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L.A. Stories: Identity and Conflict in Posturban Culture



L.A. Stories: Identity and Conflict in Posturban Culture


Mikage Kuroki

Doctor of Philosophy, Graduate Program in English

University of California, Riverside, December 2011

Dr. John Ganim, Chairperson

Los Angeles represents the paradigmatic postmodern city, its centrifugal layout the antithesis of the modern ring-–centered city of which Paris, London, and Vienna and their American counterparts New York and Chicago are prime examples. Despite its postmodern geography, however, L.A., like the modern city, equally threatens to intensify the lives and overwhelm the psyches of its residents. Over a century ago, Georg Simmel argued that the modern urban dweller represents a new human type who develops a blaséé attitude as both a product of and a defense against such a modern, metropolitan existence. How do we consider Simmel'’s definition of metropolis to accommodate L.A.? Furthermore, would such a mental type effectively combat the stimulation of the city'’s landscape, given its propensity to disasters - both manmade, social disasters and natural ones? In the larger context, does L.A. literature suggest an evolution in urban theory or convey what has been called a “"particular posturban consciousness"”?

Much of L.A. literature explores this particular posturban consciousness, offering what Simon Malpas identifies as one aim of postmodernism: to “"[reread] and critique... modern values and projects"” (43). My examination of L.A. literature from the last two decades -— D.J. Waldie'’s Holy Land, T.C. Boyle'’s Tortilla Curtain, Steve Erickson'’s Amnesiascope, Nina Revoyr'’s Southland, Karen Tei Yamashita'’s Tropic of Orange, Salvador Plascencia'’s People of Paper, and Chris Abani'’s The Virgin of Flames -— reflects such an aim. Moreover, these novels reveal this particular apocalyptic tension between disaster and the promise of new world orders. In Chapter One, I argue that Waldie and Boyle'’s texts reveal the tensions of collectivity and anonymity and of utopia and apocalypse. In Chapter Two, I demonstrate how natural disaster in Erickson and Revoyr'’s novels serve a revelatory function, violently shaking the protagonists out of amnesiac stupor. In Chapter Three, I show how Yamashita and Plascencia'’s works share a vision of disaster and redemption and re-–imagine new transnational communities and consciousness, pushing for a New World (B)order. In Chapter Four, I examine Abani'’s novel for its similar themes of apocalypse, disaster and redemption, identity crisis, and transnational relations.

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