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UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) Digging Deeper CXXVIII: July 10, 2010, 7:00 p.m.

Mike Davis, Dead Cities and Other Tales (New York: The New Press, November
2002; paperback October 2003).

[Themes. The suburbanization of U.S. Ch. 3: Berlin's Skeleton in Utah's


politics has led to a curtailment of Closet [2002]. "German Village,"
resources for cities that fuels racial and designed and built on Dugway Proving
ethnic strife; urban ecology is not being Ground in Utah (also site of U.S. military
studied scientifically, but it should be.] research on "napalm, botulism, and
binary nerve gas") by "one of
Prefaces: The Flames of New York. Modernism's gods, the German-Jewish
The 1990s saw a series of American architect Eric Mendelsohn," contributed
phobias; it is precisely because American to "the Good War's darkest side," the
cities embody the bourgeois quest for a firebombing of German and Japanese
totally calculable and safe environment cities, about which, ironically, civilians
that they have "generated radical were more enthusiastic than the military
insecurity" (8; 1-10). The American city —Winston Churchill in particular (65-80).
is facing "major mutations" (11; 10-14).
A little-reported but vicious anti-Muslim Ch. 4: Las Vegas Versus Nature
backlash followed 9/11 (14-18). [1998]. Las Vegas is characterized by
"hypergrowth without counterpart social
PART I: NEON WEST spending"and "slavish dependence on
cheap water and energy" (85-103). "The
Ch. 1: 'White People Are Only a Bad Las Vegas 'miracle' . . . demonstrates the
Dream...' [1999]. The late-19th- fanatical persistence of an
century Ghost Dance religion as an environmentally and socially bankrupt
alternative narrative from that of system of human settlement and
Frederick Jackson Turner's otherwise confirms Edward Abbey's worst
dominant one of the closing of the nightmares about the emergence of an
frontier (24-31). apocalyptic urbanism in the Southwest"
(91).
Ch. 2: Ecocide in Marlboro County
[1992/1997]. The Cold War as the Ch. 5: Tsunami Memories [2001]. A
world's worst eco-disaster, in the Soviet study of the commemoration of Apr. 1,
Union (33-35) and in the western U.S., as 1946, when tsunami waves wiped out
documented by photographer Robert Waiakea Town, heart of the Japanese
Misrach (35-38) and others involved in working class of Hilo, Hawaii, and a
the New Topographics and among the "crucible for trade unionism and the local
anti-Ansel-Adams Atomic Photographers Communist Party" (111; 107-16).
(38-43). "Ironically, Washington waged
its secret nuclear war against the most PART II: HOLY GHOSTS
patriotic cross-section of the population
imaginable, a virtual Norman Rockwell Ch. 6: Pentecostal Earthquake
tapestry of American: gung-ho Marines, [1999]. The Black-led (Daddy Seymour),
ultraloyal Test Site workers, Nevada ethnically mixed origins of
cowboys and tungsten miners, Mormon pentecostalism was long denied but is
farmers, and freckle-faced Utah now warmly acknowledged by whites
schoolchildren," about 500,000 people in (119-25).
all (45). Grassroots resistance (46-59).
Ch. 7: Hollywood's Dark Shadow Ch. 12: Burning All Illusions
[2000]. L.A.'s Bunker Hill district, once [1992/2002]. The April-May 1992 L.A.
L.A.'s most crowded neighborhood and riot was an insurrection against "an
setting of important examples of film intolerable political-economic order"
noir, was replaced by "a glitzy command (235; 227-37).
center of the booming Pacific Rim
economy" by 1950s urban renewal (139; Ch. 13: Who Killed L.A.? A Political
127-40). Autopsy [1992]. The 1992 L.A. riots
can be traced to the abandonment of the
Ch. 8: The Infinite Game cities by the federal government (239-
[1990/2002]. City development in Los 69). "[T]he semantic identity of race and
Angeles's city center in the latter years urbanity within US political discourse is
of the 20th century is conceived, in this now virtually complete. . . . "'[B]ig-
detailed examination of its historical city' . . . today . . . equates with a Black-
development, as "a vast game—a Latino 'underclass.' Contemporary
relentless competition between debates about the city—as about drugs
privileged players (or alliances of and crime—are invariably really about
players) in which the state intervenes race" (255-56). 1992, with the Ross
much like a card-dealer or croupier to Perot phenomenon, was a watershed
referee the play" (144; 143-76). year in American politics: "suburban
voters and their representatives became
Ch. 9: The Subway That Ate L.A. the political majority in the United
[1995]. The Hollywood Sinkhole: on States" (256).
Jun. 22, 1995, a massive part of
Hollywood Boulevard collapsed because Ch. 14: Fear and Loathing in
of the construction of the Red Line Compton [1994]. Compton is an L.A.-
subway (183-89). area city a mile from Watts whose violent
reputation was spread by prominent
Ch. 10: The New Industrial Peonage gangsta rappers (Compton's Most
[1992]. A study of Vernon, CA [motto: Wanted; N.W.A. [whose 1988 album
"Exclusively Industrial"], explores the "Straight Outta Compton" is highly
1970s and 1980s a low-wage regarded]; Eazy-E). Its 1992 riots saw
reindustrialization of SE L.A. where East "the first time that the Black poor looted
Asian capital exploits immigrant labor and burned the property of the Black
from Mexico and Central America (191- bourgeoisie on any large scale" (276;
204). 275-83). Ricky says: "Thing you got to
understand, partner, is that all cops are
PART III: RIOT CITY colored blue" (278).

Ch. 11: 'As Bad as the H-Bomb' Ch. 15: Dante's Choice [1995]. Black
[2001]. Davis argues (based partly on and Latino gangs in L.A. as the result of
personal recollections) that that youth the "poverty of public resources" (299;
riots in southern California in 1960-1961 285-303).
(beginning in San Diego in August 1960)
"were largely driven by the hidden PART IV: EXTREME SCIENCE
injuries of calss colliding with an
overweening ideology of affluence"; the Ch. 16: Cosmic Dancers on History's
paranoid reaction of authorities that they Stage? [1996/2002 update at
were leftist-inspired "proved to be a self- 357n.149]. Davis excoriates
fulfilling prophecy" (222; 223; 207-23). postmodernism for having "defoliated the
humanities and turned textualism into a
prison-house of the soul" and exalts the concept of Soviet mineralogist Vladimir
natural sciences for having become "the Vernadsky (1863-1945) who saw life
sites of extraordinary debates that itself as a powerful force in transforming
resonate at the deepest levels of human the planet; "Although life, at any one
culture" (309). This essay [apparently time, may seem only an insignficant
inspired by the ideas presented in scrim on the face of the Earth, the total
Herbert Shaw's relatively unknown mass of all organisms that have ever
Craters, Cosmos, and Chronicles lived has been estimated as 1000 or
(Stanford UP, 1995; Shaw was born in even 10,000 times the mass of the Earth
1930 and died in 2002) which seem to itself!" (334; 333-37). More recent
have excited Mike Davis more than just speculations (337-46). Extensive notes
about any other commentator], explores (347-59).
the "increasingly sweeping claims"
regarding "the 'coevolution' of mantle Ch. 17: Dead Cities: A Natural
dynamics and asteroid bombardment" in History [2001]. The last 150 years,
the history of the Earth, especially as with its devotion to building cities, those
these relate to mass-extinction events "radically contingent artifacts," is an
(320; 309; 307-46). "[C]haos ultimately historical anomaly (362; 361-63). Yet
rules the entire solar system, but on urban ecology is not being studied
radically different timescales for different scientifically (363). Richard Jeffries's
classes of planetary objects. . . . The After London: or, Wild England (1886)
orbits of NEOs [Near Earth Objects], in imagined the demise of England's capital
particular, evolve so chaotically that (364-71). In 1996 New Scientist invited
'they cannot be computed far enough experts to perform the same thought
into the future to determine reliably the experiment (371-75). Jack London's The
risk of planetary impact" (317-18). A Scarlet Plague (1912) imagined the
new framework is emerging, according to destruction of San Francisco (374-75).
which "[t]he solar system is George R. Stewart's Earth Abides (1949)
fundamentally historical: a bricolage of was "the first novel to incorporate a
unique events and assemblages, sophisticated understanding of . . .
governed by deterministic chaos and ecology" (376; 375-79). Natural history
open to galactic perturbations. . . . as observed in the ruined cities of Europe
Nature usually proceeds by leaps" and (380-86). Ecology of abandoned
"Natural history, like planetary history, is ghettoes returning to nature (386-91).
characterized by its irreversible and Critique by Rodrick and Deborah Wallace
unpredictable contingency" (321). of plans to change firefighting in New
According to the "grand hypothesis" of York City (391-95).
some neo-catastrophists, "[t]he evolution
of the Earth . . . is galactically controlled Ch. 18: Strange Times Begin
through a Rube Goldberg-like chain of [1998/2002]. Compendium of bizarre
gravitational accidents" (322-23). The events around the world, 1998 (401-14).
autonomy of various scientific disciplines 2002 update (414-15).
is thus being radically challenged (323-
25). In general, almost every finding of Acknowledgments.
planetary exploration has surprised
scientists, which accords with the view Index. 12 pp.
that the solar system is "the outcome of
a kind of deterministic chaos" and that About the Author. Mike Davis is the
the solar system is "radically historical" author of City of Quartz, Ecology of Fear,
(330; 331; 327-33). This view has and Magical Urbanism, and the co-author
revived interest in the "biosphere" of Under the Perfect Sun.
reform. In fact, he seems utterly
[Additional information. Mike Davis pessimistic about the possibility of
was born Fontana, CA, in 1946 and grew systemic change. — Davis has written
up in El Cajon. He interrupted his two children's books. He also writes
education (which began at Reed College) frequently for The Nation, and the British
to work at various jobs; he was active in New Statesman and Socialist Review. —
SDS. His B.A. and M.A. are from UCLA, Davis calls himself an "international
where he dropped out of the Ph.D. socialist" and a "Marxist-
program in history. In 1996-1997 he was Environmentalist."]
a Getty Scholar at the Getty Research
Institute and received a Macarthur [Critique. Dead Cities and Other Tales
Fellowship Award in 1998. In 2004 he is a rich and varied collection of essays,
won the Erich Shelling Achitekturpreis for each stamped with a year, presumably of
"outstanding contribution towards the its composition; some have been
architecture-theoretical discourse," in updated. The earliest dates from 1990.
2006 he won the Esther McCoy Award — Davis's tone is generally journalistic
from the USC Architecture Guild, and in or analytical, depending on the origin of
2007 he won the Lannan Literary Award the piece. Though he calls himself an
for Nonfiction. He teaches in the Dept. of "aging socialist" (309) these pieces are
Creative Writing at UC Riverside; he has more descriptive than prescriptive. His
also taught in the Dept. of History of UC sensibility is that of an historian, though
Irvine and at the Southern California he does not claim that title here. —
Institute of Architecture. — Davis has Most of this book is about Los Angeles.
written eighteen books; the first was But the longest piece is an ambitious and
Prisoners of the American Dream (1986), mind-boggling account summarizing and
about unionism in the U.S. His best- conceptualizing recent scientific work
known work is City of Quartz: Excavating radically revising the history of the earth
the Future in Los Angeles (1990), named and our understanding of how it relates
a best book in urban politics by the to the surrounding cosmos, with special
American Political Science Association attention to the theory of "coherent
and winner of the Isaac Deutscher Award catastrophism" and its implications for
from the London School of Economics; it the biological sciences. Why Davis did
has been translated into eight languages. not expand this extraordinary piece into
— In general, Davis is more interested in a book of its own is a mystery; no
the revolutionary transformation of foreword explains the author's
society in the direction of sustainability intentions.]
and socialist regionalism than in urban