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I actually thought Inge Feltrinelli had died a long time before, instead she left in the days of September 2018. For over forty years she had been the widow of Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, the “communist billionaire” who founded the publishing empire in 1954 and died in tragic and very mysterious circumstances that were the subject of one of Italy’s most famous conspiracy theories. But Giangiacomo Feltrinelli was above all the first great Italian model of radical chic. Indeed, he was radical chic several years before the very concept of radical chic was theorised in Tom Wolfe’s famous 1970 article (dedicated to Leonard Bernstein). But historians of radical chicism identify the closest ancestor of this way of being in the all-Italian word ‘sprezzatura’: and the best example of sprezzatura was embodied by Feltrinelli himself, the rich man who scorns wealth.

Many protagonists of European cultural life were at home at Feltrinelli. There were the Germans of Group 47 (which would later inspire our Group 63): Gunter Grass, Friedrich Durenmatt, Uwe Johnson, Ingeborg Bachmann, Hans Magnus Enzesberger. Feltrinelli immediately made a splash with Doctor Zhivago and The Leopard. These were followed by Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa, Karen Blixen, Henry Miller and Doris Lessing. And later also Marguerite Duras, Isabel Allende, Vazquez Montalban, Amos Oz, Daniel Pennac, Banana Yoshimoto, Tabucchi, Baricco, Michele Serra.

But while expressions such as ‘radical chic’, ‘sprezzatura’, ‘terrazzismo’ and the like are recent, that of the rich attracted to poverty is an ancient phenomenon. The fundamental mechanism of comedy is that of the rich man who disguises himself as a poor man, or pretends to be one.

And even in the 2018 comedy Crazy Rich Asians, the first Hollywood film with a predominantly Asian cast, we find the same dynamic: when the girlfriend goes with her boyfriend to Singapore to meet his family, she discovers that they are filthy rich. And she’s shocked, having been used to seeing him as a normal guy who even scrounged up her password to use Netflix.

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