Barbara Gail Montero, Effortless Bodily Movement
(2011) Philosophical Topics, 39:1, pp. 67-79
Abstract. According to the Renaissance theorist Baldassare Castiglione, perhaps the most important quality to cultivate in oneself is effortlessness, what he refers to as “sprezzatura.” In his Book of the Courtier, he writes,
I have discovered a universal rule which seems to apply more than any other in all human actions or words: namely, to steer away from affectation at all costs, as if it were a rough and dangerous reef, and ….to practice in all things a certain nonchalance (sprezzatura) which conceals all artistry and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless.
But just what is it for an action to be effortless? What are we appreciating when we admire Castiglione’s effortless courtier, a dancer’s effortless leaps, a basketball player’s effortless shot, or even a seagull’s effortless soar? For Castiglione, effortlessness was socially valuable; the façade of effortlessness enabled individuals to gain recognition, approval and promotion to higher positions in the Royal court. Though perhaps no less relevant to politics now than it was in Castiglione’s day, my concern is more with aesthetic rather than social value, and it is with movements rather than manners. Accordingly, the question I am to address is this: What does it means for bodily movements to be effortless and what makes such movements aesthetically valuable?