The wiki article on hipsters claims that they didn’t exist before the 1990’s, but I beg to differ. The first hipster was Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) and perhaps, being first, we might avoid an oxymoron when calling him an “authentic hipster.” He certainly associated with “independent music,” a “varied non-mainstream fashion sensibility,” “progressive or independent political views,” “alternative spirituality or atheism/agnosticism,” and “alternative lifestyles,” as per the hipster wiki. But here are some further characteristics that prove the ultimate transcendental primacy of his coolness:
- Schopenhauer famously stated that “to disregard is to win regard;” a hipster motto if I’ve ever heard one.
- He was a German who thought he was way too cool for Germany.
- He purposefully and conspicuously dressed in a “vintage,” “retro” style of clothing.
- He was the first German philosopher to draw inspiration from Eastern religions, way before they were cool, I might add.
- He refused to get a real job and lived off a trust fund. In terms of career he couldn’t have been more against the “mainstream,” opposing the ever-popular Hegel, whom he thought was a “stupid and clumsy charlatan” whose philosophy was a “colossal piece of mystification.”
- This cool bastard was so fresh he was talking about evolutionary psychology before Darwin; the “Will” before Nietzsche; repression and the unconscious before Freud; diametrically opposed ontological motives before Becker; Relativity before Einstein; and mental duality grounded in cerebral asymmetry before Wigan, Hughlings Jackson, James, or later Sperry, Bogen and others. Heck, even UC Berkeley superstars Lakoff and Johnson don’t realize he beat them to the punch on quite a lot, not to mention the fact that he proves an exception to some of their claims about philosophy’s inability to questions its own governing metaphors without the help of cognitive science. (*scoff)
- He was a San Franciscan before San Francisco properly existed, as proven by the fact that in action he seemed to care more about his small dog and constant companion, Atman, than he did about the people–mostly philistines–that surrounded him. (The only reason that he didn’t sport a beer belly and dreadlocks was that Pabst Blue Ribbon–the nectar of life–had not yet been invented and he didn’t have enough hair.)
The dude claimed to be a Buddhist before that was cool! Need I say more? Well, I’ll go on anyway.
Independent music: While “Indy” wasn’t around back then, Schopenhauer played his flute everyday, studied composition, and attended musical performances whenever he could. One could fairly say he was obsessed with music, which he thought one could use to directly apprehend the essence of the world. To his credit, his philosophy inspired Wagner’s sublime “Tristan and Isolde” (and he let the man keep all the royalties). Honestly, would it not be the most epic hipster move to start a discussion about the best art forms after a Shin’s concert and say something like this?
This art is music. It stands quite apart from all the others. In it we do not recognize the copy, the repetition, of any Idea of the inner nature of the world. Yet it is such a great and exceedingly fine art, its effect on man’s innermost nature is so powerful, and it is so completely and profoundly understood by him in his innermost being as an entirely universal language, whose distinctness surpasses even that of the world of perception itself, that in it we certainly have to look for more than that exercitium arithmeticae occultum nescientis se numerare animi [exercise in arithmetic in which the mind does not know it is counting] which Leibniz took it to be.
Leibniz–that poser. He just doesn’t get it! Here is Schopenhauer’s correction, which probably got him laid more than once: “Music is an unconscious exercise in metaphysics in which the mind does not know it is philosophizing.”
Varied non-mainstream fashion sensibility: To spite his philosophical rival–and poser extraordinaire–Hegel, Schopenhauer scheduled his lectures at the same time as Hegel’s, only to fail in his machinations and leave University a year later. As any true hipster who has dropped out of school must do, he had to commemorate his rebellion in a bold fashion statement. In this case he decided to dress in the exact style that was in fashion in his youth… for the rest of his life–a sort of conspicuous nose-thumbing at the vagaries of fashion and contemporary opinion. He was “sticking it to the man,” but though he pretended not to give a shit, he must have gone to rather heroic lengths to be clad in such vintage/retro garb! Hipster through and through. Although, if thrift stores and vintage shops had existed in his time, he likely would still have had his clothes tailor-made, as those stores probably wouldn’t have known precisely what he was looking for anyway. Plus, what is a trust fund from daddy good for if not keeping you looking dapper, at any cost?
Progressive or independent political views: “Every nation mocks at other nations, and all are right,” Schopenhauer informs us. Too cool for Germany, he was an ardent critic of a country that he thought was anemic and had lost its true spirit. He wanted a minimal state that would “leave each man to work out his own salvation.” Down with the man! Leave me to my bongos and ganja! He spoke as if highly informed about politics, but when it came down to it he admitted that he didn’t pay much attention: he was “minding not the times but the eternities.” Despite his views on superior races, he was an ardent supported of equal treatment, fervently opposed slavery, and supported the US abolitionist movement. He describes the treatment of “[our] innocent black brothers whom force and injustice have delivered into [the slave-master’s] devilish clutches” as “belonging to the blackest pages of mankind’s criminal record.” He probably even had at least one black friend…or acquaintance?
Alternative spirituality or atheism/agnosticism: Schopenhauer is so difficult to classify vis a vis religious affiliation that one might initially suspect him of adhering to the Perennial Philosophy. He even called Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism the “sublime religions.” At bottom he is a sort of atheist/agnostic, but at times claimed to be a Buddhist, and always asserted his indebtedness to the genius of the Hindu Upanishads. But ultimately, authentic hipster that he was, Schopenhauer claimed that not even the Buddhists knew the deepest truth: that the sound of the universe is not “OM,” but “OUCH!”
Alternative Lifestyles: The Great Pessimist didn’t marry and lived his whole life as a bachelor, stating that “Marrying means to halve one’s rights and double one’s duties.” He chased tail despite his avowed dedication to Eastern religions and the denial of the Will. Aside from one year lecturing he never worked a job, choosing instead to pursue intellectual pleasures and play with his poodle, Atman. He frequented the same restaurant every day, even though he had to occasionally speak to the Cretans who also frequented the establishment. The urban dictionary informs me that hipsters draw on the “cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity,” but Arthur would be quick to point out their failure to look back far enough–to really be in the know–and correctly identify these as being the Indians and Greeks. Indeed, his legendary intellectual priggishness and curmudgeonly contrarianism would put the modern hipster to shame. In summary, does it get any more “alternative” regarding lifestyle than to be an unemployed, trust-fund-endowed, Buddhist hippie who goes to shows and chases girls in 19th century Christian Germany?
Carlyle thought that the true mark of a hero was sincerity and Schopenhauer certainly hits the mark there. However, he would no doubt also boast of his bold iconoclasm and originality, though admitting his debt to the Upanishads, Plato and Kant. He set the pace for the approaching marathon of individualism in western culture, providing a model for future rebels and free spirits; inspiring countless philosophers, psychologists, musicians, writers, and artists. He even influenced the life and physics of Albert Einstein, to say nothing of his hair style. Writer Jorge Luis Borges was asked once why he didn’t write a treatise on metaphysics, to which he answered that Schopenhauer had saved him the trouble. Though Borges famously wrote that “life itself is a quotation,” I’m quite sure Schopenhauer would retort, “yes, but it was quoting me!” If only he knew how much his ideas would subtly influence a panoply of great thinkers, while only Nietzsche really gave him due credit, he might have somehow, heroically managed to think even more highly of his genius. All joking aside, though, this man was a true iconoclast, original thinker, and remains in my opinion THE authentic bad-ass of philosophy; the undisputed champ.
I don’t really know enough about hipsters to be writing a serious cultural critique, but it seems that they are attempting to be sincere about their insincerity; honest about their unavoidable in-authenticity. In this sense Schopenhauer is the exact opposite, for he was really insincere about the fact that he was actually being entirely sincere, hiding his deep feeling, compassion, and personal pain behind a stoic face, lucid writing, and erudite vitriol. Naw, I’ll stick with “authentic hipster.”
Do know that the irony is not lost on me that a post of this nature, with its smug declaration of having some privileged cultural knowledge that puts me one level higher than being “in the know,” is entirely infused with mainstream-eschewing hipster bravado. I guess really I’m just a hipster, because I think this guy is the apotheosis of cool…WAY before anybody else has realized this! Seriously though, where do you think these copycats lifted their style from?
(Dionysian Hipster) (Apollonian Hipster)
Schopenhauer taught that man is “concrete sexual desire,” that the genitals were the focus of the will…but I came up with my theory all by myself…just me and the cocaine. Besides, I went much further than the old pessimist: I studied that mysterious creature we call woman!
Arthur was fuckin Wolverine before Hugh Jackman was cool!
(…a reference to Myrmecia, in case you aren’t in the know. This is the most threatening, clever, and obscure way possible to say “I’m gonna shove your head up your ass.”)
What, you don’t think the worlds greatest pessimist carried knives on him? You think the fact that he had the most penetrating intellect of his generation was why he had intimacy issues? The dude invented the Hedgehog’s Dilemma! This was a parable and metaphor that Freud lifted regarding the individual and society: that they were like porcupines huddling for warmth, getting too close, dispersing, but being driven back together by the cold and eventually settling in to a compromise between the pain of quills and the pain of exposure. Ok, so maybe he didn’t have adamantine claws, but he pulled off that hairstyle in a day without hair gel bitches!
So, what would the original, the authentic hipster have to say about the sad excuse for rebellious flouters of the mainstream that exist today? What would he say to their claims to be “in the know,” more cool than “cool,” and ironically expressing the crushing exigencies of their cultural enslavement? What would he say to their claims to be authentic hipsters?