Yep, so an NPR program has hit me again with another example of economic capital, cultural capital, and social capital all collaborating to assist in self-fashioning. This time it was a Fresh Air interview with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, carried out by Terry Gross.
[NB: Gross’ speech patterns often drive me bananas, but Fresh Air keeps me good enough company on the bus ride to work.]
LCD Soundsystem’s song “Losing My Edge” is all about the anxiety one feels about getting older and being surpassed by the new generation coming up. Specifically, the lyrics deal with jealousy over a music collection.
Yeah, I’m losing my edge.
I’m losing my edge.
The kids are coming up from behind.
I’m losing my edge.
I’m losing my edge to the kids from France and from London.
But I was there.
I heard you have a compilation of every good song ever done by anybody. Every great song by the Beach Boys. All the underground hits. All the Modern Lovers tracks. I heard you have a vinyl of every Niagra record on German import. I heard that you have a white label of every seminal Detroit techno hit – 1985, ’86, ’87. I heard that you have a CD compilation of every good ’60s cut and another box set from the ’70s.
This seems to have particular resonance with some of the anxiety Roman aristocrats felt about the nouveaux riches buying luxurious homes and filling them with the typical “collectibles” of the day–silverware, Greek or Greek-like sculpture, costly purple-dyed cloth, etc. There was a resentment that economic capital could be used to acquire social capital and the lower classes could share–if not usurp—the habitus of the intellectual elite. These aspirational aspects of consumption and symbolic possessions are the background for some of the critiques of luxury and collecting found in Roman satire. Martial’s disparagement of Eros (Ep. X.80), Mamurra (IX.59), and Charinus (IV.39) emerges from not only an awareness of the convertibility of symbolic and cultural capital, but also a veiled anxiety over self-completion through consumption.
In talking about writing “Losing My Edge,” Murphy says about naming obscure bands at the end of the song:
This is what you do when you know things….Knowing things, knowledge, your attachment to them, or your self-association with other bands or with books or whatever. It’s often this weird amulet that protects you. You’re like ‘I am serious. Look at my library or listen to this. I’m going to list all the books I’ve read and now you know I’m a serious person.’
To this, Terry Gross responds: “I think a lot of people have experienced that. What you read, what you listen to as who you are.”
In this instance, the books or albums are strong indicators of Murphy’s erudition, but talking about the books or music is what really fulfills his identity. There is a knowledge that goes along with the possessions which completes the picture of the real hipster with encyclopedic musical taste and awareness. The habitus of this particular type includes the record collection as well as the esoteric knowledge of, say, the genealogy of CBGB stars.
So I continue to imagine the relationship among identity, status, the house and its contents in the Roman world to include the education–formal or informal–to discuss the display of works of art in the home. The elite habitus, as far as the house was concerned, was comprised of both the material, economic capital and the cultural capital required to discuss it with one’s peers.
And just to bring it back to the house, here’s LCD Soundsystem’s song “Home.”