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Our Daily Correspondent

Fourteen

July 6, 2015 | by

A building without a thirteenth floor.

A building without a thirteenth floor.

You can tell who has lived in my building for a while by their elevator behavior. Anyone who’s spent any time in that unreliable apparatus knows it to be molasses slow, and that there is a significant interval between the stop and the opening of the doors. For instance, if you say, “Have a good one!” as soon as the elevator reaches the floor, there will be an agonizingly long moment of awkward silence in which you both stare fixedly at the door, willing it to open. An old-timer, by contrast, will allow the moment of silence first, and then slip in the valediction at the last possible second. I usually walk.

But on this occasion, I was riding. You see, I’d snuck up to the roof to collect a mothballed sweater I’d been secretly airing and didn’t feel like walking all the way down to the basement laundry room. I had already marked out the other occupants of the elevator as newbies, both because I’d never seen them, and because they essayed a premature good-bye to a departing tenant on twelve. They had a very cherubic baby with them.

“What a little sweetie,” I said. “How old is he?”

I wasn’t particularly invested in the answer one way or another—I have no baby of my own to compare, development-wise, and thus no possibility of common ground, let alone concealed panic or concealed smugness—but I didn’t want to leave it at a remark on his cuteness. What if the parents then felt compelled to say thank you, as if I’d been complimenting them, somehow? I didn’t want to put them in such a position.

“Fifteen months,” said the mother, and I smiled in the knowing way I felt was expected.

“Do you live on fourteen?” I asked.

“We’re visiting friends,” said the dad.

“Do your friends who live there feel like they’re living a lie?” I said eagerly, because I always wonder, and the one person I’d managed to corner on the issue hadn’t spoken English. “I mean, because it’s actually thirteen, and such a big part of their lives is dictated by medieval superstition?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said the woman.

We subsided into silence. I smiled at the baby; he was really very cute. He glared.

“He’s a little grumpy,” said the man, apologetically.

“I don’t take it personally,” I said.

The dad then turned to the baby and said, loudly, “You’ve offended her, Jackson! You’ve hurt her feelings!”

I didn’t know what to say. I was appalled. Was he crazy?

Or, worse, was he telepathic? I wasn’t exactly offended, but I did feel exposed. After all, everyone knows a baby can secretly see into the blackness of your soul. That’s just common knowledge.

As we reached one—finally—the baby Jackson broke into a toothy grin. “There it is!” said his mom. We were all relieved.

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

Arts & Culture

Chez Donald Judd

July 6, 2015 | by

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Donald Judd moved into 101 Spring Street, in New York’s Soho neighborhood, in 1968. The area was then the “Wild West,” as artist Trisha Brown once put it: a wasteland in which anything was possible. Judd had purchased the five-story, century-old building for sixty-eight thousand dollars and immediately set about restoring its interior, floor by floor, detail by detail—a project that would take him nearly a quarter century to complete. (Today, it is the only single-use cast-iron building remaining in Soho.) He aimed to create open, minimal spaces for working and living in which all elements existed in harmony, both in the context of the building’s architecture and with regard to his own aesthetic. On the fourth floor, for instance, he reproduced the parallel wood planes of flooring on the ceiling; the room feels like a light-filled wooden box.

Judd also intermixed nineteenth- and early twentieth-century objects—such as a cast-iron wood-burning stove, tin ceilings, an oak rolltop desk—and pieces from his substantial personal art collection, which includes sculpture, drawing, painting, furniture, and prints by John Chamberlain, Carl Andre, Lucas Samaras, Marcel Duchamp, Alvar Aalto, and others. Some of his interventions, however, are less formal: in the second-floor kitchen, a flap of wood on the wall opens to reveal a puppet theater Judd devised for his children. Read More »

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Inside the Issue

Five Questions for Ishion Hutchinson

July 6, 2015 | by

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Ishion Hutchinson.

Ishion Hutchinson’s poem “The Difference” appears in our Summer issue. Hutchinson, who was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, teaches at Cornell University.

In “The Difference,” the speaker bridges a divide between the reader and the “they,” the poem’s unspecified subjects. Can you talk a little about the genesis of the poem? Do you often see the role of a speaker as a kind of mediator?

The poem’s opening contains its genesis. I overheard two men, it could have been more, talking one early winter morning in a café. Their words weren’t clear but, to my ears, there was a doomsday tone about them, very grave. I had been reading Halldór Laxness’s great novel, Independent People, too, a very masculine book, full of scenes of men gathering in winter to talk iron, as it were, and I think that permeated the poem. I do not see the role of a speaker as a kind of mediator at all, perhaps only to the extent that the speaker is listening to voices, yes, but the speaker’s motive is to speak for and to himself. Read More »

On the Shelf

Silly Love Songs, and Other News

July 6, 2015 | by

Frans Hals, Buffoon playing a lute (detail), 1623.

Our Daily Correspondent

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 »