Off the hip: A thermodynamics of the cool

Rebecca Kanost, University of Rhode Island

Abstract

This dissertation asserts that the cool's significance in 20th-century American culture exceeds that assigned to it by current critiques. It assays a rhetorical model which describes coolness as stillness in behavior that surprises witnesses, given the assumptions they make about the still person and context for his or her behavior. Such stillness agitates witnesses' normative assumptions about all those in the rhetorical situation, including assumptions about affect, gender, race, class and sexuality. Agitation may also lead to conjecture about what mindset could produce cool behavior. To test this model I investigate representations of coolness in James Baldwin's short story, "Going to Meet the Man" (1965), Andy Warhol's film The Chelsea Girls (1966), Shirley Clarke's film Portrait of Jason (1967) and contemporaneous projects, William S. Burroughs' novel Naked Lunch (1959), and Sam Greenlee's novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1969). Baldwin invests a Civil Rights activist's cool behavior with power to agitate the fetishizing racist psyche of a white policeman and associates cool with ethical authority to call others into being. In his public image and films, Warhol uses shame to produce an unexpectedly still position of shamelessness. Clarke's Portrait of Jason features similar shamelessness and locates a locus of stillness in unexpected and unseen knowledge a con artist deploys and in unexpected performance of queerly mobile affect. Asking why Clarke filmed Jason Holliday rather than herself to contest cinéma verité's assumptions leads this inquiry to consider her attempts to film females with coolly "kaleidoscopic" effects like those of Portrait. Secret agency emerges as a still locus of being in Naked Lunch and The Spook Who Sat By The Door that stresses how individuals have been imagined in Postwar America.^

Subject Area

Literature, Modern|Literature, American|Cinema

Recommended Citation

Rebecca Kanost, "Off the hip: A thermodynamics of the cool" (2015). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3689107.
http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/dissertations/AAI3689107

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