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The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  1,478 ratings  ·  169 reviews
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 mem ...more
Hardcover, 179 pages
Published February 6th 2012 by University of California Press (first published January 1st 2012)
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Jul 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 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
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
Apr 12, 2012 rated it liked it
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 apar
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 t
Feb 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 h
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 cla ...more
Jessica Silk
Feb 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Julie Ehlers
Jun 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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. ...more
Merritt K.
Jul 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Apr 25, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-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 a
Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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. Th ...more
Charles Rice-Gonzalez
Feb 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Conor Ahern
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 peris ...more
Jason Gordon
Jul 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 concr ...more
Jul 12, 2019 rated it did not like it
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 dangerou ...more
Ammi Emergency
Mar 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
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 proces
Mar 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, read-2012
This is the most important book I've ever read. ...more
Sep 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Li Sian
Jul 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 n
Apr 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was a fascinating read about the effects AIDS had by decimating a generation of bold queer artists.

She speaks about the "criminal class" which used to have a larger part in the artistic identity. And many more marvellous, provocative ideas.

And a surprisingly easy read for the complexity of subject matter. I tore through it.
Reagan Schweppe
Jan 21, 2021 rated it really liked it
I cried reading this book, too. It was excellent, if a little opinionated. Thanks to Runnie for the recommendation!
Jul 06, 2013 rated it liked it
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 ...more
This is a really important, personal, thought-provoking book. I'm interested in the conversations this book could and should create. I do have some critiques; most importantly, I think Schulman fails to adequately address the depth and power of white supremacy in the process of gentrification. Instead she seems to equate the intention of white queers moving into neighborhoods that are predominately communities of color as either "good" (if you're a working white queer artist looking for variety) ...more
Laura Linart
Mar 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Last summer, at a house party, I hid in a corner with a woman I like very much and discussed the lack of lesbian visibility. I tell this anecdote from time to time, for comic effect. But it's actually pretty sad, if you think about it.

I put a lot of books on my reading list and then, by the time I get to them, forget why I added them. This one in particular surprised me. Typically, I am not drawn to AIDS literature (and Schulman notes the concept of 'AIDS literature' is itself a symptom of gent
Sep 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
I read this in February and thought it was quite something. So powerful and captured my attention all the way through. Sad, bracing, and a critical work that helped me to understand individual and societal struggles of the 1980s as well as those of today. A crucial study that does not shy away from the truth.
Apr 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2020
There was this tweet a while ago about the Dead Kennedys. The gist of it was: at 15 you think they know everything, later you realize everything is more complex and nuanced, later still you start to see things as part of an unchanging, unchangeable system, before (hopefully!) coming back around to realizing the Dead Kennedys were right about everything.

This book is kind of like that - it slaps the cobwebs away and makes you see all the bullshit you've slowly become resigned to over the years. E
Apr 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: queers, feminists, activists
"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 twenty 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 ...more
Chelsea Lawson
May 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
I came across this book through How To Do Nothing, by Jenny Odell, and was planning on just scanning it when I took it out from the library. I got hooked though.

Other reviews on this page have summed up my thoughts well. Sometimes the way Schulman put many different issues all under the name of gentrification irked me, but on the whole the book struck me as true.

I am now much more in tune with the pain and grief homosexuals in this country hold, from deaths of whole communities in the 80s and
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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: ...more

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“There is something inherently stupid about gentrified thinking. It’s a dumbing down and smoothing over of what people are actually like. It’s a social position rooted in received wisdom, with aesthetics blindly selected from the presorted offerings of marketing and without information or awareness about the structures that create its own delusional sense of infallibility. Gentrified thinking is like the bourgeois version of Christian fundamentalism, a huge, unconscious conspiracy of homogenous patterns with no awareness about its own freakishness. The gentrification mentality is rooted in the belief that obedience to consumer identity over recognition of lived experience is actually normal, neutral, and value free.” 9 likes
“When there is no context for justice, freedom-seeking behavior is seen as annoying. Or futile. Or a drag. Or oppressive. And dismissed and dismissed and dismissed and dismissed until that behavior is finally just not seen.” 4 likes
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