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DEAD CITIES by Mike Davis

DEAD CITIES

A Natural History

By Mike Davis

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 2002
ISBN: 1-56584-765-2
Publisher: New Press

From Davis (Magical Urbanism, 2000, etc.), rangy, astute, switchblade-wicked essays ranging from depictions of Los Angeles in film noir to a discussion of a Paiute prophet’s neo-catastrophic epistemology.

September 11 may have marked the end of American exceptionalism, but anxiety was already upon us, writes Davis, and “it is already clear that the advent of ‘catastrophic terrorism’ in tandem with protracted recession will produce major mutations in the American city.” Fear and catastrophe run through this assembly of essays, as seen in the portraits of hell from national and international ecocide sites including Las Vegas, whose apocalyptic urbanism is cooed over by postmodernist philosophers as “virtuality,” and the pharaonic and socially irresponsible redevelopment strategy of downtown LA. As if he were a pair of zoom binoculars, Davis can look hyper-closely at the tortured Compton, a neighborhood about to slip its own tectonic disk, or pull far back into comparative planetology and “an existential Earth shaped by the creative energies of its catastrophes.” Pushy and polymathic, Davis has earned the right call LA’s subway “an aphrodisiac to attract real estate investment to the city’s three largest redevelopment projects,” or to say that the South Central riot “was as much about empty bellies and broken hearts as it was about police batons,” because he has made the connections, a web of such intricacy—racism, vested interests, ecology, social neglect, corruption, real-estate scams, pork-barrel politics, urban dereliction—that it deserves a Tiffany setting. There are moments when readers will wish Davis would cut to the chase, when the writing feels too much like action painting swooning in its own gestures; though there are more moments of salutary humor, as when cold warriors in San Diego managed to find “Kremlin-endorsed hot-rodders and Maoist high school sex clubs” under every grain of beach sand.

Smart and tough: an author with one eye out for the underdog, the other on the sickness of the political and corporate landscape.