“I could have gone to any number of places for coffee, but I liked the bodega. It was close, and the coffee was consistently bad, and I didn’t have to confront anyone ordering a brioche bun or no-foam latte” (5). This passage from Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018) is an example of how certain practices (drinking coffee) and the urban spaces (the specialty café vs. the bodega) and individuals associated with them are presented as embodiments of gentrification in contemporary literature. The worse for wear, the catchall-term gentrification still serves as the most apt descriptor for the complex neoliberal processes of displacement, privatization, and corporatization that cities around the globe – and especially postindustrial cities – are subjected to.
Contributing to the growing field of literary gentrification studies, this project argues that stories about gentrification do not always come in the form of what could be called gentrification narratives but often occur in marginal passages that complicate tellability or narrative plots. The interdisciplinarily neglected notion of the trivial, the project suggests, is a productive framework to analyze the (self-)positioning of social actors within urban development. Coffee drinking, gardening, mending or handiwork serve as examples of such socially trivialized activities which in turn also trivialize those pursuing them. By reappropriating (gendered and racialized) pastimes of the nineteenth century, these “trivial pursuits” have turned into decidedly urban activities of the twenty-first century when the “trivial” suddenly gains cultural momentum in regard to gentrification. Such processes inherently shed light on debates revolving around racial displacement, class, and wealth distribution in the United States and Germany.
Maria Sulimma is the Postdoctoral Researcher in the research group “Scripts for Postindustrial Urban Futures: American Models, Transatlantic Interventions” at the Department of Anglophone Studies at the University Duisburg-Essen. Her research spans literary and cultural studies, urban studies, and feminist media studies. She is the author of Gender and Seriality: Practices and Politics of Contemporary US Television (Edinburgh UP, 2021).
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