The Daily

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.

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 »

Anxiety

June 30, 2015 | by

Exam

 

“Last night I had a dream”—there are few sentences more ominous. And not in an interesting way, either, although people seem to think listening to dreams is the sort of thing friends are happy—nay, obligated—to do, like helping them move house or giving medical advice (if the friends happen to be doctors). Imposing them on a stranger is merely unforgivable.

For my own part, I can bear dream narratives—it’s stories of drug-addled antics I can’t stand. What I hate is that they’re always supposed to be uproarious. But many of the problems inherent to an endless drug tale—lack of relatability, the difficulty of conjuring the scene, the essential loneliness of the experience—are the same. I won’t say relating either a hilarious drug story or a dream is an actively hostile act—but alienating, certainly. Maybe antisocial. Certainly solipsistic. Read More »

Chicken or Egg

June 29, 2015 | by

Odilon_Redon_-_L'oeuf_01

Odilon Redon, L’oeuf (The Egg), 1885

This is the very worst wickedness, that we refuse to acknowledge the passionate evil that is in us. This makes us secret and rotten. —D. H. Lawrence

Have you, a modern person, ever really smelled a rotten egg? Think hard! In all honesty, I can’t say with certainty that I have. Old, sure. Smears of unappealing, desiccated yolk on a carton, yes. But truly rotten? I don’t think so. Read More »

Factotum

June 26, 2015 | by

Illustration: Graziano Origa

I hate the term “writer’s block.” First cited in the OED in 1950—plain old block was in use as early as ‘31—it feels like a dismissive term for a whole host of terrifying phenomena. Besides, if you write, the concept is scary: to acknowledge its existence is to acknowledge that it could happen to you.

Nineteen fifty may seem recent, but it’s not as if creative people didn’t find themselves in dry spells before that. Perhaps they just knew it as an inextricable part of the process—the brain lying fallow—not a lack so much as another component. Read More »

City of Gold

June 25, 2015 | by

Mike_Todd_Elizabeth_Taylor_TWA_Playbill_ad_February_10_1958

Mike Todd and Elizabeth Taylor in an ad for the TWA “Siesta Sleeper Seats,” 1958

At the airport, in a very long, very slow TSA security line, a friendly woman starts to talk.

“This is bad,” she says. She travels a great deal for work. In Dubai, she tells us, “the bins come off a conveyor belt—you don’t have to do anything.” No! we say, as we remove our shoes.

Yes, she assures us. In Dubai, she says, “the airport toilet seats were heated—and the air-conditioning was so high, it felt good.”

Tell us more, we say, as we wrestle with the stack of plastic bins.

In Dubai, she says, they were in and out of security within five minutes.

At this, we are mute with shock—and besides, a guard is shepherding us into line.

“Everything was covered in gold, I shit you not,” she says. “It was pathetic.”

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