The Distastefulness of Sophistication
This book seeks, through an analysis of a group of English and European
novels and critical texts, to make visible a value (for want of a better
term) Widely taken for granted both inside and outside academic culture,
but apparently regarded either as too frivolously "aesthetic" or as too un-
problematically self-evident to merit sustained, sophisticated theoretical
or historical attention: the value of sophistication itself.! Suffusing our
culture, sophistication, I will argue, is by no means simply the unique
stylistic disposition of the social groups richest in economic and cultural
capital. In its discursive behavior, however, it conforms strikingly to the
stereotype of patrician hauteur. Where the question of sophistication is
concerned, in fact, the cardinal principle would seem to be some version
of the superciliOUS dictum used to show unwanted customers the door:
If you have to ask, you can't afford it. From the novels of Jane Austen
to the pages of the New York Times, the pursuit of sophistication has been
textually and ideologically generative to the degree that it has remained
radically undertheorized.
To begin with the journalistic present: consider this passage from a re-
cent article in the Times entitled "Gucci Reinvents Jet-Set Sophistication":
Any photo of Mr. Ford's collection would tell the same story: sexy,
sleek, and sophisticated.
The term jet set has all but been retired, but Mr. Ford reawakened
it at his show: it could only be called "jet set" style, the way fashion-
able people who travel can look sophisticated in any port.
"That's the way I live and move, and that's why the uniform idea
is important," said Mr. Ford, who began playing with a moody mili-
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