In The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination, author, activist and historian Sarah Schulman shows us the scorched surface of the earth, much like Morpheus did with Neo, so that we might see, with our own eyes, the consequences of the last 30 years of urban renewal—to see how our collective identity was forced out while consumerism trickled down through our institutions, communities and identities, colonizing our minds in "body-snatcher" fashion, even as we slept.
To the author, this current cultural moment is much more profound than we know. Just as the AIDS crisis took a generation of our best artists, mentors and producers, government inaction left our communities and identities vulnerable to the private sector predation that continues unchecked to this day. AIDS produced—along with hysteria, stigma, resentment and death—an abundance of urban space to be occupied by the dominant culture. For decades, climbing costs and corporatist doctrine waged a silent war against genuine artistry and invention, pricing out the young, and marginalizing the city's vibrant history to the point of invisibility. During this time, our communities were replaced with homogenous neighborhoods and conformist states of mind, meant to preserve consumerism and the dominant culture that lay subservient to it.
Say that corporatism destroyed America and most people won't flinch, because the word has become, whether we like it or not, a cliché—a euphemism for organized evil—a breeding ground for the worst elements of human behavior—protected, predictable, ubiquitous and deceptively benign. Say that corporatism leveled our communities and our identities, colonized them with
consumerism, homogeny and compliance then made us forget, and you have a recipe for revolution. But is it already too late?
Schulman says it's still possible (probable even) that we'll recover from gentrification—the removal and replacement of people, histories and ideas in urban centers, politics, art and thought—to return to a cultural moment rooted more in consciousness and social cohesion than in conformity and material possession.
Gentrification. At some point, the word came to symbolize the beautification and "stabilization" of our communities. But with urban
gentrification, diversity and social cohesion were the values hardest hit. To the gentrified mind, self-identity and empowerment are no match for the desire to belong—a condition once reserved for suburban sprawl that now leaches cultural complexity and innovation from our cities. Gentrification represents a systematic dismantling of the human spirit—first authenticity, then memory, now autonomy.
Schulman describes her work as a personal intellectual memoir, not an academic book, but to enlightened readers struggling through the current paradigm, The Gentrification of the Mind is a poignant call to action. It's easy to dismiss the spiritual vacuum of mass culture and corporatism as a sustained collective lapse in judgment, or as the byproduct of rampant materialism, or a side effect of seeing our reflection in technology with unprecedented clarity; or maybe it's ideology and circumstance recycling itself too thin. Whichever theory you prefer cannot adequately represent what Schulman calls "an internal replacement that alienated people from the concrete process of social and artistic change." So, it would seem, the power of redemption lies within us.
The Gentrification of the Mind takes into account supremacy ideology, marriage equality, literature, urbanism and politics, offering numerous solutions, practical and theoretical, with which to avoid further loss. Most importantly, Gentrification makes an astonishing connection between the AIDS crisis, urban reorganization and corporate colonization, shining a beacon far and wide for those of us who find ourselves "still attracted to justice."
List Price $27.95
Hardcover, 192 pages
University of California Press
As featured by Edward Truth for Connextions Magazine, Issue 8.