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Taste

TASTE.

We tend to use the word taste in two different ways. First, to refer to the ability to judge a thing correctly, usually (but not always) a work of art from an aesthetic point of view. Second, we use the word to refer to a particular set of aesthetic preferences, and given the most popular sense of this second usage, we understand that one person's set of preferences may differ from another person's set. In this article, taste refers to taste in the first sense, and personal taste refers to it in the second. "Personal taste" does not imply that one person's set of aesthetic preferences cannot be shared by others.

Taste

Taste in this first sense, by which we mean the ability to correctly judge aesthetic objects and events, has a long history, but happily that history is fairly easy to trace and fairly easy to contextualize. We will start in ancient Greece. In those philosophic traditions that begin with Greece, Aristotle (384322 b.c.e.) is the first person who offers us a formula for beauty. If a thing possesses a certain set of propertiesobjective properties that anyone with working senses and a passing familiarity with those properties can easily pick outthen that thing is beautiful. Aristotle said that an object is beautiful if it is ordered, symmetrical, and definite, and if it demonstrates each of these virtues to a high degree. This analysis we call "formal," because it focuses on the presence in the object of certain aesthetic properties that have to do with the form (as distinguished from the content) of the object. If a set of criteria can be discovered, the presence of which will ensure that an object is beautiful, and the absence of which will ensure that it is not, then through this the correctness of aesthetic judgments can be established.

Formalism, as an objective approach to aesthetic judgment, has been very popular. We find in St. Augustine of Hippo (354430) a formalist account of beauty: for an object to be beautiful is for it to exhibit unity, number, equality, proportion, and order, with unity as the most basic notion. And in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas (12241274), we find a formal account of beauty, which rests on three conditions: integrity or perfection, due proportion or harmony, and brightness or clarity. We find examples of formalists in eighteenth-century Britain. The third earl of Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley Cooper, 16711713) believed that so long as one was disinterested in attitude, one's judgment that an object was beautiful was correct as long as the object exhibits "unity in multiplicity." Francis Hutcheson (16941746) believed that, given a disinterested attitude, if an object exhibits "uniformity amongst variety," that object is beautiful. The essayist and statesman Joseph Addison (16721719) believed that an object was worthy of positive aesthetic judgment if it exhibited greatness and uncommonness. And jumping to the twentieth century, we find formalist accounts of aesthetic merit (though not explicitly about beauty per se) in the work of G.E. Moore (18731958) ("organic unity") and Clive Bell (18811964) ("significant form").

While theorists such as Shaftesbury and Hutcheson include clear formalist elements in their theories of aesthetic merit, they also stand at the beginning of a tradition of philosophers of aesthetics sometimes referred to as "taste theorists." The taste theorists are found, generally, in eighteenth-century Britain, and they begin as a bridge between objective formalist and subjective accounts of beauty. Although individual subjectivity now begins to appear in accounts of aesthetic judgment, it is important to note that these accounts were not antirealist (antirealism being the position that judgments about aesthetic objects are neither true nor false). Quite to the contrary, theorists like Shaftesbury and Hutcheson were still aesthetic realists (realism being the position that there are real answers to questions of aesthetic merit, that judgments about aesthetic objects really are true or false). In order to access the formal conditions of beauty, Shaftesbury and Hutcheson said that the attender must put himself or herself into a proper frame of mind. From this proper perspectivefrom the proper exercise of one's faculty of tasteone could judge correctly whether a thing is beautiful or not. The inclusion in their theories of the formal elements of "unity in multiplicity" and "uniformity amongst variety" were meant as explanations for why the exercise of one's taste would result in aesthetic enjoyment and correct judgment, but it is the exercise of taste that, in their theories, is logically prior: one exercises taste; one enjoys and judges positively; and notes subsequently that this enjoyment and positive judgment are occasioned by the presence of certain objective, formal features. Shaftesbury and Hutcheson are joined in their theorieswhich mix objective features of objects with subjective features of judgmentby others, most notably Joseph Addison (16721719), Archibald Alison (17571839), Lord Kames (Henry Home, 16961782), and Alexander Gerard (17281795).

The eighteenth-century British taste theorists are, in some sense, a product of their times. There are three items that motivate them. First, they rejected as insufficient pure formalist, objectivist theories of beauty. Second, they were inspired by empiricism, and they sought to connect knowledge with the focus on the senses as the medium through which reality was taken in. In aesthetic theory, this can been seen in the move from the Platonism apparent in theories like Shaftesbury's to the almost physiological tone of theories such as those of Hutcheson and Edmund Burke (17291797). Third, with political theorists in Britain like Thomas Hobbes (15881679) and John Locke (16321704) came a new focus on the authority and autonomy of the individual. This celebration of the individual, his rights, and the dominion and prerogative of his judgments, can be seen in the fundamental premises upon which David Hume (17111776) and Immanuel Kant (17241804) build their theories of aesthetic judgment.

Although formalist accounts persist into the twentieth century, they reach a point of diminished popularity at the end of the eighteenth century when mixed objective-subjective accounts, such as those offered by Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, are replaced in popularity by more purely subjective accounts offered by, to name the two most influential, Hume and Kant. Instead of focusing on the aesthetic object, both of these theorists focus on the aesthetic attender. Instead of offering objective-criteria formulae for what makes an object aesthetically good or beautiful, they focus exclusively on the qualities of the attender that make him or her a good judge.

Hume believed in the indisputability of particular taste and the sovereignty of the individual judge, but he also believed that "amidst all the variety and caprice of tastes, there are certain general principles of approbation and blame." For Hume, an object is beautiful if and only if it provokes aesthetic sentiment in appropriately disposed competent critics, which he calls "true judges." True judges have the following traits: (1) serenity of mind (mentioned earlier than the other five), (2) delicacy of taste, (3) they are well practiced, (4) they are versed in comparison between objects, (5) they are free from prejudice, and (6) they have good sense (i.e., their senses work very well).

Kant's focus was similar, although the theoretical details are rather different. Kant's means of establishing the worthiness of aesthetic judgment focuses somewhat less on the individual than Hume's, and more on what is common about judgment. It is from the dual vantage point of the authority of the subject's judgment and the call to universality of judgmentthat we expect and even demand commonality in judgmentthat Kant develops his view. Kant thought that the key to securing this universality was twofold: first, we recognize that each person has basically the same "common sense" for recognizing beauty in objects, and that aesthetic judgment is not merely a matter of sentiment but a matter of free play between the understanding and the imagination. Second, it is important for the judge to be properly disposed to making a correct judgment, and the proper disposition is for the judge to be disinterestedto consider the object/event for its own sake alone, without regard for any relation it bears to anything else, including personal interests. Given disinterest on the part of the judge, and given that we all have similar faculties for understanding the worldparticularly, the formal structures and purposefulness of the phenomenal worldwe would all judge similarly, at least with regard to individual, particular aesthetic judgments.

Hume and Kant opened the door for other subjective accounts of aesthetic goodness, but the real investment in subjective accounts came in the twentieth century and was provided by an assortment of aestheticians, Frank Sibley (19231996) being perhaps the most famous, who argue that reductions of evaluative aesthetic claims will never result in arrangements of objective properties. Sibley first identified aesthetic concepts and aesthetic terms as ones that necessarily include taste in their application. In justifying the use of aesthetic terms, however, we naturally seek out a basis that does not refer to taste. We look for the objective basis for our use of such terms, and we commonly expect to find such bases. Unfortunately, this only flows in one direction. While we may naturally look to non-aesthetic features to ground our ascriptions of aesthetic ones, we cannot, no matter how full an account we offer, ever say that, due to the presence of given nonaesthetic features an aesthetic feature must certainly be present. We would, says Sibley, be suspicious of anyone who says that we can create a rule that states that a certain aesthetic feature can be created by inserting certain nonaesthetic ones. We would say that such a person is not exercising taste and, moreover, did not really understand the aesthetic term at issue unless he could correctly apply it in instances where citing the rule was not an option.

This movement, first begun in the latter eighteenth century, but really brought to bloom in the twentiethtwentieth-century formalists notwithstandingthrough the work of Sibley and others, is a movement from objective accounts of beauty to subjective ones. The subjective accounts focus on taste, on the attenders or audience members (1) exercising their ability to judge correctly from an aesthetic point of view and (2) finding enjoyment in attending to those aesthetic qualities that properly should ground such enjoyment.

Personal Taste

The second sense in which the word taste is used, what we are calling "personal taste," focuses on particular sets of aesthetic preferences. There is certainly a relationship between taste and personal taste, and we want to explore that a bit later on. For now, consider the nature of the preference that one may exhibit for vanilla ice cream over chocolate, for chicken over fish, for saturated colors over muted ones, and for action-adventure films over romantic comedies. In these matters, it is the rare observer who will assert that there is clearly a correct decision to be made, that one of each pair is clearly to be preferred over the other. Most observers are content to say that these are all simply matters of personal preference. Moreover, there are now many who say that all aesthetic judgments are on a continuum with such exemplars of personal preference. As mentioned earlier, antirealism is the position that there is nothing right or wrong about an aesthetic judgment that refers to anything beyond that judge's preferencethat all aesthetic judgment is a matter of personal preference. If one takes such phrases as "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and "there's no disputing individual taste" out of the realist contexts that the taste theorists had originally envisioned for them, one may understand taste as merely a set of personal preferences, over which external adjudicationor perhaps any adjudicationis inappropriate.

One challenge to this move toward antirealism as a theoretical platform for talking about personal taste is the widespread agreement in judgment forthcoming from certain aesthetic comparisons. Almost no one, on a "blind hearing," prefers Salieri to Mozart, and it is easy to develop a list of such comparisons, each instance of agreement serving as one more bit of inductive evidence in support of aesthetic realism. There is an explanation for this, and it turns on the fact that there are purposes to our aesthetic choices. We mean to invest our attention in those aesthetic experiences that we predict we will find more enjoyable, satisfying, rich, and rewarding. There are few museum or gallery patrons who will spend minutes upon minutes staring at Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Can or a Marcel Duchamp ready-made. These conceptual works can be taken in quickly, and perhaps fully so. But it is not uncommon to see patrons spend a good deal of time in front of a mature Joseph Mallord William Turner, Paul Cézanne, or Henri Matisse. If the experience one seeks is deep visual satisfaction, one will tend to invest attention in objects that most likely will provide this.

One's personal taste can be understood, then, as a series of past choices and resulting experiences that provide a basis upon which one will make future investment predictions and choices. If one has a rewarding experience listening to a Billie Holiday song, one will most likely seek out more Billie Holiday songs, and it is likely that one will also seek out blues in general. If one has a less than rewarding experience looking at a Jackson Pollock work, then one will probably avoid Pollock in the future, and it may be expected that one may avoid modern art altogether. If one has a good experience with works by Mark Rothko, one may reasonably expect to enjoy the work of Agnes Martin. All of this is based on induction. We find patterns in the world that serve us, that promote survival, flourishing, or simple enjoyment. It is only reasonable that we will follow those patterns and that, to some degree, groups of people who are similar will find similar patterns.

A second challenge, perhaps more intriguing than the first, is the regular phenomenon that with exposure, time, and information, aesthetic preferences tend to grow and develop in fairly predictable ways. The film preferences of freshman students tend to be for very recent works that provide immediate, easy reward. The preferences of students who have taken a few film courses tend to be informed by a much broader temporal span of the film world and tend to focus on films that require some subject-initiated investment of attention, both cognitive and psychological. The preferences of senior level film studies majors (and perhaps their professors) may be seen as bizarre by the aforementioned freshmen, as such preferences may well include silent films, nonnarrative films, and directors like Sergei Eisenstein, Ingmar Bergman, and Federico Fellini. College students commonly move in their musical preferences from rock to jazz and classical, if not giving up the former, at least adding to it the latter. The best explanation for this is that taste grows in regular ways, and once these regularities are identified, taste can be educated: personal taste can grow in sophistication.

We need to be careful here to distinguish between the effects of education as a tool for social or cultural indoctrination and education as a means of facilitating experience, furthering horizons, and encouraging genuine aesthetic enjoyment. It would be a shame and a loss to move a student, through the education of taste, to less aesthetic enjoyment, and there is a danger in declaring that a person's aesthetic preferences are wrong if they do not match some standard or other. This returns us to the authority and autonomy of individual judgment with which the taste theorists wrestled.

One bit of support for the appropriate plurality of personal taste comes from the diversity of aesthetic preferences that follows geographical, ethnic, and even gender identities. The patterns of bright, colorful dress that one may see in the Maya, the Masai, and the Mongolians are very different from the patterns one sees in mainstream Europe and mainstream North America. Visually, traditional Asian artwork is easily separated from mainstream European and American artwork. One can take this to an even more basic level: the traditional Asian conception (or definition) of the aesthetic property of balance appears to be different from the mainstream European or American definition. If our very definitions of aesthetic properties diverge, yet in both contexts there is a general valuing of, in this case, balance, then the preferences that follow from this will diverge, as well.

Similar sorts of cases of diversity will manifest themselves in comparisons among ethnicities even within a geographical region. Public-space ambient music tends to follow these preferences; the music one hears in shopping centers in one part of the country may differ radically from the music one hears in another part. This is most likely more than simply the management's preferences. The choice in ambient music more likely follows the management's best judgments concerning the sort of music that the likely clientele will enjoy and that will keep them shopping. This is partly a geographical phenomenon, but in many places, can involve ethnic and subcultural considerations, as well.

The Relationship between Taste and Personal Taste

The recent understanding of taste (as closer to personal taste and away from the more traditional, realist sense of the word) can still be seen as pointing toward greater authority of the judgment of the individual that was one of the motivators of the original taste theorists. If there is ultimately no way to reasonably, authoritatively, or meaningfully adjudicate among divergent particular judgments or among divergent personal tastes as sets of matters of choice, then the eighteenth-century move toward a fuller respect for individual autonomy in aesthetic judgment has brought us to a point where taste gives way to personal taste. If one believes that Hume failed in his attempt to render consistent the authority of the individual with the call to commonality in judgment, and if one rejects Kant's attempt to solve the antinomy of taste ("taste is at the same time subjective and individual yet also universal") and save aesthetic realism where perhaps Hume was unable to, one may believe that, in these failures, the realist version of a singular, correct definition of taste is rightly abandoned. We may see as continuous with the decision between vanilla and chocolate ice cream a preference for Pink Floyd over Beethoven, Albee over Shakespeare, and Pollock over Rembrandt. Still, the recognition of this continuity is not a cause for surrender to the philosophy of "anything goes." As individuals may reasonably be expected to pursue those experiences that they find rewarding, and to make their investments of aesthetic attention based on predictions derived from patterns of past reward, we will continue to see some degree of commonality in personal judgment. The degree to which we see thishowever modestly or subtlywill continue to advance culture positively.

See also Aesthetics ; Arts ; Beauty and Ugliness ; Cultural Studies ; Objectivity ; Subjectivism .

bibliography

Addison, Joseph, and Richard Steele. "On the Pleasures of the Imagination." In Selections from The Tatler and The Spectator. Edited by Robert Allen. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1957.

Dickie, George. Evaluating Art. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988.

Goldman, Alan. "The Education of Taste." British Journal of Aesthetics 30 (1990): 105116.

Hume, David. Of the Standard of Taste and Other Essays. Edited by J. W. Lenz. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965.

Hutcheson, Francis. An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue. New York: Garland, 1971.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgment. Translated by Werner S. Pluhar. Foreword by Mary J. Gregor. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987.

Kivy, Peter. "Recent Scholarship and the British Tradition: A Logic of Taste, The First Fifty Years." In Aesthetics: A Critical Anthology, edited by G. Dickie, R. Sclafani, and R. Roblin. 2nd ed. New York: St. Martin's, 1989.

Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper. Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1964.

Sibley, Frank. "Aesthetic Concepts." Philosophical Review 68 (Oct. 1959): 421450.

David E. W. Fenner

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Taste

Taste

The chemical sense which perceives or distinguishes flavor.

Taste, or gustation, is one of the two senses triggered by chemical stimuli (the other is olfaction). A person has approximately 10,000 taste buds. Most are on the tongue, but some are located in the back of the throat. Grouped together in bumps or papillae on the surface of the tongue, the taste buds contain receptors that respond to four basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. (It has also been proposed that monosodium glutamate (MSG) produces a fifth taste, called "umami," that enhances other tastes.) Each receptor responds most strongly to one or two of the four basic tastes and slightly to the others. The receptors that are sensitive to bitter substances are located on the back of the tongue. Beginning at the tip of the tongue and progressing to the rear on each side are over-lapping receptors for sweet, salty, and sour tastes. Although the number of basic tastes registered by human taste receptors is extremely limited when compared with the hundreds of odors that can be identified by olfactory

receptors, the taste buds work together to send a unique pattern of impulses to the brain for each substance tasted. As any gourmet or wine taster will attest, a wide range of patterns can be created by mixing and blending the four primary tastes in different combinations.

As food is chewed, its chemicals act as the stimuli for taste, breaking down into molecules, mixing with saliva, and infiltrating the areas that contain the receptors. Activation of the taste buds triggers nerve impulses that travel to the brain and are there transformed into sensations of taste. Because of their relatively "toxic" environment , taste buds live short lives, being replaced about every ten days. The sense of smell often works in conjunction with our sense of taste by combining sensations to achieve the perception of flavor. In fact, the olfactory sense actually contributes more to the perception of specific flavors than does the sense of taste. This phenomenon is commonly demonstrated in people whose sense of taste becomes dulled by colds. It has also been investigated in laboratory research, including tests in which subjects detected little taste in such strong substances as peppermint, onions, and cinnamon when their noses were congested.

When a person eats, chemical stimuli taken in through chewing and swallowing pass through an opening in the palate at the back of the mouth and move toward receptor cells located at the top of the nasal cavity, where they are converted to olfactory nerve impulses that travel to the brain, just as the impulses from olfactory stimuli taken in through the nose. The olfactory and gustatory pathways are known to converge in various parts of the brain, although it is not known exactly how the two systems work together.

Another way to regard the relationship between taste and smell is as two component parts of a perceptual function identified as the "flavor system," which also includes temperature and tactile receptors. Warm foods seem tastier because warming releases additional aromas from the mouth to the olfactory receptors. Warm foods also seem sweeter, although temperature has no effect on the perception of salty foods. A food's tactile properties (how it feels in one's mouth) influence perception of its flavor, hence distinctions such as that between smooth and crunchy peanut butter. Pain receptors are even included among the mouth's nerve endings involved in flavor perception, and may account for some of the appeal of hot and spicy foods. A person's nutritional state can influence perceived tastes, as well as the desire for particular foods: salt deficiency and food deprivation increase the desire for salty foods. The sweet properties of saccharin and aspartame were discovered by accident in laboratory settings, and researchers are now actively working on developing new artificial sweeteners to allow consumption of sweet foods that are low in calories.

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Taste

Taste

Taste is one of the five senses through which all animals interpret the world around them. (The other senses are smell, touch, sight, and hearing.) Specifically, taste is the sense for determining the flavor of food and other substances. It is one of the two chemical senses (the other being smell) and it is stimulated when taste buds on the tongue come in

contact with certain chemicals. The sense of taste also is influenced by the smell and texture of substances, hereditary factors, culture, and familiarity with specific taste sensations.

The biology of taste

Clusters of small organs called taste buds are located in the mouth, mainly on the surface of the tongue. Taste buds (named so because under the microscope they look similar to plant buds) lie in small projections called papillae and contain taste receptors that bind to food molecules broken down by saliva. These receptors send messages along nerves to the brain, which interprets the flavor as sweet, sour, salty, or bitter.

Taste buds for all four taste groups can be found throughout the mouth, but specific kinds of buds are clustered together in certain areas. Sweetness is detected by taste buds on the tip of the tongue. The buds for sour tastes are on the sides of the tongue, and for salty toward the front. Bitter taste buds on the back of the tongue can make people gag, a natural defense mechanism to help prevent poisoning.

New taste buds are produced every three to ten days to replace the ones worn out by scalding or frozen foods. As people grow older, their

taste buds are replaced at a slower rate, and more of a substance is needed to experience its full flavor. Scientists have discovered that individual tasting abilities and preferences for specific foods are partially hereditary. Some people are genetically programmed to have more taste buds than others and, as a result, taste more flavors in a particular food. Additionally, culture and familiarity with foods greatly influence taste preferences. Foods that are a tradition in certain cultures may be unappealing to those who are unfamiliar with them. A taste for a particular food usually develops as a person consumes it more frequently.

The smell, texture, and temperature of foods also affect taste. People often first experience the flavor of a food by its odor. When a person's sense of smell is decreased due to congestion from a cold or flu, they frequently experience a reduced ability to taste. Some people will not eat pears because of the fruit's gritty texture, while others would not think of drinking cold coffee.

Taste disorders

Taste disorders, in which either the sense of taste or smell is impaired, can be the result of allergies and viral or bacterial infections that produce swollen mucus membranes (behind the nose). They also may be due to a brain injury or disease that permanently damages the neural pathway through which taste and smell is transmitted. In addition, exposure to environmental toxins such as lead, mercury, and insecticides can damage taste buds and sensory cells in the nose or brain.

The inability to taste or smell not only robs an individual of certain sensory pleasures, it also can be dangerous. Without smell or taste, people cannot determine whether food is spoiled, making them vulnerable to food poisoning. Also, some psychiatrists believe that a lack of taste and smell affects the quality of a person's life and can lead to depression.

[See also Perception ]

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taste

taste / tāst/ • n. 1. the sensation of flavor perceived in the mouth and throat on contact with a substance: the wine had a fruity taste. ∎  the faculty of perceiving this quality: birds do not have a highly developed sense of taste. ∎  a small portion of food or drink taken as a sample: try a taste of Gorgonzola. ∎  a brief experience of something, conveying its basic character: it was his first taste of serious action. 2. a person's liking for particular flavors: this pudding is too sweet for my taste. ∎  a person's tendency to like and dislike certain things: he found the aggressive competitiveness of the profession was not to his taste. ∎  (taste for) a liking for or interest in (something): have you lost your taste for fancy restaurants? ∎  the ability to discern what is of good quality or of a high aesthetic standard: she has awful taste in literature. ∎  conformity or failure to conform with generally held views concerning what is offensive or acceptable: that's a joke in very bad taste. • v. [tr.] perceive or experience the flavor of: she had never tasted ice cream before. ∎  [intr.] have a specified flavor: the spinach tastes delicious. ∎  sample or test the flavor of (food or drink) by taking it into the mouth: the waiter poured some wine for him to taste. ∎  eat or drink a small portion of. ∎  have experience of: the team has not yet tasted victory at home. PHRASES: a bad (or bitter) taste in someone's mouth inf. a feeling of distress or disgust following an experience: this incident has left a bad taste in all our mouths. taste bloodsee blood. to taste in the amount needed to give a flavor pleasing to someone eating a dish: add salt and pepper to taste.

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taste

taste, response to chemical stimulation that enables an organism to detect flavors. In humans and most vertebrate animals, taste is produced by the stimulation by various substances of the taste buds on the mucous membrane of the tongue. A taste bud consists of about 20 long, slender cells; a tiny hair projects from each cell to the surface of the tongue through a tiny pore. The taste cells contain the endings of nerve filaments that convey impulses to the taste center in the brain. Five fundamental tastes, or a combination of these, can be detected by the buds: sweet, sour, salt, bitter, and umami. Umami, a meaty taste associated with glutamate and protein-rich foods, was identified by Kikunae Ikeda in Japan in the early 20th cent., and umami receptors were only discovered in 1996. Only the buds most sensitive to salty flavor are scattered evenly over the tongue. Sweet-sensitive taste buds are concentrated on the tip of the tongue, sour flavors are detected at the sides of the tongue, and bitter and umami flavors at the back. The close relationship of taste to smell gives the impression that a greater variety of tastes exists. This is also why an impairment of smell, as during a cold, may impart the feeling that the sense of taste is diminished.

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taste

taste (tayst) n. the sense for the appreciation of the flavour of substances in the mouth. There are four basic taste sensations – sweet, bitter, sour, and salt. t. buds the sensory receptors concerned with the sense of taste. They are located in the epithelium that covers the surface of the tongue and in the soft palate, the epiglottis, and parts of the pharynx. When a taste cell is stimulated by the presence of a dissolved substance impulses are sent via nerve fibres to the brain.

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taste

taste †examine by touch, try, test; experience or try the flavour of XIII; have a particular flavour XVI. — OF. taster (mod. tâter) touch, feel, try, taste :- Rom. *tastāre, supposed to be blend of L. tangere touch and gustāre taste.
So taste sb. — OF. tast, f. the vb. Hence tasty (-Y1) pleasant to taste. XVI (in untasty).

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taste

taste a bad (or bitter or nasty) taste in one's mouth a strong feeling of distress or disgust following an experience.
tastes differ proverbial saying, early 19th century; meaning that different people will like or approve of different things. Compare there is no accounting for tastes, every man to his taste.

See also an acquired taste, every man to his taste.

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taste

taste The tongue can distinguish five separate tastes: sweet, salt, sour (or acid), bitter, and savoury (sometimes called umami, from the Japanese word for a savoury flavour), due to stimulation of the taste buds. The overall taste or flavour of foods is due to these tastes, together with astringency in the mouth, texture, and aroma.

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taste

taste One of the five senses. It responds to the chemical constituents of anything placed in the mouth. In human beings, the taste buds of the tongue differentiate four qualities: sweetness, saltiness, bitterness and sourness.

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taste

taste
1. The sense that enables the flavour of different substances to be distinguished (see taste bud).

2. The flavour of a substance.

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taste

tastebarefaced, baste, boldfaced, chaste, haste, lambaste, paste, po-faced, red-faced, self-faced, shamefaced, smooth-faced, strait-laced, taste, unplaced, untraced, waist, waste •toothpaste • foretaste • aftertaste •shirtwaist

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Taste

Taste

Definition

Taste is one of the five senses (the others being smell, touch, vision, and hearing ) through which all animals interpret the world around them. Specifically, taste is the sense for determining the flavor of food and other substances.

Description

One of the two chemical senses (the other being smell), taste is stimulated through the contact of certain chemicals in substances with clusters of taste bud cells found primarily on the tongue. However, taste is a complex sensing mechanism that is also influenced by the smell and texture of substances. An individual's unique sense of taste is partially inherited, but factors such as culture and familiarity can help determine why one person's favorite food made be hot and spicy while another cannot get enough chocolate.

The primary organ for tasting is the mouth. Clusters of cells called taste buds (because under the microscope they look similar to plant buds) cover the tongue and are also found to a lesser extent on the cheek, throat, and the roof of the mouth. First discovered in the 19th century by German scientists Georg Meissner and Rudolf Wagner, taste buds lie on the bumps and grooves of the tongue (called the papillae) and have hairlike extensions (microvilli) to increase the receptor surface of the cells. Four different pairs of nerves are involved in the tongue, which helps explain in part why the sense of taste is a robust one, and not easily knocked out by disease or trauma.

Genetic and other factors affecting taste

Scientists have also discovered that genetic makeup partially accounts for individual tasting abilities and preferences for specific foods. According to Yale University researchers, some people are genetically programmed to have more taste buds and, as a result, taste more flavors in a particular food. (The number of taste buds varies in different animal species. For example cows have 25,000 taste buds, rabbits 17,000, and adult people approximately 10,000.) In general, a person's ability to taste can lie anywhere in a spectrum from poor to exceptional, with the ability to sense tastes increasing in proportion to the number of taste buds present. The difference in the number of taste buds can be extreme. Researchers have found anywhere from 11 to 1,100 taste buds per square inch in various young people tested. They have also found that women tend to have more taste buds than men and, as a result, are often better tasters. How well people taste greatly affects what they like. Studies at Yale, for example, revealed that children with fewer taste buds who are classified as poor tasters liked cheese more often than exceptional tasters, who experienced a more bitter sensation, probably because of increased sensitivity to the combination of calcium and the milk protein casein found in cheese.

Despite the important role that taste buds play in recognizing flavors, they do not work alone in providing the experience of taste. For example, the amount of naturally occurring salt in saliva varies; with the result that those with less saliva can better taste the saltiness of certain foods than others, who may end up adding salt to get a similar flavor. The smell and texture of foods are also important contributing factors to how people perceive a food to taste and whether or not they like it. Food in the mouth produces an odor that reaches the nose through the nasopharynx (the opening that links the mouth and the nose). Since smell is much more sensitive to odors than taste is to flavors, people often first experience the flavor of a food by its odor. The texture and temperature of food also influences how it tastes. For example, many people would not think of drinking cold coffee, while others will not eat pears because of a dislike for the fruit's gritty texture.

The predilection for certain foods and tastes is not determined merely by biology. Culture and familiarity with foods greatly influence taste preferences. The Japanese have long considered raw fish, or sushi, to be a savory delicacy. Until the 1990s, few Americans would have enjoyed such a repast. As the number of Japanese restaurants grew along with the sushi bars they often contained, so did Americans' familiarity with this delicacy, resulting in a new taste for it.

Function

Taste's primary function is to react to items placed in the mouth. For most foods and substances, saliva breaks down the chemical components which travel through the pores in the papillae to reach the taste buds. These taste buds specialize primarily in processing one of the four major taste groups: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Because the four taste groups may not describe all taste sensations, other proposed tastes include metallic, astringent, and umami. Umami is the oral sensation stimulated by monosodium glutamate.

Taste occurs when specific proteins in the food bind to receptors on the taste buds. These receptors, in turn, send messages to the brain's cerebral cortex, which interprets the flavor. The actual chemical processes involved for each major taste group vary and involve various mechanisms. For example, salty and sour flavors occur when saliva breaks down sodium or acids, respectively. The chemical constituents of foods that give bitter and sweet tastes are much more difficult to specify due to the large number of chemical components involved.

Although certain taste buds seemed to have an affinity for one of the four major flavors, continued research into this intricate biological process has revealed a complex neural and chemical network that precludes simple black and white explanations. For example, each taste bud actually has receptors for sweet, sour, salty, and bitter sensations, indicating that taste buds are sensitive to a complex flavor spectrum similar to the way vision is sensitive to a broad color spectrum grouped into the four major colors of red, orange, yellow, and green. Particular proteins of taste are also under study, like gustducin, which may set off the plethora of chemical reactions that causes something to taste bitter and sweet.

Taste buds for all four taste groups can be found throughout the mouth. A common but mistaken tongue diagram shows areas labeled with basic tastes, such as sweet at the tip of the tongue while bitter is at the back. While specific kinds of buds tend to cluster together, the four tastes can be perceived on any part of the tongue and to a lesser extent on the roof of the mouth. Bitterness does appear to be perceived primarily on the back of the tongue because of several mechanisms.

Role in human health

Taste helps people determine whether potential foods are palatable. It also plays a major role in appetite. People constantly regenerate new taste buds every three to 10 days to replace the ones worn out by scalding soup, frozen yogurt, and the like. As people grow older, their taste buds lose their fine tuning because they are replaced at a slower rate. As a result, middle-aged and older people require more of a substance to produce the same sensations of sweetness or spiciness, for example, than would be needed by a child eating the same food.

KEY TERMS

Cerebral cortex— The external gray matter surrounding the brain and made up of layers of nerve cells and fibers. Thought to process sensory information and impulses.

Microvilli— Hair or fingerlike projections found on cell membranes that increase surface area to better receive outside stimuli.

Papillae— Nipple-like projections found on tissue which constitute the ridge-like surfaces on the tongue.

Protein— Macromolecules that constitute three-fourths of cell matter's dry weight and play an important role in a number of life functions, such as sensory interpretation, muscle contraction, and immunologic response.

Taste buds— Cells found primarily on the tongue that are the primary biological components for interpreting the flavor of foods and other substances.

Common diseases and disorders

The inability to taste is so intricately linked with smell that it is often difficult to tell whether the problem lies in tasting or smelling. An estimated two to four million people in the United States suffer from some sort of taste or smell disorder. The inability to taste or smell not only robs an individual of certain sensory pleasures, it can also be dangerous. Without smell or taste, for example, people cannot determine whether food is spoiled, making them vulnerable to food poisoning. Also, some psychiatrists believe that the lack of taste and smell can have a profoundly negative affect on a person's quality of life, leading to depression or other psychological problems.

The reasons for taste and smell disorders range from biological breakdown to the effects of environmental toxins; but a clear precipitating event or underlying pathology is often lacking in taste disorders. Here are some of the more common ones:

  • Cold and flu are the most common physical ailments that can assault the sense of taste and smell. Allergies and viral or bacterial infections can produce swollen mucous membranes, which diminish the ability to taste. Most of these problems are temporary and treatable.
  • Medications, including those used in chemotherapy for cancer treatments, can also inhibit certain enzymes, affect the body's metabolism, and interfere with the neural network and receptors needed to taste and smell.
  • Neurological disorders due to brain injury or diseases like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's can cause more permanent damage to the intricate neural network that processes the sense of taste and smell.
  • Twenty to 30% of head trauma patients suffer some degree of smell disorder, which can in turn affect taste.
  • Exposure to environmental toxins like lead, mercury, insecticides, and solvents can also severely hinder the ability to smell and taste by causing damage to taste buds and sensory cells in the nose or brain.
  • Aging itself is associated with diminished taste and smell sensitivity.

Resources

BOOKS

Beauchamp, Gary, and Linda Bartoshuk. Tasting and Smelling: Handbook of Perception and Cognition, 2nd ed. San Diego: Academic Press 1997.

Goldstein, E. Bruce. Blackwell Handbook of Perception. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2001.

Macbeth, Helen. Food Preference and Taste: Continuity and Change. Oxford, England: Berghahn Books 1997.

Nagel, Rob. "The Special Senses." In Body By Design: From the Digestive System to the Skeleton. Edited by Betz Des Chenes. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2000.

PERIODICALS

Smith, David V., and Robert F. Margolskee. "Making Sense of Taste." Scientific American, (3 March 2001) 〈http://www.sciam.com/2001/0301issue/0301smith.html〉.

OTHER

BiblioAlerts.com. "NeuroScience-in-Review: The Sense of Taste." Paid subscription service for reports in science and technology. 〈http://preview.biblioalerts.com/info/com.biblioalerts_biblioalerts_CRE000312.html〉.

Kimball's Biology Pages. "The Sense of Taste." 〈http://www.ultranet.com/∼jkimball/BiologyPages/T/Taste.html〉.

MEDLINE plus. "Health Information." 〈http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medplus〉.

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Taste

Taste

The biology of taste

Taste disorders

Resources

Taste is one of the five senses (the others being smell, touch, vision, and hearing) through which all animals interpret the world around them. Specifically, taste is the sense for determining the flavor of food and other substances. One of the two chemical senses (the other being smell), taste is stimulated through the contact of certain chemicals in substances with clusters of taste bud cells found primarily on the tongue. However, taste is a complex sensing mechanism that is also influenced by the smell and texture of substances. An individuals unique sense of taste is partially inherited, but factors such as culture and familiarity can help determine why one persons favorite food may be hot and spicy while another just cannot get enough chocolate.

The biology of taste

The primary organ for tasting is the mouth. Clusters of cells called taste buds cover the tongue and are, also, found to a lesser extent on the cheek, throat, and the roof of the mouth. Taste buds get their name from the fact that they look similar to plant buds under the microscope. First discovered in the nineteenth century by German anatomists and physiologists Georg Meissner (18291905) and Rudolf Wagner (180564), taste buds lie on the elevated or ridged surface of the tongue (called the papillae) and have hair like extensions (microvilli) to increase the receptor surface of the cells. For most foods and substances, saliva breaks down the chemical components that travel through the pores in the papillae to reach the taste buds, which specialize primarily in processing one of the four major taste groups: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.

Taste occurs when specific proteins in the food bind to receptors on the taste buds. These receptors, in turn, send messages to the brains cerebral cortex, which interprets the flavor. The actual chemical processes involved for each major taste group vary. For example, salty and sour flavors occur when saliva breaks down sodium or acids, respectively. The chemical constituents of foods that give bitter and sweet tastes, however, are much more difficult to specify because many chemical components are involved.

Although certain taste buds seemed to have an affinity for one of the four major flavors, continued research into this intricate biological process has revealed a complex neural and chemical network that precludes simple black and white explanations. For example, each taste bud actually has receptors for

sweet, sour, salty, and bitter sensations, indicating that taste buds are sensitive to a complex flavor spectrum just like vision is sensitive to a broad color spectrum grouped into the four major colors of red, orange, yellow, and green. Particular proteins of taste are also under study, like gustducin, which may set off the plethora of chemical reactions that causes something to taste bitter.

Taste buds for all four taste groups can be found throughout the mouth, but specific kinds of buds are clustered together in certain areas. Think about licking an ice cream cone; taste buds for sweetness are grouped on the tip of the tongue. The buds for sour tastes are on the sides of the tongue and salty on the front. Bitter taste buds on the back of the tongue can make people gag, a natural defense mechanism to help prevent poisoning.

People constantly regenerate new taste buds every three to ten days to replace the ones worn out by scalding soup, frozen yogurt, and the like. However, as people grow older, their taste buds lose their fine tuning because they are replaced at a slower rate. As a result, middle-aged and older people require more of a substance to produce the same sensations of sweetness or spiciness, for example, than would be needed by a child eating the same food.

Scientists have also discovered that genetic makeup partially accounts for individual tasting abilities and preferences for specific foods. According to researchers at Yale University, some people are genetically programmed to have more taste buds and, as a result, taste more flavors in a particular food. (The number of taste buds varies in different animal species. For example, cows have 25,000 taste buds, rabbits 17,000, and adult people approximately 10,000.) Little is known about most other organisms with respect to their taste senses, but it has been shown experimentally that flies can distinguish between chemicals that humans would regard as sweet, sour, salt, and bitter. Most mammals probably experience taste in a similar way to humans. Part of taste in humans is genetically controlled. It is a well-known phenomenon to find individuals unable to taste phenylthiocarbamidean artificially created chemical that normally tastes very bitter (and used primarily in detecting the ability to taste it). However, some individuals are unable to detect any taste whatsoever.

In general, a persons ability to taste can lie anywhere in a spectrum from poor to exceptional, with the ability to sense tastes increasing in proportion to the number of taste buds present. The difference in the number of taste buds can be extreme. Researchers have found anywhere from 11 to 1,100 taste buds per square inch in various young people tested. They have also found that women tend to have more taste buds than men and, as a result, are often better tasters. Peoples tasting abilities greatly affect what they like. Studies at Yale, for example, revealed that children with fewer taste buds who are classified as poor tasters liked cheese more often than exceptional tasters, who experienced a more bitter sensation, probably because of increased sensitivity to the combination of calcium and the milk protein casein found in cheese.

Despite the important role that taste buds play in recognizing flavors, they do not work alone in providing the experience of taste. For example, the amount of naturally occurring salt in saliva varies. The result is that those with less saliva can better taste the saltiness of certain foods than others, who may end up adding salt to get a similar flavor. The smell and texture of foods are also important contributing factors to how people perceive a food to taste and whether they like it. Food in the mouth produces an odor that reaches the nose through the nasopharynx (the opening that links the mouth and the nose). Since smell is much more sensitive to odors than taste is to flavors, people often first experience the flavor of a food by its odor. A cold or flu is probably the most common example of how important smell is to taste. People with congestion often experience a diminished ability to taste. The taste buds, however, are working fine. The lack of smell hinders the brains ability to process flavor. The texture and temperature of food also influences how it tastes. For example, many people would not think of drinking cold coffee, while others will not eat pears because of a dislike for the fruits gritty texture.

The predilection for certain foods and tastes is not determined merely by biology. Culture and familiarity with foods greatly influence taste preferences. The Japanese have long considered raw fish, or sushi, to be a savory delicacy. However, few Americans before the 1990s would have enjoyed such a repast. But as the number of Japanese restaurants with sushi bars grew, so did Americans familiarity with this delicacy and, as a result, their taste for it.

Taste disorders

The inability to taste is so intricately linked with smell that it is often difficult to tell whether the

KEY TERMS

Casein The primary protein found in cows milk and a major component of cheese.

Cerebral cortex The external gray matter surrounding the brain and made up of layers of nerve cells and fibers. It is thought to process sensory information and impulses.

Microvilli Hair or finger like projections found on cell membranes that increase surface area to better receive outside stimuli.

Papillae Nipple-like projections found on tissue which constitute the ridge-like surfaces on the tongue.

Protein Macromolecules that constitute three-fourths of cell matters dry weight and that play an important role in a number of life functions, such as sensory interpretation, muscle contraction, and immunological response.

Taste buds Cells found primarily on the tongue that are the primary biological components for interpreting the flavor of foods and other substances.

problem lies in tasting or smelling. An estimated two to four million people in the United States suffer from some sort of taste or smell disorder. The inability to taste or smell not only robs an individual of certain sensory pleasures, but it can also be dangerous. Without smell or taste, for example, people cannot determine whether food is spoiled, making them vulnerable to food poisoning. Also, some psychiatrists believe that the lack of taste and smell can have a profoundly negative affect on a persons quality of life, leading to depression or other psychological problems.

There are a variety of causes for taste and smell disorders, from a biological breakdown to the effects of environmental toxins. In addition to cold or flu, common physical ailments that can assault the sense of taste and smell include allergies and various viral or bacterial infections that produce swollen mucous membranes. Most of these problems are temporary and treatable. However, neurological disorders due to brain injury or diseases like Parkinson disease or Alzheimers disease can cause more permanent damage to the intricate neural network that processes the sense of taste and smell. Some drugs can also cause these disorders by inhibiting certain enzymes, affecting the bodys metabolism, and interfering with the neural network and receptors needed to taste and smell. Exposure to environmental toxins like lead, mercury, insecticides, and solvents can also wreak havoc on the ability to smell and taste by causing damage to taste buds and sensory cells in the nose or brain.

See also Perception.

Resources

BOOKS

Ackerman, Diane. A Natural History of the Senses. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.

Editors of Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Anatomy & Physiology Made Incredibly Easy. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2005.

Korsmeyer, Carolyn. Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002.

Moller, Aage R. Sensory Systems: Anatomy and Physiology. New York: Academic Press, 2002.

Van De Graaff, Kent M., and R. Ward Rhees, eds. Human Anatomy and Physiology: Based on Schaums Outline of Theory and Problems of Human Anatomy and Physiology. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001.

David Petechuk

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Taste

Taste

Taste is one of the five senses (the others being smell , touch , vision , and hearing ) through which all animals interpret the world around them. Specifically, taste is the sense for determining the flavor of food and other substances. One of the two chemical senses (the other being smell), taste is stimulated through the contact of certain chemicals in substances with clusters of taste bud cells found primarily on the tongue. However, taste is a complex sensing mechanism that is also influenced by the smell and texture of substances. An individual's unique sense of taste is partially inherited, but factors such as culture and familiarity can help determine why one person's favorite food made be hot and spicy while another just can't get enough chocolate.


The biology of taste

The primary organ for tasting is the mouth. Clusters of cells called taste buds (because under the microscope they look similar to plant buds) cover the tongue and are also found to a lesser extent on the cheek, throat, and the roof of the mouth. First discovered in the nineteenth century by German scientists Georg Meissner and Rudolf Wagner, taste buds lie on the elevated or ridged surface of the tongue (called the papillae) and have hairlike extensions (microvilli) to increase the receptor surface of the cells. For most foods and substances, saliva breaks down the chemical components which travel through the pores in the papillae to reach the taste buds which specialize primarily in processing one of the four major taste groups: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.

Taste occurs when specific proteins in the food bind to receptors on the taste buds. These receptors, in turn, send messages to the brain's cerebral cortex, which interprets the flavor. The actual chemical processes involved for each major taste group vary. For example, salty and sour flavors occur when saliva breaks down sodium or acids, respectively. The chemical constituents of foods that give bitter and sweet tastes, however, are much harder to specify because many chemical components are involved.

Although certain taste buds seemed to have an affinity for one of the four major flavors, continued research into this intricate biological process has revealed a complex neural and chemical network that precludes simple black and white explanations. For example, each taste bud actually has receptors for sweet, sour, salty, and bitter sensations, indicating that taste buds are sensitive to a complex flavor spectrum just like vision is sensitive to a broad color spectrum grouped into the four major colors of red, orange, yellow, and green. Particular proteins of taste are also under study, like gustducin, which may set off the plethora of chemical reactions that causes something to taste bitter.

Taste buds for all four taste groups can be found throughout the mouth, but specific kinds of buds are clustered together in certain areas. Think about licking an ice cream cone; taste buds for sweetness are grouped on the tip of our tongue. The buds for sour tastes are on the sides of the tongue and salty on the front. Bitter taste buds on the back of the tongue can make people gag, a natural defense mechanism to help prevent poisoning.

People constantly regenerate new taste buds every three to 10 days to replace the ones worn out by scalding soup, frozen yogurt, and the like. Unfortunately, as people grow older, their taste buds lose their fine tuning because they are replaced at a slower rate . As a result, middle-aged and older people require more of a substance to produce the same sensations of sweetness or spiciness, for example, than would be needed by a child eating the same food.

Scientists have also discovered that genetic makeup partially accounts for individual tasting abilities and preferences for specific foods. According to researchers at Yale University, some people are genetically programmed to have more taste buds and, as a result, taste more flavors in a particular food. (The number of taste buds varies in different animal species . For example cows have 25,000 taste buds, rabbits 17,000, and adult people approximately 10,000.) In general, a person's ability to taste can lie anywhere in a spectrum from poor to exceptional, with the ability to sense tastes increasing in proportion to the number of taste buds present. The difference in the number of taste buds can be extreme. Researchers have found anywhere from 11 to 1,100 taste buds per square inch in various young people tested. They have also found that women tend to have more taste buds than men and, as a result, are often better tasters. How well people taste greatly affects what they like. Studies at Yale, for example, revealed that children with fewer taste buds who are classified as poor tasters liked cheese more often than exceptional tasters, who experienced a more bitter sensation, probably because of increased sensitivity to the combination of calcium and the milk protein casein found in cheese.

Despite the important role that taste buds play in recognizing flavors, they do not work alone in providing the experience of taste. For example, the amount of naturally occurring salt in saliva varies; the result being that those with less saliva can better taste the saltiness of certain foods than others, who may end up adding salt to get a similar flavor. The smell and texture of foods are also important contributing factors to how people perceive a food to taste and whether or not they like it. Food in the mouth produces an odor that reaches the nose through the nasopharynx (the opening that links the mouth and the nose). Since smell is much more sensitive to odors than taste is to flavors, people often first experience the flavor of a food by its odor. A cold or flu is probably the most common example of how important smell is to taste. People with congestion often experience a diminished ability to taste. The taste buds, however, are working fine; it's the lack of smell that hinders the brain's ability to process flavor. The texture and temperature of food also influences how it tastes. For example, many people would not think of drinking cold coffee, while others will not eat pears because of a dislike for the fruit's gritty texture.

The predilection for certain foods and tastes is not determined merely by biology . Culture and familiarity with foods greatly influence taste preferences. The Japanese have long considered raw fish , or sushi, to be a savory delicacy. But only a decade or so ago, few Americans would have enjoyed such a repast. But as the number of Japanese restaurants with sushi bars grew, so did American's familiarity with this delicacy and, as a result, their taste for it.


Taste disorders

The inability to taste is so intricately linked with smell that it is often difficult to tell whether the problem lies in tasting or smelling. An estimated two to four million people in the United States suffer from some sort of taste or smell disorder. The inability to taste or smell not only robs an individual of certain sensory pleasures, it can also be dangerous. Without smell or taste, for example, people cannot determine whether food is spoiled, making them vulnerable to food poisoning . Also, some psychiatrists believe that the lack of taste and smell can have a profoundly negative affect on a person's quality of life, leading to depression or other psychological problems.

There are a variety of causes for taste and smell disorders, from a biological breakdown to the effects of environmental toxins. In addition to cold or flu, common physical ailments that can assault the sense of taste and smell include allergies and various viral or bacterial infections that produce swollen mucous membranes. Fortunately, most of these problems are temporary and treatable. However, neurological disorders due to brain injury or diseases like Parkinson disease or Alzheimer disease can cause more permanent damage to the intricate neural network that processes the sense of taste and smell. Some drugs can also cause these disorders by inhibiting certain enzymes, affecting the body's metabolism , and interfering with the neural network and receptors needed to taste and smell. Exposure to environmental toxins like lead , mercury, insecticides , and solvents can also wreak havoc on the ability to smell and taste by causing damage to taste buds and sensory cells in the nose or brain.

See also Perception.

Resources

books

Ackerman, Diane. A Natural History of the Senses. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.

Moller, Aage R. Sensory Systems: Anatomy and Physiology. New York: Academic Press, 2002.

periodicals

Lewis, Ricki. "When Smell and Taste Go Awry." FDA Consumer (November 1991): 29-33.

Tyler, Aubin. "Disorders That Rob You of Taste & Smell." Good Housekeeping (October 1992): 257-258.

Willoughby, John. "Taste? Bud to Bud, Tongues May Differ." New York Times (December 7, 1994): C1, C11.


David Petechuk

KEY TERMS

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Casein

—The primary protein found in cow's milk and a major component of cheese.

Cerebral cortex

—The external gray matter surrounding the brain and made up of layers of nerve cells and fibers. Thought to process sensory information and impulses.

Microvilli

—Hair or fingerlike projections found on cell membranes that increase surface area to better receive outside stimuli.

Papillae

—Nipplelike projections found on tissue which constitute the ridge-like surfaces on the tongue.

Protein

—Macromolecules that constitute three-fourths of cell matter's dry weight and which play an important role in a number of life functions, such as sensory interpretation, muscle contraction, and immunological response.

Taste buds

—Cells found primarily on the tongue that are the primary biological components for interpreting the flavor of foods and other substances.

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Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

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Taste

Taste


Taste is the sense that enables an organism to detect dissolved chemicals. It serves primarily to tell an animal the difference between something that is good to eat and something that is dangerous. As one of the five senses, the sense of taste is closely associated with the sense of smell. Taste is influenced by habit, learning, and other cultural and psychological factors.

HOW THE SENSE OF TASTE WORKS

Humans are born with the ability to taste. The sense of taste begins with the tongue. The skin over this muscular organ located inside the mouth is covered with about 10,000 receptor cells, or chemical-sensing bodies. These are called taste buds. Each of these funnel-shaped clusters has an opening called a taste pore. Molecules (small particles) of dissolved substances, containing chemicals, flow into these holes and trigger, or activate, a receptor cell.

The taste buds also respond to other stimuli. When people smell or think of a food they like, their mouth starts to water. This means that people start to produce saliva. In order for humans to actually taste something, it has to be dissolved in saliva. Like smell (called olfaction), taste (also called gustation) operates on the principle of chemoreception. Certain receptors are triggered when chemicals contact them. It was once thought that certain parts of the tongue responded only to one of the four basic categories or sensations of taste (sweet, sour, bitter, salty). Now it is thought that individual receptors are not specifically sensitive to only one sensation.

Unless the brain is involved in this process, a person will not be able to actually identify anything he or she has dissolved on the tongue. Science still does not know exactly how this occurs. Somehow, when a dissolved molecule triggers a taste bud, or cell, certain nerves at the root of the cell are also stimulated. These carry impulses to the brain stem, then to the thalamus or the front of the brain stem. The impulses finally end up in the cerebral cortex of the brain, the brain's taste control center. The brain interprets this signal, or impulse, and tells people what they are tasting. As with each of the senses, all of this happens instantaneously.

THE SENSE OF TASTE IN ANIMALS

Some invertebrates (organisms without a backbone) do not have a separate sense of taste or smell. Both are linked in a sense called chemoreception, which means the ability to detect chemicals. Single-celled protozoans as well as most insects and crustaceans (like crabs, shrimp, and lobster) all use chemoreception.

Among vertebrates (animals with a backbone), the organs of taste can be very different. Although birds have their taste receptors on their tongues, adult amphibians, like frogs and toads, and certain fish have chemical receptors in their mouths and over parts of their skin. Most mammals have their taste receptors on their tongue.

THE SENSE OF TASTE IN HUMANS

The sense of taste plays an important evolutionary role for all animals. It allows them to know what is good to eat and what is to be avoided. A fruit that has not yet ripened usually tastes very sour. Humans will probably not eat much of it since they cannot tolerate something that is strongly sour. On the other hand, ripe fruit tastes sweet—a taste people prefer. Interestingly, many plants that are toxic to people also have a sour

or bitter taste. When the body is salt-depleted from overwork, it usually craves something salty to eat. Babies who are Vitamin D deficient seem to prefer the strong fishy taste of cod-liver oil, whereas it seems to revolt almost everyone else.

In humans, taste is also affected by other sensations such as temperature, texture or feel, and even looks. Certain foods have a particular feel in people's mouths that affect whether or not they like them. Some cold drinks are not good at room temperature. Finally, human culture, habit, and learning play a major role in what people find appetizing and enjoyable to eat. For many people, these psychological factors are even more important than their basic biological needs.

[See alsoOrgan; Sense Organ ]

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Taste

TASTE


Few issues circulated more consistently—or more nervously—within American culture during the 1820–1870 period than those regarding issues of taste and sensibility. Novels and plays, poems and stories in magazines such as Godey's Lady's Book and newspapers such as the New York Tribune and the New York Herald, conduct manuals for men and women, and even the pulpiest dime novels and the most wrenching slave narratives were involved in the dissemination of a seemingly endless series of texts in which characters negotiate the vexed terrain of cultural consumption and sensibility. What modes of conduct or affect best became a woman or man seeking certain forms of class distinction? What were the proper standards of reading and writing? How might leisure activity and aesthetic consumption mark one as tasteful in ways that were either positive or negative? Were there tasteful ways to spend money? And more abstractly, what sort of body came with varying degrees of taste and class? These and myriad similar questions act as the backdrop for a great deal of the literary and cultural production during this period. Indeed in a very real way fiction and theater, in particular, were the space in which American standards of taste were taking shape in relation to categories of class and culture.

TASTE AND THE MIDDLE CLASS

This cultural influence was particularly evident in the forms of taste and awareness taking shape in the emergent middle classes. Though still fragmentary, heterogeneous and contradictory, the middle class saw in the mirrored reflection of these literary narratives an increasingly coherent version of itself and its cultural preferences, especially as these preferences were defined in relation to the polar extremes of "high" and "low" culture. The term that later came to be used to define this sensibility is "middlebrow," and certainly one of the most fascinating dimensions of the literary and cultural production of this era is the way it models a zone of taste and sensibility located—often quite anxiously—somewhere between these two more obvious sites of distinction. Following the magisterial work of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, American academics such as Lawrence Levine, Janice Radway, and Jonathan Freedman have shown how the American middlebrow sought increasingly to legitimize itself by invoking the authority of taste, aesthetics, and "culture" even as it struggled with intense feelings of insecurity in the face of "true" or "real" high culture. "The petit bourgeois is filled with reverence for high culture," Bourdieu writes with perhaps a hint of sympathetic irony. "He bows, just in case, to everything which looks as if it might be culture" (p. 323). But Bourdieu suggests, even such reverence is doomed to failure. Lacking the cultural and educational advantages of the aristocratic classes, the middle-brow is forever conscious of the fact that "legitimate culture is not made for him (and is often made against him) so that he is not made for it; and that it ceases to be what it is as soon as he appropriates it" (p. 327).

MIDDLE-CLASS TASTE AND THE THEATER

Bourdieu's analysis is of particular use in examining the forms of taste and sensibility emerging in nineteenth-century America, a period marked by the seemingly tireless efforts of the middlebrow to carve out a space for itself somewhere between the more rarified sphere of highbrow taste and distinction and the cruder, usually sensational, world of working-class (and necessarily low-brow) culture. This is perhaps best exemplified in the fraught cultural transition taking place in American theaters from the 1820s to the 1870s, as operas, symphonies, and even performances of Shakespeare became increasingly rarified and hostile to lower-class audiences. This transition was highlighted by the 1849 Astor Place riot, in which a working-class mob of some five thousand assaulted the Astor Place Opera House in New York City as part of a running feud over its ostensibly elitist and highbrow production of Shakespeare's Macbeth. The actual riot, in which twenty-two people were killed, was sparked by a rivalry between Edwin Forrest (1806–1872), a working-class "Jacksonian" actor championed by the rowdy and voluble crowd of "Bowery b'hoys" who filled the Chatham, Bowery, and other theaters for his melodramas, and William Macready (1793–1873), a British actor who expressed withering distain for such audiences. As Levine explains, Macready described Forrest's audiences as "vulgar," "coarse," "underbred," "disagreeable," and "ignorant" (p. 66)—epithets that became much stronger on 7 May 1849, when Macready was booed and pelted with eggs and rotten vegetables by a crowd filled with Forrest sympathizers. The riot that occurred three nights later was the culmination of tensions between these classes, but it was also a watershed in the shaping of middlebrow taste and culture in America. Indeed Levine reports that by the 1870s audiences had learned to become much more docile and cooperative in their expressing their tastes, agreeing to remain seated until the end of a performance and limiting applause to appropriate moments. As a contemporary of the conductor Theodore Thomas wrote in 1872, "When the audience relapses into barbarism . . . he quietly but firmly controls them. I have seen him . . . leave the stand and quietly take a seat in the corner of the orchestra, remaining there until he has carried his point" (Levine, p. 192).

Even as these transitions were taking place, American culture often displayed a knowing, even playful kind of meta-awareness of the problematic of taste in the mid-century. This can be seen, for example, in the extreme popularity of Anna Mowatt's (1819–1870) hit comedy of manners, Fashion; or, Life in New York. Opening in 1845 to immediate critical and financial success, Mowatt's play is a satire of America's obsession with highbrow taste and cultural distinction. An early line from the culturally insecure Mrs. Tiffany suggests the ways in which Mowatt is staging bad taste for her theater audience: "Ah," she says prior to the social visiting hour she has arranged, "very elegant, very elegant indeed! There is a jenny-says-quoi look about this furniture,—an air of fashion and gentility perfectly bewitching" (p. 7). Obsessed with things European—she complains that even the English language is "decidedly vulgar" (p. 8)—Mrs. Tiffany is clearly offered as one who consumes culture and taste in ways that are overdetermined and indeed comical. Like the taste-anxious petit bourgeois described by Bourdieu, Mrs. Tiffany bows before all that appears to bear the stamp of cultural legitimacy. Nor is this insecurity an isolated cultural condition. As Millinette, Mrs. Tiffany's French lady's maid, puts it in an ironic aside: "De money is all dat is necessaire in dis country to make one [a] lady of fashion. Oh, it is quite anoder ting in la belle France!" (p. 6).

Tellingly Mrs. Tiffany's absurdity is highlighted here by the presence of her new black servant, Zeke, whose dandyish attitudes mirror her own. "Dere's a coat to take de eyes ob all Broadway!" he proclaims in the play's opening lines as he regards his new livery outfit. "It am the fixin's dat make de natural born gemman. A libery forever! Dere's a pair of insuppressibles to 'stonish de colored population" (p. 5). Zeke's extreme ignorance is of course part of antebellum culture's deeply ingrained racism. This racism, however, is in fact a crucial component of the game of culture Mowatt is staging for her audience. For what Zeke provides is a site onto which to displace concerns about bad taste. Far more than Mrs. Tiffany, Zeke's is a body the audience would have understood as inherently vulgar and thus incapable of acquiring the modes of taste and sensibility they themselves were seeking to establish and maintain. In this sense Zeke is an extension of the logic of taste and culture seen in stock "black dandy" minstrel characters such Dandy Jim and Zip Coon. As the cover of an 1843 songbook titled Dandy Jim, from Carolina suggests, such characters are locked in a narcissistic gaze in which surface modes of consumption (clothes, hair, other modes of fashion) are misunderstood as the equivalent of more internal modes of selfhood (delicacy, refinement, whiteness) that were the true markers of taste at mid-century.

Characters such as Zeke and the rowdy audiences at the Astor Place Opera House indicate that, as the term itself implies, taste was a concept that reflected profound awareness of and concern about embodiment—about, that is to say, the kind of body that came with the various standards, preferences, and sensibilities that went into the shaping of the tastes that informed the middlebrow mindset. Another quote from Bourdieu is useful in this context:

Taste, a class culture turned into nature, that is, embodied, helps to shape the class body. It is an incorporated principle of classification which governs all forms of incorporation, choosing and modifying everything that the body ingests and digests and assimilates, physiologically and psychologically. It follows that the body is the most indisputable materialization of class taste. (P. 190)

Bourdieu's emphasis on the reciprocity between the physiological and the psychological is especially crucial here, for what mid-nineteenth-century American literature and culture reflects over and over again is the deeply emotional and psychologized nature of the effort to establish and maintain the kind of taste-sensitive "class body" he describes. And nowhere is this more evident than in the focus of so many mid-nineteenth-century texts on a process one might refer to as middle-class self-fashioning.

TASTE IN ANTEBELLUM FICTION

While the middlebrow aesthetic taking shape at midcentury might be understood as standing in anxious or perhaps even ambivalent relation to "culture," the fiction of this period provided a space in which to work out such unease. Working to provide the legitimation that established culture was withholding and that low-brow culture was threatening to undermine, many of the writers of this period provided in their work a kind of aesthetic chart by which readers could map out the terrain of sensibility and taste that would answer to the anxious needs of the middlebrow.

The career of Jo March in Louisa May Alcott's (1832–1888) best-selling Little Women (1868–1869) marks a didactic high point of this process: Alcott here offers a gradual process of reform in which Jo learns the forms of discipline and restraint—"the sweetness of self-denial and self-control" (p. 82)—necessary to the formation of a tasteful "little woman" in nineteenth-century America. Most telling perhaps is Jo's short career as a writer of lowbrow sensational literature—"bad trash," as Jo's eventual husband, the kindly Professor Bhaer, calls it (p. 355). "She was living in bad society; and imaginary though it was, its influence affected her," readers are told in one of the many moments of direct address provided by Alcott's narrator. "Unconsciously, she was beginning to desecrate some of the womanliest attributes of a woman's character" (p. 349). Jo's dalliance with lowbrow pulp is an object lesson for Alcott's readers, especially the middle-brow reading audience most likely identify with her as they read Little Women. For what it implies is a connection to the tastes and sensibilities of the lowbrow crowds assaulting the Astor Place Opera House, forms of consumption that must be cast off and repressed in the name of fashioning the kind of taste appropriate to a properly middlebrow sensibility. Indeed Jo's later fiction is praised precisely because it purportedly rejects such sensibilities. "You wrote with no thought of fame or money," Jo's mother tells her, "and put your heart into it" (p. 436).

Jo's lesson here is twofold. In addition to rejecting the debasing and distasteful world of lowbrow sensationalism, she earns the respect of her soon-to-be husband, Professor Bhaer, whose excessively middlebrow sensibilities (he possesses cultural rather than financial currency) are marked as quite different from the high-brow tastes of Jo's other suitor, her wealthy young neighbor Laurie. "You and I are not suited to each other," Jo says in rejecting Laurie's long-delayed overtures to her (p. 364), a comment that has as much (if not more) to do with taste and sensibility than actual temperament or attraction. For the life that awaits Jo—schoolteacher and mother—is one that requires the modest income and modulated tastes of the middle-brow. In an amazing passage late in the novel, Laurie says that he would like to give some of his money to Professor Bhaer and Jo. "Out-and-out beggars get taken care of, but poor gentlefolks fare badly" he says (p. 459). In fact, however, Alcott's novel suggests that "gentlefolks"—represented by Jo and her husband—do perfectly well as residents of the tasteful middlebrow territory Alcott has carved out for them.

A similar logic of middlebrow self-fashioning—one might call it "middlebrow romance"—informs Nathaniel Hawthorne's (1804–1864) gothic novel The House of the Seven Gables (1851). The backdrop for this text is the long and bitter property dispute between the aristocratic Pyncheon family and the working-class Maules, but Hawthorne makes it clear that, as staged in the novel's present, this feud is played out in the arena of taste and cultural production. This is particularly evident in the depiction of the last descendent of the Maule family, a young man named Holgrave. Daguerreotypist, short story writer, and sometimes mesmerist, Holgrave is, like Jo March, a producer of mass culture that is decidedly lowbrow in orientation. As he explains to Phoebe Pyncheon upon learning that she has not read any of the fiction he has published:

Well, such is literary fame! Yes, Miss Phoebe Pyncheon, among the multitude of my marvellous gifts, I have that of writing stories; and my name has figured, I can assure you, on the covers of Graham and Godey, making as respectable an appearance, for aught I could see, as any of the canonized bead-roll with which it was associated. In the humorous line, I am thought to have a very pretty way with me; and as for pathos, I am as provocative of tears as an onion. (P. 186)

Holgrave's stories occupy space alongside more established writers in middlebrow venues such as Graham's magazine and Godey's Lady's Book, but—and ominously—they are also manipulative of their reader's affective states. This is reflected not only in Holgrave's ability to produce tears in his readers but more profoundly when he manages to mesmerize Phoebe by the very act of reading his pulpy and sensational story to her. Here is how Hawthorne describes the moments immediately following Holgrave's reading:

Holgrave gazed at her, as he rolled up his manuscript, and recognized an incipient stage of that curious psychological condition, which, as he himself had told Phoebe, he possessed more than an ordinary faculty of producing. A veil was beginning to be muffled about her, in which she could behold only him, and live only in his thoughts and emotions. (P. 211)

What better description of the putatively debasing or regressive effects of lowbrow culture at mid-century, effects that have their root in the very notion of "bad taste?" "I consider myself as having been very attentive," Phoebe says (p. 212), but in fact she has been immobilized—mesmerized—by the seductive "magic" of lowbrow sensationalism. Phoebe, it can be said, is on the receiving end of the "bad trash" that threatens to "desecrate" Jo March in Alcott's Little Women.

As critics have suggested, Hawthorne ultimately seems uncomfortable with this scenario. Seeing that Phoebe has been partially mesmerized by listening to his story, Holgrave resists the urge to take advantage of Phoebe's vulnerability. Instead, he suggests that he will burn his short story: "The manuscript must serve to light lamps with," he says (p. 212). More dramatically still, Holgrave and Phoebe become romantically involved, a plot shift that hastens the "developement of emotions" necessary to secure middlebrow distance from the outside world of cultural production (p. 305). An exchange between the two characters late in the novel sums up the dramatic shifts that take place in the wake of Holgrave's reading of his magazine story to Phoebe: "How wonderfully your ideas are changed!" she says, to which Holgrave replies: "You find me a conservative already! Little did I think ever to become one" (p. 315). Holgrave and Phoebe thus take up a posture not at all unlike that modeled by Jo March and Professor Bhaer in Little Women. Here too is a "middlebrow romance," a form structured around the repression of bad taste, lowbrow culture, and its attendant working-class associations; it advocates instead the "developement of emotions" that are tasteful and middlebrow in nature.

"TASTE" IN SENSATIONAL FICTION

Significantly, however, even the lowbrow sensationalism of this period—the "bad trash" offered in penny newspapers such as the New York Herald and the New York Sun and in dime novels such as George Lippard's (1822–1854) best-selling The Quaker City (1845) and George Thompson's (b. 1823) Venus in Boston (1849)—stages scenes of middlebrow self-fashioning, this despite what is often the stated resistance to the kinds of taste offered in narratives such as House of the Seven Gables and Little Women. As the influential editor James Gordon Bennett (1841–1918) put it in his outlandishly sensational (and enormously successful) New York Herald essay titled "Penny Literature versus Loafer Literature" (30 September 1836):

By a singular perversity in the taste of the age, the monthly and weekly periodical literature—the Magazines, the Mirrors, the Knickerbockers, and such like trashy publications, have degenerated into vehicles of mere sickly sentimentalism, fit only for the kitchen or the laundry. The daily press and the cheap periodicals appear to possess the only strength—the only nerve—the only real talent and genius. Conversant in matters of real business—engaged in active life, the mind is taken away from itself, and its egotism and vanity are rubbed over severely by the unfanciful buffetings of the world.

For Bennett, in other words, publications that promote middlebrow taste are themselves guilty of offering "trashy" fare that shies away from the grittier, more unpleasant realities of life at mid-century. Lippard offers a similar posture in The Quaker City, the best-selling novel in America prior to the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852. As he puts it in a defensive direct address to the "shallow pated critic" whose "white kid-gloves" suggest his middle- or highbrow sensibility, "Our taste is different from yours. We like to look at nature and at the world, not only as they appear, but as they are!" (p. 305). For Lippard as for Bennett, middlebrow taste, emphasizing as it did an anxiety about the more visceral pleasures of the class body, was silly and out of touch with reality.

Despite such claims, however, much of the period's lowbrow sensationalism stages narratives that turn on the very forms of taste and sensibility favored by Alcott and Hawthorne. A particularly useful example of this is offered in Theodore Winthrop's (1828–1861) popular "urban gothic" novel Cecil Dreeme (1861), seventeen editions of which were published by 1864. Usually offered as pulpy, often silly dime novels devoted to excessive violence, sexual titillation, and extreme racism, urban gothic sensationalism provided audiences with a widely disseminated and inexpensive medium for engaging with and challenging the inequalities of class in America from the 1830s onward. Yet this material also provides some of the most direct and affective commentary on the nation's issues of taste and sensibility, especially as the notion of taste applied to the emerging category of the middlebrow.

The narrative of Cecil Dreeme revolves around a young man named Robert Byng, a twenty-six-year-old professional who is returning to America after ten years of study abroad and who is staged fairly clearly as someone who must negotiate the forms of taste and sensibility that have been taking shape in America during his absence. This is particularly evident in the interactions between Byng and a "Hebrew-ish" (p. 23) and wealthy financier named Densdeth, an older man who wields considerable power over Byng and a number of other characters in the novel. At times the relationship between the two seems fairly one-sided, with Densdeth aggressively pursuing Byng in a manner that suggests the desire for economic and perhaps even sexual domination. At other times the attraction is more reciprocal, suggesting that Byng is himself drawn to Densdeth and the form of submission he demands. As Byng puts it at one point: "'What does it mean,' thought I, this man's strange fascination? When his eyes are upon me, I feel something stir in my heart, saying, 'Be Densdeth's! He knows the mystery of life.' I begin to dread him. Will he master my will? What is this potency of his?" (p. 65).

As Byng's comment about Densdeth's "strange fascination" makes clear, Densdeth is associated here with sensibilities that Byng himself feels with real intensity—he later describes himself as "a youth . . . dragged along by an irresistible attraction" (p. 180). And what this suggests is that Densdeth as exotic Jew embodies a set of pleasures that, though marked as deviant, also seem to stand in for the pleasures and affects of the rarified highbrow culture Densdeth seems intended to represent. "I love luxury for its own sake," Densdeth tells Byng early on. "I mean to have the best for all my senses. I keep myself in perfect health, you see, for perfect sensitiveness and perfect enjoyment" (p. 63). As this and a variety of similar passages suggest, Densdeth represents the kind of sensuous voluptuousness so often associated with the stereotypical figure of the highbrow Jew. But as Densdeth's influence over the various men in the novel suggests, these are desires inherent within all of the male characters in Cecil Dreeme, projected outward onto the excessive, the Jew. Byng's confusion, that is to say, is a thoroughly ambivalent effort to organize the pleasures and tastes of middlebrow sensibility: attracted to but put off by the excesses of Densdeth as highbrow pleasure seeker, Byng embodies the uncertainty and ambivalence of the middlebrow seeking to establish cultural assurance in the uncertain game of taste and cultural consumption.

It is therefore telling that the form of pleasure Densdeth offers is one that Byng comes to understand as slightly vulgar, as if Densdeth fails to understand the nuances of cultural distinction necessary to the formation of middlebrow sensibility. "Densdeth was a little too carefully dressed," Byng observes at one point.

His clothes had a conscious air. His trousers hung as if they felt his eye on them, and dreaded a beating if they bagged. His costume was generally quiet, so severely quiet that it was evident that he desired to be flagrant, and obeyed tact rather than taste. In fact, taste always hung out a diamond stud, or an elaborate chain or eye-glass. (P. 75)

Such moments suggest that Byng's discomfort with Densdeth is negotiated by means of reference to forms of taste and sensibility that are specifically middlebrow and thus inaccessible to one such as Densdeth. Indeed one of the moments in which Byng grows wary of Densdeth is at the opera, which he designates as a problematic cultural space. "It was thoroughly debilitating, effeminate music," he says.

No single strain of manly vigor rose, from end to end of the drama. . . . Emasculated music! Such music as tyranny over mind and spirit calls for, to lull its unmanned subjects into sensual calm. . . . Between the acts, I saw Densdeth moving about, welcome everywhere. . . . All the salable people, and, alas!, that includes all but a mere decimation, threw open their doors to Densdeth. Opera-box and the tenants of the box were free to him. (Pp. 256–257, 259)

Byng's concerns about the unmanning and emasculating effects of the cultural milieu in which Densdeth operates are related to the cultural politics of the Astor Place incident. Though certainly not one of the Jacksonian-style "b'hoys" said to have taken part in the earlier riot, Byng seeks to distance himself from Densdeth by recourse to a language of cultural distinction in which he seeks to understand his own more middlebrow sensibilities as superior to (as well as more masculine than) those of the highbrow elite—this despite the fact that Byng is so clearly drawn to Densdeth and the forms of culture and pleasure he seems to embody.

This ambivalence about the Jew as a register of competing forms of taste and sensibility is something Jonathan Freedman points out in his discussion of du Maurier's infamous Jewish mesmerist, Svengali. Both artistic genius and debased villain, Svengali, like Densdeth, is simultaneously a figure both of high and low culture. And in both instances this ambivalence centers on the interchangeable Otherness of these characters. As Freedman explains in a passage that seems quite useful for understanding the cultural situation Winthrop is staging in Robert Byng:

In the middlebrow imaginary, to be cultured is to be dangerously (or pleasurably) touched with the alien force and sexual energy socially ascribed to the Jew; it is also to be, however temporarily and within reason, to be touched with the aura of specialness, distinction and superiority that is also ascribed to that figure. Yet, at one and the same time, to be middlebrow (rather than highbrow) is to be saved from the fate of being too Jewish, too outré, too extreme, too powerfully connected to this model of identity and response that is so visibly connected with the powers of otherness. (P. 113)

The aspiring middle-class and middlebrow citizen, Byng sees in Densdeth a model of taste and manhood he both desires and disavows. For as culturally sophisticated Jew, Densdeth offers an opportunity both to indulge in the very desires and pleasures of culture that afford one a sense of cultural superiority and, simultaneously, an opportunity to confirm one's status as middling by understanding the Jew as a form of Otherness that makes such indulgence excessive and overwhelming.

In Cecil Dreeme the highbrow Densdeth is eventually killed by one of the men he has persecuted, an event that allows Byng to marry a young woman who has long hidden from an arranged marriage with Densdeth in a small apartment in New York City. Needless to say, perhaps, this woman is an artist; even better, she is uninterested in selling her work, a fact that suggests she is able to resist the potentially debasing lure of a market culture that peddles largely in bad taste. The union thus provides yet another example of the way the period's fiction imagines for its readers a space in which the middlebrow might see himself or herself reflected in narratives that stage dilemmas of class and taste only to resolve them in the form of the middlebrow romance.

This is not to say, however, that the threat of excessive desire embodied in Densdeth no longer has an effect upon Byng. Indeed Densdeth has this power even in death. As Byng puts it in the closing pages, with Densdeth lying prostrate on the ground before him:

The strange fascination of his face became doubly subtle, as he seemed still to gaze at me with closed eyelids, like a statue's. I felt that, if those cold feline eyes should open and again turn their inquisition upon my soul, devilish passions would quicken there anew. I shuddered to perceive the lurking devil in me, slumbering lightly, and ready to stir whenever he knew a comrade was near. (P. 330)

On the one hand, this is urban gothic melodrama at its silliest; it is what Alcott's narrator would, in a moment of taste-anxious middlebrow anxiety, term "bad trash." On the other hand, it also provides a useful example of the game of projection involved in negotiations of middlebrow sensibility. For the dead body of the highbrow Jew is here the embodiment of the desire for cultural attainment that is very much alive within Byng as aspiring middlebrow. In this sense Winthrop's narrative simply extends a sensibility that permeates various other texts produced at mid-century. For although each author seeks to depict the middlebrow (and her tastes) as necessitating a class body drained of excessive passion and desire, each also manages to reveal the way this figure is decidedly ambivalent: knowing what it most desires (access to either high or low culture) but committed to not having it, the middlebrow of mid-nineteenth-century America offers a form of taste that can only be defined in terms of ambivalence and anxiety.

See alsoEthnology; The House of the Seven Gables;Jews; Little Women;Periodicals; Sensational Fiction; Sexuality and the Body

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Works

Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women 1868–1869. Edited by Elaine Showalter. New York: Penguin, 1989.

Bennett, James Gordon. "Penny Literature versus Loafer Literature." New York Herald, 30 September 1836.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The House of the Seven Gables. 1851. New York: Penguin, 1981.

Mowatt, Anna Ogden. Fashion; or, Life in New York. 1845. Boston: Walter H. Baker, 1935.

Winthrop, Theodore. Cecil Dreeme. New York: Dodd, Meade, 1861.

Secondary Works

Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of theJudgement of Taste. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984.

Freedman, Jonathan. The Temple of Culture: Assimilation and Anti-Semitism in Literary Anglo-America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Levine, Lawrence. Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence ofCultural Hierarchy in America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Radway, Janice. A Feeling for Books: The Book-of-the-MonthClub, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

David Anthony

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