An ode to smell

 

Smelle alone amongst the senses can Either destroye or quite remake a man.
– Jerome Cardan, De subtilitate rurum, 1550

Smell is so underrated. It is, quite possibly, the only sense we can’t turn off unless we’re ill. We smell everytime we breathe, so it really the sense that follows us everywhere. We can cover our eyes and our ears, and, with nothing around, not be able to touch. Tasting is closely intertwined with the ability to smell, so there is not one without the other. Smell is everywhere and constant. Why then, do we talk so little about smells and scents?

For one, it’s quite hard to actually describe a scent: There isn’t much vocabulary around our ability to smell. Don't believe me? Try then, to describe how, say, a pen smells like. Sure, you can say something smells sweet or earthy, but what about describing something more complex, like the way a person smells like? You have to attach smell to something real and palpable, otherwise it becomes too elusive to describe. This idea is best essentialized in this quote:

“Smell does not form an object on its own, as do sight and hearing, but remains, as it were, captive in the human subject, which is symbolised in the fact that there exist no independent, objectively characterising expressions for fine (scent) distinctions. If we say ‘it smells sour’, then this only means that it smells the way something smells which tastes sour” (quoted in Frisby and Featherstone 1997: 118).

As Kevin Low points out in his amazing book about the sociology of smell, there isn’t a specifically defined scientific classification system for smell either. In the same book, he goes as far as to say that smell ranks lowest in our sensory scheme. Actually, smell and taste have, since antiquity, been ranked as our most “animal” and “primitives” senses, whereas especially sight and hearing have been linked with beauty, civilisation and advancement. This isn’t hard to imagine, if we think about the nature of our valued artistic masterpieces: they are all either something you can see or something you can hear. This, of course, has in part to do with the ephemeral nature of smell.

Yet, odor has, and has always had a strong place in societies.

Every culture has its own rules on scent: What should smell distinguishably and what shouldn’t, who’s supposed to smell like what and what odor says about a person. One’s odor is then a way to communicate to others.

With all this said, Helsinki Perfume Society is an invitation to think differently about smell. The main mission of this website is to encourage you, dear reader, to make sense of the world nose forward. Once we start paying attention to scent the same way we pay attention to say, vision, the world unravels itself in a whole other dimension.

 

Low, Kelvin E. Y.. Scent and Scent-sibilities : Smell and Everyday Life Experiences, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/helsinki-ebooks/detail.action?docID=1114405.

Created from helsinki-ebooks on 2018-05-17 01:22:02.

 

Wright’s (1982) The Sense of Smell , Bell and Watson's (1999) Tastes and Aromas: The Chemical Senses in Science and Industry , and Martin and Laffort’s (1994) Odours and Deodorisation in the Environment

Low, Kelvin E. Y.. Scent and Scent-sibilities : Smell and Everyday Life Experiences, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/helsinki-ebooks/detail.action?docID=1114405.

Created from helsinki-ebooks on 2018-05-17 06:59:29.

 

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Helsinki Perfume Society