Los Angeles is a city that should not exist. No desert was meant to hold an urban hub of this size. It is a non-location, a place that that manages to weirdly persist due to simple inertia over sustainability. The wildfires that grow in size and intensity every season, ever-encroaching into La-La Land, are not only general reminders of a planet that will soon be too warm to sustain civilization; they feel like deep time retching up a virus contracted long ago. That it is also where the United States manufactures its ego, its own version of cultural relevance, is only too appropriate, as the 2018 burning of Malibu makes so very clear.
I. There is a truly noxious moment in Kenneth Clark’s 1969 BBC documentary series Civilisation. The art historian, knight, and life-peer stands across the Seine from Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral and ponders the meaning of the series title. “What is civilization?” he asks before peering over his shoulder. “I don’t know, but I think I can recognize it when I see […]