late-capitalist trips to the present

“For instance, you have become so estranged from your parents by a university degree that you are ashamed of how dumb they are. Reading critical sociologists, you realize this is the common experience of a whole generation of ‘upwardly mobile’ young kids from ‘lower class’ families lacking ‘cultural capital’. And this is when you begin to wonder who has molded your voice, your manners, your face so differently from theirs? Perhaps a strange beast that pertains to no one in particular and who is no one’s responsibility. It is a force to be sure, maybe a habitus.” –Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social

For the record, I know it’s possible to refer to me as a pretentious lunatic for the above quote, but there’s a set of assumptions within it worth exploring. So

when I’m feeling idle, I’ll go on Wikipedia, find a topic I already know I have interests in, like Jungian analysis or the performance of self in everyday life, and explore the suggested topics at the bottom of the page. I recently decided to read the entry on the hipster. Even though I’ve obviously heard people talk about hipsters and know to associate them with gentrified neighborhoods and over-stated glasses, I’ve never used the term to classify myself or anyone I know. However, after reading that hipsters generally enjoy honoring Lou Reed and reading beat poetry or using knowledge to replace a lack of economic mobility, I realized that my behavior and interests could be roughly associated with this subculture. Interesting how I can be associated with a set of discourses, while I, as a personality, experienced myself just listening to content that felt in alignment with who I believed myself to be.

Although I’ve made aesthetic and financial decisions with an assumption of authenticity, it’s remarkable that I could act in a way that feels like an authentic extension of my “self”, yet still end up acting in line with a set of attitudes in people besides myself. I don’t watch television, I’m not exposed to an overwhelming amount of audio or visual advertising, and I rarely use social media, and yet, even in moments of “authentic self-expression” I’m still reproducing categories that existed before I became a part of them.

I took a literary theory course last fall, and this was really my first introduction of any substance into Marxism, new historicism, psychoanalysis, post-structuralism, and some other whimsical [:—-)], complicated and paradigm-shifting ideas. I’m interested in Louis Althusser’s influential idea that ideologies structure subjectivity in a process known as interpolation, or the hailing of a subject into being (who accepts the call) (source: Global Literary Theory: an Anthology). In other words, we are exposed to a discourse, internalize it, and the line between ourselves and the discourse blurs. In “Judging Writing, Judging Selves” Lester Faigley likens this idea to someone yelling, “Hey, you!” in a crowded airport, and nearly everyone turning around as if they were being addressed individually. People are subjected to discourses, appropriate them into their behavior, and act like they are subjects of their actions, not realizing that they are outsourcing their perceptions of themselves to the content they’re exposed to.

One thing that is obvious in the hipster subculture is this interest in appearing inadvertently cool by dressing in a way that suggests you put very little time and attention into your appearance. For example, ever since I’ve become more invested in music, I’ve found myself feeling more “authentic” in over-sized t-shirts, vans and matte black pants. I would describe the feeling of dressing in this way as comfortable and “in-alignment” with how I’d like to perceive myself, yet it’s no secret to me that I’m inclined towards these clothes because I’ve spent many hours watching audiotree live sessions in which talented people give the impression of being un-interested in looking attractive yet manage to seem that way as a function of their lack of attention to their appearance. I’m also thinking about hats that are associated with something clearly not fashionable or interesting like the Michigan sewage company or the American Breeders Association and how the very fact of that these accessories are not worth wearing makes them unconventionally cool. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqfAfqJ6OLQ). Perhaps people who could be described as hipsters, or those people who appeal to hipsters, are acutely aware of what is considered cool by mainstream standards and take extensive measures to subvert these expectations, whether or not they are conscious of doing so.

I am most fascinated by this idea that hipsters are commonly the ones serving their more financially stable peers in contexts like bars or coffee shops, (Again, this post is essentially my reflecting on the wikipedia entry for the hipster, so excuse my jagged transitional statements) but they use knowledge to compensate for their lack of economic mobility. Although this sounds like a value judgment, I don’t see it that way. This could be because I am not one of those people who can look at the idea of the hipster w the requisite amount of detachment. But it doesn’t seem clear to me that having financial success is better than knowing what you think or understanding history or the environment. Perhaps to invest in gaining cultural capital is to take an economic hit, at least for members of the middle class like me who took out student loans to study literature as opposed to “trust fund hipsters” who turned the money in their pocket into cultural capital. I suppose I’m giving up the potential for economic mobility to turn my middle class thoughts into an articulated understanding of the history and implications of culture. Of course there is a way in which financial stability can prevent premature death from starvation, but if all you have is financial stability, it’s likely that you end up spending all your money on consumerist activities like buying alcohol or being entertained by expensive televisions or amusement parks. At some point extra money no longer contributes to positive emotion.

I’ve had this narrative for a long time about why it’s been better to become verbally fluent and aware of the music and literature that created the culture we currently live inside, and it’s bizarre to think this priority of mine could be shared by an entire subculture. I’ve yet to be associated with many peers who share these priorities, perhaps in part because I grew up in a small rural neighborhood in western NY, and then followed this up with a small, catholic university with a basketball team that attracted most of the students. My history in part produced the conditions of my future. Peers who went to college to study accounting and nursing will be able to work less and be paid more and get more of their sensory and material needs met, and I’ll wiping the sweat off my brow and tearing to shreds the piece of paper on which I’m inscribing their orders of Samuel Adams and crab cakes, knowing all signs collapse into an endless chain of signifiers lacking grounding in any referent. AKA reaffirming initial impressions of my being a pretentious child who got the message by a bunch of practical people that i was spacey and out of touch and prioritized reading and writing over electricity and sensory pleasure, and this is my karma, clear and obvious.

 

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