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Manuel Ocampo. UNTITLED (ETHNIC MAP OF LOS ANGELES). 1987. Acrylic paint on canvas. 66 1/2" x 59". Reprinted with permis­ sion of the artist. As an immigrant, Ocampo is especially attuned to the prejudice encountered by ethnic, religious, and gendered minorities, as can be seen in this image, a parody on the Thomas Guide, a street atlas contained in most cars in Southern California. The inclu­ sion of religious and racial symbols is indicative of Ocampo’s style. The addition of historical images links present bigotry to the past. F e a r a n d L o a t h in g in L o s A n g e l e s : M ik e D a v is a s N a t u r e W r it e r S C O T T H E R M A N S O N From the writings of Umberto Eco, Frederic Jameson, and Jean Baudrillard, theorists of the contemporary condition have learned to approach Los Angeles as the epitome of the postmodernist landscape. Its expanse of freeways, its media saturation, and its cosmopolitan web of capital reproduce exponentially the environment anticipated for the twenty-first century. Los Angeles is hyperreality, a city mirrored by its own media re-creation with images metastasizing across Southern California. It shimmers on the extreme horizon of America’s future. For theorists of all types, it provides a short vacation in the reductio ad absurdum of our American culture. With his two books about the spatial construction of Southern California, Mike Davis has become one of the preeminent chroniclers of Los Angeles. Ecology of Fear (1998) and City of Quartz (1990) together make a bold environmental reconnaissance of the contempo­ rary urban environment as it is epitomized in Los Angeles. Despite Davis’s concentration on a large metropolitan area, I want to make the case that he is a nature writer. Although his books may be radically dif­ ferent from what we might think of as nature writing, I argue that his subject matter is much the same: the interaction between humans and nature. However, he diverges as a nature writer in recognizing the lin­ guistic conundrums present in mapping reality onto a textual surface. For Davis, the governing theories underpinning the built landscape of Los Angeles are in direct contradiction to those that most accurately explain the natural ecology. By reevaluating the contradictions, eli­ sions, and mislabelings of “nature” in Southern California, Davis reveals that what we recognize as true about our environment is as much a product of language arising out of political, personal, and cul­ tural needs as it is an attempt to accurately reflect the environment. In analyzing Los Angeles, Davis repositions that city as the defining tem­ plate for urban ecology, and he forces a realignment of the categories we use to define nature. The idea of the city has not played a major role in the recent influx of green literary criticism. Not surprisingly, it is often reductively posi­ tioned as the counterpart to nature and rarely addressed directly by ecocritics . But Mike Davis’s books about Los Angeles are very much in 2 9 4 WAL 3 7 .3 FALL 2 0 0 2 keeping with the philosophical spirit of those nature writers so valued by most ecocritics and redefine those social categories central to our understanding of nature. City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear exhibit many of the qualities valued in such works as Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) or Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams (1986). All are spatially centered and rooted in the ecology of a specific area. They are all historically informed, representing the temporal processes that have led to the present landscape. They are lamentations as well as calls to arms, decrying the destruction of the physical place but also pinpointing the causes of destruction, often identifying names of those responsible. In short, they are books with a complex and sophisticated treatment of the environment. In the same way that Dillard and Lopez approach the Virginia countryside or the Arctic North, Davis treats Los Angeles as a natural ecology, a system operating under rules similar...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 293-317
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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