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Sprezzatura – the New Cool

Sir Roger has been somewhat troubled of late that persons of his (ahem) “vintage” have become quite out of step with the young’uns these days.

Not in terms of worldliness, because after all his generation have seen a lot more world (times Time), with all its available varieties of grief and joy, of wonder and horror, of peoples and places, than the young’uns, although they apparently believe they invented the world in 7 days (more or less) and are piqued that the old cheeses don’t give them credit for their creativity (as we also complained, to be honest). “See that Pops? That’s a car! I invented that. See that? That’s a smart phone! See that? That’s the internet! I had the original idea and created them with my bare hands out  of thin air. No-one ever did anything before me. No, don’t bother, you wouldn’t understand with your tired old alzheimery brain lol. (I also invented music and dancing btw.)”

No, the trouble is in terms of personal relationships.



Way back in 1528 Baldassare Castiglione published Il Libro del Cortegiano, The Book of the Courtier, and brought to the world the term Sprezzatura.

Sprezzatura is a “rehearsed spontaneity, studied carelessness, and well-practiced naturalness” intended to  “avoid affectation in every way possible . . . and to practice in all things a certain  nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.”

It is the ability of the courtier to display “an easy facility in accomplishing difficult actions which hides the conscious effort that went into them”. 

Sprezzatura has also been described “as a form of defensive irony: the ability to disguise what one really desires, feels, thinks, and means or intends behind a mask of apparent reticence and nonchalance”.

Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “studied carelessness“.

So back over here on this side, Sir Roger is cogitating on his apprehension that sprezzatura translates very roughly into what the young’uns call being “cool” (as if they invented that word as well), or “chill”. What it looks like is that the kids (with whom, of course, one is quite embarrassingly down) find it very uncool, not at all sprezzatura, to express an emotion or to actually give the faintest appearance of having actually noticed anything at all.

Now, there are two important exceptions to this.

One is permitted to (or one does anyway) express the emotion of tanterum provoked by an unfairness or frustration that one perceives is directed at one’s spoilt-child-self, usually by authority figures (or parents – not necessarily the same thing), and to use a full range of expletives and explosive actions to describe these offenders-against-one’s-divinely-bestowed royality.

The other exception is that while it is uncool to notice almost everything external to oneself, it is almost compulsory to notice oneself constantly, and to take photographs of these earth-shattering moments and share them with an adoring public – a public which, ironically(?), is spending a lot of – studiously disguised – energy and effort not noticing anythingoranyone but itselfie. (Some fringe dwellers do notice the food they are eating and take a cornucopian photographic record of their every repast to share with, what they imagine is, a drooling, breathlessly waiting, deeply impressed world that is starving for the latest news of their banquetations. However, this behaviour is deprecated and thought to be uncool by the Sprezzaturati.

Lol! All this light-hearted fun, eh? lmao, right?

Well, it does have its sad side.

Alphabetical Gens of every tribe appear to have no authentic, meaningful time for the human reality of actual other people. Perhaps they are not being cool at all but are merely, and actually, unaware of others. Or they are simply too busily absorbed in and fascinated by broadcasting the minutiae of what in their fantasy are their own extraordinarily interesting lives as social media celebrities, and having what they call “fun”.

This “fun” involves superficial and content-free banter, often electronically, with what they call their “friends” (lol), competitively drinking buckets of poisonous liquids before staggering out from their squat/ share-house/ apartment/ parents’ place on a recreational excursion where the agenda is to drink a mixture of as much intoxicating beverage, of whatever malt, as possible, perhaps augmented by a range of cutely acronymous drugs of uncertain pedigree and even more dodgy consequence. The goal, apparently, is to cause a swoon, to crumple at the knees, to fall on the floor, or even more hilariously in the gutter, to vomit, and magically to awake the next day and find oneself in bed with a bad headache, a bucketful of remorse and probably an ugly stranger, wondering what happened after the first drink at 3 o’clock in the afternoon the day before.

So there is no difference, even in detail, between this fun and the way fun was pursued when Sir Roger himself was a young’un. In fact in most respects Sir Roger’s generation – the BoomBoxers – who also thought they invented everything and understood everything and were instant experts and were immortal, and were shallow, too, were no different from today’s young’uns.        

But my dears (says Sir Roger) there is a new shallowness, an existential hollowness, a bottomless pit of empty dread in the New Cool, the Sprezzatura nova, and it is either actual indifference to the multi-dimensional reality of other minds; a terror of touching the wobbly-jobbly, smelly-messy emotional innards of others (or what we used to call “intimacy”) because either they fear catching something from it, or they have no idea how to deal with it; or a fear of being thought uncool rather than a desire to be cool – that is, a dread not so much to connect as to be seen to. You can’t touch them. Your fingers slide off them like burnt bacon off a teflon frypan. And yet as humans our greatest need is to connect.

“She might,” said E M Forster, “yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined into a man. With it love is born, and alights on the highest curve, glowing against the grey, sober against the fire. Happy the man who sees from either aspect the glory of these outspread wings. The roads of his soul lie clear, and he and his friends shall find easy-going…Only connect! Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.” 


And by the way, since Sir Roger has mentioned Forster:

This woman was a goddess to the end…This episode which was so tragic for him, remained supremely beautiful. To such a height was he lifted, that without regret he could now have told her that he was her worshipper too. But what was the use of telling her? For all the wonderful things had happened.
“Thank you,” was all that he permitted himself. “Thank you for everything.”

Sir Roger wishes to say to his particular goddess, Thank you. Thank you for everything. And by the way, and I know there’s no use in telling you but, I am your worshipper too…


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