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The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination

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In this gripping memoir of the AIDS years (1981–1996), Sarah Schulman recalls how much of the rebellious queer culture, cheap rents, and a vibrant downtown arts movement vanished almost overnight to be replaced by gay conservative spokespeople and mainstream consumerism. Schulman takes us back to her Lower East Side and brings it to life, filling these pages with vivid memories of her avant-garde queer friends and dramatically recreating the early years of the AIDS crisis as experienced by a political insider. Interweaving personal reminiscence with cogent analysis, Schulman details her experience as a witness to the loss of a generation’s imagination and the consequences of that loss.

192 pages, Hardcover

First published February 6, 2012

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About the author

Sarah Schulman

50 books578 followers
Sarah Schulman is a longtime AIDS and queer activist, and a cofounder of the MIX Festival and the ACT UP Oral History Project. She is a playwright and the author of seventeen books, including the novels The Mere Future, Shimmer, Rat Bohemia, After Delores, and People in Trouble, as well as nonfiction works such as The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination, My American History: Lesbian and Gay Life during the Reagan/Bush Years, Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences, and Stagestruck: Theater, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America. She is Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at The City University of New York, College of Staten Island.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 246 reviews
Profile Image for Elaine.
776 reviews358 followers
July 15, 2013
There are times during this book when I wanted to throttle Schulman - some of her political analysis is facile and even knee-jerk, and she endows swathes of the population with a host of characteristics that she condemns as "gentrified", by which she sometimes means just traits that she doesn't like.

But there were also times when I felt like standing up in my train seat and cheering her on, because this book is saying in its cacophonous, slightly obnoxious way many true and heartbreaking things that I have thought, wondered about or tried to avoid thinking. About the gentrification of New York, which I am both a part of and horrified by. (Although I could take her romanticization of
"her" East Village to task on an any number of levels, there is also much that is true and moving in what she writes. I am several years younger than Schulman, but still managed to bear witness to the transformation of the EV from gritty stinky dangerous urban landscape that was largely Latino but still with traces of early 20th century immigrations to a post-frat yuppie playground. And although she writes, in 2010, that she hopes the credit crisis has brought the gentrification of New York to a halt, I am part of - and saddened witness to - the absolute gentrification and mallification of more and more of Brooklyn with every passing week. The neighborhood I live in, where 15 years ago, everyone knew each other, men spoke Sicilian and Pugliese dialects on street corners outside social clubs and the best cannoli, pizza, mozzarella, sausage and panelle in the city could all be found in a few block stroll, welcomed its first Lulu Lemon a few weeks ago. And yes, I know I'm the target audience for the Lulu Lemon).

Schulman's sprawling yet slender book is "also" about the enormous trauma of losing a generation of gay men and others to AIDS, and about how that trauma is largely undiscussed and unacknowledged. (As a very young woman in New York in the early 90s, I used to deliver meals to dying men, horribly disfigured, men who to a man were at least a decade younger than I am now. At first, it irked me that they weren't more grateful for our charitable efforts. Then I realized how angry most of them were - and how they had every right to be so, abandoned, more or less, as they were.) The decade that separates me from Schulman means that my friends didn't die or (mostly) get infected, but I did once tease an older gay friend and colleague about surrounding himself with handsome men many years his junior. He, a consummate lawyer who never loses his cool, looked at me almost saddened by my ignorance, "Elaine, all my friends are dead." Schulman's book is that knife-like statement writ large and angry. She is a survivor, she is saying, and so are all of us, and our culture, and attention must be paid.

She also says stuff I think but daren't speak about often. About how the most transgressive of movements has become about marriage, that most conservative of institutions. And about the way that AIDS is a part of that. I don't agree with all of her analysis by any means. But I'm glad she's talking about it. Just as I'm glad that she's talking about women - and what the current self-inflicted cult of motherhood does to feminist anger and energy, and our hope that society could actually be different for women, and glad she's talking about the deep inequities in our society and the fundamentally meretricious story that is told people about the power of education to change those inequities. (The book touches on a lot of things!)

There's so much in this book. Not all of it is easy, especially since I can guess what Schulman would make of me (a few mutual friends float through this book - I wonder actually, if I've ever met her, but suspect she'd dismiss my straight/cis/white/uber-privileged self as so much cannon fodder - even though I'd love to have a conversation/ argument with her), and not all of it is right. But it's been a while since I have read a book that made me think, react so much - rolling my eyes one page, saluting her the next. And it only takes a few hours to read. Recommended - but not simple.
Profile Image for Mattilda.
Author 20 books373 followers
December 28, 2011
I've been waiting for this book for years, and take a look at this incredible paragraph:

"The deaths of these 81,542 New Yorkers, who were despised and abandoned, who did not have rights or representation, who died because of the neglect of their government and families, has been ignored. This gaping hole of silence has been filled by the deaths of 2,752 people murdered by outside forces. The disallowed grief of 20 years of AIDS deaths was replaced by ritualized and institutionalized mourning of the acceptable dead. In this way, 9/11 is the gentrification of AIDS. The replacement of deaths that don't matter with deaths that do. It is the centerpiece of supremacy ideology, the idea that one person's life is more important than another's. That one person deserves rights that another does not deserve. That one person deserves representation that the other cannot be allowed to access. That one person's death is negligible if he or she was poor, a person of color, a homosexual living in a state of oppositional sexual disobedience, while another death matters because that person was a trader, cop, or office worker presumed to be performing the job of Capital.”

Sarah Schulman deserves an award for that paragraph alone.

Profile Image for Liz.
346 reviews77 followers
October 5, 2013
not three stars like "it was okay", three stars like "love-hate". I really want people to read this so we can talk about it, it's pretty short, come on

really into her fundamental thesis that it's productive to compare the erasure of marginalised (in this case, queer) histories to the erasure of marginalised neighbourhoods through gentrification — often literally, as in the case of the process of gentrification in new york being sped up by the aids-related deaths of queers in rent-controlled apartments. really into everything she says about history, historical erasure, the generation gap between young and old queers, the traumatic weight of AIDS deaths, the insidious professionalisation of the arts and consequent erasure of queer voices.

really not into the (commonly made) mistake throughout the book where she equates gentrification with homogenisation — gentrification is more often justified politically as a form of "integration", like bringing rich people or white people into predominantly poor or PoC neighbourhoods. it's very reliant on the idea of "mix", on urbanism as "mix", on selling the idea of living in a diverse bohemia. rich white gentrifiers generally don't just want to live in suburbia with smaller bathrooms, they want to consume multi-ethnic bohemia, the problem is that they do, it is consumed, eaten. like she's totally right that gentrification has more to do with capitalism and government policy than with artists. but artists in NYC in particular had a crucial and well-documented role in its gentrification. they didn't control it, they didn't cause it. but they were used for it.

really really not into her unforgivably silly and misogynist anti-child screed that blames lesbians who have children for like the individualisation and rightward trend of queer movement today because like they make schulman responsible for helping organising childcare which is demobilising and it's not like they have the energy to mobilise politically for childcare assistance which would be okay. what the fuck? fuck you.
Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 2 books3,257 followers
May 4, 2016
This is an incredibly fascinating, incredibly frustrating, incredibly heartbreaking, and incredibly enraging book.

So much of it is deeply moving, a howling cry from the trenches lamenting the endless horror of the AIDS crisis and the myriad ways an entire segment of our society was failed, over and over, by every single one of the powers that be. Schulman has clearly been through the shit, fighting for her life and the lives of all the queer artists around her who were dying, dying, dying.

But the problems with this book are vast. It's wide-ranging and poorly balanced and often, honestly, insane. Her political and sociological analyses are sometimes staggering but at other times just utterly incomprehensible.

But some of it is so intense! Here she is talking about some of her long-gone friends: "I mean there were two competing aesthetics as the time: the people who favored candlelight vigils with the release of white balloons, and the kind of people who published a zine called Diseased Pariah News."


"I remember when David threw a 'dying party' in his Chelsea condo. He invited his closest friends and had us standing around eating and drinking while we watched him, emaciated, lying on the living room couch, dying in front of us."

or her truly devastating discussion of the way AIDS hastened the gentrification of entire neighborhoods like Greenwich Village, because as these men died, fast fast fast one after the other, whole apartment buildings full of dead and dying men with no legal benefactor to inherit their leases, the landlords booted any remaining significant others, cursorily "renovated," then doubled or tripled the rents to usher in a new moneyed demographic. Crushing.

But then, elsewhere, she says things like, "gay people are the new Jews" and "9/11 is the gentrification of AIDS" and "we decided to gentrify the truth about sex in order to save lives." What what what? In fact, she uses the words "gentrify" and "gentrification" so often, and in so many bewilderingly different permutations, that you start to wonder if this is a concept that ever held a fixed meaning, for her or for you or for anyone, or if it's actually just a nonsense string of syllables onto which pretty much any idea can be projected.

This is a pretty short book, but it has very little structure and very little focus. There are pages and pages of interviews she has done elsewhere pasted in. There are big sections in bulleted lists that are really just paragraphs broken up in a confusing way. There's a whole transcription from a time she testified in court. In order to prove that lesbians don't win literary awards, she has a table listing the men and women who have won each of six different prizes over a decade just in order to write "none" in the women's column over and over and over. There's like an entire chapter that just confusingly names people she knew who died, and who they knew and a thing or two about some art they made.

Schulman rants and raves and loses her own thread often. Much of the time she sounds like a "get off my lawn!" old person, believing that no art or artists or creativity can exist that did not exist when she was young and vibrant, that today's gays don't get it or care to, that today's creatives are infantilized and privileged, that nothing is as good as it once was, oh woe oh woe oh woe.

She hates MFA programs and the education system in general (even though she is a professor); she hates publishing and thinks the whole industry is anti-lesbian, and that anyone who gets published is kowtowing to the mainstream and sacrificing their own creativity (which just makes it seem like sour grapes that her books are not put out by mainstream presses or that she, as a queer woman, has not won more awards).

I don't know, man. I really wish that instead of trying to write a sociological study, she had just written a memoir. I do want to read more about all the wonderful people she knew and loved and worked and made art with, who died so young, so suddenly, a whole generation lost, my god such an unfathomable tragedy. I want to hear her stories, because she's obviously got tons, and they are obviously so important. But I don't want to hear her theories, because, by and large, they are not fully formed, or not clearly described, or, sometimes, just totally bats. Which makes everything out of her mouth/pen totally suspect and ruins all the deeply necessary things I know she has to say.
Profile Image for Alvin.
Author 6 books103 followers
February 9, 2012
I've always thought of Sarah Schulman as a hero for her work as an AIDS activist and Gay Libber, so I had high expectations for this book. I was not disappointed.

I know of nobody else who's so carefully analyzed the horrific consequences of gentrification and excessive social stratification on both culture and the individual human psyche. (Hint: people with gentrified minds tend to become boring conformists and/or social climbing snobs who identify with the ruling class, don't know understand how privilege works, and don't know how to organize politically.) She gives a clear, concise history of the gentrification process from an economic and urban planning point of view, but also anchors it in concrete examples that bring it to life in all its ugliness. She does this while simultaneously recounting the history of AIDS and AIDS activism that was occurring at the same time. Can you say erudite?

A large part of the book is given over to a beautiful evocation of queer Bohemia as it existed before AIDS and gentrification. Schulman not only describes the social life of the era, but pays homage to a host of individual geniuses and trailblazers lost to the plague. There is no way to read this section without being awed and moved.

My one quibble with the book is that it's shot through with political assertions that, if one doesn't share all of Schulman's political beliefs (and I don't), may strike one as dubious. Fortunately, she makes these assertions openly, clearly, concisely, and passionately - which makes for lively reading. Unfortunately, she tends to have a rather low opinion of those who hold opposing viewpoints so every time I disagreed with something I imagined her muttering at me, "What can you expect from a privileged, white, male assimilationist?" (That may just be my post-traumatic-stress-disorder reaction from growing up around dogmatic Marxists.)

On a final note, Schulman talks a lot about her personal life as a queer novelist, activist, and teacher, analyzing these roles from a socio-political perspective of ruthless objectivity. Like Joan Didion only perhaps even more-so. She is clearly an admirable human being, devoted to both her ideals and the flawed human beings around her those ideals are meant to uplift.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,112 reviews1,384 followers
June 11, 2018
This book is definitely flawed and initially I spent quite a bit of time arguing with it. Fortunately, though, I quickly realized that Schulman was talking about things that I had literally zero firsthand experience with, and the thing to do was to STFU and listen. Everyone should read this book, but you should especially read it if you consider yourself a progressive and assume that you and Schulman are already in agreement about everything. There's a lot to think about here.
Profile Image for Caroline.
174 reviews8 followers
September 16, 2013
How do I rate this book? Do I take away because I disagree with the author on many points, even if I understand and respect her anger and perspective? Do I give it 5 stars because it gave me so much to think (and talk) about? I have such conflicted feelings about this book. There are so many important messages, but there are just as many problematic messages. Perhaps more.

The strength and the weakness of this book is often how self-centered it is. The passion that drives Schulman's conviction also drives many knee-jerk statements. She fails to discuss art and counter culture outside her own sphere, meanwhile making sweeping statements about the state of art in the 1990s and on. The period she describes as the beginning of this mental/cultural gentrification coincides with the time I was growing up and finding amazing resources for being a young radical.
She laments the lack of uncomfortable art following the AIDS crisis, but this is exactly the time of Riot Grrrl, a strong and powerful 'uncomfortable' art movement addressing feminist and queer issues. Boundaries were being pushed, just not in her scene. Her discussion of parenting is one of the most insulting things I have ever read on the topic and is little better than an argument telling women to stay barefoot and pregnant. The lack of discussion of race is striking. So much of this book exists in a vacuum, without really acknowledging it. But as a memoir of sorts, is it necessary? This is one of the many things I kept coming back to: every time I had a differing point of view from Schulman, I also had to think about how much of that is reflected in our different experiences, and how much that perspective influences how valid her (or my) points are.

But there were absolutely wonderful things about this book, particularly in the way it addresses being an activist. Schulman addresses the need to convey the costs of activism, to dispel any image of activism being for people who have nothing to lose. Instead, you can lose important things (for example, a homophobic family) but it is worth the cause, and the progress. She also addresses the need and importance of accepting being uncomfortable: with ourselves, and in interacting with others.

Overall, I found the writing lacking clear direction and too inaccessible. I am a highly educated person with a fair amount of counter culture history and theory under my belt, and I often struggled. That being said, I would definitely like to read this book again, and perhaps in a book club where I could discuss it with others.
Profile Image for 6655321.
209 reviews154 followers
February 20, 2016
I wanted this to be better and there are parts of it that are so right on that i was pacing about nodding in support and then Schulman just crashes into a wall of blind support for the fucking worst ideas, nostalgia or some of the most blindly hagiographic discussions of New York City (a city which she credits with an almost absurd aura of culture mixing ignoring that white gay men who sereoconverted in the mid 1980s were sometimes part of art scenes that were displacing non-white non-middle class people (or worse were slumlords keeping people in abominable conditions)) which cuts to the heart of Gentrification as Schulman defines it. For Schulman gentrification is the smoothing out of urban or psychic space and favoring facile and simplistic accounts and while she does a lot to look at how GLBT organizing has become a NGO dominated suit&tie&whitepicketfence thing she also just seems to never get out of New York City (here is a hint: there are super politically active queer people, like a fucking lot of them, and they just aren't located in an art scene that has always been dominated by money Sarah, as a mentor of mine put in his copy of Larry Kramer's writing about HIV/AIDS in the 1980s "get the fuck out... and meet real people"). Which is where this is frustrating, Schulman doesn't have a particularly radical read on what GLBT people should be doing, she's right that the ongoing aftermath and devastation wrought by HIV/AIDS is being tidied up but she presents a smoothed over picture of what the struggle was about (which is more than one thing and has severe differences by community) to talk about art again (which i'll be honest i think the political efficiency of art is massively overstated). Anyway, there are some really, really, really good segments in this bookended by some of the worst writing this side of everydayfeminism which is, honestly, disheartening.
Profile Image for Jessica Silk.
16 reviews11 followers
April 20, 2012
I agree with others who said this is an important book. Two parts I would like to share/save for myself:

"It's never going to change," a wealthy, white, male, MFA-trained playwright told me about the exclusion of women playwrights from the American theater. "And if you try, people will say you are difficult."
On the other hand, Audre Lorde--Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet--told me, "That you can't fight City Hall, is a rumor being spread by City Hall."

"Be we currently live with a stupefying cultural value that makes being uncomfortable something to be avoided at all costs. Even at the cost of living a false life at the expense of others in an unjust society. We have a concept of happiness that excludes asking uncomfortable questions and saying things that are true but which might make us and others uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable or asking others to be uncomfortable is practically considered antisocial because the revelation of truth is tremendously dangerous to supremacy. As a result, we have a society in which the happiness of the privileged is based on never starting the process towards becoming accountable. If we want to transform the way we live, we will have to reposition being uncomfortable as part of life, as part of the process of being a full human being, and as a personal responsibility."
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,832 reviews78 followers
September 2, 2012
It's really easy for me to read books that I find comfortable. Books that make me happy, or soothe me, or amuse me. But I know that the books that upset me, or make me uncomfortable, or leave me awake in the middle of the night are frequently the ones that I really need to read.

I've been someone who has celebrated gentrified GLBTQ victories, and not even realized the ways in which they can be problematic. I'm a middle class cisgendered white girl who sometimes can't even see the structures of my own privilege.

This wasn't a perfect book, especially the moments in which I found the author perhaps too self-congratulatory (but better that than false modesty, especially considering the ways in which women are socialized to be humble). And I'll admit that I started to get irritated at the overuse of the world "gentrification" (I realize it was the theme of the book, but there are really only so many times something needs to be hammered home, especially in a book that is less than 200 pages).

But this book is about the loss of an entire generation of people, and how that loss is not discussed, analyzed, or addressed, and how frequently it is ignored, whitewashed, and re-told in more palatable form.

I only wish I could push a lot of people to read it.
Author 9 books263 followers
July 10, 2017
This book is one gut punch after another -- even if you think you know what happened in the plague era of American AIDS history, you truly don't know how much you've lost until you read this kind of reflection. Absolutely essential to anyone seeking to understand contemporary queer culture and how we got here.
265 reviews
July 12, 2019
super ambivalent about this – some sharp observations about the assimilationist politics of cis gay white men & a valuable testimony from someone who survived the AIDS crisis, but i hated the I Am A Tortured Artist Take It Or Leave It strain, further thickened in the smug voice of the Misunderstood Older Person With Insider Knowledge & First-Hand Experiences, especially when it was used to legitimise her dissing of younger queers. that kind of woe-is-I attitude feels toxic, limiting and dangerous to me – like, we get it, stop infecting us with your fatalism & nostalgia just because you're not in touch with the current artistic and sociopolitical landscape. "gentrification" is used with progressive looseness until it strays so far from the original context/thesis as to be rendered practically meaningless.

i also don't think she proposes any particularly radical alternatives, & could not bring myself to care a jot for her opinions of others' art and, by extension in this book, their value as people. for example, she writes of stan, a friend who died of AIDS, that he "wanted to be a great writer", but "as an artist he had – as one colleague put it – 'an ear of lead'. Yet, his death and loss is just as horrible, even though he never wrote a great book and possibly never would have." why does schulman think that we need a reminder that someone's death was STILL horrible despite his lack of accomplishment unless she herself, having judged the worth of others by their achievements, needed it too?
Profile Image for Conor Ahern.
655 reviews187 followers
March 28, 2018
Part history, part memoir, part poetic meditation on what it means to live certain principles in a combative world, this book takes the AIDS epidemic and its aftermath as its subject, honoring those lost and pondering the vacuum their absence has left behind. Sarah Schulman is an academic and a writer who was involved with the endlessly creative and transgressive ACT UP group in the 1980s, and she is unsparing in her critique of the sanitized, jejune New York we've inherited from those who perished in the chaos and despair of the plague decades prior.

Schulman as much reminds as admonishes, telling us of all the warm souls and incandescent minds the world lost out on because of our sanctimony, or judgment, or indifference. Reading this, I was reminded of tales that my Jewish friends will tell of their grandmothers' non-sequitur lamentations over the loss of not just life but potential in the European Holocaust, something that we in younger generations can accept only because we have never inhabited a world where such horror was unthinkable. Such an incomprehensible, unconscionable loss.

Everyone should read this book. Schulman could have just written a maudlin AIDS dirge, but while she honors AIDS' victims, she also challenges us to embrace and cultivate weirdness, difference, adversity, and discomfort. If there's one lesson to take from this book, it's that queerness is about breaking the paradigm, not working to fit within it. And in this unfortunate political moment where anthems are held in higher esteem than the lives of people of color, urban wealth inequality has reached cartoonish heights, and the child survivors of gun massacres are criticized for not sufficiently respecting the politicians who have failed them, I think the following is important to keep in mind:

[W]e currently live with a stupefying cultural value that makes being uncomfortable something to be avoided at all costs. Even at the cost of living a false life at the expense of others in an unjust society. We have a concept of happiness that excludes asking uncomfortable questions and saying things that are true but which might make us and others uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable or asking others to be uncomfortable is practically considered antisocial because the revelation of truth is tremendously dangerous to supremacy. As a result, we have a society in which the happiness of the privileged is based on never starting the process towards becoming accountable. If we want to transform the way we live, we will have to reposition being uncomfortable as a part of life,
as part of the process of being a full human being, and as a personal responsibility.
Profile Image for Jason Gordon.
56 reviews120 followers
August 18, 2013
Sarah Schulman's book discusses the connection between the gentrification of cities and the gentrification of ideas. In the process of actual gentrification one population is not merely displaced or replaced by another, but a homogenized population is substituted for a diverse one. The gentrification of ideas undergoes a similar process. Diverse ideas are replaced by homogenized ones that reflect dominant attitudes and perceptions held by the powerful -- in effect 'alienating people from a concrete process of social change.' The latter type of gentrification, emerges out of the physical gentrification that takes place in cities.

The gentrification of cities is set in the context of the AIDs epidemic, which according to Sarah Schulman, served as a catalyst for the gentrification process that was already taking place. The gentrification of ideas, while discussed in a broad context, is mostly applied to the gay community and its transformation from a very radical community to one that is mainstream, homogenized, and privatized. Her use of personal narratives demonstrates how gentrified minds naturally/logically emerge from gentrified cities and the profound consequences of both these replacement processes on the gay community, as well as the community at large.

I'll let the book speak for itself. Here are some of the best quotes.

"First I need to define my terms. To me, the literal experience of gentrification is a concrete replacement process. Physically it is an urban phenomena: the removal of communities of diverse classes, ethnicities, races, sexualities, languages, and points of view from the central neighbourhood of cities and their replacement by more homogenized groups. With this comes the destruction of culture and relationship and this has profound consequences for the future lives of cities."

Profile Image for RP.
161 reviews
February 17, 2018
BRILLIANT! ENRAGING! I want to quote the entire book. It's hard to talk about it. Really, you should just read it and let Schulman speak directly to you. If you are interested at all in supremacy, in erasure of history and culture. Queer folks especially should read Schulman and this book in particular, especially now when articles are coming out arguing that young queer people do not need to care about their history, the history of the people who created the opportunity for them to come out. This is an example of gentrification of the mind, of queer minds. Let us remember the people who have gone before us and seek out their art. For me, the chapter on queer literature filled me with rage and sadness. But, it is also exhilarating and empowering to read something so clear about its point of view.
Profile Image for Charles Rice-Gonzalez.
2 reviews25 followers
July 24, 2012
Urgent, wonderful and a must-read. With Gentrification of the Mind Sarah Schulman continues to be a contemporary voice for our society and culture that builds on our past and offers options for a vibrant future. This book will open your mind. I've read it three times which is as many times as I've her previous book Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia. She continues to raise the bar for writers and delivers a powerful experience to readers.
Profile Image for Sam Cristol.
23 reviews3 followers
October 29, 2022
Ok, this is going to be a weird “review” because I just want to share what I’m thinking about- so last week I read Megan Rapinoe’s “One Life” memoir on a whim, and this book by Sarah Schulman- another white lesbian, albeit a couple decades older- is the WILDEST counterpoint! So Rapinoe’s book is like the quintessential white neoliberal gay memoir- while she criticizes particular manifestations of racism and sexism (Colin Kaepernick’s blacklisting, unequal pay for women athletes), there is no critique of capitalism and very little contextualization of the social problems she critiques. She is pro-philanthropy and pro-making women athletes as exorbitantly rich as male athletes (without really questioning the legitimacy of these systems to begin with). She also describes being gay as something she accepted about herself with no struggle whatsoever, which is wonderful, but again, there is no analysis of the social/historical context that made her safe “coming out” possible.

Schulman, on the other hand, critiques the younger generation of queers’ lack of imagination for radical possibilities, which she attributes in part to the increased gentrification/homogenization of our environments, the erasure of queer history and AIDS history, and the absence of nearly an entire generation of older gays due to AIDS. She takes aim at gay assimilationism, the watering down of gay advocacy and media, institutional gatekeeping in the arts world, and the tunnel vision of the pro-marriage movement, to name a few things. I found some of her analysis incredibly exciting, and some of it, I disagreed with- but I love that this book exists and is as provocative as it is. It was also published in 2010, a notoriously bleak period for counterculture and social movements, and I’m curious what her commentary might look like in 2022, in the wake of the George Floyd/Breonna Taylor uprisings and increased intersectionality/queering of social movements becoming more visible.

The questions that emerge for me while holding Rapinoe and Schulman in imagined conversation are: What responsibilities do today’s queers have to those who came before us? What are our goals as queer people? Now that assimilation is increasingly possible for those of us who are white, middle class, and with a “palatable” gender presentation and nuclear family structure, what do we lose by assimilating? How do we keep the radical queer imagination alive in the face of the gentrification of our cities, the challenges of surviving as artists without institutional pedigrees, the threat of complacency in assimilation (for some), and the distraction— of our bureaucratic or service-providing jobs—from real grassroots organizing?

This book is sort of a collage of memoir, cultural analysis, interviews, and tributes to queer artists known to Schulman who died of AIDS and are at risk of being forgotten. There is a bitterness and saltiness in this book that is justified. There is also some definite “get off my lawn” energy toward the younger generation, which is hard not to bristle at, since I doubt Schulman has spent much time in the kinds of vibrant queer spaces that are thriving underground in the 2020s. I’m still really glad she wrote this and want to talk about it with folks.
Profile Image for Sara Deon.
145 reviews72 followers
February 17, 2021
Un testo imperfetto, con molti alti e bassi, ma che avanza la tesi (efficace e persuasiva) del legame fra lo scoppio e la diffusione dell'epidemia AIDS e la gentrificazione nelle grandi città americane, soprattutto NY. Analizzando la gentrificazione dell'arte, dei discorsi politici intorno all'omosessualità e della letteratura queer, Schulman rivendica senza inflessibilità le lotte fondamentali di organizzazioni come ACT UP e, nonostante una frequente auto-referenzialità, si percepisce quanto sia stato fondamentale il suo attivismo negli anni Ottanta e Novanta.
A rendere ancora più vivo il testo di Schulman ci sono tutte le figure della NY un po' punk e un po' beat dal secondo dopoguerra: Kathy Acker, Lydia Lunch, David Wojnarowicz, Susan Sontag, Carole Schneeman ecc.

The Gentrification of the mind, anche se ha il titolo di un libro di self-help, fa per voi se siete persone interessate alla storia dell'AIDS a NY, alle controculture e alle forme di resistenza che si sono venute a creare e che ne hanno rivendicato la responsabilità della classe politica, e le forme di espressione di queste controculture.

Profile Image for Ammi Emergency.
13 reviews12 followers
March 13, 2012
This is one of the most important books I've read in years. I read it in a day and have talked about its thesis every day since. So vital, so life giving, and exceptionally gorgeously written on a prose level too.
Profile Image for Roman Gerodimos.
Author 4 books47 followers
March 15, 2021
This book is gripping, important, infuriating, unique. It must be read by as many people as possible, with urgency.
There are a lot of things here that I fundamentally disagree with. As Sarah Schulman herself explains, this is not systematic social science, although there is plenty of compelling evidence, but a personal intellectual memoir. I think it's, therefore, fair - in fact inevitable - to critically engage with Schulman's own emotions and mindset when reading and reviewing this book.

Schulman has experienced prolonged and profound trauma. She has experienced - and fought against - social apathy and systemic injustice. She has seen her community be gutted. These experiences, her anger, her longing for her community, and her ideology, create blind spots in her arguments about gentrification, about the evolution of the gay community, about the mechanics of history and society. Underneath her core thesis you'll find important contradictions - e.g. to name but just an obvious one, she implicitly celebrates the mobility of immigrants who moved to the Lower East Side (replacing communities that used to live there), yet laments the end of a way of life that is subject to the same forces of urban, social and global change; she articulates the necessity of a radical, subversive queer life, art and politics because of systemic injustice, yet rejects integration when that same system finally begins to move towards equality. Her traumatic experiences and life-long radical activism mean that at time she appears bitter or engages in bizarre generalisations about parents and children, that only reveal her unease with human nature as it is.

Having said all that, the very same thesis and memoir that Schulman puts forward contains a vital, painful perspective of the truth that we have to acknowledge and engage with, truth that we cannot avoid. Her memories and descriptions of the AIDS crisis and of the gentrification that took place in the 80s and 90s is heart-breaking. Her core argument about avoiding a false life, about always fighting against the gentrification of the mind, is inspiring and powerful. Her unease with humanity is not a nihilistic, apathetic delirium, but a call to action - a call to work on ourselves and our communities.

Above all else, Schulman's book is honest. It does not pretend to be anything other than what it is. It wears its heart on its sleeve. It is reflexive throughout. Schulman thinks out loud. She documents the thought process that led to this. She acknowledges the limitations. She turns her lens of criticism against her own communities of academia and publishing. She is brutally honest about her own workplace. She generously presents the other side (e.g. fascinating interview with Andrew Sullivan). It may sound impossible, but it is possible - I would argue vital - to see and acknowledge the truth and the blind spots in both Schulman's and Sullivan's arguments.

Regardless of one's objections, I don't think it's possible to come out of reading this book without being profoundly affected - in a positive, empowering way.
Profile Image for Navya.
239 reviews4 followers
January 13, 2021
4.5 stars

I am not quite sure what to say about the book, except that I absolutely loved it. I did not always agree with it though - it often made me swing from "YES THATS THAT AND SCHULMAN IS A GENIUS AND A GODDESS" to "uh, what", and often within the same paragraph. In her defense, Schulman does say that this might happen right in the introduction, so I won't hold it against her. That's one of the things I loved the most about this book, actually - reading it did not feel like a passive process. I was challenged and intrigued as much as I was informed. More than once, I formed responses in my head and argued with myself. It was fantastic.

So, this is a memoir/history/proposition from Schulman, who was active in ACT UP during the AIDS crisis and has since dedicated herself to preservation of the memory of those years along with being a professor, author and all-round fantastic thinker. As she recounts her experiences in the movement and compare it to what she sees in the Young Queers (TM) of today, her argument is that queer ethos and mindset has undergone a sort of gentrification - its radicalism has been scrubbed clean and replaced with a sort of conformist homogeneity. While she doesn't uses the phrase, this idea comes very close to notion of respectability politics. And she suggests that this process is the result and companion of actual gentrification, which has transformed New York (and other major cities) in the last few decades.

Two criticisms - all these wonderful ideas are delivered in a mildly obnoxious voice with a strong current of "kids these days". That was both amusing and annoying. Secondly, Schulman sidelines all online activism, community building and art spaces. Which, why.

In the end, not only would I recommend this book to everyone, I will start a persistent campaign to get everyone to read it, if only so I can discuss it with them.
Profile Image for Adair Tompkins.
66 reviews6 followers
August 2, 2021
A riveting and frustrating read that is unapologetically divisive, angry, and at times delusional and reductionist. It's a great example as to why mixing memoir and academic study can weaken your message at points, because it's so clearly biased and blurs the line between fact and feelings (although those two things can exist in tandem). It does, at times have the distinct, superior air of "queer kids these days just don't get it!" which is an attitude that will be repeated again and again as new generations of LGBT people have different historical experiences and attitudes. Plain and simple, this is a memoir whose outpouring of emotion comes from an authentic, traumatized perspective, and intergenerational LGBT understanding means familiarity with the struggles of lost elders is essential in gaining a better understanding of our modern identity.

But nostalgia also clouds the message; pre-AIDS, pre-gentrification NYC was not a racially integrated utopia, and political consensus did not exist across the range of LGBT experiences. Trans exclusion and racial segregation still ran rampant among the community then, and this is barely discussed. I also find her New Yorker tunnel vision to be distracting and contradictory to her message, as she jokes that blue states just need to secede from red states, while also pointing out the hypocrisy and inaction of "blue" politicians, and ignoring that the battle against AIDS rages on in these red states (many of which are far more racially diverse than blue state utopias) today, due to continued government inaction, homophobia, and lack of access to health care. In fact, 51% of new HIV diagnoses in 2018 were in the south. LGBT people exist outside of coastal metropolises, they are activists and radicals and trailblazers too. The supremacy ideology Schulman bashes frequently is employed in her own view here. Ten years past this book's publication, the gentrification projects in New York and San Francisco have only increased in momentum, and gentrification's newest victims are once-affordable cities in the American Southeast, now being descended on by influxes of tech money.

I also disagree that gentrification brings suburban attitudes to urban locations; while this is partially true, a big part of gentrification is repackaging multi ethnic bohemia to be trendy, more expensive, and more digestible to the mainstream. Gentrifiers flock to cities because of their perceived coolness, diversity, artsiness, quirkiness, etc, and establish bourgeoisie imitations of bohemia. Gentrifiers are seeking parasitic relationships with the cultures they colonize and imitate; they want to soak up the culture they remain somewhat fearful of because they have none of their own. Starbucks in Bed Stuy is emblematic of gentrification and homogeneity, but so are new independently-owned coffee shops that drive up rent prices and call the cops on neighborhood residents.

The media we have access to today makes empty nods to representation with the goal of placating consumers and treating marginalized people as another profitable consumer base. That's where I find her message to ring the most true: gay culture must always remain radical and counterculture in order to be truly revolutionary. Assimilation will always result in leaving the most vulnerable behind. Is the motivation behind including gay characters in netflix teen soaps acceptance, or just pandering? Pandering is certainly the answer. AIDS resulted in a loss of history, a loss of modern understanding that newfound inclusion in oppressive institutions is not to be trusted. This expansive, sometimes contradictory manifesto is still essential reading, and I find her divisive messaging to be somewhat refreshing, as her refusal to coddle the reader makes the emotionalism of this memoir even more raw.
Profile Image for clouders.
4 reviews
May 19, 2021
I got a little too cocky the day that I shoplifted this book from a bookstore in an actively gentrifying neighborhood, and pulled + triggered the fire alarm of my small building in trying to get onto the roof. we used to all have roof access until a fire alarm was attached to the roof door handle overnight and left us sight-less. I figured, eh I'll call the door's bluff, I'll believe it when I hear it. I had already gotten away with one little mischief that day. well it went off for the next 48 hours.

this has nothing to do with this sharply insightful book I just finished reading while walking home from work in the dark. just a memory I'll forever attach to the lost imagination that is our roof
Profile Image for Finn.
43 reviews18 followers
January 11, 2014
i read the other reviews here on goodreads and mostly agree. there were points where i was happy to think about an issue in a totally new light and other moments where i really wish i'd been spared the author's asides that were really unnecessary to her argument and ultimately turn off readers. (last night a friend told me she started the book and couldn't finish because she was so fed up with the author's off the cuff opinions about how rural places are not a place where new ideas can flourish or blue states should secede from the red states..)

This book is clearly written for queer people and for that reason i think i've been given a few ideas to chew over that i'm grateful for, but it's hard for me to tell if other people who are not queer will gain the same usefulness. As the title suggests the book is not so much about the economic process of gentrification. it's about the cultural and social consequences of gentrification for queer people in cities. She uses the term "gentrified" all the time. it's hard to get used to. "gentrified art." "gentrified literature." words like colonization, white culture, western culture, capitalism, etc. all seem to get subsumed into this idea of "gentrification". it's unclear if this is purposeful to try to make you consider the changing landscapes of our cities in a new light, or if it's just ignorant and sees history in a really short-sighted way where "before gentrification" (post stonewall, pre AIDS epidemic in NYC) is seen as a time where these problems did not exist.

That being said she does talk about a history that has, for the most part, been ignored. and i think she's right in talking about gentrification's roll in erasing the history of queer people in cities as these beautiful rabble rousers living these free crazy lives and shaking up the foundations of art, heterosexuality, sex, and family. Much of that generation died of AIDS. At the same time those outliving the deceased were not permitted to take over lease agreements and since the AIDS crisis coincided with the rapid gentrification of neighborhoods where many queer people lived, the cities were effectively purged of most of these beautiful people. and with this whole missing gap in our own history it is easy to see how queer itself is now "gentrified" as schulman puts it.

basically you got to wade through some boring and/or questionable politics to get to the tidbits that make this book worth reading in the end.
Profile Image for Austin Lim.
4 reviews5 followers
October 26, 2019
I sped through this book. Sarah Schulman does a riveting scan of different types (or maybe dimensions) of gentrification: how the AIDS crisis pushed queer folks out of the neighborhoods they’d lived in, how mainstream American culture forgets and sanitizes the crisis, how some queer folks have assimilated into liberal ways of thinking and being at the expense of real political change; how the arts have been defanged by increasing professionalization and individualism. She looks out from her own experience onto the complex histories of AIDS, queer liberation, and gentrification, connecting daily interactions and experiences to her broader claims and critiques. If you think this is a lot to cover, Schulman does too. As she says in her intro: “Nothing bores me more than a one-long-slow-idea book, and I promise to never write one.”

She’s definitely kept that promise. The book is by turns a polemic, a memoir, a memorial for the dead. Her sense of urgency feels palpable in the way she’s structured the book; she ranges across memories of friends, artists, and comrades and pitches claims with confidence (e.g. on page 46, where she suggests that the response to 9/11 absorbed and occluded “the disallowed grief of twenty years of AIDS death”). I found myself questioning many of her claims, but she seems to have anticipated that too. Of reading, she writes, “I like to fiercely agree with one idea—and fiercely disagree with the next.” I suspect people who read this book will probably have this kind of oscillating experience. I appreciated it; it felt like the book was an active document of evolving thought, something that I couldn’t read complacently.

That said, the book has some recurring issues that can’t be excused away in the name of productive disagreement. Schulman makes a lot of big, often problematic claims and comparisons. For example, she ends this largely US-based book with a weak discussion of gentrification in China, complete with generalizations like “Everything in China is top-down.” This kind of relates to my second critique, which is that she doesn’t adequately account for her own positionality (especially her position as a white person) and, as a result, ends up universalizing her experiences in detrimental ways. In my mind, these problems don’t ruin the book, but they are real shortcomings.
Profile Image for rosalind.
490 reviews65 followers
September 6, 2015
really, really great, even if i disagreed with some of what schulman said. but if uc press feels like sending me a copy that doesn't have 20 pages missing, that'd be cool.
Profile Image for Annie.
120 reviews9 followers
January 17, 2019
very depressing to read speculations in 2010 that gentrification would end because of the recession. book is 70% effective and cogent and powerful/30% dated and a little self-righteous
Profile Image for Li Sian.
420 reviews48 followers
July 9, 2020
A really important book about the generation of gay men that were lost to AIDS, and how their deaths (their deaths, chronicled in heartbreaking - and occasionally ironic, hilarious - detail on these pages) paved the way for the gentrification of the East Village and Manhattan as a whole. Schulman made me want to read more, explore more, take in art produced by this generation of lost and dead people.

It's weird, reading a book about the conservatism of the then-current (this book was published nearly ten years ago) gay movement and its deliberate choice, over and over again, to organize around that most conservative of institutions, marriage, if only because the generation of young-ish queers I've come up with feels to me more diverse, more radical than the generation that directly preceded it, in a way that both validates Schulman's predictions about the pendulum swinging back towards radicalism and cocks a snook at her limited point of view.

I found myself persistently engaged by what Schulman was saying even if I fervently disagreed. For instance. Towards the end when she started talking about her lesbian friends' political and sexual energies getting subsumed into, say, conversations about private school and childcare post-parenthood. Well... maybe you should offer to help out once in a while instead of stating your willingness to 'start a conversation' about collective childcare, Sarah! I found myself seized by that section though, and her idea that most children will become, like most adults already are, victims, perpetrators, or bystanders, and what is so special about reproducing and bringing up a new generation of victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. It's not something I agree with necessarily - that is exactly the kind of nihilism that I find prohibits movement work and social change - but it's a good piece of rhetoric, and on a certain level - not even a particularly insubstantial one - it's true.

So, yeah, I would recommend this.
Profile Image for Robin.
212 reviews6 followers
October 8, 2021
While I do think that it’s very important to talk about how queer culture and the community itself have become watered down and tries to assimilate to straight culture (straight-acting, masc4masc, no kind at pride discourse etc.) and I do also agree that a lot of younger queer people get too wrapped up in divisive discourse that tarnished the legacy of those who fought for queer liberation, at times it seems as if Schulman resents those who haven’t lived through the traumatic years of the AIDS epidemic?
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