I am convinced that Pleasure has very precise rules; the very achievement of ecstasy needs extreme rigor. Of course, I am referring only to pleasures that are achieved without altering the state of consciousness. Only the most fragile and suggestible personalities, poor in enthusiasm and passion, resort to alcohol and narcotics, which are false shortcuts to oblivion. Compromising brain function, sometimes even irreversibly, is a form of moral suicide, a self-aggression that has nothing to do with Pleasure with a capital “P,” achieved through education and discipline of the senses. The dominant culture of this era pays attention predominantly to image and physical health. No sensitivity to that universe of pleasures, predominantly male, related to the taste of dress, hunting, fishing, cooking, art, opera, weapons, war, seduction, elegance and honor.
The roles of grandfathers and butlers, exemplary figures who, for centuries, have been the faithful guardians of the ancient art of “Elegant Living,” have been lost. Lifestyle that was handed down, like an unwritten gospel, through the indelible language that is good example.
“Elegant Living” means cultivating one’s sensibility and culture of pleasure in order to follow those exemplary suggestions that Gabriele D’Annunzio’s father addressed to his son, “Make your life a work of art!” and “Make yourself an island!” Making one’s life a work of art means living life trying to master it. This is possible only on the condition of nurturing one’s personality with meaningful experiences and intense emotions, avoiding being influenced, as much as possible, by the influences of fashions and habits of conventional living. And if it was difficult for D’Annunzio himself, who also lived through that extraordinary era in the early twentieth century when good taste and education were a widespread and shared culture, let us imagine the considerable difficulties faced today by the man who aspires to “Elegant Living.”
We live in a contradictory and confusing age, in which bad taste, rudeness and the mortification of beauty seem to most to be the essence of freedom and self-assertion, while education and good taste are experienced only as burdens of an oppressive and bigoted past.
The first negative sign of the decline of pleasure culture was the gradual disintegration of male identity mentioned above. The moment, and this has happened, thank God, only in the Western world, man has lost his prerogatives, society has moved toward “unisexualism” where male and female no longer present their respective characteristics and peculiarities. If the main actors in the endless comedy of life mitigate their differences, i.e., the magnets that generate attraction, what is undoubtedly penalized is the most instinctual pleasure, the most intense and fulfilling one: the pleasure of eros!
“Elegant Living” involves man in all three hundred and sixty degrees of his existence. It is a one-way street. Once entered, it is impossible to turn back. It means losing oneself in the contemplation of beauty, in whatever form it manifests itself. It concerns the way one dresses, the way one eats, the sounds, the aromas, the friends one hangs out with, and the women with whom one shares the gratifications of sex. No pleasure is fully experienced unless it is placed in an appropriate context.
Like Honoré de Balzac, I am convinced that Beauty and Goodness have only one form, in contrast to the Ugly and the Bad which have infinite forms. The most beautiful and precious things can lose their luster when contaminated by humiliating gestures, words, or juxtapositions. The Havana cigar, like a Bentley sedan, a Riva speedboat, a Ulysse Nardin watch, expresses the depth of its meaning only when it is at ease, that is, placed in a context of gestures, words, and attitudes harmoniously bound in a style. Mortifying with any overconfidence the authority that comes to these cathedrals of taste from long and intense association with great men will not, as some seem to believe, result in casualness, but will prove to be the fatal thrust that throws one into the abyss of approximation.
The way the Havana cigar is smoked, for example, significantly influences the quality of taste and flavor, but it also reveals the moral qualities or cultural miseries of the smoker. All objects laden with history and tradition, when treated as they deserve, are the perfect complement to “Elegant Living.” Conversely, they can become an expression of the worst, irritating, bad taste.
As for one’s style, I can say that I am convinced that it should be built according to one’s personal needs and interests. Anyone who aspires to practice the difficult art of “Elegant Living” must necessarily know what in life really interests and fulfills him or her. I am convinced that a certain male audience, already mature, would surely appreciate and share my views, while younger people might find some interesting insights to ponder.
Aware of how, to some, my remarks about life may appear to be mere exaggerations or fanatical foibles, I insist on wasting no opportunity to reiterate them.