Freud – Civilization And Its Discontents

Note-taking for Learning of Culture with Lisa Stulberg

We have read some dense canonical European White Guys. None of them have been as difficult and off-putting as Freud. I would have rather read Civilization And Its Discotheques.

Freud is so Freudian

Freud begins with the observation that for most of human history, our happiness has been tied to our ability to control nature: to keep away predators and stinging instincts, to keep ourselves fed and sheltered, to alleviate pain and disease. At the time Freud was writing, nature was well under control. You would think, then, that we would be really happy. But as Louis CK puts it: “Everything is amazing and nobody is happy.”

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Samples and community

The defining musical experience of my lifetime is hearing familiar samples in unfamiliar contexts. For me, the experience is usually a thrill. For a lot of people, the experience makes them angry. Using recognizable samples necessarily means having an emotional conversation with everyone who already has an attachment to the original recording. Music is about connecting with other people. Sampling, like its predecessors quoting and referencing, is a powerful connection method.

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Don Draper and my dad

Spoiler alert: don’t read until you’ve watched to the end of season three.

Mad Men is well-made television, but so is plenty of other television. Why is this particular show so compelling to me and so many of my buddies? I think it’s that watching Mad Men is like watching a documentary about our parents and grandparents. In particular, Don Draper is a window into our emotionally inaccessible fathers. For me, the generations don’t line up exactly right – in 1963 my dad was only 21 – but it’s close enough for some intense emotional resonances. I feel like I’m looking through a magic window into events that the old photo albums only hint at.

My dad and Don. There’s so much overlap. Both were authority-resistant guys disguised by suits and corporate jobs. Both underwent name changes and had complex parentage. Both earned a lot more money in New York City as adults than they grew up with in middle America. Both were divorced parents of young kids.  Here’s a more detailed rundown of the similarities and differences.

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Kramer is the name my mom’s father’s parents gave at Ellis Island because they thought it they might have an easier time with it assimilation-wise than Garfinkel. In Eastern Europe, if you want a WASP-y sounding name, you usually choose something German rather than British. My mom’s wing of her extended family calls itself the Kramer clan.

For most of you reading, the name Kramer will have a different association.

I have a similar build to Michael Richards and some of his birdlike awkwardness. I’ve been here:

In my early twenties I felt like I wanted to start dressing cool but wasn’t sure how to get started. Kramer is a goofy dude but he always looks sharp. He has some of the same fashion sensibilities as my grandfathers. Papa Kramer was tall like me, not a flamboyant dresser but he liked bright colors and patterns. Grandpa Hein had even more adventurous ideas about colors and patterns. Once I started intentionally modeling my wardrobe on Kramer, my personal look completely came together.

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Is technological progress good or bad? Yes.

Technology keeps getting better. Do our lives get better as a result? In certain specific ways, maybe yes, but in general, I would say, not really. How is that possible? I think there are two big things at work. Technology is evolving semi-independently of the humans that produce it. We don’t control the evolution of our tools any more than we control the evolution of our gut fauna or infectious diseases. Also, the pace of technological change is a lot faster than the pace of our genetic evolution. Our brain anatomy is having a hard time keeping pace with the changes in the world that we’re making inadvertently with our tools.

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