The word “cool” has been cool for more than 70 years. At Slate, Carl Wilson examines why this slang stuck, and how it’s evolved from being used by beatniks to smartphone companies. “Cool is an attitude that allows detached assessment, but one that prizes an air of knowingness over specific knowledge. I think that’s why it doesn’t become dated, unlike hotter-running expressions of enthusiasm like groovy or rad.” Pair with: Michael Agger’s essay on why we love the “cool story, bro” meme.
One of two Canadian authored books to appear in The Millions Hall of Fame, Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love tackles the contentious ick factor of the work of another famous Canadian: Celine Dion. In his entry for the 2008 Year in Reading series, Slate’s senior editor Dan Kois called it “the best kind of criticism: Funny, creative, and willing to take a good hard look not only at the work in question but at the critic himself.”
The critic Joshua Clover has argued that loving novelty is perfectly appropriate, because the material conditions of mass culture make it ever-renewable: if you wear out one pop song, there will always be another. Ranking lastingness above novelty is a holdover from an aesthetic of scarcity, predating the age of mechanical, or digital, reproduction. So today we can love a song for being one of many, part of the crowd, rather than as an intimate partner. A rich taste life will include both, just as a rich erotic life includes infatuations and flings as well as long-term relationships, because they do different things to us. (Don’t we feel a bit sorry for people who marry their high-school sweethearts, even as we admire their constancy?) And luckily, songs are not jealous of one another, and don’t have any feelings to be hurt.
Carl Wilson, Let’s Talk About Love.