Friday, April 27, 2012

Los Angeles Through its People: Descriptions from Christopher Isherwood

(Left to right) Gerald Heard, Christopher Isherwood, Julian Huxley, Aldous Huxley and Linus Pauling, Los Angeles 1960 -by Ralph Crane Image via Life magazine's Tumblr 

IN THE beginning of the semester I was wowed by Christopher Isherwood’s piece “Diaries.” His incredible descriptions and attention to detail made me see the beauty of LA.  Because this was one of the first pieces we read, as well as my favorite piece, it only seems right that it is my last blog post. 

One thing I found during my time in this class is that Los Angeles is defined by its people. While I was reading the piece, I noticed that the descriptions of the people he recalled in his journal described and defined the city.  For my final post, I wanted to take his words, his descriptions of the people he met, and use them to define the city of Los Angeles.

LA is a “universal figure.  She is the woman whose life everyone wants to interfere with” (234). 

LA’s “general untidiness was obviously calculated” and there was “a tiny plaster between her eyebrows, to prevent wrinkles from forming”(232-233).

“With bloodshot eyes,” LA yearns “to be told the secret of eternal youth, the meaning of life” (233). 

LA has “faint traces of extraordinary beauty,” and “showed little sign of inward calm” (233). 

LA is “both a parent and a child” (234). 

LA has “done what no other man alive today has done; he refused to become a god” (233).  Instead, he is who he is and makes no excuses.

LA is make believe and says, “‘Let’s pretend we are two other people—quite, quite different,’” (234).

LA “pays no attention to the scenery” (234). 

“If you watch her for a quarter of an hour, you see every one of her famous expressions” (237).  “She is so amazingly beautiful, so noble, so naturally compelling and commanding, that her ridiculous artificiality, her downright silliness can’t spoil the effect” (237). 

LA is an extra in a film.  A copy “of famous filmstars—literal copies, made without the least imagination or individuality," in which there was "not the slightest interest in Chaplain’s instructions—but, when the shooting began, they put up a surprisingly convincing performance” (240).

LA teaches. But, “‘the only thing we learn in life is waiting’” (236).

LA “works til he’s tired, eats when he feels like it, sleeps when he feels inclined” (247).

LA is a “character from a Scott Fitzgerald novel who’d passed out during a wild party and slept for twenty years.  Now she’s just woken up and thought this was all a horrible dream” (246).

LA makes you feel “a terrible, shameful, almost insane attack of self-pity and despair” because you “can’t turn her into a stage for [your] own private drama” (240-241).

LA “chain-smokes nervously.  But, as always, there is something very attractive and even stimulating about him” (242).

LA “glanced at herself in the mirror without enthusiasm: she was no longer quite fresh” (245).

LA "accepts the will of the majority as long as its his will" (249).

LA knows that “‘we can’t really stop your hair from falling out.  We know it doesn’t really matter about being well-groomed, or attracting girls, or making the grade, or selling your personality. We know you’ll grow old and die, and others will be born, and new tonics will supersede us, with new slogans and old lies on the label” (244-245).  And this is LA’s secret.  LA's tragedy.

LA makes you say, “Goodbye.  Goodbye. I shall see you often—but differently I suppose” (246).

-- Elise Fornaca

1 comment:

  1. I love that you went ahead and posted this...It's so true -- the place is like the people and he did a wonderful job evoking that and you had an eagle-eye as a reader.