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(NEW EDITION) City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles

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Here, the carceral state's function as a brutal enforcer of manufactured racial and classed hierarchies of difference in service of capital gains is made blaringly transparent.

He tells a lurid tale of greed, manipulation, power and prejudice that has made Los Angeles one of the most cosmopolitan and most class-divided cities in the United States. But they forgot one important thing : who decided that wearing leather jackets and blue suede shoes make one so cool ? To Mike Davis, the author of this fiercely elegant and wide- ranging work of social history, Los Angeles is both utopia and dystopia, a place where the last Joshua trees are being plowed under to make room for model communities in the desert, where the rich have hired their own police to fend off street gangs, as well as armed Beirut militias.Whenever I find myself resting too easily on the idea that scholarship and activism are incommensurable genres, driven by different motivations, I think of Mike Davis, and of his synthesis of Marxist and environmental thought, and think again, think better. To remember she’s neither the eternal sunshine in which we drown nor the wads, the food we eat, or the work “offered” in which we lose ourselves… It’s better to burn out than to fade away!

When I first picked up City of Quartz (1990), I wondered at the title, which was left unexplained in the text. As we shall see later, part of the logic of the 1978 tax revolt, which burned over the Valley in particular, was to equalize advantages between Los Angeles’s ‘captive’ white suburbanites and the residents of the Lakewoodized periphery’.Davis, who hails from derelict, former steel-town Fontana, the subject of his book’s final chapter, has an unconventional experience for an academic. Davis explains how the glittering museums and cultural institutions that appear as benign, net-good uses of urban space are in fact monuments to capital that enshrine and enable racialized state violence.

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