Los Angeles Notebook

Course Syllabus
American Studies | 7-Week

Los Angeles Notebook: Narratives of Remembering and Forgetting

Blade Runner

Course Description

The story of Los Angeles is under constant revision. This course will examine some of the strategies that storytellers — writers, filmmakers, and the city’s residents — use in order to redefine L.A. for new eras and new audiences. We will discuss how literature and film set in Southern California often construct a new L.A. within their semi-fictional universes: an imagined city with a unique set of borders and histories. These L.A.’s are full of different sorts of people, different music and ambient noise, different sights and smells. And yet, fictional or not, those imagined cities contribute, in some way, to the greater narrative of “Los Angeles” told in the media and on the ground. We will begin with some classic texts in the literary and filmic canon in order to establish the legacies that many current storytellers continue to write against. We will discuss how the city’s history — whether recorded, imagined, or witnessed — spins tales as fantastical as any fiction. The second half of the course will then turn to more recent revisions of that canon and those histories, both by published authors and through our own experiences.

Texts & Media

Blade Runner, in its celebrated yet dystopian vision of Los Angeles, has “somehow gentrified our worst nightmare” (Norman Klein, The History of Forgetting). The film’s dystopia is rife with grains of truth — corporate power and a nonwhite majority, for instance — and yet the film was made and is upheld as a central L.A. text by the same sorts of people that the film displaces. Why do scholars of the city keep returning to a narrative that undoes its own canon? What does the film’s central position in L.A. urban memory eject from the city’s history?

After starting with Blade Runner and discussing a few other dystopian visions of the city, the course begins anew with John Fante’s Ask the Dust (1939) and some revisionist histories of downtown Los Angeles (including, for instance, the oft- neglected Chinese Massacre). Supplemental readings on historiography and myths about the city frame most discussions through the themes of forgetting and remembering. These discussions will continue over the semester with authors such as Luis Rodriguez, Manazar Gamboa, Paul Beatty, Steph Cha, Dana Johnson, Nina Revoyr, …. and films such as ___, ____, The Bling Ring, …

Assignment Structure

The course… mention that it assumes personal experience in Los Angeles… development of their own “Los Angeles Notebook” through discussion board posts, etc…

Sample Assignment

To Forget & Remember in L.A.

Assignment: This assignment will involve locating and researching a rupture in Los Angeles’s visual or communal history. The first step is to choose a location in Los Angeles: for example, a park, a city block, a mural or statue, or a single commercial address (a restaurant, shop, etc.). Visit that location, either in person or virtually, through Google Maps street view or Instagram geo-tags. Take or find a picture of the location as it is today. Record the address, neighborhood name, and the names of any related places, objects, and establishments.

Examples: Two famous examples we’ll mention in class are the Chinese Massacre of 1871, which took place where L.A.’s Hall of Justice stands today, and the neighborhood of Chavez Ravine, bulldozed to make room for Dodger Stadium. But your location does not need to be so famous. Maybe there was a mom-and-pop business that your family used to go to, and now it is a Vape store. Maybe an abandoned gas station has been turned into a community garden.

Research: You are required to research the location you chose in order to discover what was there before (and what it was like). There are many ways to go about this: google the address(es); interview locals (and quote them!); reference an older film which included the location as a set; look at old maps of the city; or, maybe you remember what used to be there. I will provide some possible internet resources via email this week. You do not need to cite your research with MLA guidelines in this assignment, but please mention how you researched in your discussion.

Discuss: You should discuss this change in the L.A. landscape on two levels—small, how it affects the immediate neighborhood, and broad, how it fits into the larger story of “Los Angeles.” Some questions to consider: what stories, if any, are lost to us forever because of this change? What stories of loss are visible still? How does this loss affect the story of the neighborhood, of Los Angeles, of Southern California? What new story is being told? If you posted an old image of the location on Instagram and tagged it with the new geolocation, what sort of dissonance would that cause? If this is a part of L.A. with which you are unfamiliar, what did you learn about L.A. in the process? If this is a part of L.A. with which you are very familiar, put yourself in the shoes of someone who isn’t—what might they have learned? Your discussion should address 1-2 of these questions and include some mention of The History of Forgetting, “LA Glows,” Blade Runner, Ask the Dust, Mildred Pierce, or Tropic of Orange.

Requirements: The assignment should be between 500 and 1,000 words, double-spaced, in 12-point font, saved as either a Word document or PDF. Placed within the document, include at least one photo of the location described. The write-up should also include some form of historical research as well as engagement with at least one of the course texts covered before the deadline.

Student Response: Include some discussion of how students responded both positive and negative…