On Disorientation (II) – Completely Lost in the Modern City

Aerial view of I-110 and I-101 freeway interchange, Dodger stadium, ”Dick

Aerial view of I-110 and I-101 freeway interchange, Dodger stadium (detail), ”Dick” Whittington Photography Collection, 1924-1987, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Previous post: On Disorientation (I) – The History and Pathology of a Concept

In a sense my entire thesis is an explication of a single passage, one of the most striking, in Kevin Lynch’s classic 1960 work of urban planning theory, The Image of the City:

To become completely lost is perhaps a rather rare experience for most people in the modern city. […] But let the mishap of disorientation once occur, and the sense of anxiety and even terror that accompanies it reveals to us how closely it is linked to our sense of balance and well-being. The very word “lost” in our language means much more than simple geographical uncertainty; it carries overtones of utter disaster. (p. 4)

The primary concern of Lynch’s work was city design – with how we might build or remodel cities to be highly legible, thereby minimising their tendency to disorientate residents and making them more pleasant, satisfying places in which to live. His evocative descriptions of the trauma of urban disorientation are the point of departure for my own analysis of Los Angeles fiction and cinema.

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South Central Los Angeles, Restricted Movement and the ‘Green Book’

It’s becoming clear that one of the central themes of my next thesis chapter will be mobility — or more specifically, the restrictions imposed on the mobility of black Angelenos, and the representation of this immobility in works of fiction and cinema spanning the post-war / mid-century / civil rights eras.

A flat tire puts an end to a day trip out of LA in Killer of Sheep (1977)

A flat tire frustrates plans for a day trip out of LA in Killer of Sheep (1978)

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‘…you have to have a place…’

Approaching the end of a summer in which for various reasons I’ve been unable to concentrate on my thesis to the degree I would have liked, I’m excited to be getting back to things tomorrow, and in particular, resuming my research into South (Central) LA.

I thought I’d mark the occasion with a line I encountered during a recent re-reading of Chandler’s The Long Good-bye; it’s an apt epigraph for my thesis, and a good reminder to keep myself grounded in the material, the geographical and the historical, during the moments I’m tempted to fly a little too far into the conceptual.

No matter how smart you think you are, you have to have a place to start from; a name, an address, a neighbourhood, a background, an atmosphere, a point of reference of some sort.

On Disorientation (I) – The History and Pathology of a Concept

My PhD thesis analyses the experience of the city of Los Angeles as represented in literature and film across the 20th century, focusing particularly on states of disorientationI will address the question ‘Why Los Angeles?’ in a subsequent post, and will also expand on how disorientation is actually utilised in my analysis; for now, I want to unpack the term a little by sketching a brief conceptual history. What I’m particularly concerned with doing is demonstrating that disorientation is more than merely a synonym for ‘lost’, and how its meaning came to implicate not just the spatial/geographical, but also disruptions to time and identity.

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