Tropics of Meta

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To understand the City of Angels, Joan Didion once wrote, one needed to immerse oneself in the freeway experience or, as she put it, « the only secular communion Los Angeles has. »1 Between 1968 and 1979 Didion published three books — two collections of non-fiction essays: « Slouching Toward Bethlehem » in 1968 and « The White Album » in 1979; and one work of fiction: « Play It as It Lays » in 1970 — that depicted a modern Southern California, buffeted by « the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, » but grounded by its highways and relaxed by its pools. Southern California combined the elemental extremes of nature with the rigidity of the decade’s car-centric urban planning. For 1960s and early 1970s Californians, the car provided solace in an age of discomfort; but soon after the liberating effects of the freeway appeared increasingly diminished.

Prior to the age of gridlock, few writers captured the essence…

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