The mélange of mission myths and mass-market celluloid alchemy that constitutes the history of “Los Angeles” leaves ample space for metaphysical inquiry. In the 2003 film-essay Los Angeles Plays Itself, Thom Andersen journeyed in search of lost time through an expansive, tangled web of movie imagery that used his city as a practical outdoor soundstage. And renegade social theorist Mike Davis continues to unearth the residue of power politics and natural disaster in his still-coalescing city of quartz. Now punk-poet/novelist and L.A. expatriate Kate Braverman joins the sunshine symposium with her “accidental memoir” commemorating the human casualties of historical revisionism. Namely, herself.
In “Fusion City,” her first and strongest Transmission, Braverman periodically returns to the Santa Monica Pier with other childhood survivors of a West L.A. “gulag with palm trees.” Now middle-aged women with buried husbands, siblings, and secrets, the group exposes its artificial correctives for a squalid adolescence—a face-lift here, a breast enhancement there, antidepressants and marijuana all around. “Are we evolving toward cyborgs? Are we becoming some biochemical and technologically modified and enhanced version of our original selves? We hope so.” Despite the contrasting prepositions of the title, Braverman’s reflections offer more from than to, in an attempt to shed the identity of a city without an identity. Her six-year Allegheny sojourn reveals how easily an Angeleno perspective tempts one to rethink Walden as a real estate catalog, and blisters collected on the roads of Ibiza instruct that walking, not driving, is the only way to become intimate with a city.
Sometimes Braverman’s prose experiments dip too far into New Age moon circle introspection—a posthumous “interview” with Marilyn Monroe remains steadily incoherent—and she repeats a descriptive metaphor or two (need every sunset sound so toxic?). But these blemishes give Frantic Transmissions the ragged, provocative quality of a letter written, torn up, and revised, ad infinitum. Like the fusion city itself, the book exists as a perpetual work in progress.