Mike Davis: City of Quartz (In-Person)
411 South 5th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
In 1990, Mike Davis published a book about his hometown, Los Angeles—“the city that American intellectuals love to hate.” City of Quartz depicted Los Angeles as a site of never-ending social war, where each new subdivision represented a desperate, self-undermining race to claim what he called the “Southern California Dream”—a dream rooted in whiteness, exclusion, anti-urbanism, and, ultimately, subordination to business and to the prerogatives of the rich. A New York Times reviewer, unable to dismiss Davis’s analytical acumen, nonetheless pronounced it “all a bit much.” Yet, more than any other book, City of Quartz created a generation of radical urbanists and is today regarded as among the most important books ever written about Los Angeles, or indeed any North American city. How can we understand the interrelationship of factors—from deindustrialization to environmental degradation, real estate, policing, and white supremacy—that produced Davis’s late-century “city of quartz”? And to what extent is Los Angeles, so seemingly unlike the “classic” cities of the U.S. midwest and north east, a model and harbinger for U.S. urbanism—today and into the future?
In this course, we will read City of Quartz in its entirety alongside selections from allied chroniclers of Southern California, such as Ruth Wilson Gilmore. We will also look at texts on the significance of a forthrightly partisan approach to writing history, on doing scholarship with teeth. We will conclude with Davis’s own “The Case for Letting Malibu Burn,” a follow-up to City of Quartz that so enraged local real-estate interests that they mounted an organized campaign to discredit its author. We will ask a series of questions that emerge both from the book itself and from Davis’s distinct approach to writing history. Can we disentangle the reality of Los Angeles from its relentless myths? Who rules LA—and by extension, North American cities in general? What is the justification for writing history using a method that is openly partisan and eschews chronology for a deeply politicized gallery of themes knit together by an almost-suffocating sense of social antagonism? And, if this method is legitimate, to what degree can we say, with Davis, that Los Angeles was in fact “the future”?
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 12 — August 09, 2023
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Wednesday, July 19th.