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  • Viet Thanh Nguyen’s bestselling novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, and a Carnegie Medal from the American Library Association. It was also a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. Nguyen is also the author of Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America and Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War.

  • Tonya Foster

    Sep 21| Lectures
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    Poet Tonya Foster is the author of the collection A Swarm of Bees in High Court. Her work has appeared in nocturnes, Callaloo, Traffic, Gulf Coast, and other journals. Her essays have appeared in NY Arts Magazine, NYFA Quarterly and The Poetry Project Newsletter. A co-editor of Third Mind: Teaching Creative Writing Through Visual Art, Foster teaches at California College of the Arts and lives in the Bay Area.

  • Steven Ehrlich and Frederick Fisher will present their firms’ collaboration as EHRLICH | FISHER on Otis College’s new Goldsmith Campus Academic Building and Residence Hall. The campus-wide expansion and renovation project includes a new academic building, 300-seat Forum (the venue for this lecture), café and dining commons, Student Life Center, and residence hall.

     

  • Opening Reception

    Sep 24| Special Event
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    New York-based artist Polly Apfelbaum’s work has situated itself as a hybrid of painting, sculpture, and installation over a career spanning 30 plus years. Exploring the intricacies of color, Apfelbaum weaves her way, both literally and conceptually, through ideas of Minimalism, Pop aesthetics, and Color Field painting to blur the lines between two and three dimensional art making.

  • Artist Polly Apfelbaum in conversation with Connie Butler, within Apfelbaum's exhibition Face (Geometry) (Naked) Eyes.

     

  • John Keene

    Oct 05| Lectures
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    John Keene is the author of the novels Annotations and Counternarratives, as well as several other works, including the poetry collection Seismosis, with artist Christopher Stackhouse, and a translation of Brazilian author Hilda Hilst's novel Letters from a Seducer. The recipient of a Whiting Award, Keene has been a member of the Dark Room Writers Collective and a Cave Canem fellow. He has served as the managing editor of Callaloo and taught at Northwestern. He currently teaches at Rutgers University-Newark and lives in New York.

  • Artist Polly Apfelbaum in conversation with David Pagel, within Apfelbaum's exhibition Face (Geometry) (Naked) Eyes.

     

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Literary L.A.

May 12, 2014
Spotlight Category: Faculty

Memory and Daily Life in the Invisible City

By Paul Vangelisti, Founding Chair, Graduate Writing

 

Time and place operate curiously in the daily and often dull ineptitude of a grammar that might describe such as fictive utility as L.A.

 

I must begin by mentioning the debt of gratitude I owe the Parisian poet Mohammed Dib, who consistently made me aware that L.A. was indeed the Invisible City, borrowing from me, as it were, the title for my literary magazine, Invisible City, which I edited with John McBride from 1971–82. During his stay in L.A., Dib would often smile capriciously and ask, as the afternoon began to cool, if it weren’t time to set off in my Datsun sedan and visit our invisible city, so that we might add to our “petites histoires.”

Poetry, for me, then, issues from the invisible city, the big nowhere that is L.A. Ours is a city of “theatrical impermanence,” as Christopher Isherwood called it, the home of tautological architecture where hot dog and hamburger and donut stands take on the shape of hot dogs and hamburgers and donuts, where at any given time only a little more than onethird of the population has lived there for more than five years. L.A. is blessed, in Tennessee Williams’ words, with “wonderful rocking horse weather, and a curious light so mesmerizing that, as Orson Welles once noted, ‘You sit down, you’re twenty-five, and when you get up, you’re sixty-two.‘” It functions, according to the poet Thomas McGrath, as the “Asia Minor of the intellect,” a place where, in the immortal words of the legendary producer Irving Thalberg (namesake for the Academy’s Oscar for “life-time achievement”), the writer is no less than “a necessary evil.” L.A. is also a place that has afforded writers and artists, to borrow a phrase from long-time resident Igor Stravinsky, “splendid isolation.” Memory in so willfully forgetful a place is critical, defining an almost palpable dimension of daily life, which is all the more vivid in contrast to the perpetual elsewhere that best describes one’s writing practice there.

Time and place operate curiously in the daily and often dull ineptitude of a grammar that might describe such as fictive utility as L.A. Time, for instance, may function as a property of light, a perpetual present or “timelessness” in close relationship to the peculiarly isolate and meditative light that is the single most distinguishing characteristic of our city. “Lots and lots of light–and no shadows,” notes artist Robert Irwin, “Really peculiar, almost dreamlike.”

I am suggesting that a preoccupation with our daily bread is a poet’s attempt to ground his or her work if not exactly in some form of realism, at least in a realistic attitude or position within this wacky environment. Lacking the public occasion and certainly the public form for serious literature—museums and other educational and public institutions in our city are hardly more than specimen boxes in today’s cultural marketplace—some poets instinctively employ the daily to create a context for their work, social, dramatic or otherwise. In a city where the image is considered truthful, and entrepreneurs the likes of (fill in the name of whatever current pop culture boss) are discussed in university and college classrooms as creative geniuses, a poet may look to his or her own isolated daily life to fashion a background against which language may be given room for serious play.

 

Editor’s Note:
This piece is excerpted from a longer essay that first appeared in Seeing Los Angeles: A Different Look at a Different City, edited by Guy Bennett and Beatrice Mousli; Otis Books/Seismicity Editions, 2007 Graduate Writing faculty member Martha Ronk’s poems also appeared in this publication.

 

Image: Sumi-e drawing by Les Biller

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