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Pretentiousness, sophistication, and authenticity

07/27/18 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: Web Wanderings

Link: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/feb/09/in-defence-of-pretentiousness

“The class politics of sophistication are inseparable from its sexual politics,” wrote Joseph Litvak in Strange Gourmets, in 1997. Litvak points out how a glance at the dictionary is all it takes to recall that “sophistication” in fact means “perversion”. For though sophistication might nowadays be defined most readily as “worldliness”, as the opposite of “naivety”, its older meaning, as well as its normative meaning, deriving from the rhetorical aberration known as sophistry, is “corruption” or “adulteration”.

In medieval Latin, the verb sophisticare was used in relation to the dishonest tampering of goods, especially food. At the start of the 18th century, the use of “sophisticated” shifted to mean something deprived of a primitive or natural state. “Unsophisticated” meant something genuine, but shifted to mean a person who was ingenuous or inexperienced. In the 19th century, the idea of something being altered also became associated with wisdom or refinement.

Pretentiousness shares with sophistication a lingering sense of “unnaturalness”; something faked, pretending, tampered with. Litvak presses the idea that sophistication is linked to perversion in the sexual sense, and therefore carries with it a latent homophobic charge. The association of sophistication with a form of urbane and knowing behaviour gets reinforced “every time advertising and journalism, loathing as they do the pretentious and the trendy, derisively dangle before their audience the perennially unpopular figure of the snooty (ie gay) salesman in the upscale boutique.” Pretension implies affectation. People are not acting like themselves, rather, their lying urbanity is trampling all over your plain-speaking truth.


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