Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Epictetus, Montaigne, Buddha Advanced?

There is an article at TNR's website (you need a subscription) about Steve McQueen. This caught my eye:

As the descriptive term for an existential condition, "cool" has been around for a long time, and it seems to be permanently fixed in American speech. Its various essences seem to be walking slowly; speaking in a measured, unexcited manner, and usually in a deep voice; treating people who have greater power or authority somewhat haughtily, not to say insolently, while treating people with less power or authority as equals; refusing to act the way other people tell you to act; living unaffected by external forces or circumstances; preferring to be solitary rather than joining the chorus of other people; and speaking in your own original idiom, to the point of even seeming to have your very own vocabulary.

Those qualities are the rudiments of cool. In fact, they come straight out of Aristotle--his definition of the "great-souled" man--Epictetus, and Montaigne. You can find similar prescriptions throughout Western culture--throughout world culture, actually: quiet, composed Buddha was quintessentially cool--in Machiavelli and in Castiglione's famous Renaissance guide to being an effective courtier. You could say that cool reached its apotheosis in Enlightenment rationalism, disappeared in Romanticism's raptures and stayed absent during Modernism's frenzies, finally surfacing in postmodernism's paeans to the death of feeling and personality--with the critical exception that postmodern and any kind of irony is anathema to profoundly cool people.
You could replace "cool" with "Advanced" and be right on the money. Was Aristotle the original Advanced theorist? I must look into this.

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