"This new edition of Mike Davis's visionary work gives an update on Los Angeles as the city hits the 21st century. No metropolis has been more loved or more hated. To its official boosters, "Los Angeles brings it all together." To detractors, LA is a sunlit mortuary where "you can rot without feeling it." To Mike Davis, the author of this fiercely elegant and wide- ranging work of social history, Los Angeles is both utopia and dystopia, a place where the last Joshua trees are being plowed under to make room for model communities in the desert, where the rich have hired their own police to fend off street gangs, as well as armed Beirut militias. In City of Quartz, Davis reconstructs LA's shadow history and dissects its ethereal economy. He tells us who has the power and how they hold on to it. He gives us a city of Dickensian extremes, Pynchonesque conspiracies, and a desperation straight out of Nathaniel West - a city in which we may glimpse our own future mirrored with terrifying clarity."--Publisher's description.
Mike Davis “City Of Quartz “ (£10.99, Verso, 2006).
This is a history of Los Angeles and its environs. It is not the sort of history you associate with America – Davis does not exclude the Anarchists, Socialists, company towns and class struggles that lie hidden, deep in the void of US folklore. Where it touches upon the history of ‘great men’, it is one where they are shown, warts and all.
City of Quartz is not necessarily a straightforward book for the non-American reader. Davis never misses an opportunity to go into detail, and that means covering many places and individuals that will be utterly unfamiliar to European readers.
The issues, even when they appear unique to LA are however all too often universal - in particular Davis concentrates on a city choking on its waste, and an area deeply damaged by the contradictions of capitalism – the over-production, greed, social stratification, gentrification, political chicanery, religious revivalism and ignorance of the environment. If LA is a glimpse of our own futures, you don’t want to go there.
Davis’ sense of humour, and cutting attitude to the well-heeled, peeks through. LA appears to have been a trailblazer of homeowner associations and all manner of NIMBY groups. Of one such body he comments “When it comes to solving major urban problems, moreover, the Valley homesteaders are about as patient and constructive as Sendero Luminoso”.
A sorry picture emerges in particular of black working class Los Angeles squeezed from all sides – left behind by de-industrialisation and under-priced by Latino labour, the 1980s found south central LA surrounded by a hostile police force and a corrupt political system where even so-called 1960s radicals had long since given up on black youth. However, as America was to see in the 1992 riots, the one thing the youth of Los Angeles had not done, was give up.
Davis inadvertently raises hard questions for radicals. Whilst we can no doubt all agree that the environment cannot survive if every American businessman who wants to build a new development in the desert does so, can everyone who wants to live in California do so, and continue doing so?
It is one thing to believe in “No Borders” - another to see it implemented solely by capitalism’s need for mass migrant labour. Those issues, and the one’s thrown up by the creation of an increasingly Spanish speaking and Catholic California, are unlikely to go away.
Davis’ narrative stops in 1990, and whilst this book claims to be a ‘new edition’ it is in fact the old one, but with a new 14 page preface. Given that, if you bought this first time round, there is probably little point in rushing out to get the 2006 remix.
That should not take away from the importance of City of Quartz. If like me, this is your first book by Davis, it is unlikely to be your last. This is a guy who knows what he is talking about.
Davis is infected with the idea that nothing good happens unless it is progress towards Socialism, and nothing bad happens when it is performed by the "marginalized" or "alienated" of society. This idea blinds him to the vigor any dynamism of Los Angeles, and to the benefits that have accumulated to anyone other than the rich, or the middle-class white homeowners who are the secondary demons of his story. If one is capable of filtering out all the marxian cant and "un-class-angle" the text, it can be quite informative on both the shifts of the power structure in Los Angeles and the sources of the Tax Revolt of the 1970s and 1980s, but the book is otherwise an unrewarding slog.
I recently re-read this updated edition of the classic "City of Quartz" by noted socialist scholar Mike Davis. This text is quickly becoming a classic and belongs alongside the great urban sociological texts such as Jane Jacobs' "The Death and Life of Great American Cities."
The history of the development of Los Angeles is really like no other story in America, and indeed the world. And while some may not appreciate the Marxist interpretations and the dialectical method which Davis uses, nevertheless, the depth of intellectual analysis is simply breathtaking. When the original book was written, Davis correctly foreshadowed the Rodney King riots.
Davis pulls no punches in his research. He covers the early railroad and oil speculators, Otis and Harry Chandler, the development of Hollywood, Catholicism in LA, defense industrial production, postwar suburbanization, Kaiser steel, housing covenants, the Watts riots, large Japanese investments of the 80s, and more and more. The book is extremely dense so prepare to spend several weeks, maybe even months to fully absorb the details. Certainly whole books can be written on each of the major topical areas.
Included in this new edition are some fabulous new photos, all by Robert Morrow. The extended prologue in the new edition isn't anything revolutionary, but Davis does update the recent history of Los Angeles.
Obviously, I recommend this book, especially for anyone wanting a deeper intellectual, cultural, and social understanding of the major ideological undercurrents that make up the wonderful city of Los Angeles.