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Sprezzatura: What the —- does that mean?

17 Jun

Before I begin this posting, I must hasten to explain that the blank spot in the above title is used in lieu of the word heck. In consideration of our restrictions on adult content, I was hesitant to use that word—heck—so prominently. I’m hoping that heck will escape the notice of the content police by placing it (burying it) in the text of the posting. And I offer my apologies in advance to any person or persons who might be offended by my use of the word heck. I used heck because I felt that heck would provide suitable emphasis to learning a new word—sprezzatura, a word delightfully foreign and delightfully obscure.

I am probably the only person online who was not familiar with the word sprezzatura. I discovered it yesterday and found it new, intriguing and interesting enough to prompt me to share it with others. Since viewers who consistently return to my blog are without exception erudite, this will serve them only as a refresher. I’m posting this information in the remote possibility that one or more of potential viewers to my blog would, as did I, find the word new and interesting enough to have them yearning for more learning concerning this unique characteristic.

Hey, “Yearning for learning concerning” is sorta rhythmical—kinda poetic, don’t ya think? It sounds like good material for a rap song—I hope one of our far too numerous millionaire rappers picks it up and runs with it.

How about it, Eminem?

50 Cent?

Alicia?

But I digress, so on to the word and its definition:

The March 2009 issue of Texas Monthly included a full-page advertisement (p.126) entitled “Making something difficult look easy,” written by Andrew T. Lyos, a Houston surgeon. Dr. Lyos wrote that he likes to read in his free time and had just finished Sprezzatura: 50 Ways Italian Genius Shaped the World.

He defined sprezzatura as follows:

“Sprezzatura is an Italian word that has no corresponding English translation. The best way to define it is that it means doing something difficult so well or so easily, that you make it look effortless.”

I immediately applied the characteristics of sprezzatura to a plethora of gorgeously professional photographs and the overwhelming journalistic quality of the narratives which define and support them—both can be viewed at http://cindydyer.wordpress.com/.

I am convinced that Cindy Dyer’s work qualifies for the term sprezzatura—that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. However, at this point I must state, in the interests of full disclosure, that the blogger is one of my three princesses, the one who lives, loves, is loved, works and creates in Northern Virginia. I can also state emphatically that my opinion of her work is in no way influenced by our relationship—well, perhaps a little bit, but not very much—less than one-half of one iota—nay, less than one-fourth of one iota—not even enough to measure.

I found an expanded definition of sprezzatura at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sprezzatura
:

Sprezzatura is a term that originates from Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier. It is defined as “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.” That is to say, 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.”

The Positive and Negative Attributes of Sprezzatura (also from wikipedia)

Sprezzatura was a vital quality for a courtier to have. Courtiers essentially had to put on a performance for their peers and those who employed sprezzatura created the impression that they completely mastered the roles they played. A courtier’s sprezzatura made him seem to be fully at ease in court and like someone who was “the total master of self, society’s rules, and even physical laws, and his sprezzatura created the distinct impression that he was unable to err.”

However, while the quality of sprezzatura did have its benefits, this quality also had its downfalls. Since sprezzatura made difficult tasks seem effortless, those who possessed sprezzatura needed to be able to deceive people convincingly. In a way, sprezzatura was “the art of acting deviously.” This “art” created a “self-fulfilling culture of suspicion” because courtiers had to be diligent in maintaining their façades. “The by-product of the courtier’s performance is that the achievement of sprezzatura may require him to deny or disparage his nature.” Consequently, sprezzatura also had its downsides, since courtiers who excelled at sprezzatura risked losing themselves to the facade they put on for their peers.

The need for illustrative examples (also from wikipedia)

I have read Castiglione many times and I think the best expression of Sprezzatura (with all of the high stakes it entails) was from an eleven year old boy. He was with a small group of boys in front of a New York office building on a summer day. I was early for an appointment. The boy came skating up to a staircase, hopped his board, and himself up on to the banister, sliding all the way down, nailing the landing. As I was at the base of the stairs I could see what his friends could not: the look of sheer terror as he slid, the look of elation and pride as he landed, and the utter nonchalance that swept over his face as he kicked the tail of his board up into his hand as he turned to his friends as if to say, “whatever.” Benfidar (talk) 01:19, 10 November 2008 (UTC) Benfidar.

Now for the epilogue to this posting

If you have reached this point you now know, at the very least, everything that I know about sprezzatura. You might want to consider tucking the word and its definition away in a memory area from which it can be easily retrieved, and in the future perhaps apply the characteristic to your work and the work of others.

An incidental thought necessitates a pause here: Some words seem to offer themselves up to the possibility of a typographical error. The word “tucking” used in the paragraph above, for example—one look at the keyboard shows why—the “t” and the “f” are perilously close. That’s just a random thought, incidental just as I said—really.

And a final thought on sprezzatura: If you recognize that quality in your own work, acknowledge it and glow with it. If you recognize it in the works of others, tell them and compliment them (you may have to refer them to this posting to hasten their understanding).

I’m not qualified for the label—nothing comes easy for me—but if I were I would appreciate being told, and would readily accept it as a nice compliment, as would others.

Perhaps.

And perhaps not—the characteristic appears to be a double-edged sword.

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3 Comments

Posted by on June 17, 2009 in Books, Humor, Writing

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 responses to “Sprezzatura: What the —- does that mean?

  1. Davis

    June 17, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    aww, shoot (oops)

     
    • thekingoftexas

      June 18, 2009 at 9:27 pm

      Cute.

       
  2. Sue Cummings

    June 19, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    I like the word. Sounds like a wonderful spa or bistro name!

     

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