I have been obsessed with Sarah Schulman’s The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination since I read it, in love as I am with cities and their weirdnesses, and seeing over the years how so many of my favorites have been flattened out, ruined by money. She describes this process very well, the way cities have been taken over by people who want only things that they can procure with money, who want a $12 whiskey sour and a locally sourced asparagus soup with truffle foam, people who only want to engage with people who agree with them about politics and about the new New York Times Magazine feature. The amazing potential of cities to create new worlds, new forms, new ways of existing, is being traded in for a $5 cappuccino in a coffeeshop where everyone types out their memoirs while enjoying a nice pastry.
Cynical? No, angry, which is different. …
The second is about writing, and learning to write:
In Gentrification of the Mind, Sarah Schulman attacks the MFA industry as homogeonizing American literature, flattening out any complexities, any eccentricities into bland sameness. Across the nation, writers are developing their skills while reading the same books, attending the same structured workshops, entering the same system as all of their peers. And you can see it in the literature. If you care about literature at its extremes, if you care about experimentation and individuality, if what you value is strange and weird and inappropriate, then you will probably have responded to the literature that develops in MFA programs with disgust and disappointment. They are touching coming of age stories, complex memoir narratives about overcoming tragedy and setback with dignity, all written in the same flat prose. Personal essays that run online are entirely interchangable with each other, as if there is one monster writer who cranks out hundreds of thousands of words a day about how that most recent episode of Mad Men really gets at the heart of their relationship with their father/how their most recent break-up taught them valuable life lessons about giving and sharing and who they really are/how what they thought was an obstacle really turned out to be the key to overcoming past trauma.
More troubling, though, is the way the publishing industry has embraced this sameness. …
Schulman’s anecdotes remind me of Mamet’s advice that actors learn better by acting than by going to college, and makes me wonder (all over again) if architects should go back to an apprenticeship system.