Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In Defense Of L.A.

French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, the self-proclaimed neo Tocqueville author of American Vertigo, has had an ongoing issue with Los Angeles. He is back denouncing the metropolis as an "anti-city" in his Road Trip notes for The Atlantic.

"What makes a city legible," Lévy asks? 1: It has to have a center. 2: It has to have a border. 3: It has to have a vantage point. 4: It has a to have a pulsating heart. Lévy argues that L.A. has none of these elements, concluding that it is an unintelligible city without history. His verdict? "An unintelligible city is a city whose historicity is nothing more than an ageless remorse. And a post-historical city is, I fear, a city about which one can predict with some certainty that it will die."

In his excellent In Defense of Los Angeles rebuttal, Conor Fridersdorf refutes the wannabe urban pundit's questionable criteria for what makes a city, and his even weaker arguments which only stress his superficial approach to Los Angeles -- and to America in general. "The City of Angels is the whipping boy of urban planners, mocked by cultural critics, and disliked even by many visitors," writes Friedersdorf, acknowledging the long-established, fashionable sport called L.A. bashing. Yet despite its many flaws, Los Angeles is not likely to die any time soon.

As for Mr. Lévy, he needs to take his prejudiced blinders off, and experience the city with fresh eyes; let it reveal itself in all its awesomeness. Los Angeles is unique, tricky, coy, unlikely to open up easily to the newcomer or the uninitiated. Yet it is a brilliant, complex character, with an incredible history and, yes, a pulsating heart. Whether Mr. Lévy will ever be able to grasp its many facets is doubtful: he is too much of a dilettante. That he is considered an expert analyst of America -- its culture, cities and communities -- is even more baffling. Unless it is mere snobism. And snobism comes with solid blinders.
Update 05/26/10: Taking on BHL, Way Later [LAObserved]

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