pleasure

The Mighty Strings of Pleasure and Pain

The Mighty Strings of Pleasure and Pain

"The universal war is not limited to the relation between different states, but takes place between villages, between households, and between individuals, and that it takes place even between the different parts of each individual soul."

~ T. K. Seung

Unselfed and Decentered by Beauty

Unselfed and Decentered by Beauty

"There are lots of things in the world that give us acute pleasure. There are also lots of things in the world that make us feel marginal. But there's almost nothing other than beauty that does those two things simultaneously, that gives us acute pleasure at the very moment that it makes us feel marginal and happy to be on the margins, to stand back, to listen to the piece of music and just feel awe at what has been created."

~ Elaine Scarry

Very Little Pleasure in Joy

Excerpt from "Joy," by Zadie Smith, The New York Review of Books, Jan. 10, 2013: 

We were heading toward all that makes life intolerable, feeling the only thing that makes it worthwhile. That was joy. But it’s no good thinking about or discussing it. It has no place next to the furious argument about who cleaned the house or picked up the child. It is irrelevant when sitting peacefully, watching an old movie, or doing an impression of two old ladies in a shop, or as I eat a popsicle while you scowl at me, or when working on different floors of the library. It doesn’t fit with the everyday. The thing no one ever tells you about joy is that it has very little real pleasure in it. And yet if it hadn’t happened at all, at least once, how would we live?

. . .

The writer Julian Barnes, considering mourning, once said, "It hurts just as much as it is worth.". . . What an arrangement. Why would anyone accept such a crazy deal? Surely if we were sane and reasonable we would every time choose a pleasure over a joy, as animals themselves sensibly do. The end of a pleasure brings no great harm to anyone, after all, and can always be replaced with another of more or less equal worth.

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State of Grace

December 2, 2012

Excerpt from The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector

Listen, don't be afraid: remember that I ate of the forbidden fruit and yet was not struck down by the orgy of being. So, listen: that means I shall find even greater refuge than if I had not eaten of life. . . Listen, because I dived into the abyss I started to love the abyss of which I am made. Identity can be dangerous because of the intense pleasure that could become mere pleasure. But now I'm accepting loving the thing!

And it's not dangerous, I swear it's not dangerous. 

Since the state of grace exists permanently: we are always saved. All the world is in a state of grace. A person is only struck down by sweetness when realizing that we are in grace, the gift is feeling that we are in grace, and few risk recognizing that within themselves. But there is no danger of perdition, I know now: the state of grace is inherent. 

Listen. I was only used to transcending. Hope for me was postponement. I had never let my soul free, and had quickly organized myself as a person because it is too risky to lose the form. But now I see what was really happening to me: I had so little faith that I have invented merely the future, I believed so little in whatever exists that I was delaying the present for a promise and for a future. 

But now I discover that one doesn't even need hope. 


See also:

Eat the Sandwich You are Eating

Why Do Sandwiches Taste Better When Someone Else Makes Them?
by Daniel Kahneman, The New York Times Magazine, October 2, 2011

When you make your own sandwich, you anticipate its taste as you're working on it. And when you think of a particular food for a while, you become less hungry for it later. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, for example, found that imagining eating M&Ms makes you eat fewer of them. It's a kind of specific satiation, just as most people find room for dessert when they couldn't have another bite of their steak. The sandwich that another person prepares is not "preconsumed" in the same way.

A Blank Canvas for Flavor

“I think of flavor the way a painter thinks of color. Ice cream is a blank canvas for flavor, filling your nose and mouth as it melts. Food is an art form to be experienced.”

~ Jeni Britton Bauer, artisan ice cream empress 

Airy meringue stars on their way into a batch of Violets & Meringue Ice Cream

The BombeBastick

Torching marshmallows for Sweet Potato with Torched Marshmallows Ice Cream

Sweet Corn with Black Raspberries from the stunning gallery by photographer George Lange

Pre-order Jeni’s debut cookbook, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, which is being published by Artisan this spring. In it, she reveals secrets for recreating many of her signature flavors using a modestly priced automatic ice cream maker

Experiences that We Know are Not Real

Excerpt from How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like by Paul Bloom:

How Pleasure WorksHow do Americans spend their leisure time? The answer might surprise you. The most common voluntary activity is not eating, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs. It is not socializing with friends, participating in sports, or relaxing with the family. While people sometimes describe sex as their most pleasurable act, time-management studies find that the average American adult devotes just four minutes per day to sex.

Our main leisure activity is, by a long shot, participating in experiences that we know are not real. When we are free to do whatever we want, we retreat to the imagination—to worlds created by others, as with books, movies, video games, and television (over four hours a day for the average American), or to worlds we ourselves create, as when daydreaming and fantasizing. While citizens of other countries might watch less television, studies in England and the rest of Europe find a similar obsession with the unreal.

This is a strange way for an animal to spend its days. Surely we would be better off pursuing more adaptive activities—eating and drinking and fornicating, establishing relationships, building shelter, and teaching our children. Instead, 2-year-olds pretend to be lions, graduate students stay up all night playing video games, young parents hide from their offspring to read novels, and many men spend more time viewing Internet pornography than interacting with real women. One psychologist gets the puzzle exactly right when she states on her Web site: "I am interested in when and why individuals might choose to watch the television show Friends rather than spending time with actual friends."

One solution to this puzzle is that the pleasures of the imagination exist because they hijack mental systems that have evolved for real-world pleasure. We enjoy imaginative experiences because at some level we don't distinguish them from real ones. This is a powerful idea, one that I think is basically—though not entirely—right...

...Just as artificial sweeteners can be sweeter than sugar, unreal events can be more moving than real ones. There are three reasons for this.

First, fictional people tend to be wittier and more clever than friends and family, and their adventures are usually much more interesting. I have contact with the lives of people around me, but this is a small slice of humanity, and perhaps not the most interesting slice. My real world doesn't include an emotionally wounded cop tracking down a serial killer, a hooker with a heart of gold, or a wisecracking vampire. As best I know, none of my friends has killed his father and married his mother. But I can meet all of those people in imaginary worlds.

Second, life just creeps along, with long spans where nothing much happens. The O.J. Simpson trial lasted months, and much of it was deadly dull. Stories solve this problem—as the critic Clive James once put it, "Fiction is life with the dull bits left out." This is one reason why Friends is more interesting than your friends.

Finally, the technologies of the imagination provide stimulation of a sort that is impossible to get in the real world. A novel can span birth to death and can show you how the person behaves in situations that you could never otherwise observe. In reality you can never truly know what a person is thinking; in a story, the writer can tell you.

To Blur the Line a Bit

The Tools of the Mind program at a school in Red Bank, N.J., encourages “executive function” — the ability to think straight and self-regulate. (Photo: Gillian Laub for The New York Times) “We often think about play as relaxing and doing what you want to do. Maybe it’s an American thing: We work really hard, and then we go on vacation and have fun. But in fact, very few truly pleasurable moments come from complete hedonism. What Tools of the Mind does — and maybe what we all need to do — is to blur the line a bit between what is work and what is play. Just because something is effortful and difficult and involves some amount of constraint doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.”

~ Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, quoted in “Can the Right Kinds of Play Teach Self-Control?” by Paul Tough, New York Times (September 25, 2009).

Food Pleasure in Overdrive

Born Round “What my grandmother and my mother imbued in me was a love of food. And a sense of the joy of food, a firm conviction that food mattered, and that food was a vehicle for pleasure. In my case, I sometimes drove that vehicle at about a hundred and thirty miles an hour. And sometimes ended up in a ditch on the side of the road. Though I believe that food is a vehicle of pleasure, and a glorious vehicle at that, I felt like every time someone who’s a recognized food writer wrote a memoir, it was madly romantic, gauzy. And the truth of the matter is, one’s love of food can get out of hand. My story is not only about the joy of food, but also about the danger of food. I wanted to write about disordered food behavior, about food demons, but to not demonize food.”

~ Frank Bruni, discussing his memoir Born Round: The Secrect History of a Full-Time Eater on The Book Bench: The New Yorker (August 19, 2009)