Los Angeles: Intellegentsia

Cahuenga Library; East Hollywood, L.A.

“First of all, Los Angeles is usually seen as a peculiarly infertile cultural soil, unable to produce, to this day [1990], any homegrown intelligentsia. Unlike San Francisco, which has generated a distinctive cultural history from the Argonauts to the Beats, Los Angeles’s truly indigenous intellectual history seems a barren shelf.”

Davis’s introduction to The City as a land with no ‘intellegentsia’ is an interesting way of casting L.A. as a place without leadership; even if intellectuals don’t necessarily lead people, they influence people, or at least acknowledge that there is a group of people to talk about in the first place, without which people have less of a sense of themselves or their culture. In the case of San Francisco, for example, San Franciscans can point to the literary romance held between the young Beats and their town. It is also an historic process. Though Jack Kerouac and his contemporaries weren’t ‘homegrown’ in SF, the Beats still inspired San Fran legend and discourse to this day as figures of a revolutionary time in the town, not to mention the United States as a whole. For L.A. to lack in its own cast of poets and cultural icons, then, at least in the intellectual sense, is for L.A. to lack in culture or a sense of culture.

But I want to scan my mind for a moment, to think of the icons of Los Angeles.

Snoop Dogg and D.R.E?!

Tupac Shakur, certainly.

Eazy-E, maybe?!

To be certain, Mike Davis’s City of Quartz is talking about L.A. up to 1990, and it’s 2016. We’ve had some additions to the band of intellects from and about The City since then.

In particular, I think of musicians that also serve as intellectuals or cultural critics, like Zack de la Rocha and Tom Morello of Rage Against the MachineKendrick Lamar, Nipsey Hussle and YG, and generations of lesser known but equally active political artists in the ‘underground’.

I also think of L.A.’s writers, who have grown the canon substantially since 1990, and which includes authors such as Hector Tobar, Luis RodriguezHelena María Viramontes, and generations of other literary forces in the scholarly and journalistic fields throughout L.A.’s universities and other research centers.

Still, even if Davis introduces L.A. in terms of what it lacks, he expands on the introduction to make the point that even while ‘L.A.’ commands fame and reputation second only to that Other City, what it lacks is a true historical archive which shows what L.A. was, is, and is becoming.

“Virtually alone among big American Cities, Los Angeles still lacks a scholarly municipal history – a void of research that has become the accomplice of cliche and illusion.”

I see, then: even in its history, Los Angeles is just like its streets and boulevards; decentralized; a sprawl of different histories across different neighborhoods and communities, with no area or any of its figures really capturing more of the overall character of The City than the other.

I also see, then, how the author introduces what’s lacking in order to fill it up with something at last. That is, if L.A. is lacking history, City of Quartz is going to do something about it.

And hey, JIMBO TIMES is going to do something about it, too.

With more soon,


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