has become a pre-eminent center of literary creativity
in the United States, the home of a new generation of writers whose work address
questions and concerns of special significance as we confront the problems of 21
century urban America including ethnic friction, environmental crises, social
inequality, and problems associated with uprootedness and materialism.
the literature of this region can help perform one of the vital roles of education in
a democracy and in this urban region famous for its fragmentation and the
powerful allure of the image:
It can teach us to listen more carefully to the rich
mix of voices that compose the vox populi of Los Angeles, and thus it can help
create a deeper, broader sense of our common ground.
So often LA is represented in our movies and our music as a place of
superficial, drive-by people:
on our freeways, we pass each other by, silently,
wordlessly, insulated in our cars, or we are stuck in the same jam, our mobility a
dream, or we crash into each other, carelessly or in rage.
Our cars and the
freeways, once the means for connecting us more quickly to each other are now
our source of congestion, pollution, gridlock.
The literature of Los Angeles at its
best gets us out of these jams and off our freeways and away from tourist sites and
beyond the Westside and underneath the surface.
It lets us know that Los Angeles
is more than the pathologies represented by its trademark crime fiction, and it
offers us a street-wise sense of our neighborhoods, a slow and careful means to
study our cultural geography.
It gives us a special topography that includes not
just the clichéd high and lows—the
Beverly Hills of 90210 and the South Los
Angeles of “Menace II Society.”
It is also a literature that can dig at us, making
us more aware of our own foundations, our own connections to our common
ground and the labor and politics and dispossessions and entrepreneurship that
have transformed it from El Pueblo de la Nuestra Seniora Reina de Los Angeles
to an L.A. crowned as the entertainment capital of the world and the capital of the
Los Angeles is a place dominated by in our imaginations by the look, the eye,
the gaze of the camera, the representations of our visual culture.
Fitzgerald, when he lived and worked in Hollywood in the 1930s, expressed fear