There is a book-length study of sophistication: Mark Backman's Sophistication: Rhetoric
the Rise of Self-Consciousness (Woodbridge, Conn.: Ox Bow, 1991). Backman's book usefully
relates sophistication to the Greek sophists and
sophistry, from which it is etymo-
logically derived. Unfortunately, the book is short on concrete analysis and compel-
ling argumentation and long on emptily Olympian wisdom and universalizing "philo-
sophical" grandiosity ("Paradoxically, our sophistication has led to a weakening of
confidence in the order and meaning of life" [po 168]). In the works from which I have
learned most about sophistication, its treatment is sophisticated but not "sustained";
Le., these works are either essays rather than books or studies in which sophistication
is considered as an adjunct or subcategory of some more prominently featured topic.
Aside from the work of Pierre Bourdieu, which I discuss below-explaining that, for
all its importance to this project, his book on distinction is not a book on sophistica-
tion-my main sources of inspiration include Lee Edelman, "Imagining the Homo-
sexual: Lauro and the Other Face of Gender," in Homographesis: Essays in
Cultural Theory (New York: Routledge, 1994), 192-241; D. A. Miller, "Sontag's Urbanity,"
October 49 (Summer 1989): 91-101; John Kucich, The Power of Lies: Transgression in Victorian
Fiction (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994); and Eve Kosofsky SedgWick, Epis-
temology of the Closet (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990).
Amy M. Spindler, "Gucci Reinvents Jet-Set Sophistication," New York Times, 7 March
3 Tim Dean, "Sex and Syncope," Raritan 25 (Winter 1996): 86.
4 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. trans. Richard Nice
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984),
S In Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1993), :P5-40, John Guillory offers an incisive critique of Bourdieu's exposure
of the "impurity" of aesthetic pleasure, arguing "that the specificity of aesthetic experi-
ence is not contingent upon its purity" (p. 336). I have found Guillory's critique help-
ful in my thinking about Bourdieu's tendency to conclude that it is enough simply to
reveal (Le., to discredit) a given aesthetic practice or attitude as SOCially motivated.
6 "Je retournai vivement Ia tete vers Saint-Loup pour ne pas etre reconnu de l'etrange