The Millennium Cometh:
Apocalypse and Utopia in Bible, Sociology and Literature
Profs. John Coleman, S.J. (Sociology),  Felix Just, S.J. (Theology),  Holli Levitsky (English)
Loyola Marymount University - Spring 2000

Reading Guide, Discussion Questions and Writing Assignment for

The following questions are intended both to help guide your own reading of the assigned texts, and to stimulate our small group discussions on Thursday, April 13. Also, the instructions for your third written exercise are appended further below.

Tues, April 4

Sociological Readings: Mike Davis, "Beyond Blade Runner" (from Ecology of Fear, 359-422 - on library reserve or E-Res)

  1. How would you explain Ernest Burgess' Chicago School of Sociology grid for urban ecology about spatial apartheid to a non-expert? Explain the phrases urban concentration, centralization, segregation, invasion, succession. Explain also what you take to be the sociological usefulness of Burgess' urban ecology scheme.
  2. In his classic book, Discipline and Punish (in French Punir et Surveiller, i.e. "Punish and Surveillance"), Michael Foucault talks about a new "surveillance society." Using material from Davis' chapter, explain why you do (or do not) think that Los Angeles has become the nightmare surveillance society.
  3. You read that Los Angeles is the capital (per capita) of racial hate crimes. Do you think there is a connection between Los Angeles' deliberate spatial apartheid and the lack of true urban spaces where public crowds can gather, on the one hand, and the racial prejudices and violence found in Los Angeles?
  4. In general, do you agree or disagree with the claim in Davis that "fear eats the soul of Los Angeles"?

Thurs, April 6

Literary Readings:  Nathanael West, Day of the Locust

  1. In what way is Day of the Locust "apocalyptic"? In what way might it be "grotesque"?
  2. How might West's vision of Los Angeles be described as utopic or dystopic?
  3. West's characters seem to be the marginal figures who exist on the fringes of the film industry. Why isn't he interested in the glamorous aspects of the Hollywood myth?
  4. What does Tod Hackett's painting "The Burning of Los Angeles" suggest about the intermingling of illusion and reality in Hollywood? About Los Angeles in the late thirties? About the California Dream?
Literary Reading:  Joan Didion, "Los Angeles Notebook," in Slouching towards Bethlehem (on library reserve or E-Res)
  1. How does Didion connect Los Angeles weather patterns to the apocalypse?
  2. What is Didion's view of Los Angeles?

Tues, April 11

Guest Lecturer:  Thomas McGovern, "The New City: Art and Architecture of the Millennium"

  1. How has the digital revolution transformed (is transforming) our world?
  2. If you have seen the film "Matrix", compare its subject to that in McGovern's photographic work, "The New City."  What kind of futuristic vision(s) do they share?  How are they different?
  3. Does "The New City" seem like a Utopia?  A Dystopia?  Apocalyptic?  How and why?

Thurs, April 13 - Discussion Groups

Writing Assignment for Block #6
[See the main page of Questions & Reflections for additional Writing Guidelines and Tips]

  1. In "Los Angeles Notebook," Joan Didion makes the following observation about Los Angeles: Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, and, just as the reliably long and bitter winters of New England determine the way life is lived there, so the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Ana affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability.   In what specific way(s) does Didion suggest that our quality of life here is affected by the weather? How is it the weather of "apocalypse"? Does she draw conclusions about other factors in LA besides the weather? What are these other factors? Do you agree with her observations about Los Angeles? Why or why not? Use these questions as guidelines for an essay about Joan Didion's discussion of Los Angeles as apocalyptic.

  2. OR

  3. In Day of the Locust, Tod Hackett observes that certain people "come to California to die." To whom does he refer? What is their "messianic rage" and how does the apparatus of mass fantasy play into such rage?

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