Cool Rules: Anatomy of an Attitude

Dick Pountain, Author, David Robins, Joint Author Reaktion Books $19.95 (189p) ISBN 978-1-86189-071-9
What do Humphrey Bogart with a cigarette, Bertholt Brecht, Marlene Dietrich's cheekbones, Billie Holiday, James Dean, Lenny Bruce's irony, Eldridge Cleaver, Chrissie Hinde, heroin and gangsta rap all have in common? They are, for lack of a more precise word, cool. Taking their cue from Susan Sontag's germinal 1964 essay ""Notes on Camp,"" Pountain and Robins attempt to delineate that ambiguous and elusive entity, a cultural sensibility. Declining to investigate the ""ontological status"" of cool (""is it a philosophy, a sensibility, a religion, an ideology... an attitude, a zeitgeist?""), they claim that we all know cool ""when we see it."" Their working definition is that ""cool is an oppositional attitude adopted by individuals to express defiance to authority""--and while this might seem obvious, the pleasure of their brief, elucidating study is in the delicious details. Casting their net widely, to include films like Trainspotting, Hollywood icons, obscure books (e.g., an Italian Renaissance etiquette guide), British punk bands, Dadaists, pornography, the American Beats and gay sensibility--they chart how rebellions against standards of sexuality, gender, race, class, artificiality and ""decency"" lead to coolness. The most adventurous and insightful aspect of their investigation emerges when they trace a concept of ""cool"" back to the ancient Yoruba and other West African cultures. This is a cool book on cool. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
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