Sunday, April 27, 2014

Gentrification of the Mind

Tonight, in one sitting, I read Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination by Sarah Schulman. It was impossible to put down this important and compelling work. Part memoir of the AIDS crisis and ACT UP, part socio-economic history of the last 50 years in New York City, part elegy, part urgent treatise on the need for accountability, Gentrification of the Mind read to me as personal wake up call:

I was eating a $25 piece of fish at the bar of a restaurant in Park Slope when I started reading it on my kindle. This initially and casually struck me as "ironic", but as I read on I was forced to reflect on the complexities of my position. Irony is too often mobilized as a way of dismissing -- not confronting -- uncomfortable realities. And Gentrification of the Mind makes it painfully and poignantly clear how important it is to be uncomfortable and to resist social, political, emotional, intellectual, sexual, and artistic complacency.

The relationships between the AIDS crisis, the transformation of NYC in the 80s and 90s, and the loss of artistically vital communities, are eloquently drawn through details of personal and public tragedy. The lives and deaths of Schulman's friends, and their connection with the larger changes in American culture, such as widespread homogenization of neighborhoods and the professionalization of the arts, are narrated with deep thoughtfulness and sharp intelligent reflection.

This very thought-provoking work literally brought me to tears. Although it concludes optimistically looking toward the future, Gentrification of the Mind affected me in a very personal way, as I looked back at my own trajectory as a queer native New Yorker and former poet throughout these decades. I think the important thing is not to knee-jerk indulge in nostalgia, but to hold myself accountable for the ways in which I've become comfortable with my own internal gentrification.

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