I’m currently writing up my PhD thesis in the Department of English, University College London; the title and abstract for my project are below.
Crime, Space and Disorientation in the Literature and Cinema of Los Angeles
This research project analyses Los Angeles literature and cinema from World War II to the late twentieth century. It is particularly concerned with the psychology and mobility of individual protagonists as they navigate the city’s complex topography – its diverse neighbourhoods, jurisdictional borders, and racial and social boundaries. An original but historically grounded theorisation of disorientation is developed as a concept through which to interpret the unease and vulnerability involved in navigating such an urban space. Whilst drawing on a wide body of theoretical sources, my research remains rooted in the close analysis of cinematic and literary texts, and the specific historical and geographical context with which they engage.
In Los Angeles film noirs and crime novels, investigators frequently attempt to establish the presence of suspects at crime scenes, whilst disorientated protagonists struggle to avoid incrimination. The automobility of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe allows him to navigate the dispersed topography of 1940s LA, but his investigations are often ineffectual and leave him weary and jaded. In the novels of Joseph Wambaugh and James Ellroy, law enforcement officials find their personal identities compromised by jurisdictional conflicts. The African-American protagonist of Chester Himes’s If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945) struggles to orientate himself within a wartime Los Angeles in which racism is manifested spatially. Himes’s novel provides a lens through which to view the experience of 1970s South LA depicted in the films of Charles Burnett and Haile Gerima, in which the city’s African-American community confronts disorientating conditions of circumscribed movement and arbitrary incrimination. Pursuing careful analyses of character, form and setting, this project explicates some of the compelling and troubling visions of twentieth century urban experience that Los Angeles has prompted, and challenges a critical tendency to elide aspects of city’s racial past.