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Ornate Rhetorick

July 2, 2015 | by

Edward Lloyd's Coffee House, William Holland (1789)

Edward Lloyd's Coffee House, William Holland, 1789.

There is a coffee shop in my neighborhood called the Sensuous Bean. This is obviously a great name, and perhaps one key to the store’s longevity; it’s one of the few small businesses in the area to have lasted over thirty years. I think it’s tops. No precious nonsense here, but the smell of roasting beans and the clutter of brewing paraphernalia is like a comforting hug.

I’ve always hoped that their name was one of the few accurate Miltonian uses of the word sensuous in modern signage. After all, Milton came up with sensuous specifically to evoke a sensory experience innocent of leers and winks. And it didn’t really take. As Oxford Dictionaries would have it:

The words sensual and sensuous are frequently used interchangeably to mean “gratifying the senses,” especially in a sexual sense. Strictly speaking, this goes against a traditional distinction, by which sensuous is a more neutral term, meaning “relating to the senses rather than the intellect” (swimming is a beautiful, sensuous experience), while sensual relates to gratification of the senses, especially sexually (a sensual massage). In fact, the word sensuous is thought to have been invented by John Milton (1641) in a deliberate attempt to avoid the sexual overtones of sensual. In practice, the connotations are such that it is difficult to use sensuous in Milton’s sense. While traditionalists struggle to maintain a distinction, the evidence suggests that the neutral use of sensuous is rare in modern English. If a neutral use is intended, it is advisable to use alternative wording.

Ah, Milton! Look up the word now and you’re likely to find “a range of romance products designed to bring you and your lover even closer,” an Estée Lauder perfume (“Warm, Luminous, Feminine”) and a 2007 record by the Japanese artist Cornelius featuring the tracks “Beep it,” “Gum,” and “Toner.” I do not recommend an image search.

Here’s how Milton used it in his tractate Of Education: “Ornate rhetorick taught out of the rule of Plato ...  To which poetry would be made subsequent, or indeed rather precedent, as being less suttle and fine, but more simple, sensuous, and passionate.”

That’s sort of how I feel about The Sensuous Bean. It’s unfettered by the dialectics of modern coffee. Passionate? Certainly—and delicious, to boot. But perhaps less “suttle and fine” than its younger counterparts, and the better for it. What’s more, on my last visit I passed a gentleman sporting both an open fly and a bare chest, and this seemed to have everything to do with the sensuous, and nothing with the sensual.

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.

Look

Letter from Cuba

July 2, 2015 | by

Will Americans “ruin” Havana?

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All photographs by Shona Sanzgiri.

Ten minutes after I’ve entered Havana’s Almacenes de San José, an indoor marketplace on the southern end of Old Havana offering kitschy souvenirs and erotic art, my expression has hardened. A dozen women, seated on stools, shout “hola!” from every direction, hoping to draw my attention to one of their many wares: Che Guevara ashtrays, wooden ocarinas, Havana Club T-shirts, leather engravings of Hatuey, the Taíno chief who was burned at the stake for resisting the Spanish.

I stop and look at a miniature sculpture of Hatuey. Even though he’s roughly nine inches tall in this rendition, he is heroically muscular, with proud, high cheekbones and defiant eyes. This is a familiar, orientalist interpretation of Native Americans, one that perpetuates the myth of the “noble savage.” Or—given the physicality of their real lives—maybe the Taínos were truly ripped. Read More »

Contests

#ReadEverywhere Returns

July 2, 2015 | by

Pelican

Last year's winning entry, by David Lasry.

You’ve probably heard about our joint subscription deal with the London Review of Books—this summer, you can get a year of both magazines for the low price of $70 U.S.

We’re also bringing back last summer’s #ReadEverywhere contest. From now through August 31, post a photo of yourself reading The Paris Review or the London Review of Books on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest—use the #ReadEverywhere hashtag and one of our magazines’ handles. The grand prize is an Astrohaus Freewrite, the hotly anticipated smart typewriter that lets you write virtually anywhere.

Have a look at last year’s winners if you need inspiration—if the beekeepers, pelicans, elephants, and fireworks don’t convince you of the fierce competition, the modernist Swedish architecture assuredly will.

The contest kicks off today. Get yourself a joint subscription, and ready your shutter finger.

Big, Bent Ears

Cy Twombly, the JACK, and the Morgan Library

July 2, 2015 | by

JACK Quartet

On November 24, 2014, the JACK Quartet performed Matthias Pintscher’s Studies for Treatise on the Veil in a gallery at the Morgan Library, in New York, before a thirty-three-foot-long painting by Cy Twombly called Treatise on the Veil (Second Version). Pintscher’s score was written in response to Twombly’s painting; Twombly’s painting was composed in response to music, that of French composer Pierre Henry, a pioneer of musique concrète. Members of the JACK were, in turn, influenced that evening by their very proximity to Twombly’s painting: “The music requires so much concentration,” said violist and director John Pickford Richards, “and I felt that the painting was giving me concentration while we were playing.”

Chapter six of our series “Big, Bent Ears” details this curious network of connections, which Richards calls a “daisy chain of beautiful responses.”

Here’s another one: Before the Morgan exhibition, Twombly’s painting hadn’t hung in New York since 1985, and Pintscher’s composition had never been performed alongside the painting. And no one had ever filmed a concert at the Morgan Library. Rock Fish Stew’s video of that evening, which is part of chapter six, is witness to this extraordinary confluence and is itself an element of it. Twombly called his Treatise on the Veil (Second Version) “a time line without time,” which is rather like a story without a beginning, middle, and end. Or, as the “Big, Bent Ears” team likes to think of it, serializing uncertainty and reveling in digressions.

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On the Shelf

Diary of a Sycophant, and Other News

July 2, 2015 | by

Goebbels in an American caricature, ca. 1943.

  • Proverbs are perfect examples of poetry’s seductiveness—and, in many cases, of its emptiness. “The brain craves ideas that can be understood and remembered without effort … But what happens when memorable advice is bad? ‘To thine own self be true’ is terrible counsel for many people, as Shakespeare himself realized. “If you want something done right, do it yourself” applies only to those things you are already good at … ‘It’s always darkest before the dawn’ can only have been coined by someone who had never stayed up all night.”
  • Robert Frank’s The Americans, “a photographic survey of the inner life of the country,” is sixty, and guess what? It’s still good. “Among the many qualities that enabled Frank to achieve something so ambitious was his profound ambivalence. He was always that way personally, and it was how he could locate the full spectrum of any given feeling in the inscrutable faces of strangers. Critics like W. S. Di Piero believe his genius for expressing emotional complication came from an artistic innocence, the ability to look at the world as a child does—without the intrusions of experience.”
  • Linda Rosenkrantz’s Talk, mentioned previously on the Daily, “documents what has turned out to be a fleeting historical moment: when it was possible to bring a recording device to the beach and not expect that everyone else has done the same.” But is its mode of self-exposure too transparent?
  • Self-exposure of a very different sort can be found in Goebbels’s diaries, which reveal a servile creature completely dedicated to Hitler: “The thoroughly repellent figure that emerges from the diaries is not simply Goebbels as he was in fact. It is Goebbels as he wanted to be. He actively embraced barbarism as a way out from the chaos of his time, and in this he was at one with multitudes of educated Europeans. Viewing him as the victim of a personality disorder is a way of denying a more chilling fact that his life reveals—the perilous fragility of civilization.”
  • Summer’s a great time to read the classics you’ve neglected for so many years, the forbidding volumes of Melville and Joyce peering at you from your shelves. You can also take this as a time to trumpet the fact that you’ll never read those classics … either way, good on you!

Our Daily Correspondent

Expertise

July 1, 2015 | by

Boots

An advertisement in Moving Picture World, March 1919.

There are folks out there who enjoy shopping for hiking shoes. These people love researching the flexibility of EVA midsoles, fingering crampon fittings, debating the merits of lug patterns and heel brakes with knowledgeable salespeople. When they walk on in-store inclines, they imagine future expeditions; when they discuss the durability of nubuck versus split grain, it is because they are investing in the future.

For the rest of us, it’s a minor ordeal. Unlike with other sorts of clothes, athletic gear doesn’t inspire visions of who we could be; it shows us clearly who we are not. Every aspect of the process illuminates new facets of ignorance. Read More »