Tag Archives: Mike Davis


Remembering Mike Davis at the Getty Research Institute (1996)

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Mike Davis died in San Diego yesterday at the age of 76. His numerous books amounted to a geopolitical marriage with a city and region from which he could never divorce himself, even as he flayed the cynosures of corrupted power. In his best moments, Davis was a take-no-prisoners agent provocateur whose radical critique was also entertaining. If he needed hyperbole to keep your attention, he didn’t hesitate: Davis did not hesitate to claim that hurricane-like winds barrel through Topanga Canyon. To the best of my knowledge, the highest speed recorded for wind in Topanga never approached that degree of acceleration. He was a latter-day Gramsci with a strong streak of Steven Spielberg in a Jurassic Park mood.

In the Fall, 1995, the Getty Research Institute realized that it was going to have to prepare to move from its location on Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica up to the mountain redoubt that was being constructed just off of the 406 freeway. Usually the institute sponsors intellectual projects that focus on art and archaeology, but having to suspend its usual focus caused them to come up with an interesting alternative: a year-long seminar on Los Angeles. Announcements were sent out asking for applications, and about twenty people ended up getting good news in the spring, 1996 that they had received either a year-long residence or a couple of months. I ended up with a two-month visiting scholar appointment that changed my life. Without encountering on a daily basis scholars such as David James, Alan Sekula, Philip Ethington, Becky Nickolaides, Ramon Garcia, waTom Dumm, Robert Flick, and Brenda Bright, I doubt it ever would have occurred to me that I might be capable of becoming a Ph.D. Their encouragement and interest in my work was unprecedented.

One of the first seminar presentations in the Fall, 1996 was by Mike Davis, who showed up without any notes whatsoever. After a brief introduction, he stood at the foot of a long table and leaned on it with the knuckles of both hands. For over an hour, he recited his paper to us, citing specific authors and titles and the summaries of their narrative with an ease that left everyone awed. “Well,” I remember someone saying afterwards, “we know who’s at the top of pyramid around here.”

It was an extraordinarily impressive performance, even if its obsession with early dystopia novels about Los Angeles seemed a bit heavy-handed in its synchronic diagnosis.

There is no doubt that Mike Davis was an inspiring social critic, and I appreciate his willingness to speak up for writers such as Mike the PoeT Sonksen and Lynell George. It was no shock to hear that he had died, for his medical condition was well known. Nevertheless, as with Peter Schjeldahl, one feels as if a voice we still need to hear had bee muted too soon.

Mike Davis (1946-2022)