Cambridge Companion to the Literature of Los Angeles

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  • 24 Jun 2010

    Taking a Page from… The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of Los Angeles

    Kevin McNamara, editor of the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to the Literature of Los Angeles, will be speaking tonight at Skylight Books in L.A. (or Hell-Lay as LA Weekly's Michael Simmons calls it). He'll be joined by contributors William Alexander McClung, Mark Shiel, Bill Mohr, Scott Bryson, and Eric Avila to celebrate the book's launch. Full details and presenter bios available here. Below, McNamara talks landmarks, the symbolism of Los Angeles and stories of the Southland... a sprawling region made of words and designed by myth, constantly recreated by the literature that defines it. ----- Introduction: Landmarks Kevin R. McNamara[i] A good deal about California does not, on its own preferred terms, add up. Joan Didion, Where I Was From (2003) Defining the geographic extent of Los Angeles is the first challenge for anyone who would study its literature. Concentration defines New York, where even Brooklynites refer to Manhattan as “the city.” LA is defined by sprawl. Much of iconic LA, from the beaches of Baywatch to the streets of Beverly Hills, 90210, lies beyond the city limits. The larger Los Angeles County still fails to encompass Disneyland, Fontana (Mike Davis’s “Junkyard of Dreams”), and Huntington Beach, whose pier is “one of the constituent monuments of the surfing life.” [ii] As a literary subject, however, Los Angeles is less a city, county, or “metropolitan statistical area” than a state of being (of grace, fear, emergency, or exception, depending on whom one reads) anchored in the area south of the Tehachapi Mountains, north of San Diego, west of the desert, and squarely in the collective imagination of utopia, dystopia, and, more recently, the urban future. A tour of some of mythic LA’s landmark features will introduce our subject.

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