Coolness. Forms and functions of culture-specific affect control in American and Japanese literature and culture (304)

The phenomenon of coolness is examined by two particular projects, on the one hand as an emotional quality of a globalised youth culture, and on the other hand as an aesthetic concept in Japan.

Coolness in American Culture

Coolness is an emotional style that manifests itself in the globalized worlds of fashion and popular culture, and it also finds aesthetic expression in forms of art, music, and literature that diverge from the mainstream. Our project reconstructs the American history of this concept and its emergence as a marker for a particular style of affect control and dissidence.

We argue that the pervasive power of the concept, and its omnipresence in today’s youth culture, is due to an amalgamation of two different cultural semantics of emotion management: the first is based on social practices of emotional self-control that emerged in the wake of civilizing and modernizing processes; the second is rooted in the histories of slavery and racial discrimination which saw the development of coolness (defined as the strategic masking of emotions) from a psychological coping mechanism to a marker of African American culture. The project will analyze selected literary texts in order to reconstruct the history of an increasing interaction of these two distinct sets of cultural traditions and social practices. It is the purpose of the project to uncover the complexity of coolness, a global twentieth-century cultural concept that exists as a result of a specific combination of affect control, life style, aesthetic form.


Coolness in Japan – A Literary Motif and Historical Discourse-based Investigation

This project examines forms and functions of literary and cultural representations of coolness in Japan against the background of cultural narratives of the self and other. What characterizes the indigenous Japanese (aesthetic) coolness-discourse? How was it transformed through the process of modernization and through being influenced by American notions of coolness after the Second World War?

Coolness
plays an important role in Japanese culture and literature as a self-narrative technique, a mode of communication, an ideal, a product, a lifestyle or an aesthetic concept, which makes it all the more surprising that, neither in Western Japanese studies nor in Japanese research, a single scholarly paper exists dealing with this topic. This project seeks a framework accommodating cultural und literary-historical as well as social-analytical aspects of coolness in Japan. Through an examination of Japanese works of cultural philosophy, cultural theory and literature, the project intends to identify the aesthetic forms and communicative functions of coolness in Japan both in their synchronic and diachronic aspect. The project’s focus will be on cultural and literary representations of the coolness strand in Japan, which developed as a modern form of emotional control after the Second World War through the reception of American culture.