Mary & the Gentrifying Patternists

Our group discussion on urbanization and the phenomenon of gentrification has had me thinking about how communities, especially urban communities, are maintained through a series of inclusions and exclusions that manifest in space. In Octavia Butler’s Mind of My Mind, the ways in which Mary and the Patternists (not the band) build Forsyth as a site for their growth as a community involve the attraction of “actives” and the recruitment of “latents” towards Forsyth. As they grow they infiltrate pre-existing homes, schools, as well as other types of facilities in the community, which always entails an implicit corollary “eviction” or forced removal of the non-telepathic “mutes” who had previously inhabited these spaces. As Mary’s desired utopia grows, the marginal bodies that cannot coexist as equal members of the community, due to their lack of “abilities,” are displaced.

Still, one might contend that the Patternists do in fact require mutes for certain occupations, such as the rearing of latent children, which they cannot do on their own. However, this reliance on mutes to perform the remaining or undesirable tasks in Forsyth further illustrates the marginalization of the mutes, for the mutes are then constructed as a source of free labor, subject to the absolute domination of the Patternists. With the major conflict concerning the power struggle between Mary and Doro, what is left outside the equation is the fate of the mutes, who unfortunately may become sidelined in the eyes of the reader as well.

That being said, the connections to contemporary gentrification are striking, as well as the issue of space. As we saw in the video displaying tactics of gentrification in various San Francisco neighborhoods, the sports field as a public space becomes commodified, transformed into a space to which access is granted on the basis of capital rather than mere membership within the local community. More generally, the dispute over access to the park lends itself to larger issues of public and private space, its relation to gentrification and its inherent displacement of bodies deemed marginal. A recent article, seen here, discusses the phenomenon called “defensive architecture,” which describes the spread of anti-homeless architectural devices being installed in public spaces in the city of Manchester. It reads:

“From ubiquitous protrusions on window ledges to bus-shelter seats that pivot forward, from water sprinklers and loud muzak to hard tubular rests, from metal park benches with solid dividers to forests of pointed cement bollards under bridges, urban spaces are aggressively rejecting soft, human bodies.”

In spite of its name, this phenomenon I would argue situates architecture on the offensive, mobilized as an active agent in the mechanism of state violence, and forcefully displacing homeless individuals from the few public spaces to which they still should have access. Given the seemingly apt analogy of gentrification to describe the process by which the Patternists construct a founding community in Forsyth, it remains to be seen whether or not in the final novels of the Patternmaster series this process will continue, and to what end. For as we can see with another set of practices of architectural violence in Gaza and the West Bank, analyzed in great detail here, these forces of intrusion and displacement may reach a point at which those who are being marginalized and displaced have their backs against the wall, and will have no place to go…

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