English R1A

Reading & Composition: "Something about the light": Urban Subjectivity in Los Angeles Film and Literature

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
7 Fall 2015 Muhammad, Ismail
TTh 11-12:30 222 Wheeler

Book List

Moseley, Walter: Devil in a Blue Dress; Smith, Anna: Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992; West, Nathanael: Day of the Locust

Other Readings and Media

Films:  Roman Polanski, Chinatown (1974); Charles Burnett, Killer of Sheep (1977).

A course reader will be available for purchase. 


In this course, we’ll explore the political, economic, cultural, and social histories that have culminated in Los Angeles's distended geography, smog-filtered light, and barely connected enclaves. We’ll learn how writers and filmmakers have used the city’s geography as a platform for exploring temporal and spatial experience in urban communities, from the dawn of Hollywood to the explosive racial and class disturbances of the 1990s. The point is to explore Los Angeles as both a physical space and a cultural concept, with the categories of race, class, and gender as our through lines. How does L.A.’s geography structure subjectivity for the citizens who move about its sprawl? How does that geography impart unique experiences of time and space? What can the city’s image tell us about American political and cultural ideals? What do the city’s socio-economic realities indicate about the failure of those ideals? How has L.A.’s status as a hub of ethnic, sexual, and cultural diversity made it a unique background against which to critique and reimagine the categories of race, class, and gender? What literary and cinematic techniques have artists devised to represent urban experience in a city that often resists representation? How have these conventions shifted over time, and what might these shifts tell us about the changing nature of life in Los Angeles?

Throughout the semester, you will be working to find and improve your voice as both a critical and creative writer. Through two essays and a biweekly “city journal” that tracks your experience as an urban subject, we will hone skills like sentence craft, effective argumentation, and critical thinking. 

Back to Semester List