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The Pleasure Principle

I’m back in New York City for a brief visit to celebrate my sweetie’s success and be with her for Valentine’s Day. This, then: a mash note of a blog post.

It’s morning and we ride the subway from Brooklyn together, discussing aesthetics. An architect, she’s suspicious of the talk of aesthetics ??? knowing how what is considered “beautiful” can really mean what is comfortable or nostalgic, and how this limits innovative design.

I understand her argument. But. “What about pleasure?” I keep asking. Doesn’t pure aesthetic pleasure come into play at some point in the design process? Architects love to talk about what’s sexy ??? isn’t that, in the end, the same thing?

superi-interesting! nvc

By the time we get into lower Manhattan, we’ve come to some kind of agreement ??? what she calls “interesting” or “exciting” was what I mean by “aesthetic pleasure.”

We kiss; I get off the subway. I walk up the steps into the brilliant morning ??? blue sky, piles of wet, melting snow, the sun bouncing off the bumpers of taxis and store windows.

Whenever I come back to New York, I revel in the tumult of the city. I take such joy in the liveliness of the streets: the pulse of the traffic, the surge of pedestrians crossing against the light, the vendors on the sidewalk with their riotous displays.

I’m on a mission. I slip into the long, narrow store full of glittering pens and pick up two big bottles of ink ??? Brilliant Black and Royal Blue. I’ve been running low and haven’t found a store in St. Louis that sells it. Knowing that I can come home and buy fountain pen ink fills me with a wave of ridiculous pleasure.

Walking back into the sunlight, I think about my chosen tools of my trade ??? fountain pen, hard-cover notebook, Macbook. None are particularly practical or cost-efficient, but so aesthetically pleasurable. I love the smooth feel of the deep black ink on creamy paper, the satisfying snap of the elastic on the notebook, the clean white case of the computer and its glowing apple.

Do I write better with these tools? Probably not. But what joy when the physicality of writing – the process – satisfies my aesthetic desires!

I understand the suspicion of beauty ??? how preconceived notions of beauty can make us sentimental, or become so prescriptive we are blind to manifestations of other kinds of beauty. But I think I’m with the poet Laura Jensen: “Things are so beautiful“. I think that’s the impetus for my poems“. I see and I think it matters.”

From her poem “Kitchen”:

Onions are the same tunes
to their centers,
always singing to me.
It is their faith
that makes me cry ???
they think I’ll stop cutting.

Yes ??? we see (and feel and smell and taste) and it is all terribly beautiful and painful and wonderful, and it matters.

:: :: ::

After running my errands, I hurry towards a caf?? where I’m meeting up with my sweetie. I pass by a used bookstore that I haven’t seen before. I have to go in. (Another reason I’m continually seduced by New York ??? always, somewhere, a new discovery.)

mercer st. books

It’s the kind of bookstore I love ??? floor to ceiling shelves, tables and boxes overflowing with books, the smell of old paper and dust and damp in the air. The kind of store where I could spend hours browsing and come away with piles of books I’ve been wanting to read or own. I give myself a few minutes to loiter in front of the poetry section.

I pick out a small, slim brown paperback ??? Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. Flipping through it, I land on sonnet XIV:

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say
“I love her for her smile ??? her look ??? her way
Of speaking gently, ??? for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day” ???
For these things in themselves, Belov??d, may
Be changed or change for thee, ??? and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry, ???
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou may’st love on, through love’s eternity.

I buy the book ($2.50 for love!), and make my way to the caf?? where my sweetie and a grilled cheese sandwich waits.

Yes, there’s the danger of hedonism in pleasure for the sake of pleasure. But this, of all weekends, I want to think we can turn to our sweethearts and friends, our poems and our projects, our families and ourselves to say ??? love me for love’s sake and I shall love you, too, for the pure joy of love.

Frank O’Hara reads “Having a Coke with You.”