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fiction.essays & interviews ..poetry .editorial bios

Editor: Paul Wessels

Web Design & Photography: Stacy Hardy

March 2005

THANK YOU: Stacy Hardy, Tessa Laird (Pollan extract & Pacific connections), Aryan Kaganof, Robert Berold, Dror Eyal. Also to all of the contributors whose skill and generosity is the sweetest reward.


"Sweetness is a desire that starts on the tongue with the sense of taste, but it doesn't end there. Or at least it didn't end there, back when the experience of sweetness was so special that the word served as a metaphor for a certain kind of perfection. When writers like Jonathan Swift and Matthew Arnold used the expression "sweetness and light" to name their highest ideal (Swift called them "the two noblest of things"; Arnold, the ultimate aim of civilisation), they were drawing on a sense of the word sweetness going back to classical times, a sense that has largely been lost to us. The best land was said to be sweet; so were the most pleasing sounds, the most persuasive talk, the loveliest views, the most refined people, the choicest part of any whole, as when Shakespeare calls spring the "sweet o' the year." Lent by the tongue to all other sense organs, "sweet", in the somewhat archaic definition of the Oxford English Dictionary, is that which "affords enjoyment or gratifies desire." Like a shimmering equal sign, the word sweetness denoted a reality commensurate with human desire: it stood for fulfilment."

"Since then sweetness has lost much of its power and become slightly...well, saccharine. Who now would think of sweetness as a "noble" quality? At some point during the nineteenth century, a hint of insincerity began to trail the word through literature, and in our time it's usually shadowed by either irony or sentimentality. Overuse probably helped cheapen the word's power on the tongue, but I think the advent of cheap sugar in Europe, and perhaps especially cane sugar produced by slaves, is what did the most to discount sweetness, both as an experience and as a metaphor. (The final insult came with the invention of synthetic sweeteners.) Both the experience and the metaphor seem to me worth recovering, if for no other reason than to appreciate the apple's former power."

"Start with the taste. Imagine a moment when the sensation of honey or sugar on the tongue was an astonishment, a kind of intoxication. The closest I've ever come to recovering such a sense of sweetness was second-hand, though it left a powerful impression on me even so. I'm thinking of my son's first experience of sugar: the icing on the cake of his first birthday. I have only the testimony of Isaac's face to go by (that, and his fierceness to repeat the experience), but it was plain that his first encounter with sugar had intoxicated him - was in fact an ecstasy, in the literal sense of that word. That is, he was beside himself with the pleasure of it, no longer here with me in space and time in quite the same way he had just been a moment before. Between bites Isaac gazed up at me in amazement (he was on my lap, and I was delivering the ambrosial forkfuls to his gaping mouth) as if to exclaim, "Your world contains this? From this day forward I shall dedicate my life to it." (Which he basically has done.) And I remember thinking, this is no minor desire, and then wondered: Could it be that sweetness is the prototype of all desire?"

- Michael Pollan

taken from Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan (Random House, 2002)