Other Los Angeleses
It should be clear by now that I believe neither centricity nor multicentricity guarantees a ticket to paradise—or to purgatory. As I pour the multicentric bodies of Los Angeleses into the mold of centricity held up by Edge Painting, the middle void becomes a collage of fragments, with independent, parallel, or intersecting centers, bubbling in varying sizes and colors, filling the canvas all the way to the edges. Does that mean that I have found a group portrait for the many Los Angeleses?
A Paradigm of Multicentricity
Let me first turn to multicentricity as a conceptual angle. Above all, the notion of multicentricity privileges different entities' right to centricity. It has
Multicentricity as a strategy for cultural intervention focuses on the conceptual level. The multicentric paradigm serves to activate a procedure of cognizance that may eventually change general perceptions about the status of minoritization. Being center connotes the existence of an independent, if not unique, sphere, within which a self-referential network of signifying systems operates. Granted that a center must always be bound by other centers in a multicentric situation, the cognizance of its own centricity exposes those outside forces that seek to marginalize it as arbitrary and unduly oppressive. Those dominating forces then seem no longer “warranted” or “naturalized” by the status quo. In this capacity, the concept of multicentricity subverts the existing power structure, which takes for granted the boundary between the “majority” and the “minority,” between “dominant” cultures and “marginal” others. The multicentric paradigm consequently has the potential to become a resistant strategy for those who are involuntarily relegated to the margins by the existing power structure.
Multicentricity is, however, far from being an activist solution to present cultural dilemmas. It does not purport to be an ethical or redressive measure, as does “multiculturalism.” Multiculturalism, at least in its idealistic phase, aspires to institute fundamental changes in the directions and definitions of “national cultures” through education, hiring principles, and media advocacy. With “multicentricity,” my intent is to offer a more precise description for an existing phenomenon in the city I live. Being descriptive rather than prescriptive, multicentricity has no direct political stake or any immediate
Naming may facilitate revolution, but naming is not in itself a revolution. The phenomenon of multicentricity witnessed in this region clearly does not bring about equivalence, equilibrium, or equality among the many Los Angeleses. If I've found my portrait of multicentric Los Angeleses, it would stress that heterogeneity, multiplicity, and incongruity exist both within and between centers. Each Los Angeles has to deal with conflicts, differences, and incommensurabilities within itself. Likewise, it has to handle a complex ramification of relationships with other Los Angeleses, including opposition (antagonism among competing entities), coexistence (parallel subsistence among different entities), coalition (cooperation between different entities for mutual benefit), and hybridity (merging with other entities).
Multicentricity and Polarity
The discursive emphasis on multicentricity tends to blur the tenacious polarity underlying the polycentered and polyglot veneer of heterogeneity. Numerous accounts byurban theorists reveal the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots in the many Los Angeleses. Michael Dear, for one, holds a somber view: “In social terms, postmodern L.A. is a city split between extreme wealth and poverty, in which a glittering First World city sits atop a polyglot Third World substructure.” Dear's analysis echoes what Scott and Soja observe as “an intensified bifurcation of regional labor markets”:
On the one hand, there has been a growing high-wage, high-skill group of workers (managers, business executives, scientists, engineers, designers, and celebrities and many others in the entertainment industry); on the other hand, there has been an even more rapidly expanding mass of marginalized, low-wage, low-skill
Los Angeles's present multicentricity coexists with the persistent polarity between the current hegemony and its others. Such polarity condenses the surface of multicentricity into two opposing entities—the center and its margins. Neither the center nor its margins can be delineated without contradictions. Both recognize the inequitable power status that exists between them and both register the pressure of contradictions. On the one hand, in the polarized picture where the current hegemony still owns the large central ground, to describe a surface that allows multicentric expressions tends to gloss over the undercurrent inequality. On the other hand, multicentricity does affect the existing polarity between the established parties and their others. This contradictory scenario reflects the nature of hegemony theorized by Antonio Gramsci. As Lisa Lowe explicates, Gramsci's notion of hegemony works both ways—for the dominant class as well as the marginalized class. Gramsci maintains that any specific hegemony, though it may be for the moment dominant, is never absolute or conclusive. Thus, I suggest, similar to multicentricity, the polarity evinced in contemporary L.A. resides in constant fluctuation. The current hegemony is always subject to the contestation, resistance, and counterhegemonic forces launched from the margins.
Observing the economic inequality, the collapse of communities, and the increasing urban fragmentation, Michael Dear concludes his essay on postmodern L.A. with a warning and a plea: “This polycentric, polarized, polyglot metropolis long ago tore up its social contract and is without even a draft of a replacement. […] This is the insistent message of postmodern Los Angeles: all urban place-making bets are off; we are engaged, knowingly or otherwise, in the search for new ways of creating cities.” Before we find those new ways, Angeleno/as have to live in a paradox: there are many Los Angeleses, and there are two implicitly separate Los Angeleses: the multicentric and the polarized L.A.
Let's return again to Edge Painting. Contemporary Los Angeles has both revised the painting'sstructure of centricity into multicentricity and remained in agreement with its original structure, which polarizes an elusive middle with multiple entities in the margins. With the revision, we are able to name the