Visiting LA in February reminded me how vividly the grand vision of America first captured my imagination, and how singular the country is, despite the difficult times it is now going through. The sheer scale of the place, the variety of terrains and cityscapes, not to mention the outgoing confidence of its people, can be overwhelming to the European mind, although not many over here would dare to admit it. For the past fifteen years, our focus has been on what seems to be going wrong.
Dark visions now hold sway in the White House and the Senate, of a place where the poor and minorities are stripped of their security, and are increasingly left to fend for themselves. Contractors in Washington reap the rewards of redirected funding, while an increasingly divided populace is given confused and disingenuous messaging regarding political plays and counter-plays, by both political parties. Unthinkable wealth awaits those with power who are able to suspend their moral imagination.
LA shows both sides of the dream of America. Wealthy liberal districts enjoy the fruits of inventive entrepreneurship, in beautiful coffee shops and artfully graffitied ‘nabes’. Hidden cities of the dispossessed billow in the winds that pass down Crocker, Gladys and Towne in the urban crevasse between upwardly-mobile Downtown and the Arts District, tents pitched disconcertingly on concrete.
Americans seem to sit closer to risk, to the depradations of commerce, to the frontier itself, than most Europeans are able to stomach. This proximity to an inner wilderness has of course informed the literature of America, from its first works, right to the present day. The need for stories that reconcile its citizens to the darkness beyond the confines of the figurative settlement, has reached a powerful peak, as the world prays that the mood swings in favour of tolerance and compassion again over the next few years, and that those who can will prepare to face the forces that would do away with these precious qualities.
At Wundor Editions, we were drawn to Wolfe, a long tale by Texan writer Donald Mace Williams, precisely because he deals with the grandest themes that his nation has provided him to grapple with. It is a retelling of the story of Beowulf, set in Texas in the late 19th Century. You can read more about it here.
I will return to LA in a fortnight or so to meet some of the city’s creatives and to begin work on our LA city guide, which follows on from our guides to Tokyo and Mumbai (the former is out now, the latter will be released in July). It’s fascinating to view recent developments in the States from the capital of the state that has resisted them most vociferously.