In response to:
Crime Without Punishment from the March 25, 1965 issue
To the Editors:
In his review of Norman Mailer’s An American Dream (NYR, Mar. 25), Philip Rahv claims that Mailer presents his “mysticism” under the “…heading of Hip.” That is as clumsy as saying someone’s philosophy comes under the heading of Pretty, or an aesthetic under the heading of Cute. The word “hip” (no capital) is an adjective and preferably should be used in some proximity to the noun which it modifies, e.g., “hip mysticism.” Other more or less alliterative constructions might be “mystical hipsterism,” or “hipster’s mysticism.”
Mr. Rahv makes an implicit admission that he doesn’t know the origin of the term, yet he links that origin positively enough to “…the underworld of jazz and narcotics.”
The term “hip” is a variation on “hep,” a word common in the jazz slang of the 1940s. In the proper context, it means “knowing,” “deft,” “appropriate,” among other things. Context is the operative word here, and Mr. Rahv does not seem to have had much experience with either of the “underword[s]” in which the hipsters dwell.
Mr. Rahv also makes the observation that “…a number of our literary people have gone in a big way for what is known as swinging.” What a tin ear! Not to mention a cast-iron sensibility. The swingers are the ones who have already “made he scene”; who are already “in,” and the last thing in the world they want to be is “hot.” Except, possibly, as in “hot commodity.” If Mr. Rahv is going to accuse the “swingers” of raising the ante of sex and sadism in the literary market-place, he should name names and point fingers, so that the reader could decide who is swinging and who is square.
Cal Kolbe Nossiter