Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What is hip?

I'm no style maven, but I will admit that I like to see what folks are wearing when fall semester starts.  On my trip up High Street to campus on the first day of classes, I was walking behind a woman who was sporting a full-on Flashdance look:  open-necked sweatshirt with dolman sleeves (and elbow patches!), skinny jeans, flat black leather boots, and big hair.

Now, I have very little room to critique this look, since I sported it myself in college.  However, being a firm believer in the maxim that "If you wore it the first time around, you shouldn't wear it the second time around," you won't be seeing me in that getup anytime soon, although I confess that I do, in fact, still have two vintage Flashdance-y sweatshirts and a Marithe + François Girbaud stonewashed denim mini skirt in my closet. At the time, that skirt was the single most expensive piece of clothing I'd ever bought.

If you clicked the link above, you probably noted that Flashdance star Jennifer Beals is one of our people--a fellow English major who studied American literature at Yale, and sent a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise to Brooke Shields upon her admission to the other Ivy down the road because she felt it was "necessary reading before you go to Princeton."

Well, literary fashions come and go, too.  This semester I'm using the 10th edition of the Pearson American literature anthology in my English 242 class, and as I put together my syllabus, I was interested to see what had been added and, maybe more importantly, left out since the previous edition.

Fifteen or twenty years ago, you couldn't have found an American lit anthology that didn't have at least a couple of token poems by H. D., an Imagist poet who'd recently been "reclaimed" and rescued from obscurity.  Everyone was talking about how she was one of the overlooked geniuses of Modernism.

In the 10th edition, there's not a single poem by H. D.  There is, however, a lot more Ezra Pound than there was in the 9th edition.  Guess that as the years go by, we're becoming more willing to overlook his involvement with Italian Fascism.

Ernest Hemingway, meanwhile, is relegated to a scant four pages in a 2300-page tome:  he's represented by a single, fairly obscure story, "In Another Country."  Yet this edition includes a few writers who previously have pretty much only been mentioned as the butt of jokes, like Carl Sandburg and Edna St. Vincent Millay.  I guess those two are kind of the Flashdance sweatshirts of the literary scene this season, rescued from ridicule to be appreciated in a new context.

I think Tower of Power captured the fickleness of fashion best:  "Hipness is what it is...and sometimes, hipness is what it ain't."  Either way, as the song goes, "If you're really hip, the passing years will show" if you're hipper than hip, or if what's hip today becomes passé.

Let's hope, though, that none of those 70s fashions come back.  Gahhh!!!!

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