This chapter suggests that hipness is a historically-situated, contingent entity, arising among urbanized African Americans in the interwar United States and subsequently transforming as it enters intellectual and mass-cultural awareness. Over time, many odd items, from many unexpected quarters, are added to its inventory. The example developed in this chapter is Zen Buddhism. Though unrelated to African American vernacular culture, Zen ended up fitting well within a sensibility that prized spontaneity and mistrusted linguistic abstraction. This chapter argues that it is pointless to argue whether Zen or anything else really belongs in the inventory of items assimilated to the hip sensibility. Nothing is essentially hip; things can become hip as they enter a branching network of cultural associations, but hipness itself can be defined only as the network itself, not as any privileged node within it. This understanding of hipness runs counter to the idea of co-optation.
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