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French Philosopher Tries to Dismiss Los Angeles, Gets Called Out

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In 2005, The Atlantic sent French philosopher and Roman Polanski apologist Bernard Henri-Lévy to follow Alexis de Tocqueville's 1830s path through the United States. In a section titled "The Anti-City" he explains that Los Angeles is an "unintelligible," "post-historical" city that could croak at any minute. Yesterday, in the Atlantic's Future of the City section, southern Californian Conor Friedersdorf wrote "Nowhere is [Lévy's] criticism farther from the mark." Which THANK YOU, Conor Friedersdorf. Lévy presents a set of criteria a city must meet to be considered "legible," and it's an arbitrary set, as if he decided to dismiss Los Angeles first and then made up rules to fit, like this: "it has to have a vantage point, or several, from which it can, as in the Paris of Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, be embraced with a single glance." And as Friedersdorf points out, some of the rules don't fit anyway. In response to Lévy's demand that a city "have a border beyond which it dissolves or breaks apart" Friedersdorf writes "On what we'll call its western edge, Los Angeles has as stark a border as any urban area: the Pacific Ocean, which stops any notion of sprawl at its shoreline. Greater Los Angeles is also hemmed in by some rather majestic mountains." Last, Lévy complains that Los Angeles doesn't have a historic neighborhood "whose historicity continues to shape, engender, inspire, the rest of the urban space," and that Olvera Street reminds him of "the fake 'heritage towns' that I keep running into in America." Friedersdorf: "That LA makes the writer think of fake heritage towns is actually itself a sign of enduring themes, since between Hollywood and Disneyland greater Los Angeles basically invented the fake landscape, perhaps to its shame rather than its credit." [Bernard Henri-Lévy via UCLA]
· In Defense of Los Angeles [The Atlantic]
· The Anti-City [The Atlantic]